Commonly Overlooked Dance Music Production Techniques

Producing music is hard work – and even when it’s a daily routine, it can be easy to forget important techniques and elements that make a song a real winner. Today we’re rounding up a few lessons from a powerful discussion on Reddit, with some incredibly useful tips for avoiding overlooking key production techniques.

Music production is one giant rabbit hole, with so many facets that it becomes nearly impossible to keep track of everything when making a track. That is why having friends listen to tracks, collaborating, and even testing a track on a club’s sound system helps producers find aspects that were overlooked during the first production sessions.

A recent discussion in the /r/edmproduction discussed some important aspects that music producers commonly overlook. The whole thread is worth sifting through, but we’ve collected a handful of key tips that producers should think about next time they’re in the studio.

Don’t Depend on Percussion Loops

KLN_PRKR‘s initial post started the conversation with the advice to not get in the habit of grabbing a percussion loop and leaving the loop in the track. Oliie responded directly, noting about percussion loops:

Loops are great for sampling and ideas however it is going to take a lot of trial and error to find the perfect loop that fits the already written bass or synth line.The alternative is to get in the habit of creating percussion loops. This practice gives the percussion section the same groove as the rest of the track and expands a producer’s ability to create rhythmic patterns.

Speaking of rhythm, don’t let all the drum hits stick at 100% velocity. PSteak offered a great example of Nine Inch Nail’s drummer playing “Wish” live:

Notice how the pattern, if sequenced straight with a DAW, is just a bunch on 16th notes. Everything at 100% velocity would leave the drum pattern sounding like a machine gun stutter. However, a variance and accents on the one (this varies on the type of hit) give the pattern life through rhythm.

Reference Tracks and Learn From (Insert Favorite Producer Here)

Blooming producers have a lot to learn when it comes to music production and one of the most overlooked aspects discussed among producers is song arrangement. There are of course issues with standardized arrangements being used in every single track under the sun, but it is crucial to understand typical arrangements and why they work so well. For example, dance music’s most common song structure is a four to the floor beat filled within an intro, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, and outro. These arrangements are outlines for blooming producers and the best way to learn the outline is by referring to a track from a more established producer.

A technique that is recommended often is taking a track and dropping it into a DAW. Slice the track into different sections (intro, verse, chorus, etc.) and name each section appropriately. Then, build a track following that arrangement. Once the arrangement is dialed in, then feel free to innovate within.

Author’s Note: There’s a lot of room for debate here re:arrangement, discuss more in the comments about creativity, style, and standard sounds.

Spacing, Tension, and Release

As Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes.” While some producers struggle with making their tracks sound “full” (more on this later) there is the other end of the spectrum full of producers with tracks that sound cluttered or lack the tension and release that make a track into a beast. All great tracks, ambient or powerful, play with space. This comes into play as space between instruments, space between FXs, and space between two parts of a track.

While it may be overkill for the average to producer to spend a year studying Ahmad Jamal like Miles Davis did, consider the following tips:

  • Get rid of the scraps and keep the meat. Less is more if there is enough space for every sound. – The_Real_dubbedbass
  • .5 to .1 second pauses can make a huge difference on a tracks tension and release. Play around with pauses between different sections of a track. – fambamusic

Tension and release can also be a huge factor when creating on-the-fly buildups when DJing – watch Ean’s advice on that below: 

Get the Audience to Hum the Track

A catchy song is commonly defined by the melody. It may be hard for the average DJ to admit they can hum the melody to Levels, but chances are they can because the melody isrepetitive (grabs the audience’s attention) and interestingly varied (keeps them interested / attentive).

Along the same lines, it is important to make the distinction that pleasure listening music and club music vary when it comes to melodies. Whereas pleasure listening music has interesting, complex melodies, club music melodies may be as simple as two bars of notes.

Humanize the Sounds

Music is dependent on rhythm and groove which can’t always be replicated naturally by a DAW. The liveliness of a track comes from the human touch producers give to tracks which can be done through a multitude of ways.

  • Automation is the key to making a track seem “fast-paced” while also keeping everything exciting.
  • Playing percussion patterns can turn a stale loop into a funky one. This also will help build a producer’s understanding of rhythm.
  • Melodies also can be humanized by playing notes almost on beat. The best way to get a good melody loop is by recording a producer playing the melody over and over again. Then go back and find the best version that sounds natural, but also is in-time with the rest of the track.

Sound Design

Sound design is a gnarly beast to conquer for a young producer however it is not all auditory science. There are a few tricks to incorporate that can make a track sound even better.

  • Maximize the signal to noise ratio by widening certain instruments and condensing the others. Research gain staging to help with this. Synths generally span over the entire track where as snares will hit directly in the middle. – yungsturHoly_City
  • Clipping (generally) shouldn’t occur anywhere in the mix. This means a producer should look at the levels within the effects in a chain as well as on each channel. – yungstur
  • “Stereo width. Mono your sub frequencies, don’t push out your high frequencies too far or they’ll sound disjointed and awkward.” – TheShayo
  • Pitching snares, kicks, and percussions can make a track sound even more harmonic although this isn’t always necessary depending on a producer’s genre and how low the frequencies are for each drum hit. This is a vital for trap and dubstep producers to take productions to another level. – cerulean94

There’s a lot to remember when it comes time to make a track in the studio. While we highlighted some of the important aspects that are overlooked when producing music there is still a lot to take into consideration such as FX (use them!), frequency competitions, and the importance of polarization. A producer won’t catch everything, but excelling with a handful of tools will compensate for any short comings.

Originally published here: http://djtechtools.com/2016/04/15/commonly-overlooked-dance-music-production-techniques/

PC Laptop Investment

PC laptops and notebooks can be great for music making, but ensure you make a wise investment!

More and more musicians are abandoning desktop PCs in favour of more portable devices, both for live use and for a more compact setup at home or in the studio. Sadly though, while buying a desktop PC for audio purposes is a comparatively safe bet nowadays, buying a laptop/notebook is still a bit of a minefield. Modern PC laptops/notebooks can certainly provide more than enough processing power for most musicians, but the crucial measurement that will determine whether or not a particular model is suitable for a musician is DPC (Deferred Procedure Call) Latency.

ANSWERING THE CALL

Windows handles audio and video streams not in real time, but with periodic blocks of data, queued via an ‘interrupt call’. Whenever the next block of data is required to maintain a smooth stream, the appropriate device driver issues one of these DPC calls, which then gets placed by Windows in a queue, to be carried out when it’s finished dealing with whatever it’s currently doing. So far so good. However, as with most queues, calls are dealt with on a first come, first served basis, so if anything ahead of the audio request in the queue takes longer than expected, you’ll run into problems.

The raison d’être of any audio PC is to stream audio smoothly, without any dropouts that result in infuriating audio clicks, pops, and glitches. Any internal computer component whose driver hangs onto the processor for an excessive amount of time can cause these. It’s bad enough when they occur during playback, but if they happen during a recording you can be left with permanent interruptions in your audio that are very difficult to mask.

If you experience glitching audio on any PC you can try systematically disabling likely devices one at a time via Windows Device Manager to see if it cures the problem. Thankfully there are also a couple of free utilities that can help track down the most likely candidates. For a long time, DPC Latency Checker (www.thesycon.de) was the first port of call. It provides a graphic readout of DPC latency in real time — if all results remain in the green zone the machine is able to run audio streams without dropouts, but if any stray into the yellow area your machine might need its audio buffer size (and hence its latency) increased a little. Sadly, if results enter the red zone then you most definitely need to find and disable the culprit device. DPC Latency Checker is still useful if you have a Windows 7, Vista or XP-based PC, but it’s currently not suitable if you use Windows 8. A suitable utility that runs on both Windows 7 and 8 is LatencyMon from Resplendence Software (www.resplendence.com). The Home Edition is free, but there’s also a Pro version for business use. Their readouts are still fairly self-explanatory, and there’s also a mass of further stats on offer if you need to delve deeper into problem areas.

LAPTOP PROS & CONS

Now the fundamental difference between a desktop and laptop/notebook PC is that with the latter, you’re unlikely to be able to replace — and sometimes even disable — the drivers of various internal components that may cripple low latency audio performance. A few settings may be available to tweak, but even one ‘badly behaved’ device driver can bring a system to its knees audio-wise. It could be a cooling fan unexpectedly cutting in to stop your processor overheating, a Wi-Fi device being polled, network adaptors, an internal modem, or even an onboard soundchip. If you can buy a laptop/notebook on the high street, you can try taking in the above utilities on a USB stick and running them before you hand over any cash, but if you’re buying over the internet, your only option is to establish beforehand that if your chosen model isn’t well-behaved with low latency audio, you can return it for a full refund.

Sadly, a lot of people still think that specialist ‘pro audio notebooks/laptops’ are a con, but they can save you a lot of heartache. Laptops supplied by audio PC builders are simply models that have already been thoroughly tested across a wide range of audio hardware and software, and are guaranteed not to present the above problems. You also get informed support about high quality audio performance if and when you need it, rather than a blank look. Audio PC builders may discard many models before finding one that works well down to low audio latencies, while the larger audio suppliers may even have enough clout to ask the original manufacturer to provide a specially tweaked BIOS, offering options mainstream laptop equivalents don’t have. The specialists will charge you a little extra for all their time and effort, but I think it’s well worth this premium to save all the possible hassle.

If you want to go it alone, there are also a few good threads across several music forums where musicians detail specific mainstream laptop models that have been found to work well with audio. Although sometimes manufacturers end up changing one or more internal components and their drivers during a production run, perhaps because a particular part is no longer available, has been superseded, or the original spec gets ‘improved’. In such cases, audio performance may suffer, so no forum recommendation is foolproof. Sometimes even the specialists have to drop a previously good laptop from their range for the same reason.

Time after time I’ve seen musicians post on forums asking ‘Which is the best laptop to buy for audio from the following list?’ Rarely can people provide them with any specific advice, except on the odd occasion when someone has recently taken the gamble and bought that exact model, and therefore been able to test it out for themselves. Generally, model after model is suggested and discarded, before the poster either: buys a pro model and starts making music, gives up, or buys something blind in the hope that it will work well for them. The latter option is often the saddest thing of all because then the questions start. From the hopeful ‘What settings do I need to change to get acceptable performance?’ Through to, ‘Why doesn’t my BIOS have the settings you recommend altering?’ And the despair of, ‘I could never entirely eliminate clicks at any usable buffer size for playing VST instruments’. I’m still a firm supporter of desktop PCs for music, but when it comes to laptops and notebooks, all bets are off unless you stick with the professionals.

 

Originally published http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/pc-audio-108/ Column: Martin Walker

DJs and Performers: Do You Know Your Noise?

Originally published by DJ Tech Tools
http://djtechtools.com/2015/03/08/djs-and-performers-do-you-know-your-noise/

DJs and Performers: Do You Know Your Noise?

Hearing loss in DJing is no laughing matter. The career of a DJ is filled with towered speakers, blown monitors, and over compensated headphones. If DJ’s don’t take care of their ears out in the field, they can be at risk of losing a vital body function that you need to DJ. That is why it is always important to practice preservation techniques to save your hearing. (Check out Ean’s tips to prevent tinnitus.)

The Australian government launched a new website recently that gives a pretty good gauge to test your hearing and evaluate your risk when it comes to hearing loss. Read more below about Know Your Noise and how it can teach you about your own hearing abilities. Continue reading “DJs and Performers: Do You Know Your Noise?”

Why You Should be Playing with Soundpacks

Originally published by DJ Tech Tools
http://djtechtools.com/2015/03/15/why-you-should-be-creating-and-downloading-soundpacks/

Why You Should be Playing with Soundpacks

What Is A Soundpack?

Sample packs, production templates, and soundpacks. What is the difference?

Sample packs: A collection of genre specific samples, loops, and one shots that can be used in productions (royalty free). These need to be loaded into a sampler and don’t have any inherent musicality to them. Continue reading “Why You Should be Playing with Soundpacks”

Funktion-One’s Tony Andrews on Setting Up Soundsystems – From Wembley Stadium to Your Bedroom

Originally published by DJ Tech Tools
http://djtechtools.com/2014/04/10/funktion-ones-tony-andrews-on-setting-up-soundsystems-from-wembley-stadium-to-your-bedroom/

Funktion-One’s Tony Andrews on Setting Up Soundsystems – From Wembley Stadium to Your Bedroom

Tony Andrews is a renowned soundsystem designer and the owner and founder of Funktion-One, perhaps dance music’s most famous soundsystem manufacturer. The company has influenced global electronic music in countless ways with its groundbreaking technology, superb sound quality, and enormous bass, but undoubtedly clubbers and DJs will know Funktion-One best from its giant stacks in the world’s top clubs, including Space Ibiza,  Berghain, Output, and Trouw.

Ahead of his discussion on The Importance of Audio Quality at Brighton Music Conferencethis weekend, the UK’s first-annual dance-music business conference, we spoke with Andrews about how bass excites humans, how to set up your bedroom speakers, and one hugely simple mistake DJs can avoid. Continue reading “Funktion-One’s Tony Andrews on Setting Up Soundsystems – From Wembley Stadium to Your Bedroom”