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SIX RULES of Electronic Music

May 02, 2024

 

Anyone can make electronic music. And that's awesome.

But also...ANYONE can make electronic music. So...there's a lot of confusion when it comes time to actually turn all those cool sounds into a track or arrangement or composition.

I know one thing about the internet: people love being told what to do. So, here are my SIX, let's call them, principles of electronic music. They have helped me focus and make a lot of music over the years.

 

1.  Don't fill the entire frequency spectrum (just because you can)

 

Electronic music heavily relies on texture and sound design. When you start playing around with synthesis and sound design as part of the compositional process, anything can be anything. That sounds awesome, but also presents some problems.

If I were working with an orchestra or a rock band, I know how the elements will work best together.

We have no pre-determined notions for how synth patches fit together. That's really exciting. But, it also removes some key creative limits. That's why I would often find myself getting too distracted in this part of the process.

I usually add too many elements. Each sounds great when soloed. But, the whole thing becomes a mess when I put them together. They compete for the same space.

 

2. Simple Patch = More Playable

Complex Patch = Less Playable

 

Like all the really cool kids, I spent a lot of years practicing my scales and arpeggios. When I started to appreciate ambient electronic music, I found some of those technical tendencies a bit hard to break.

I wanted to make cool, evolving patches, but also play shredding solos like Rick Wakeman. That's really what all this has been about anyway....

It eventually occurred to me that Wakeman's classic mini Moog sounds...weren't all that complex from a sound design standpoint. And that wasn't an accident.

The more complex the patch, the more space it needs to breathe - both in the frequency range it occupies and the amount of notes you cram into it.

If you want to channel your favorite prog-rock keyboard wizard and play passages with lots of notes, a simpler patch will serve you better.

 

3. Separate Sound Design from Composition

 

Some of my least productive days happen when I have a little fragment of a melody in my head, open up an empty DAW project, and start trying to figure out which sounds to use for it.

9 out of 10 times I never finish that idea. I get frustrated looking for the perfect patch or sample and forget the reason I started the session to begin with.

For this reason, I began dedicating some days to sound design. Other days, I focused only on composition and arrangement.

This keeps me more focused on the task at hand and allows me to build up a library of my own sounds to pull from. Those sounds are almost certain to inspire me because I made them myself and find them interesting.

 

4. Use at least 1 "Signature Sound"

 

Since sound design is one of the tools unique to electronic music production, USE IT to make your track or score more memorable.

Start with 1 or 2 sounds that can be easily recognizable and unique to THAT track or cue. It helps ground the listener in the world you're creating, and gives you something inspiring to work with and develop (or develop around).

However, this is only effective if that thing stands out. And it can only stand out if you....

*see point no. 1

 

5. Layering is King

 

Even though I make ambient music, when I listened to bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Nine Inch Nails, I envied the clarity and separation they achieved in their mixes and production.

There seemed to be a place for everything and everything was in its place. And if they decided to mix it "wrong" it was clearly intentional.

Over time, I learned that much of this clarity was achieved by having more layers of simple elements. Not just having one or two super complex elements.

When I've worked on mixes or productions that feature layered guitars I've always found them easier than my typical synth mixes.

It's because guitars are usually tracked in mono. Often, effects like amps or distortion reduce the frequency range's extremes. Even their reverbs are often mono. This makes them much easier to place in the mix.

With a synth we can do almost anything. But that doesn't mean we should. When everything is happening all at once, it starts to seem like nothing important is really happening at all.

 

6. Have a "Linear" Element

 

A lot of electronic music is based on verticals.

Loops that we stack on top of each other.

Chords that are vertical blocks to be dropped into place or bought from those midi pack guys.

Arps that are repetitive, broken versions of those blocked triads.

What if we thought horizontally. Rather than chord progressions, what if we had two or three parts that work together, but are also like two or three independent melodies. (the big scary word for this is: counterpoint)

Maybe a longer phrase we can use as a melody to bridge the gaps and break up the repetitiveness of our looping stuff.

Having just one linear element can make your music stand out from the crowd of loopers and AI and God knows what else is coming.

Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

1. Composition Concepts for Artists - an in-depth look at the process of composition with step-by-step examples SHOWING how and WHY I make decisions. You'll learn to take an initial idea and DEVELOP it into a finished project.

2. Understanding Synthesis - learn to design your own sounds starting with the basics of subtractive synthesis and progressing to more advanced sound design  with semi-modular and various forms of digital synthesis.

3. YouTube Membership - monthly livestreams featuring music making and sound design in real time. Q&As and exclusive videos only available to channel members.

4. One to One Coaching (coming soon) - work with me on YOUR own music. I'll help you take your track from idea to finished product, so you'll come out with a polished track or EP and any knowledge gained from walking through the process with me.