Producing electronic dance music that sounds good enough for you to play in front of a crowd or have signed to a label can seem like a daunting task when giving it a stab for the first time, and there are lot of pitfalls that can trip you up if you don’t have a handle on some basic concepts.
Considering there are entire books that have been written on the subject, it’s impossible to cover in a single article every technique or method used by artists and producers who have contributed decades of their personal experience and knowledge in print, but we will delve into the very basics of what you can do to get your first project off the ground.
It’s All About The Arrangement
When I first started learning about music production in 2007, I was floored by all the synths, DAW (or digital audio workstation) features, effects, and samples I was given to experiment with for the first time.
I would spend hours and hours putting together what I thought would be something particularly outstanding to listen to, but the cold, harsh truth of the matter swiftly put me in my place as I discovered just how bad my first track sounded as I faded the track in during a DJ set at a downtown nightclub.
Luckily, even though I was the opening DJ, things didn’t turn out that badly because there weren’t that many people there, but my confidence was crushed for a while thereafter.
What I Learned
Year after year, my skills and knowledge slowly improved along with the quality of my tracks, but I soon realized after a few years into it that learning music theory would help me immensely in plotting out my tracks.
In music, no matter what the genre, what I’ve learned and what others more experienced than myself have told me is that arrangement is the one thing that can make or break a song.
If a song is poorly arranged, there is no amount of mixing or technical wizardry that can save it, and to make a dance track without having any sort of structure or concept behind it is an exercise in mental torture at best.
What Do I Have To Know To Produce Dance Music?
So what exactly do you need to know to produce dance music? There are no real requirements to be perfectly honest, but if there’s one thing that I wish I would’ve done before I started learning about music production, particularly for dance music, it would’ve been to learn to play an instrument, and moreover, to learn music theory and how to actually write a song.
Thus, my advice is this: learn how to play the piano or keyboard first before you start learning how to produce, and if you’ve already started learning how to produce, make sure you spend some time learning about music theory so you can actually understand what you’re trying to create and identify what other artists you admire are doing. It’ll save you a lot of headaches, I promise!
That said, below are links to websites that I highly recommend you check out because they make learning music theory really simple:
What Kind Of Equipment Do I Need?
As of right now, the only equipment I’m working with at the moment is an ASUS VivoBook X200CA-DB01T laptop with a 1.5 GHz Intel Celeron 1007U, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, a 1 TB Seagate external drive with about 25 GB of drum samples I’ve collected over the years, and a copy of Reaper with a set of my favorite plugins.
As for audio equipment, I’ve got a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones, which aren’t really that great at all, but I know them well enough to get the job done.
So there you have it. I’ve got a pretty sparse setup, but even with that, I’m still able to get a modicum of work done before I’ll consider transferring my work to a more properly equipped workstation.
Start With Whatever You’ve Got
If all you’ve got is a laptop and a set of headphones to start off with, then that’s all you need to dive in and get a handle on the basics.
Ideally, you’d want to have at couple of studio monitors with a relatively flat-frequency response (and have them positioned at least 3 feet away or so from your listening position) and an acoustically treated room that’s been calibrated for any excessive dips and peaks that would indicate room nodes or other acoustic anomalies that could mar the acoustic image between your monitors.
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[Music Equipment Checklist]
Really Awesome Videos To Get You Started
As the old saying goes, there are a thousand ways you can slice a cake, and that most certainly rings true for dance music as well, so without further adieu, below is a list of videos on how to produce some of the most popular dance music genres today:
How To Produce Trance
How To Produce House
How To Produce Dubstep
How To Produce Trap
How To Produce Techno
How To Produce Big Room House
Don’t Expect To Be An Overnight Success!
Most importantly, don’t worry too much if you don’t get the results you’re looking for right off the bat; music production involves a lot of critical listening as well as understanding synthesis, music theory, and production techniques, all of which take time and consistent practice to learn!
My advice would be to find forums and blogs that encourage users to send their tracks for critical review or to find an experienced and accomplished producer who’s willing to help you out.
Having access to constructive criticism and feedback can help you address a lot of critical mistakes and problems in the beginning when you’re first starting out, so don’t go it alone at first! Good luck!