Writes Fionn Kelleher
If you’re interested in producing electronic music but don’t know where to start, here’s the lowdown. I’m going to focus on setting up an environment for you to start experimenting, as well as providing some essential resources and pointers. The only prerequisites are a laptop, a pair of headphones, and a bedroom.
Let’s start off with the brains of your set up: the Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), a piece of software that runs on your computer. A DAW is akin to a workbench: It’s where you assemble all the bits of your track, tweak individual parts to make every sound fit together nicely, and it houses all the tools you’ll need. Picking a DAW is as personal a choice as picking a comfortable pair of shoes — while every DAW has a common purpose (to help you create music), each has a different workflow. You may feel more creative in one over the others, so it’s worth spending some time exploring your options. Some of the most commonly used are FL Studio, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, and Cubase; unfortunately, they all cost money. Luckily, they do offer free trials and some provide student discounts, so they’re worth looking into.
Synthesisers are the heart of electronic music — from drums, to leads, to pads, to droning notes. A synthesiser starts off by generating a continuous waveform that creates a sound, and lets you tweak various parameters to shape that waveform into your desired sound. When you drag a virtual instrument into your track, chances are the sound is being generated by a synth. You’ll likely notice you can select from a number of ‘patches’ within your DAW, which are pre-configured sounds for the instrument.
Even so, It’s worthwhile being able to understand how each parameter influences the sound so you can create unique sounds of your own. There’s no better resource than Syntorial. Syntorial is an interactive lesson-based guide to sound design, training your ear to notice how different options influence sound. The first twenty lessons are free; after that you’ll need to pay a one-time fee to unlock the rest (a 40% student discount is available, however).
Sampling is an important part of many genres of electronic music, especially hip-hop. Sampling involves taking a recording — which could be a full song, an excerpt, or any arbitrary snippet of audio — and manipulating it into other interesting sounds and arranging them as the basis of a song, or to complement other elements of a song. Your DAW should have a sampler, and the best way of learning to use it is to consult the manual and experiment with different clips.
If you find yourself enjoying music production, a worthy purchase is a MIDI controller or MIDI keyboard. One recognisable example of a MIDI controller is the Novation Launchpad. They hook up to your DAW and let you control it without needing to touch your mouse/keyboard. Reference headphones are worth the money if you plan on releasing your music; they provide a flat sound profile, so you can mix your music to sound great on any sound system.
The most important thing is to have fun! Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not the next Daft Punk overnight; so long as you’re creating, you’re learning.