Are you interested in learning how to produce electronic music but have no idea where to start?
If so I wrote this guide for YOU.
4 years ago I was in the same position as you. I fell in love with electronic music. I knew in my mind that I could come up with great melodies and song ideas, but I didn’t know I how to get these ideas down into my laptop and turn them into something that resembled all the songs I fell in love with.
I also noticed that there was so much information scattered all over youtube and the internet but hardly any all-in-one, complete guides that provided all the information I needed as a beginner.
Getting to a level where you can write commercially competitive electronic music can take years. But the good news is, it’s a fun journey, and with this guide, you will be armed with all the info you need to get your very first track finished.
I will break this post down into four main parts:
- Electronic Music Production Equipment.
- Making your first song + a free ableton template.
- Basic Music Theory
- How To Practice Music Production
Let’s get started…
Electronic Music Production Equipment
To get started there are 4 main things you will need…
Don’t worry too much about whether to pick PC or MAC. I produce on both and don’t find any benefit in using one over the other.
Your software will be quite intensive on CPU so the faster CPU you have, the better.
An SSD is also advantageous as you will be loading samples into your workstation so a fast read write speed is helpful.
I wouldn’t worry though, most modern day PCs and laptops shouldn’t have any issues until you start building huge projects, and even then, most DAWs come equipped with features that will minimize CPU impact.
- For the purpose of a beginner I would say:
- a minimum of 8GB RAM
- any multi-core processor
- a display with enough real estate (15inch is as low as I’d go)500GB disk space (preferably SSD)
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
This is the software where you will be be doing all the creation. It’s where you compose, mix and master your songs. There are a large amount of DAWs out there and everyone swears by their choice, so it’s hard to go wrong here.
The big question everyone has is “which DAW is the best?”
The internet is littered with posts full of arguments about which is the best and the TL;DR of it is that there is no ‘best’. People tend to try a few and stick with whatever feels best in terms of work flow.
I recommend Ableton Live as my choice of music production software as it comes with a massive library of sounds, effects and instruments that are unparalleled, and the workflow just made the most sense to me when I was starting out.
The vast majority of bedroom producers I know are either using Ableton or FL Studio. And you will have no issue finding a wealth of tutorials on these DAWs due to their popularity.
I have a comprehensive guide to the Top 5 Digital Audio Workstations that goes over all the pros, cons and pricing of each DAW.
Read it, and if you are still struggling to make a decision, my recommendation is to download a trial of which ever one catches your eye and follow a few beginner tutorials on youtube on how to create your first song in them and then make your pick.
While most DAWs will come equipped with a library of stock sounds. You will want to expand your options and get sounds more suited to your style. You will also want to work with vocals. As a beginner I see a lot of people asking where to get vocals for their tracks.
The quickest way is through sample packs. Singers produce packs filled with phrases, hooks, adlibs and even full acapellas that you can use, completely royalty free.
They are usually processed so will fit right into your track without having to know anything about vocal processing.
The other option is to hire or collaborate with a singer. However, if you are starting out, you probably won’t want to fork out £250+ for a session vocalist, and most singers won’t want to collaborate if your production quality isn’t up to standard.
My favourite platform for getting samples is a service called Splice. They have an applet that runs on your desktop which allows you preview, and download samples straight to your library.
It also backs up your project to the cloud every time you hit save.
It’s subscription based but they often run promos where you can get a free month of credits to use.
You can check it out here.
Headphones or Speakers
For the purpose of learning I wouldn’t recommend spending 100s of dollars on expensive headphones or monitors(speakers). Generally what you’re looking for is a FLAT response. A lot of consumer headphones are bass boosted which is pleasing for the casual listener but not so great for the purpose of music production.
You want headphones or speakers that give a true and accurate representation of what your music sounds like.
The headphones I use are Audio Technica M50X, these cost around £100 and are perfect for me. For a list of my favourite headphones click here.
One thing I will say about headphones is TAKE REGULAR BREAKS (at least 20 mins for every hour) and DO NOT LISTEN LOUD(at about regular conversation level).
Follow these rules and you will save yourself from inevitable hearing loss and from something called ear fatigue where your ability to listen accurately starts to diminish as your ears become less sensitive to the sounds you’re hearing.
For speakers I use M-Audio BX5, they are nice and flat with a decent frequency response, they look great and sound even better. If you’re struggling to choose speakers, I have compiled a list of my Top 5 favourite budget monitors.
You might also want to pick up a good quality subwoofer. They aren’t a complete necessity but having a dedicated subwoofer can help give clarity and detail to your low end. Being able to clearly hear what is happening with your low end will allow you to make better mixing decisions.
If you purchase monitors you will also need an audio interface.
An audio interface is a little box that sits on your desk and allows you to connect multiple different sound inputs and outputs. For example, you can connect a microphone and a guitar as inputs, and have your monitors as outputs.
They also allow for higher resolution sound quality. While it is not essential to purchase an Audio Interface (you can still produce music with just headphones plugged into the auxiliary port on your laptop), they do improve sound quality and will eventually be required when you want to start recording mics and instruments.
I currently use the NI Komplete Audio 6 which has been an absolute dream to work with. I previously owned the Focusrite Scarlett Solo which gave me nothing but latency issues, ground loops, buffer issues, the drivers used to crash all the time – it was a nightmare. The NI Komplete Audio 6 solved all those annoyances and hasn’t given me a single issue in 2 years.
MIDI Keyboard (Optional)
A MIDI keyboard will allow you to play all your synths and VST instruments live. It does this by sending MIDI note information to your DAW. If you have experience playing piano/keys then getting a MIDI keyboard will make your writing process a lot quicker. Melodies also tend to sound more natural and relatable when played in by a human. If you plan on learning to play then it’s also a great idea to pick up a MIDI Keyboard.There are some keyboards that will also have additional features and controls such as drum pads, DAW and preset navigation, macro knobs and more. For a full breakdown of my favourite MIDI keyboards check out this article.
If you travel a lot you might want to get your hands on a nice mini MIDI keyboard that you can take anywhere with you and practice on the go.
Making Your First Song
Once you are setup with your laptop/PC/MAC, DAW and headphones or speakers, it’s time to make your first song. For this I would recommend following along with our youtube tutorial below. Please note that we have only created a tutorial in Ableton Live as this is our DAW of choice. If you are using another DAW then you can simply search for beginner tutorials on youtube – there will be tons of options.
The Drum Beat
For our first song we will be making a melodic/deep house style track. For this we will be working with a 4 on the floor drum pattern.
What is a 4 on the floor drum pattern?
You will notice your DAW is laid out in a grid pattern made up of beats and bars. Each bar is subdivided into notes, you get 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, 1/6t, 1/32 and so on.
When we listen to music we can typically clap our hands to the music and count “1… 2… 3… 4…, 1… 2… 3… 4…” each one of those counts is a quarter note.
In dance music, 4 on the floor refers to a kick drum being placed on every count or beat.
- So let’s drop a kick drum on every 1/4 note.
- Next we add the clap on every second beat (the 2 and the 4).
- Open hats get placed on every 1/8th note and closed hats on every 1/16th note.
- Let’s turn down every 1st and 3rd open hat so that the upbeats are emphasised.
- Turn down the closed hats so that they are about half the volume of the open hats.
- Let’s make a drum fill at the end of the first 16 bars. I do this by adding snares in a nice syncopated rhythm.
- Next, we add a crash cymbal to the 1st beat of every 16 bars, and some percussion to fill it out.
With our drum loop complete it’s time to add some melodic and harmonic elements.
For this example we will be working in A minor, why? Because it’s the easiest scale to remember. It consists of only white notes on your keyboard. No sharps or flats – A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
A nice simple chord progression we can use is i, III, vi, VII or Am, C, Emin, G.
Let’s load this into any stock piano plugin we have. I am using the Ableton Grand Piano.
This section starts at 13:00 in the video.
For the melody we try to harmonise nicely with the chords by adding 7ths, 6ths and other notes in the chords in a nice rhythmic pattern. To watch this in the video skip to 18:43.
For the bass we used operator on FM mode which allows us to add harmonics to the sub and beef it up a bit. We copy the chord midi over and delete all notes except for the bottom/bass/root notes of each chord.
To watch us make the bass you can skip to 27:40 in the video.
For the intro we copy the drums over, add only the first chord (Amin) every 4 bars, and add some other melodic elements like brass hits.
Skip to 31:33 to see how we made the intro.
At 47:00 we start making the breakdown which is the same as the intro except we remove the drums and make a new melody for the piano.
There isn’t really much of a buildup for this style of song so a simple crash transition and some automation on the bassline is enough to create tension.
For the second drop we added some strings, a ride cymbal to add energy and a few more melodic samples to add depth for an epic ending. Skip to 56:00 for the second drop.
You can hear the final playthrough at 01:23:15.
Download the free project file!
And you can grab the sample packs used in this video below:
Basic Music Theory
Once you are feeling comfortable with your DAW of choice it’s time to start composing your own songs. You will need basic music theory to do this, some will argue that you can do this by ear, which is true, but for the most part will take infinitely longer for you to figure out, why re-invent the wheel?All the basic parts of music theory have been covered in our article – Music Theory For EDM Production – Complete Beginners Guide
Once you are comfortable with basic music theory, you might find you want to write more interesting and moving melodies and chord progressions. For this make sure to read our article – 7 Interesting Music Theory Tips for EDM Producers
How To Practice Music Production
I know far too many producers who have spent years producing snippets of songs – 8 to 16 bar loops of audio, but are unable to finish a full song, it is for this reason that my recommendation is to work quickly, and aim to FINISH full songs even if they don’t sound good to you.
The goal here is to practice every aspect of producing an electronic record; composition and layout, mixing and mastering.
Finish fast and finish often.
This quick video was a lifesaver for me as I came across it early on in my production career, I feel it’s relevant to anybody pursuing a creative artform.
Once you’ve got the hang of finishing songs quickly and to the best of your ability, you can then focus on the quality. And I don’t mean you should just willy nilly finish a half-assed song. Finish them to the best of your ability from day one. But don’t get caught up on small details like EQing and compressing your bassline for 7 hours.
Just write something, mix it in, commit to it and move on.
When I started out I was spending a few hours on each song, finishing 1-2 songs a week, nowadays I can spend upwards of 70 hours perfecting a song – that’s not to say it SHOULD always take 70 hours to produce a good song, if you can get the same result in 6 hours, then that’s great!
Another form of practice I would recommend is remaking songs.
You pick a song you like and attempt to make a like for like copy of it. It’s a powerful form of analytical listening where you pay attention to how each element is placed in the mix, how the chords and melodies are laid out, how the tension and release is structured and how sounds and synth patches are made.
Every time I have remade a song I’ve walked away from the exercise with a whole new arsenal of ideas and tools to begin creating my next song.
Spend an hour or two every week reading about music theory and playing a musical instrument. Music theory is hugely important, and learning any instrument is a great way to kill 2 birds with one stone. You develop your musical ear and learn theory at the same time.
If you have no interest in learning to play an instrument, then just learning theory will be sufficient. Here is a video of KSHMR, who doesn’t play any instruments, creating a melody based purely on music theory practice.
That’s it! As always, thanks for reading and I hope you learned a thing or two!