Love hearing those tracks on the radio but don’t know how to make them? This is by no means an extensive guide, but these steps should get you started in the right direction
1. Know the common misconception
Electronic music is often viewed as a soulless enterprise. “There’s no emotion in music made by a computer,” is a common and entirely wrong statement. Computers don’t have a big button labelled “Produce” that automatically pumps out tunes. It takes time, patience, and commitment to make electronic music, just as any type of music does.
Sure, you can just slap together a bunch of pre-made loops and melodies, but that’s straying dangerously close to DJ territory.
2. Learn some music theory
You don’t have to be a classical piano genius to understand the basics of music theory. Almost every melody revolves around one of two scales – major and minor. Major scales are happy, while minor scales are ‘sad’. I highly recommend taking the time to learn both of them – just fooling around with different combinations of notes within a scale can lead to some interesting ideas.
Chords are a must-learn, too. All it takes is a combination of two or more (usually three) notes played at the same time to give you a base over which to sing or layer your melodies. For a really comprehensive guide, and killer tutorials on the basics of music theory, click out 8 Notes.
3. Get the right hardware
Music-making is CPU intensive, so you’ll need a computer that can handle it. If you’re thinking of dabbling, but not doing anything too crazy, then an i3 processor is a must – as soon as you’re getting serious, I recommend opting for an i5; they can handle all but the most demanding of work, and they’re a fair sight cheaper than i7s. If you’re planning on playing live, then I recommend investing in a laptop. The price tag is higher, but the increase in options available and the added versatility is staggering.
Don’t be disheartened if all you can get is a desktop – they usually offer more bang for the buck and make good machines for practice and even production.
4. Choose your digital workspace
This section is very important. You’ll need somewhere to arrange your tracks and instruments. The two I’ve listed below are great for a beginner, while still providing advanced features once you start demanding higher functions – both have their own pros and cons, so it’s up to you to choose which ones suit you best.
>> FL Studio
Often called ‘the beginner’s choice, it manages to provide the user with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface packed full of handy features – the best of which is undoubtedly the step sequencer for beat making. FL Studio is great in that it has tons of readily-accessible presets to get you started. It has some nice advanced features for the more experienced producer too – most notably ‘Sytrus’, arguably one of the better FM synths on the circuit today. FL Studio also has EDISON – a smooth and versatile audio editor and recorder.
>> Ableton Live
Ableton is the preferred tool of almost every performing producer today. Seriously – if you are even considering performing as well as producing, then it’s a no-brainer: Ableton wins. A smooth, user-friendly interface, a wealth of tutorials and a simple arranger allows you to create sets of individual audio segments, then combine them in whatever way best suits you. It’s as easy as clicking the ‘play’ button next to whatever you want to hear. Ableton automatically detects tempo, and fits your choice in time to the track.
5. Just do it!
Once you have the basic setup, you can begin to make whatever takes your fancy – if you’re not sure where to begin, listen to songs you like, and try to do what they do. YouTube is positively bursting with all sorts of tutorials to get you well on your way to producing the next big thing.
Image by Gorski via Flickr (cc)
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About Roan Song
Roan is a multi-instrumentalist and bathroom vocalist, as well as a part-time philanthropist. A great lover of music, he is on the UNISA Honour Roll for his achievements in musical theory. Roan Song is fanatical in his worship of Grammar as an unofficial religion -- particularly the demigoddess "Semi-Colon" - and knows the true meaning of irony. On wireframe, he covers audio technology.