At its core, electronic music is created using a combination of audio samples or recordings, synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and drum machines either on a computer or through the use of dedicated hardware.
The sounds of electronic music usually come from sound recordings picked up from microphones (that are later manipulated on a computer or hardware sampler) or are completely synthesized using oscillators or waveforms using a synthesizer.
Although different electronic artists will lean towards one of these forms or the other depending on their personal tastes, preferences, and skill levels with production techniques, my personal favorite way to produce electronic music is to combine both organic and synthesized sounds.
In this guide, we will take a closer look at how electronic music is made and explore some of the genres that fall under the electronic music umbrella.
9 Common Tools For Creating Electronic Music
Here are 9 of the most common tools used to create electronic music:
- Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs): These are software programs used to create and edit electronic music. Popular DAWs include Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, and Pro Tools.
- Synthesizers: Electronic instruments that generate sound using oscillators, filters, and other signal-processing techniques. Synthesizers can be hardware or software-based.
- Samplers: These are tools used to record and manipulate audio samples. They are often used to create beats and rhythmic patterns.
- Sequencers: These are devices used to create complex musical arrangements and sequences by programming individual notes, chords, and sound effects to be played in a specific order and timing
- Drum machines: These are electronic instruments designed specifically for creating and sequencing drum patterns. They are often used in electronic dance music.
- MIDI controllers: These are hardware devices used to control software instruments and effects within a DAW. MIDI controllers can be keyboards, pads, or other input devices.
- Audio interfaces: These are devices used to convert analog signals to digital signals and vice versa. They are used to connect microphones, instruments, and other audio sources to a computer for recording.
- Effects processors: These are software or hardware devices used to add effects such as reverb, delay, and distortion to electronic music.
- Virtual instruments: These are software-based instruments that emulate the sounds of real instruments, such as pianos, guitars, and drums.
5 Steps To Creating Electronic Music
Although each electronic music producer will have their own style and system for creating music, the process of creating electronic music can generally be broken down into 5 key steps:
1. Sound Design
Although some electronic producers will start with a theme/idea or a reference track to follow, usually the first step is sound design, which involves creating and manipulating sounds using synthesizers and/or samplers.
Producers can modify existing sounds using pre-made patches, presets, or recorded samples or create new ones from scratch with synthesizers or microphones.
Personally, I’ve found myself to be more of a “sampled-based” producer over the years and usually prefer to work with and manipulate pre-recorded samples to get the electronic sound that I’m after.
2. Rhythm Creation
Once the sounds have been created, the next step is rhythm creation through the use of sequencers, drum machines, or placing sounds and instruments on the timeline in a DAW (digital audio workstation).
This is the step where an electronic music producer will create the “groove” or backbone of the song by sequencing in notes or drum hits, adjusting the tempo, adding swing, and layering in multiple sounds to create a rich and complex rhythm.
Song arrangement is the process of putting together the different elements of the track to form a cohesive composition from start to finish.
Producers can use automation to create builds and drops, and they can vary the arrangement to keep the track interesting and engaging.
I’ve found it easiest to use a reference track to kickstart this process so that you can follow a structure or formula that has been proven to work before adding my own flair and unique compositional ideas to the track.
4. Final Polish / Ear Candy
Once an arrangement is put together, this is the point in the songwriting and production process where the producer will add in transitions and use creative effects to create tension/release & add more interest throughout the track.
Common techniques that I like to use include adding special FX like lasers or risers, adding in creative effects like delays or flangers, and incorporating extra percussions like cymbals or reverse crashes.
5. Mixing & Mastering
The final step is mixing and mastering which involves balancing the levels of the different sounds and adding effects to achieve a polished sound.
Unlike in the previous step where effects are used more creatively, producers use effects like EQ, compression, and reverb for more technical reasons like creating balance, space, and depth in the mix so that each instrument can be heard clearly.
At the end of the process, it’s common to apply limiting and other mastering techniques to ensure that the track sounds good and loud on a variety of sound systems.
5 Examples of Electronic Music
There are several genres of electronic music, each with its own distinct sound and characteristics, and there are more and more being created almost every year.
Here are 5 common types of electronic music that you may encounter or be interested in creating yourself:
Techno is a genre characterized by its fast, repetitive, and hypnotic beats and rhythms, minimalistic instrumentation, and use of synth melodies.
House music is similar to techno, but it has a slower tempo and tends to incorporate more groove and melodic elements like vocal samples.
The genre is characterized by its repetitive 4/4 beats, use of synthesizers and drum machines, and the incorporation of soul, funk, and disco elements.
3. Drum and Bass
Drum and bass (commonly abbreviated as D&B) is a genre of electronic dance music that emerged in the mid-1990s in the United Kingdom.
The genre is characterized by its fast-paced and complex rhythms, deep basslines, and use of breakbeats and sampled drum loops.
Downtempo electronic music, also known as chillout, is a subgenre of electronic music that is characterized by its relaxed, slower tempo and atmospheric soundscapes.
It often features ambient textures, soft melodies, and smooth beats that create a laid-back and introspective listening experience.
Ambient electronic music is a genre of music that is characterized by its atmospheric and immersive soundscapes.
It often features slow and minimalistic rhythms, ambient textures, and ethereal melodies.