Creating 'Electronic' Music

Now I know that's a bit of a blanket term, but let me explain what I mean and what I'm after.

I've always had a keen interest in music, I've been playing the bass for over a decade and I dabble in the guitar, drums and harmonica, and I listen to a lot of music, but my main interest has always been metal and heavier music. I've been branching out more and more into less traditional guitar/drums/bass oriented music for a while, and combined with the fact that I'm hopeless at getting a band together (and I don't work well with others when it comes to music, I'm somewhat the auteur) I'm interested in doing something different.

I don't really mind what genre I'm making, because frankly I'm fairly ignorant of it all. I listen to a lot of psytrance and progressive trance at raves, but due to the nature of these things I don't have the clearest memories of the music. It's something I've been meaning to look more into, especially given that if I were to create my own in that style, there's a fantastic community for it that I can get into. Other than that, I listen to a lot of The Prodigy, Daft Punk, Ratatat, Fatboy Slim, Nine Inch Nails and Dan Le Sac.

So my problem is that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever about what kind of software (or hardware, if needs be) I would need to do any of this. Not the slightest clue. So, what should I look into getting? Obviously, keeping costs as low as possible would be preferable, but I can splash out a bit if necessary.

As a side note, if there are any artists, sites or anything you think I would find of interest, please feel free to share them.

Thanks for your time.

Fruity Loops is probably one of the most popular bits of music authoring software. It's a bit pricing ($99 for the cheapest version) but you can download a demo if you're interested in it (it's the same as the full version only you can't reopen projects you've saved). I tried it some time ago and it seemed pretty intuitive however I'm pretty talentless in that regard so I couldn't really make anything that didn't sound horrible. It comes with a bunch of build in sounds and loops though so you can basically start putting stuff together out of the box without any other input. I've also heard things about Garageband if you're using OSX.

As far as hardware is concerned all you might need is a decent sound card (and maybe a few adaptors) to plug any instruments you might be using into unless you're using stuff that doesn't have some sort of pickup or whatnot in which case you would need some sort of mic, probably something designed for that particular purpose. Maybe something with a MIDI input if you're using any electronic keyboards, drum kits or the like that lacks a traditional analogue audio output. I dunno, I've not really tried anything like that, there might be something I'm missing.

TheRightToArmBears:
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I had a friend who used Pro Tools (available for PC/Mac) and had his own band, but ultimately preferred working alone like you. He would record each track individually using the little Pro Tools box, which back then was a vertical box that plugged into his PC, and the instruments and mics would plug into that. Today the box appears to just sit horizontal. There's a few mixed reviews on Amazon for the basic set, which is the box ("Mbox") and a basic version of the Pro Tools recording software.

There was one problem my friend had involving either a hissing noise or a popping sound while using the Mbox. I don't recall how he fixed it; maybe his PC wasn't plugged into a properly grounded outlet. I assume that standard precautions would have helped, like plugging his PC into a battery backup with overvoltage protection.

I suspect that something like Pro Tools would be more up your alley simply because you can plug real instruments or microphones into the Mbox and start with what you know, i.e. analog instruments.

xXSnowyXx:
Fruity Loops is probably one of the most popular bits of music authoring software...

Damn, Fruity Loops looks really cool.

xXSnowyXx:
Fruity Loops is probably one of the most popular bits of music authoring software. It's a bit pricing ($99 for the cheapest version) but you can download a demo if you're interested in it (it's the same as the full version only you can't reopen projects you've saved). I tried it some time ago and it seemed pretty intuitive however I'm pretty talentless in that regard so I couldn't really make anything that didn't sound horrible. It comes with a bunch of build in sounds and loops though so you can basically start putting stuff together out of the box without any other input. I've also heard things about Garageband if you're using OSX.

Fruity Loops looks fantastic (although I did have a giggle when I saw they had to change domains due to a copyright thing with Kellogg's), I've been playing around with the demo a bit and it's very good. The only problem I have is that my laptop is really on it's last legs, but I'm planning on getting a new one over the summer, so I should be all ready to go in due time. By the looks of things, even a cheap keyboard would be a fairly sound investment too, so this could get a bit pricey. Ah well- what are student loans for?

TheRightToArmBears:
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I would recommend going for a larger (near full or full size) keyboard if you do end up getting one. Not fancy, just larger. I have an Akai LPK25 and you have to hit buttons to switch octaves. I only got it to screw around, plus it was so cheap, like $50. It was either that or the Korg nanoKEY2, which would have been just as bad.

TheRightToArmBears:
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First and foremost, familiarize yourself with MIDI- Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is the backbone of all electronic music.

What you should first do is invest in a 76 or (ideally) 88 key keyboard with MIDI out. It will make your life far easier when it comes to arranging. Learn to play the keyboard outside of just arranging as well, so you are familiar with it and so you have an ability to easily play and record any tunes or melodies that may come to mind. Don't spend more than $500 or $600, you want to make sure you actually like the keyboard before you go with something more professional that could reach into the $2000+ range, but also don't cheap out. Many "Training" keyboards are sold that are little more than toys. Look for features like weighted action (this is extremely important, as your fingers need to be conditioned for playing later and part of that means building up the hand muscles), full size keys, velocity sensitivity (senses how hard you hit the key)a wide range of tones to use, and onboard recording software.

If you want a great keyboard to start out (although without true weighted action), I would recommend the Casio WK 7500, it goes for about $400 MSRP and you could probably get one used for as little as $300.

You also might want to consider upgrading your PC's sound card. Thankfully most MIDI devices these days have USB interfaces, so you won't need to spend the obscene amounts that MIDI-capable sound cards cost (you can, of course, if you decide that the whole MIDI thing is for you) , but you will want a high quality card and a good speaker or headphone system. You also might want to invest in a large monitor if you don't already have one, since MIDI software involves moving notes around on a sort of grid and I've found it incredibly convenient to have that extra screen space to see more and work with more without having to move around. And no, you don't need a Mac :P

Anvil Studio is good free software to start with, but as some have said if you want to spend some money on a slightly more polished product Fruity Loops is the way to go.

Hope that all helps.

renegade7:

Snip

Thanks, I hadn't really considered learning to play the keyboard properly, but it makes sense when I think about it. Originally I was intending to spend the summer working and buy a new bass, but a decent keyboard seems like a much more sound investment, and I'll probably need a new laptop regardless of what I intend to do because mine is dying. I do have a second monitor though (which is used for my 360 most of the time)- I'm aware from recording things when I did GCSE music what it can be like.

Be prepared to go down the rabbit hole, Alice. This can get real deep, real quickly.

I've been producing what you would probably call electronic music for about ten years. I've worked in just about every software package geared to making music you can think of. I was originally in the same sort of boat as you - primarily a bass player, bit of guitar and keys here and there, budding song writer, etc etc.

My first piece of advice is to go and check out GearSlutz. Great website, primarily a great community, and above all a place where every aspect of music making is discussed in as much detail as possible. If you're still interested after checking that place out, a couple of other pieces of advice are below.

Check out demos of DAWS - a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a very personal thing. As I said, i've worked on the majority of them, but the ones that I have stuck with for writing and recording are Reason and Ableton Live. Both are geared towards electronic music (with Ableton geared towards live performance), but will suit any kind of music. I've stuck with these two because they compliment my workflow the best. At the end of the day, the big players will get you the same results, it's just a matter of how complimentary they are for your workflow, and how quickly and easily you will get to the end result.

Regarding hardware and software - a good midi keyboard is a must. What I would be looking at if I was you is something that offers more than just keyboard control. Most midi keyboards these days offer some form of other control, be it sliders, knobs, drum pads etc which can be mapped to control most aspects of your DAW. Offerings from Arturia, Akai and M-Audio are generally the leading players in this field.

The next piece of gear you'll need is an audio interface. Motherboard audio and gaming soundcards ARE NOT suited for writing music in any capacity. At the very least, i'd be looking at one of the lower end Focusrite USB interfaces. They sound good, are rock solid, and give you a couple of decent pre-amps to record through, and are ridiculously easy to use. I've got a couple of their pricier interfaces and can't recommend them enough.

Then you've got to think about what you'll be listening to your music through. You've got two options - monitors or headphones - and most people will advocate the best that you can afford of both worlds. The low end KRK monitors seem to be the most cost-effective, but i've personally never been a fan of their sound, and would look at something like the Equator D5, Yamaha HS5, or Mackie 5 inchers (can't remember what they're called off the top of my head). If your preference is headphones, there are a lot out there and this can largely be down to personal preference (and cost). Personally i've got a pair of KRK headphones that I find good, and from memory they cost about $150, I wouldn't be looking any cheaper than that in brands such as Sennheiser, Sony, KRK.

And that should pretty much do you for starters. Won't comment on your computer situation because i'm not 100% sure on what that is. If you're game to look into the world of hardware synthesisers, maybe think of something like the Novation Ultranova, M-Audio Venom, etc that can act as midi interface/controllers as well as audio interfaces (the Venom does, not sure about Ultranova).

 

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