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I desperately want to get into electronic/computer music and I'm unsure about the exact path I should take. The genres of music I like are: ambient, deep house, house, electro house, garage as well as synthpop, new wave, cold wave but I'd like to know the how to be able to create computer/electronic music in general without specialising in a particular branch of music. I'd like to be able to create music like this one day but I'm having trouble knowing the exact route of learning to get into making it.

The current plan I have is as so:

  • Buy a midi 66 key keyboard with velocity sensitivty/semi-weighted keys.
  • Learn to play the keyboard.
  • Learn musical theory/composition.
  • Start learning about synthesizers and programming them.
  • Learn sound design?
  • Purchase a DAW and start getting to grips with it.

My question is really, are there any loopholes in my learning? Am I covering everything I need to be? Is there anymore I can add to get a really thorough understanding of computer music and it's creation? Is my plan in the right order?

I appreciate any help and clarification. I'd like to get started by purchasing the keyboard and starting to learn it straight away but figured it's best to check here first before I move ahead with it.

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closed as too broad by American Luke, Wheat Williams, Jason W, Dr Mayhem Nov 20 '13 at 23:44

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

It looks like a good plan but just be aware that to make good music, you will need practice. You can't just learn music theory and keyboard and expect to be instantly good at composing. Make sure you understand that you will need to compose many not so great songs before they are all brilliant. Good luck. –  Tim Hargreaves Nov 18 '13 at 20:09
Thanks Tim. Does it look good in terms of eventually moving onto synthesizers and DAWs? –  user2925800 Nov 18 '13 at 20:12
I would say so. There really isn't that much difference in the technical skill required for that and traditional keyboard so it all sounds good. If you feel motivated enough than I have nothing else to say. –  Tim Hargreaves Nov 18 '13 at 20:16
Per the help center, "If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." I suggest getting a book about the topic and if you have specific questions, ask those. –  American Luke Nov 18 '13 at 22:31
Points 2 and 3 are unnecessary, and likely place you ahead of some of the artists in those musical genres. –  Kaz Nov 19 '13 at 0:34

3 Answers 3

I'm an amateur EDM producer. Based on my experience and the way I've developed as a producer, I'd say that the way you look at things is pretty accurate. Here are a few specific things I'd like to add based on my personal experience:

  1. By far and away, my most important advice is to write a lot of music. As you write more tracks, you'll become more familiar with what techniques and knowledge are most important to your style. You'll also learn things that can't be taught as much as experienced.

    Whenever I listen to pieces I've produced recently and compared them to my older stuff, I am consistently surprised and proud of how far I've come. I believe you'll experience the same thing yourself. The times I've grown the most are the times I've written the most.

  2. Start listening to other producers' music very, very closely. If the track you're listening to engages you emotionally, ask yourself how the producer created that emotion. If you hear a sound that you find especially compelling, try to figure out how the producer crafted it. Pay attention to how songs in a genre are similar and how producers play with their genre's tropes to keep their music interesting. If you don't like a piece, figure out exactly why not. This will help you come up with better ways of writing your own music.

  3. Learning to play the keyboard is not the most important skill in EDM. I practiced the piano for several years but eventually dropped it, and now I can barely read beginner-level material. But I still know how to play well enough to record myself playing the relatively simple melodies that show up in EDM or to slow down the tempo to record more complicated lines, and my DAW provides enough functionality for me to comfortably work out the kinks in my recordings.

    Learn to play the keyboard at a basic level, but if you want to produce EDM, you should focus on other things more closely. Once you've gotten a handle on the basics of EDM, of course, you might decide that playing the keyboard at an advanced level will be helpful to your style.

  4. Learning basic music theory is more important. Some producers know next to nothing about theory and get by, but there are some emotions that are difficult to portray unless you know the basics. I would say that if you know

    • Major and minor scales and modes
    • Major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads
    • Chords with added notes (like 7ths or suspended 4ths)
    • Common chord progressions
    • How to write melodies that work with instead of against their underlying harmonies
    • The functions of basslines, melodies, drums, pads playing chords, and background instruments

    You'll know most of what you need to produce a wide variety of emotions and styles.

  5. Sound design and synthesizer programming are more important still. My approach has usually been:

    • I'm writing a song
    • I realize that a particular type of sound would be appropriate for something I'm trying to do in the song
    • I use what I know about synthesizers and plug-in effects to get as close to that sound as possible
    • If I don't know enough, I either do some research to fill in the gaps or find a different sound or technique that's good enough

    As you write more music, you'll be more familiar with how synthesizers work and be able to configure them in more interesting ways.

  6. An important skill you haven't discussed is mixing. Once you've written your melodies and chords and drums, you have an almost finished piece, but you'll likely find that some instruments are too loud or quiet or interfere with each other. Mixing is the process of working out those final problems.

  7. Personally, I've had problems mixing and programming synths most of my time producing. I finally become decent at them when I took classes in college on electronic music production and bought a book on mastering. You might find it worthwhile to take some classes yourself.

  8. You're going to have strengths as a producer that no one else has. Use them to your advantage and produce music that only you can make.

    In my case, I have a sense for how to make stupidly high-energy music and have a unique way of looking at music theory. I get really excited whenever I write a drum 'n' bass track or an electro-orchestral piece that would go well with an action movie, and I like to use somewhat unusual chords to create especially bittersweet or angry emotions. On the other hand, I don't have the best technical ability, so I shy away from genres where strong production chops are more important than creating a vivid emotion like house or Netsky-style dnb.

    When you find your own niche, celebrate it and write music that is uniquely yours.

Again, my most important advice to you is to start writing a lot of music. As you do so, you'll learn for yourself what advice you really need to hear and develop your own style.

I wish you the best of luck! Writing EDM has been one of the most fun things I've gotten to do. I'm confident you'll enjoy it as well.

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+1 for mentioning the skill of mixing. –  Jonathan Arkell Dec 5 '13 at 0:06

I suggest starting with a DAW. Look for free DAWs and demo versions of DAWs, and go through whatever tutorials are available. You won't need a music keyboard for this. You should be able to manage these tutorials with only very basic music theory knowledge -- if you already like house music, you probably understand a 4/4 beat.

You should try:

  • GarageBand if you have a Mac (because it's cheap, reasonably full-featured, and a good "gateway drug" towards Logic.
  • Logic Pro if you have a Mac (because it's almost the industry standard)
  • Cubase - another almost-industry standard
  • Reason - newer but powerful
  • Ableton Live - very popular in dance music circles; approaches song sequencing in a very different way to Logic/Cubase/etc, which is well suited to loop-based genres and live manipulation of sequenced parts.

Apart from GarageBand, none of these is cheap, but they contain a sprawling array of synthesised instruments, sequencers, effects and mixing tools, and you'll be able to create music with nothing else. Extra gear is nice to have, but not essential.

... and try more; they all provide limited demo versions.

Some knowledge of music theory is definitely going to be useful. I think piano lessons would be beneficial, although you might decide you've learned enough after getting the basics -- it doesn't take much keyboard skill to get a house bassline into a sequencer.

Listen and read! Buying a monthly electronic music magazine and reading it cover-to-cover will teach you loads - blogs etc. too.

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My experience in working with the DAW Ableton Live is that:

  • it has a very intuitive approach.
  • it incorporates a collection of good sound samples for electronic music.
  • it provides sound clips / loops as well. This means you can learn about styles and start combining sounds right from the start.
  • you can enter music notes step by step. So you don't have to have piano playing skills in order to start making music.
  • it provides great effects that suit electronic styles very well.

Apart from making music with a computer, the iPad is the perfect companion to explore and learn electronic music. The iPad itself is pretty expensive but the music and synthesizer apps unfold so many possibilities for little money.

Of course, it is a good thing to learn about music theory. But in my experience it is essential just to start playing, and learn by listening, experimenting and 'tweaking knobs'.

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