In this ever-expanding digital landscape, tools for music production have never been more accessible. With minimal investment, anyone can begin making their own music.
Through many years of music production and countless hours of learning online, we have put together a guide to get you started in EDM music production.
There are many things about EDM that make it stand out from other genres of music. When you get a handle on all the things in this guide, you will be set to make music right away.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know to get started.
There are 3 things that you will need to get started making EDM. You will need a computer, a DAW, and a pair of headphones. There are a few things that you will want to add but to get started this is all you need.
To find out how to set up a home studio of your own, read our guide 9 Studio Equipment Every Beginner Needs.
Chances are that you already have a computer. Things to keep in mind are:
- RAM – 8GB is adequate, 16GB is better
- CPU – you will need an i5 or better
- Upgrade your storage or purchase an external hard drive
You will also need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The DAW is what you will use to create and record your music. There are many options out there. Here are a few of the ones that are most popular with EDM music producers.
- FL Studio – This is our DAW of choice. With the amazing ease of the step sequencer and the superior functionality of the piano roll midi editor, it is a top choice for EDM. Producers like Martin Garrix, Porter Robinson, and Mesto use it.
- Ableton Live – Another amazing DAW for EDM music production. Originally it was geared towards live performance. It still maintains that functionality as well as being a world-class DAW for production. Producers like Skrillex, Deadmau5, Diplo and Flume use this DAW.
- Logic Pro – This DAW is specifically for MAC users. Having said that, it is an extremely powerful software with great instruments, effects and an amazing interface. Artists like Armin van Buuren, Daft Punk and David Guetta are few that use this software with great results.
Every DAW has 4 basic parts to it:
Arrangement – This is where you arrange the song and record the audio into the DAW.
Piano Roll – Here is where you can write and record MIDI. In the piano roll, you have full control of notes and the timing of the notes for individual virtual instruments.
Mixer – much like the big mixer boards that you see in the studio, this virtual mixer gives you the ability to mix and master your tracks for consumption.
Effects – Every DAW has stock effects to use on your tracks like reverb, compression, and EQ.
Every DAW will give you the ability to playback and export your tracks for mass consumption. Each DAW will have built-in virtual instruments so can get started making music right away. Most EDM producers though, like to use specific synths to achieve their sound. Third-party synths like Serum, Sylenth and Massive are popular choices. For each of the above DAWs, there are 1000s of Youtube videos and tutorials to get you to a place where you feel confident.
The last thing you will need is good pair of studio headphones. Studio headphones are different from regular consumer headphones. They are made to have a flat response, meaning that there is no enhancement or colouring to sound coming from your DAW. This is vital when you are mixing your song so that the song can sound great on all platforms and on all devices.
Now you’re ready to get started making music, but what kind of EDM are you going to make?
Genre / sub-genre
Like any other form of music, EDM can be broken down into genres and subgenres. It is helpful when starting out, to choose a single genre that you really like and learn to produce songs that fit into that category. In EDM the genres are defined by a certain sound as well as the BPM (beats per minute).
Below is a list of genres in the Electronic music world. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it does cover all the major genres. There are so many different genres that there is definitely room for you and your style.
- House (BPM 120-130)
- Subgenres include Deep, Tropical, Tribal, Progressive, Tech, Future, Hard, Electro
- Techno (BPM 125-150)
- Subgenres include Dark, Minimal, Experimental, Acid
- Trance (BPM 110-150)
- Subgenres include Acid, GOA, Progressive, Vocal, Future Pop, Hardstyle, Psychedelic
- Dubstep (BPM 70-140)
- Subgenres include Trip Hop, Glitch Hop, Trap, Ambient, Melodic, Dubtronica
- Drum and Bass (BPM 160-180)
- Subgenres include Liquid, Neuro Funk, Techstep, Electro Funk, Darkstep
- Garage (BPM 125-150)
- Subgenres include Bassline, Grime, Speed, Future
- Downtempo (BPM 80-110)
- Subgenres include Chillwave, Chillstep, LoFi, Synthwave, Nu Disco
The key is to find one that you love. Lookup a playlist on Spotify or Youtube and listen to the distinct features of it. You can look up tutorials about producing that genre and apply those tips and tricks. The most important part is trying to make the music as often as you can. Practice makes perfect.
In all forms of EDM, the kick drum is the most important part, it is the foundation. If the kick doesn’t work, the song doesn’t work. If your kick isn’t punching through the mix then the dance floor will not be jumping.
In the past kicks were generated using drum machines like the TR909 or 808. Today the majority of producers use samples. Samples are widely available online from companies like Splice or Vengence, etc. Choosing the right sample cannot be overstated. When you get into adding effects and processing, these things should enhance your kick. If you find that you are struggling to get a good sound and find you are over-processing then you should go back and choose a new sample that is closer to the sound you are looking for.
A simple tip for getting a punchy sound is to focus on the transient. The initial hit of sound. You can do this by moving the start point of your sample to the highest peak. This can be done right in the sampler so that the snap of the kick drum is first to hit instead of the build-up of sound at the start of the sample. This will give you a punchy kick that will cut through the mix even on smaller speakers.
One of the most important things to do to get a really tight-sounding low end is to carve out space for your low end in the mix. One easy way to do this is to define where your bass is coming from. Samples and virtual instruments most often, contain a lot of low frequencies. Even the synth that you are using to play a lead or some higher chords will have some low-frequency information. It is common in EDM to cut out (called High Pass) anything from around 120hz that isn’t your bass. Bass frequencies are so big and take up a lot of room in your mix so defining your bass frequencies will make it sound much tighter and less muddy.
Another thing you can do is split your bass into a top bass and a sub-bass. Keep your gritty, distorted sounds for the top bass and cut everything below around 80 to 100hz. Then use a sine wave for your sub-bass and cut everything above say 80 to 100hz. Subwoofers have an easier time reproducing a sine wave so it will sound cleaner.
The last issue you are going to have is the kick and bass competing for the same space. This problem is much more pronounced in electronic music because the kick and bass are so prominent in this genre of music. The best way to deal with this is to sidechain the bass to the kick. By using sidechain compression, you can give the kick space to come through the mix. You can do this by choosing the kick as the input to the bass’s compressor so that every time the kick hits, the bass gets ducked a little. There are plugins designed especially for this purpose like Kickstart and LFO Tool that make it a lot easier.
There are basic song structures in EDM, just as in other genres of music. Knowing these basic structures is important. When people listen to EDM they have certain expectations and by following these structures you will be on track to meeting those expectations. The classic Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus of pop music can be used to some extent but generally speaking the basic song structure for EDM is this:
- Intro – introducing the musical idea.
- Breakdown – drums are dropped out to create anticipation
- Build-up – the energy is ramped up using risers and drums
- Drop – the height of the song. This is the musical hook and the part that gets everyone dancing
When breaking up a song into its parts we often use letters to signify the different ideas. In EDM the most common structure would be ABAB. The A section would include the intro, breakdown and build-up. The B section would be the drop. This AB usually repeats with some small variations for interest.
Another form would be ABCB. The C section could be an entirely new idea that fits the song or just an extended variation of the A section.
Each genre within the umbrella of EDM has a variation of this basic song structure. The sections are not hard to distinguish. All you need to do is listen to many songs within a certain genre, mark out the sections and use this as a template for your own productions. Remember templates are guides. Feel free to break out of the box when you need to.
Mixing EDM is fundamentally no different than any other genre of music. However, there are a few things that are unique to electronic music. We mentioned earlier that you need to define your bass sound by high-passing all sounds that aren’t your bass. Also, we talked about sidechaining your bass and kick.
Sidechaining can be used on your synths to your kick for effect. You can give your song a real pumping effect by utilizing this technique.
You can also use compression to glue certain parts together. For example, if you are using multiple synths layered together to get a fat sound, you can use a compressor to glue these sounds together to sound like they are one. Another example is to use it on your bass bus to glue your top and sub basses together.
Try using saturation to give your virtual instruments some depth and life. Use your ear and beware of going too far with this.
Watch this video for an in depth look at mixing electronic music from JC Concato.
When you are ready for exporting your song, it is a good idea to get it mastered. Mastering will, among other things, get the song to commercial volume levels. If you don’t have the money for mastering with a professional there are many online alternatives that will get your song to commercial volume levels.
What to Do Next?
Begin writing your first song. With everything at your fingertips now it’s time to start creating. Remember that these are guides and the sky is the limit to what you can create.
Experiment, create, rinse and repeat. If you are still wondering what this whole world of Music Production is all about, then read our guide Music Production: 6 Stages in the Life of a Song.