How To Become An Electronic Music Artist

March 16, 2020

If you're interested in learning how to create electronic music you should try these 3 Masterclasses:

Grammy-winning music producer Timbaland takes you behind the boards to teach you his process for creating iconic tracks with artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah. In his first-ever online class, learn how to collaborate with vocalists, layer new tracks, and create hooks that stick. Step into Timbaland’s studio and learn from one of the industry’s most innovative hit makers.

Every week, Armin van Buuren puts 41 million listeners into A State of Trance on his radio show. In his first-ever online class, the platinum-selling DJ breaks down his hits and builds a track from scratch to show you how he produces, performs, and promotes dance music. You’ll learn his technical process for using samples and plug-ins, mixing, recording vocals, and how to DJ a set. Your crowd is waiting.

Before he was deadmau5, all Joel Zimmerman wanted for Christmas was old toasters to take apart. Now, you can watch him take his music apart. In his first-ever online class, Joel teaches you how he approaches melodies, mixing and mastering to make unique sounds you can't find in a cookie cutter sample pack. You'll not only get his lessons, you'll learn how to create your own music without spending money on million dollar gear.

Lessons include topics like: Making beats, creating songs, layering drums, chord progressions, manipulating samples, musical influences, melodic inspiration, building a home studio, working in the studio, working with pads and leads, creating a groove, working with bass, mixing and mastering, arranging, working with lyrics and vocals, singles, club mixes, and edits, mashups, advanced techniques, performance tips, hosting radio shows, growing your career, working with synths, and the future of electronic music.

How to start making electronic music at home

Start slow, go easy on yourself. Acknowledge you're not going to be fantastic with your first efforts unless you're a musical prodigy. Jimi Hendrix didn't pick up his guitar and instantly record Hey Joe his first time playing.

Anything worth doing takes time and practice. I gave up several times and regretted it so much I always came back. Create to create until you learn the ropes and finish a project you like. Save everything, sit on it and come back to it. I had stuff I was ready to trash but liked months later.

This is what you should do:

  • Buy a decent pair of monitor headphones like these ATHs:
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, With Detachable Cable
14,073 reviews
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, With Detachable Cable
  • Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers
  • Proprietary 45 millimeter large aperture drivers with rare earth magnets and copper clad aluminum wire voice coils
  • Exceptional clarity throughout an extended frequency range, with deep, accurate bass response
  • Get yourself a MIDI controller so you can have more expressive notes, and get one preferably with pads so you get more control over the drums as well. Akai MPD226 is FIRE:
Akai Professional MPD226 | 16-Pad USB/MIDI Pad Controller With Full Complement of Fully-Assignable, Production-Ready Controls
797 reviews
Akai Professional MPD226 | 16-Pad USB/MIDI Pad Controller With Full Complement of Fully-Assignable, Production-Ready Controls
  • Ultra portable feature packed, highly playable pad controller with 16 thick fat RGB illuminated velocity and pressure sensitive MPC pads for triggering drums, melodic samples, effects and more
  • Easily accessible dedicated controls for 4 pad banks provides a total of 64 assignable pads
  • 4 assignable faders, 4 assignable q link knobs and 4 assignable Q link buttons with a total of 36 assignable controls accessible via 3 banks perfect for mapping to, and controlling, daw, virtual effect and virtual instrument parameters
  • If you're looking for something cheaper with more keys, try the Launchkey Mini:
Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3] 25-Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard
821 reviews
Novation Launchkey Mini [MK3] 25-Mini-Key MIDI Keyboard
  • Deep and intuitive Ableton Live control - including device Macro control, track select, record, capture MIDI, clip and scene launch, stop/mute/solo, volume, pans and sends
  • Creative arpeggiator – easy to use but deeply controllable: change rhythm, beat, pattern, octave, Gate and more
  • Fixed chord Mode – play a chord with one finger - assign a fixed chord shape to the keys and it’ll transpose as you move up and down the keyboard
  • The more you know about music theory the better but in a lot of cases the basics will do to begin.

  • I recommend starting with FL Studio or Ableton to most people. Ableton has a steeper learning curve, but is more advanced. This is an amazing list of tutorials that you can learn FL Studio from:

  • Other than music theory and structure, I'd say good quality drum samples and at least one synth you really know inside and out.

  • Lastly, really knowing how to make a track sound full but not having different sounds occupy the same space.

Making electronic music is more about technicality than musicality

Lots of people will disagree with me, but the truth is, you NEED the technical skills now more than ever. EDM today is so crisp, powerful, clean, full, and energetic. You can only achieve that level of quality (and therefore compete professionally) by having incredible technical skills. In my opinion, it's technical skills first, musicality second.

Here's why:

If you have amazing technical skills but 0 originality/creativity, you can just copy song structures/sounds/ideas from other producers, and you could produce generic house, trap, dubstep, etc. and land yourself on Trap City, Proximity, etc.. You won't be the next Skrillex, but you'll do pretty well.

Conversely, if your originality/creativity is on point but you have 0 technical skills, well... you're pretty much out of luck. Not much you can do with that. No one wants to listen to music that's horribly mixed, muddy, unclear, dull, harsh, etc. even if the ideas are good.

What's my workflow to actually create an electronic song

Here's how we do it at my home studio.

Load absynth get a sound scape. Basic idea is a single short press of root note and it has long release, it will fill out the spectrum and be random not lopping stale letting you get out of loops from the very second you open a synth.

Load up absynth again. in Playlist I set a time marker. First one is intro. Second one is chords and I'll right click and set "srart" on this time marker so fl thinks this is the start position for now. (careful anyone who sound designs this will change your LFO's)

So we have the first soundscape playing one note lasting about or under 4 bars. I'd paste this to 16 bars long.

In the middle (so 2 patterns in) I added that chord / set start on time marker. lay down a chord progrssion that is 8 bars long. Maybe 16.

Copy the 8 bars of chords and soundscape to 32 bars.

Then I'll grab a piano and play a lead solo over it too in seperate pattern. Usually 16 bars. (Half of our intro do far. time marker added if u want)

Doesn't have to be perfect just get something down for now and move to next part. I'll change it later.

Then I'll load up an 808 I usually make them myself in serum with a self oscillating filter. I'd probably remove lead solo. get drums too. make a fat bassline that works with my drums while pads and soundscape play in background. Also 16 bars long nor repeating the fills.

Then I'll google accapella dub. Find a phrase I like. Load it into Playlist last one I used said like "and the world keeps burning"

Place it at end of the drum loop before the measure ends.

I'd shift the bassline over so it don't play over the intro drums or this vocal phrase (so it gets moved just after for drop)

Then I'd play with reverb automation on my intro drumz. Maybe cut up that lead and play little bits over,the drums.

Ok confusing mess above so it's soundscape pattern pasted throughout. pads start on measure 8.

Measure 16 drums reverb lead sprinkles. like 20 has that vox ending at 24 24 you cut away the reverb maybe filter the drums too a bit.

Have vox phrase sing into drop. You'll want to match your pads cadance with the vocal by pitching it half steps till it works. Makes drop more profound hard hitting.

At drop 808 drums lead soundscape pads. Pitch edit drums to make it less stale.

The machine library with battery 4 has nice dance drums that aren't processed (so u can still pitch them etc) but are very loud and snappy. Makes everything easy.

This is how u write a track. Then go back and sound design it better or use the presets call it a day and make a new one. It's fun sound designing I think I do it well. But it's also hella fun finishing a song without touching an eq.

What to buy for your kid if they're into electronic music

If you have the budget - a trio of pocket operators by Teenage Engineering would do. I've seen a couple of kids on youtube get to grips with them no problem. They look like calculators.

Teenage Engineering PO-30 Pocket Operator Metal Series Super Set Bundle with 3-Pack of CA-X Silicone Cases, and Blucoil 3-Pack of 7' Audio Aux Cables
9 reviews
Teenage Engineering PO-30 Pocket Operator Metal Series Super Set Bundle with 3-Pack of CA-X Silicone Cases, and Blucoil 3-Pack of 7" Audio Aux Cables
  • CREATE A POCKET OPERATOR BAND! - The PO-30 Metal Series Super Set includes the PO-32 Tonic, PO-33 KO, and PO-35 Speak. The portable synth/sequencers produce a wide range of synthesized sounds, including drums, percussion, and vocals.
  • PROVIDES A BUILT-IN MICROPHONE - PO-33 records up to 40 seconds of sampling, while PO-35 can save up to 120 seconds. On the other hand, PO-32 uses the onboard microphone for data transfer.
  • OFFERS REPLACEABLE DRUM SOUNDS - The PO-32 Tonic and PO-35 Speak Pocket Operators are compatible with Microtonic (sold separately). You can replace any of sound 1~16 via Microtonic VST/AU plug-in.

Korg Volcas are easy to use too. More expensive though.

Korg Volca Modular Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer
27 reviews
Korg Volca Modular Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer
  • The Korg Volca Modular Semi-Modular Analog Synthesizer
  • The compact body of this volca synth features eight modules and 50 patch points. While learning the basics of a modular synth, you can use popular features of the volca synthesizer line to control a unique and different flavor of analog sounds.

The cheapest option is music software. Something like Ableton Live Intro is the cheapest, and iirc can be used with the many free VST (a file format) instruments and effects.

Ableton Multitrack Recording Software (Live 10 Intro)
24 reviews
Ableton Multitrack Recording Software (Live 10 Intro)
  • Multitrack Audio recording and MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments
  • Unique Session View for nonlinear composition, flexible performance and improvisation
  • Real-time warping of audio: automatically sync music and loops, regardless of tempo

Propellerhead's Reason is more expensive and well loved. The kid could probably pick that up easily too.

Propellerhead Reason 10 Music Production Software
40 reviews
Propellerhead Reason 10 Music Production Software
  • 2 new powerful synthesizers & 3 new instruments
  • Full VST plugin support
  • 3G of cutting edge loops & samples

I know others say "dont buy pro/semipro music software, for a kid" - don't assume they won't be able to pick it up! Kids are more clever than you think!

There are TONS of tutorial videos on youtube for each bit of software (usually refered to as a DAW). I've been writing electronica for about 25 years and I'm still learning, as I am sure we all are.

Are there electronic music producers who balance technology with organic sounds?

Jon Hopkins is an obvious example for me. He creates some of the most organic-sounding electronica I've ever heard. It's not about using samples of real-world sounds (though he does that much and masterfully as well) but about making the synthesizer textures sound and behave organically. A good example from the world of techno/house/minimal is Stephan Bodzin.

Listen to this piece, Phobos (Synthapella), created by Marc Romboy and Bodzin:

This is a purely electronic piece, but to my ears it sounds profoundly organic and rich.

For the record, there are of course many artists who use more "nature-y" sounds, and incorporate them into an electronic setting. Here, I'm more concerned with artists that are able to make traditional digital/electronic sound sources sound organic.

What were the early DAWs that electronic producers used to make music in the past?

There were very few daw options in the 90s as the home computer hardware of that era did not have the processing power to do much and external co-processing and recording cards were necessary to get any true multitracking done.

Cubase didn't add proper digital audio to pcs until windows 95/98 with cubase vst. In windows 3.0 it was just a sequencer, I used it for my 90s live shows. In the win3 era the only digital audio stuff you could do was mostly 2 track editing with programs like SAW. I used that to compile albums prior to sending them off to press. There was cubase audio for windows 3.0 for a brief minute but it really sucked and it came out just as windows95 was taking over from 3.0 and cubase vst came out like a year later.

Synth wise there was rebirth from Propellerheads which was very cool but that's more of a stand alone emulator (two 303s and an 808/909). In the 90s macs had a bit more of an advantage for digital audio with pro-tools but it was more of a multi-track recorder rather than a full DAW and you needed external hardware to use it. pro tools never really worked well on PCs until late in the xp age. we used to call it "slow tools".

So Cubase is really the only program during the late 90s that could be considered a Daw as we know them today, but it was pretty clunky both in os8 and win98 and I remember faceplaming a lot and just going back to hardware synths and my Adats. It really wasn't until the post year 2000 xp/os9 era that daws became usable at all.

Are we in the golden age of electronic music or will it become even more mainstream?

Mass acceptance means there's more people trying to make a buck and the people who are doing it for the sheer love have a harder time making ends meet, so I'm not sure about any golden age existing in the first place.

There still aren't massive amounts of people flocking to small electronic gigs; the EDM moneymakers pick very certain, easy to digest, energetic forms of electronic music to promote and the real envelope pushers get even further ignored than they did before "mainstream acceptance" as standing out from the crowd is harder and more expensive than ever.

Record sales for people in the long tail are still very minimal, and in a lot of artist's cases even smaller than they were when they started as labels get polarized towards certain types of music that sell better. It's a mixed blessing for sure.

Electronic Music is always evolving. As an European born in the 90s, I've seen so many Electronic music waves, usually starting from the underground, then reaching a mainstream level, then slowly dying. Then a new trend appears and the same thing happens again.

It's funny to see how Dance Music took over America. For the most part, American people have just been exposed to the mainstream side of that Music. Now what happens is that people who love Electronic music dig deeper and find a niche genre they like. Electronic genres have become so much more fragmented. You have so many sub-genres or trends. Internet amplified that phenomena.

Also, what drives Electronic music are technologies and fresh ideas. As long as some people develop new synths/plugins/programs/tools... and artists that push the thing forward and come up with novel ideas, break the mold... then the music will continue to evolve and be different.

A lot of it seems pretty cyclical to me. Like dubstep was kinda out for a few years and it's making it's way back in now with fresh new sounds. IMO, as long as there are fresh new artists, EM can't really die.

How do you make music that doesn't sound like it came from a video game?

There's a bunch of tricks you can use to make music feel more natural:

  • Use better libraries or samples (east west stuff for example)
  • Try making your sounds more natural/acoustic by (only when NECESSARY) cutting some high and maybe adding some (low-) mid frequencies.
  • Add reverb
  • Play with release so your instruments sound more fluent and not chopped or whatever
  • Don't use video game synth edm annoying sounding stuff
  • Put synths more on the background when you use them

Is electronic music an art form?

Is it "real" music?

Electronic music is real music, absolutely.

So if your view is "electronic music is equally music to physical music" then of course it is.

What I want to change your view on is your opinion that both are equally difficult to perform, I think this aspect of your argument is weak and is only used to cover for a portion of your post that you know is weak compared to your other points. Looking at a "physical musicians" hand eye corrodination, dexterity and general physical use of body on top of already performing music that is created just the same as EDM already puts it a leg above. Electronic music is created in a studio, it comes from the mind, while physical music comes from the mind and body.

Also, the idea that an EDM artist has so much more potential sound to work with (endless possibilities on an empty track) is also silly. The human ear only likes certain notes (sounds) that go together. As you said, an EDM artist still needs to know about music. This already confines them to a certain extent. At this point they aren't offering any melodies or sounds a guitar or keyboard offer with effect pedals which are essentially creating the noises and sounds that are used to alter and create sound in a studio by an EDM artist.

Despite what your grandparents might say, electronic music truly is an art-form. It can range from pleasantly simple to incredibly complex. It allows for the ultimate self-expression, the crowd is loving and accepting, and the songs can go from incredibly happy to dark and brooding.

I've never had a bad experience at a live show (knock on wood), in fact I would even say that attendees at an electronic show are more likely to look out for each others well being. People here don't care what you wear, they're ultimately there for the music. It's a pretty amazing community to be apart of.

Can you create electronic music on Linux?

I love Linux and use it from time to time, and though the learning curve is pretty steep, I actually now prefer it to anything else. The JACK sound server alone is worth the hassle in my opinion, and the available software for production on Linux has really come along in the last few years. I'm quite fond of Renoise, and Ardour is good too. ZynAddSubFX is hands down the most powerful synth I've ever used and it's native to Linux.

The downside definitely is lack of VST support, and I don't see that changing any time soon, so if you've invested a lot in VST software you may want to consider that.

The other thing, and this is neither a drawback nor a benefit in my opinion, is that the Linux attitude to production is different, there's less reliance on having one DAW that does absolutely everything and more of a modular approach of using different tools for different jobs.

There is a small yet quite active community of Linux musicians, and as a whole, the tracks that come out of it are just as good as anything else you might find. I think Linux production probably suits the kind of person that likes tinkering under the hood and has a bit of a DIY ethic. If simple, out of the box solutions are what you're after, I'd stick to OS X or Windows.

What are your experiences with Bitwig and Studio One for electronic music creation?

I have used it a lot for recording electric guitars. I constantly switch between Bitwig and Studio One depending on what mood I'm in. My best recommendation is use the numpad for shortcuts.

As a guitarplayer you often sit in positions not comfortable for using both hands on your keyboard/mouse. The damn guitar is constantly between you and your keyboard, and on top op that I often sit a bit angled, to avoid having my pickups, picking up noise from motherboard and monitor. This gives an annoying workflow.

You won't to have as many of the most important shortcuts available for your right hand without having to move it around so much in weird finger yoga positions on the keyboard. Or having to constantly reaching for your mouse. In that way Studio One has some better planned native shortcuts, that just works out of the box first time you launch it.

But after tweaking around and experimenting with bitwig shortcuts and stealing ideas from my other DAW, I managed to get a pretty good workflow for the way I record. I do most stuff in the Arranger timeline, like traditional daws, and only use the launcher for multitakes, and then move them to the Arranger right after.

I love Bitwig, but in my experience it needs a lot of tweaking and experimenting if you have these "one hand needs". And therefor I find it best suited for the more producer oriented workflow where you have both hands close to your keyboard/mouse/midicontroller. With this statement I primarily have focus on having a comfortable, fast and efficient workflow as a guitar player.

How my electronic music career worked out

I started producing many years ago, but was able to generate a steadier revenue stream mixing/mastering and mobile recording for people. It's not a great career. You can't bet your life on becoming the next deadmau5.

You work when you're needed, there is no retirement plan besides your own, and your income can fluctuate greatly.

I've honestly entertained going back to school as someone who's "aging" in the industry but, that being said, there are ways to make it a career. Post-production can always be a more steady avenue. Just some stuff to think about.

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