How do you start?


#1

Hi everyone. :slightly_smiling_face:
I’m new here. I’m experienced in songwriting, producing pop/rock/alternative/jazz and playing live.

I really want to write more EDM type music but I don’t know how to start.

I mean how do you start a track?

For the type of music I normally create I play piano while writing words and melody. Once it is ready, the piano track is the first part I lay down in Cubase. I then build everything from there.

I’m not sure if this is the best way to create electronic stuff. :thinking:

Can anyone offer me some advice? What should I do first?

Thanks!


#2

Welcome!

My 2 cents: do what works for you.

Following a template of sorts just means you’re going to end up making the exact same music that everybody makes. EDM is already very formulaic, so the last thing it needs is yet more songs that sound exactly like the millions that already exist out there.

Sometimes an idea will come out of dicking about with a synth. Or a bass line. Or a drum sequence. Etc. Go where it takes you, surprise yourself and your listeners :slight_smile:


#3

One thing that sometimes works for me is to focus on creating lots of ideas, rather than on creating good ideas.

Spend a couples hours just focused on creating stuff - make a ton of 8 bar loops, or chord progressions, or synth patches, or whatever. The important thing is to record/save all of the ideas, good or bad.

90% of it might be garbage, but that’s fine, the main thing is to make sure you record and save the 10% cool ideas and build from those. Trash the rest, or I guess save them in some archive folder somewhere just in case…


#4

If you are serious about the Dance part of EDM, I always start with the coming up drums and bass first. I also decide pretty early on whether this will be a “bass track” or a “drum track”–in other words what is the main element people will dance to (often I will make a B or C part where I flip flop this for a while). To me a good dance track should not need much more than a good beat and bassline, everything else is dessert.

I’ll probably then come up with some alternate percussion loops to switch between as the song progresses. a B part bassline, etc. from there it kinda just depends what kind of vibe I’m going for.

I think it is best to be standing for a lot of this to see if you yourself have any interest in dancing to it. If you have never been much of a dancer you need to put on your favorite EDM tracks and see what’s up. Additionally, you may want to try just copying the structure of a favorite track your first time out. There is a term some people use called “DJ friendly” …this means using some pretty standard structures, having build ups and breakdowns etc the DJ can use to mix records (of course a good DJ should be able to mix almost anything, but your tunes kinda have to fit into certain paradigms if you want them played or danced to–it is just part of dance music culture which is a relationship between DJ/Dancer/Song Writer).


#5

Me but without any gear…

If I did have gear would totally be me.


#6

Also–A lot EDM is melody/chord focused where like a techno song might not even have melody or chords or DnB/Jungle which often uses the chromatic scale (?) and would sound quite dissonant. So your old method could be useful depending on what kind of EDM you are talking.

edit: ok, I’m also just going to be nosy and ask what EDM artists you’ve been listening to, any favorite songs?


#7

I don’t know if there is necessarily a “best way.”

Some tracks, I start with a beat, others I start with chords for a progression, and then others with a bassline.

A lot of people will build out the fullest part of the track first, and then arrange that out and make variations in the other sections. I do that some times, as well.


#8

I’m with @endlessplane - it depends on where my inspiration is. Sometimes it’s a rhythm in my head, sometimes it’s a sound I hear out in the world or stumble upon while messing around in the studio. Like any creative endeavor, it’s hard to pin down where the impetus starts as it’s different every time.

Since you have a background in music, I’d get to know the tools, whether it’s analog synths and sequencers or a DAW and soft synths. Play around with slicing beats until you get something you like, making pads and leads and bass sounds that tickle your ears. Once you can make the sounds you want to hear, layering and arranging them isn’t much different than any other music.

One of the interesting things about EDM is that, by definition, you can’t make it with traditional instruments. Getting to know the abilities, limitations and workflow of a whole host of new tools is part of the learning curve, and always leads to some amazing ‘ah ha’ moments where you end up with sounds you never imagined (even all these years later…)


#9

For someone coming from another side/different kind of music this is probably the best point made so far. So much electronic music is more about morphing timbre or texture than melody or complex chord progressions.


#10

Just start.


#11

I don’t want to say too much.
Just absorbing the advice everyone :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks @morphic @Faintbrush … and I’d also thank relic bfk endlessplane Artificer st3aLth … but new users can only mention two members per post. Oh well. :face_with_monocle:
You all remember those days when you were new and alone in the world … :cry:


#12

After thinking about my last response a bit, I realized it’s a bit esoteric and handwavy - ‘everyone has their own process yadda yadda’. The fact is that at some point everyone gets paralysis about a bunch of blank tracks and limitless possibilities. Starting is hard because you can do anything and there’s so many options, and everyone does come up with their own way of approaching things.

One of the most fascinating things to me about electronic music is there are so many ways to go about it. Like, there’s one way to play piano - you whack a key and a sound comes out (obviously there’s a lot of variations on that). There’s mostly one way to play most traditional instruments, and that means there’s whole generations of people sitting down and learning fundamentals of ‘how to play’, and getting mostly the same results. Not so with electronic music - there’s literally hundreds of ways to make a sound (even the same sound), and no two people will approach it in exactly the same way. Point is, a lot of this is your toolset, mindset, and how you decide to approach those things. Experimentation and learning what works for you is key.

But as a more concrete ‘getting started’ example, and to dovetail with the idea of exploring new tools and sounds, try something like this:

Find a drumbeat you like the sound of. Not the beat itself, it doesn’t matter, just the sound. Drag an mp3 into a DAW and cut it out. Then cut it up - pull out a snare or a kick or a snip of it and loop it or build a new beat. Then effect it in different ways. Layer it with other sounds and samples. Play with the tempo. Go watch some videos on beat slicing. Get something that speaks to you. Get used to using the tools creatively and see what comes up.

Remember, there’s no rules here. It doesn’t have to be something that a real drummer could play, or something that even sounds like drums. The idea is to get comfortable messing with sound in an electronic context and pulling the creativity out of it. Find things that spark your imagination and suggest other sounds and beats (a sampled melody run through a couple of delays and envelops can create a new beat, etc). @relic hit the nail on the head about electronic music being about timbre and texture - get used to thinking about sounds beyond the context of traditional voicings, timbres and whatnot, and use the tools to explore creatively, then build on it.


#13

BTW, I guess I should specify that my comment (“EDM is already very formulaic, so the last thing it needs is yet more songs that sound exactly like the millions that already exist out there.”) was about EDM aka the Bro Dance Music genre, not electronic music as a whole, of course, since there are so many variants & possibilities :slight_smile:

Bro Dance Music: happy-cheesy couple bars’ melodies tailored for stadiums, massive kick, riser(s), bass drop(s), wub wub, ducking everywhere, DJ jumping on table, spraying champagne while his music is playing, the end.

(can you tell it’s not my favorite?)


#14

Thanks @Artificer and @morphic

Good advice! Really good!

Is there a thread around here about setting up busses in the mix … ie getting a template set up?

My normal template has:
piano
EP’s - to a bus
bass
guitar to a bus
strings to a bus
synth to a bus

all that to instrument bus

Drums
all to a drum bus

vocals - a lot of bus. a lot of treatment, doubles, triples harmonies etc.
all to a vocal bus

Then busses for parallel compression 1 for instruments and vocals and another for drums


A lot of times it seems the kick and the bass kind work together more in EDM … almost like they should go together … esp. how side-chained, etc.

Plus, making a synth bus seems almost nonsensical … with the amount of synth usually going on.

Should there be a string bus … like certain synths act like strings?

See what I mean? re: starting?

So, yeah , sorry for the newb questions
I appreciate the advice


#15

As you mention, there can be lots of synths!

In my case, I can easily have 10+ different ones on one song, just because I like to work with synths that have a different color/tone and complement each other. Some are metallic/cold, some are more analogue-ish/warm, others have unique sound/filters, you get the idea… Having one bus for them wouldn’t help at all in my case.

Let’s not forget that most VST synths these days have incredible effects & mixing possibilities built in, so they don’t need that much processing (unlike an electric guitar which you may have to go through 5 different pedals or other effects to achieve the sound you want).

As a musician, I am a guitar & bass player first - yet I never use analogue instruments in electronic music. Maybe I’ll get some guitars back in there at some point; don’t really feel the need right now.

Since you’re planning on mixing acoustic instruments with digital, it reminded me of this thread you may find interesting:


#16

As usual, @morphic is spot on. A couple of complementary viewpoints:

I think (very, very) generally, EDM music can be broken up into: drums, basslines, leads, pads, effects, and sometimes vocals. Drums and bass are obvious, think of leads like a guitar and pads like an backing piano as far as the sonic space they take up. Listen to some favorite EDM tracks and try to get your head around the parts and what roles they’re playing in the mix. We’re still talking about the usual frequency spectrum, so nothing really changes - it’s still ~20Hz > 20kHz, and the same rules of conflicting frequencies and wave cancellation applies.

I generally take issue with the idea that synths are hard to mix, if you keep the above ideas about frequency in mind and deal with them from the get go. There’s a couple of complicating factors, especially alongside acoustic instruments:

  • Analog instruments are dictated by their physical characteristics - a guitar doesn’t do much at 40Hz but has a lot of midrange, and there’s not much you can do about that because a guitar’s a guitar. If you’re going to have guitars (or whatever) in the mix, you have to be prepared to work around that because those things are going to be static quantities if you want to retain that sound.

  • Digital synths can inherently produce sounds across the entire frequency spectrum. You can ramp up a bunch of bass in a lead synth, but it’s just going to mess with the drums and bass when you try to mix it. A good analogy here is when inexperienced metal guitarists dial in a bunch of low-mid and bass into their distortion because it sounds awesome in their bedroom, but then when they play with a band they’re stepping all over the bass and drums. You have to carve out those frequencies with synths so they’ll sit in the mix, and you can do that from the beginning.

  • The sonic spectrum issue is really a problem with presets - they’re set up to sound good on their own most of the time, but you have to EQ and dial them in to use them in a mix (as morphic says, you can usually do that in the synth). If you’re starting with presets, be prepared to really tweak them to get them to sit in the mix.

  • It can helpful to understand some of the underpinnings of how synthesis works. Basically, everything can be boiled down to stacks of sine waves and the harmonics they create. When you hit a piano key, you get a pretty known quality of timbre - you’re going to mostly get the same harmonics and frequency content because of the physical characteristics of pianos. With synths, you’re totally off the reservation. You can have all sorts of crazy harmonics and phase content (which is where a lot of the unique timbre comes from). That can make for some complicated mixing if you don’t understand what’s going on with a particular patch. Spectrographs can be a handy tool if you have something that just won’t mix and you’re not sure why.

All this leads to the point that sound design is a huge deal with electronic music. Be thinking about your mix when you’re initially playing with sounds, what they’re going to be doing sonically and how they might conflict with whatever else you have planned.

Regarding bussing: You can use them like you normally would, just think about how a particular synth is acting in the mix and assign accordingly. Once you get a feel for how you’d like to arrange a track, things tend to settle into buckets of bass/drums/mids/high end sqwaky stuff.


#17

I start with 4 midi tracks.
1 for chords from my keyboard.
1 for melodies from my keyboard.
1 for different chords in the same root key. ( for variations )
1 for different melodies in the same root key. ( for variations )



Then i summ all that midi data.

I resample the audio material …
I mono compatible all that stuff …

I now i will further shape this freshly created audio material …
& then sequence all this in a new project.


#18

Cool @ACRE !

Thanks for the behind the scenes of how you start!


#19

Thanks @morphic @Artificer good stuff!!!


#20

Wow! @Bill… you’ve managed to tap into the essential knowledge of the collective forum with one great question… amazing.

So glad I read this thread… I learned a lot.

Thank you everybody :pray: