Techno 101: Starting Out From Scratch

Written on 06.02.2021 by Andrijan Apostoloski Bushi

In this 101 series, I’m going to explain how to start producing techno music from scratch. I’m using a blended style of production with roots from dub and trip-hop music, but we’re going to learn about the various types of styles, arrangement, getting that sweet sound and many more tips and tricks that will get you moving from nowhere.

I understand it’s much easier to watch a YouTube tutorial about this certain topic, however I’ve found reading to be more helpful to me in the past, so I hope I’ll try to push you into crating and understand the basics very soon. Questions are allowed in the comments and are highly encouraged, enjoy.

About me
Just a quick introduction: Avid music listener since young, I’ve started producing music around ten-eleven years ago at the age of 15. I started with drum and bass and evolved with dub, trip-hop and illbient experiments, but lately I’ve been producing and learning the magic of techno and here we are now I guess.
My projects: Likvidator BandcampDJ Bazootka Bandcamp

The Philosophy

Okay, so here we are. You’re reading about making new music, so I must ask why? A very good answer would be just because you want and can, the various reasons why people create music is just absurdly insane to even start discussing about. Music is an art-form that shares emotions and creates whole universes for some, and trying to make music isn’t wrong at all, even if you have no music knowledge whatsoever.

Everything can be thought, and especially music. They have like music schools and shit, millions of tutorials on YouTube and literally everything you could wish for, one simple download away. But I believe that actually understanding music can be more naturally and be better felt and understood is through constant listening of music. I must say that I’ve no idea about any of the notes or scales and make music just by my ear. Who knows if I’m in tune? That’s not the point.

The point isn’t to get stuck on what kick does that guy use, mine isn’t so good and just quit. The point is to lose yourself in the process and make a bond with this very liberating and strong feeling with your subconsciousness, to slowly glide yourself into knowing how to make music that you’d actually wanna listen to. Track that will keep you head-banging, techno that you’ll use to hypnotize and allow people the same power when they’re to be introduced with your universe at some dance-floor, somewhere, sometime…

There are no rules. That’s why it is so interesting in the first place, hearing how everyone differently does it, so learning the essentials to further progress into being comfortable enough to break or bend them to your own likings and just bombing like a king.

I’m against this weird elitism or secretive world when it comes to producing, such as this tweet from Adam Beyer saying he spends a whole day on a hi-hat… I mean, just discouraging for the people who’ve may potentially wanted to try music making, or are in the process of it learning, and someone is completely fueling this trend of spending millions of hours on such simple things.

Nobody sane would ever spend a whole day on a hi-hat, not even the most professional mixing engineer for an AAA blockbuster. You catch my drift. Music making can be fun, it’s just understanding certain basics and then experimenting, experimenting, mimicking, learning, understanding, listening, loop this and so on…

My believing is that the nature of techno lays in the hypnosis, so having this in mind I understand that repetition is a goal I’m thriving for, however reaching points of excellence in that requires much more than simple luck on few occasions, for myself to constantly be able to produce good results at the end in this genre. This comes naturally, but being aware of this reminds you how far you can go, and puts you to the ears of a raver on the dance-floor.

I think that with listening music you’ll get a sense of creating whatever the hell you want. The road to getting there is longer for some, shorter for some. We don’t all have equal computer skills man. But that shouldn’t stop you into breaking this barrier – and understand that even I am considering to be a beginner, we all are. We are doing this for the love of music and constantly evolving together, so if you’re musical and have a story to tell, I hope this series will do good to you.

Some non-technicals before you start
I’d reckon giving yourself an artistic name isn’t important at start. Just start making music, your first EP is not going to be on a major label. Or it could be, who knows? But let’s start first and then you can bother about everything else that isn’t music.

The type, style of techno must originate from you. For me personally I’ve explored implementing ghetto techno elements when I started, however I’ve progressed to craft more serious and dark techno. Sometimes I feel like just making a cartoonish portrait that doesn’t make any sense and gets left on my hard drive forever haha. I start to craft and if the groove allows and the creation continuously and effortlessly flows, it becomes a serious and full track.

To get to that point tho, we’re gonna start from scratch.

Your Computer
So, how much money you’re gonna need on the new rig? Well, once I’ve fucked up the pins on my motherboard and was literally left with a Pentium II powered computer with Windows ME installed on it. This was back when I was younger and just starting with music, but I installed an old and time-appropriate Fruity Loops and just started having fun with samples off YouTube and some free packs.

The reality is that you don’t need a real powerful computer to make music. 8GB of RAM with a modern enough dual-core processor can be more than enough for starting, however elitism is often brought into it and this leads to people thinking they need a very powerful machine for music producing.

I’m working with a third generation (2012-2015) Intel i5 quad-core processor with 16GB of RAM. That’s enough to allow me to be comfortable with around 100 channels, some of which have heavy processing such as reverb on them.

I highly recommend investing in audio interface if you’re gonna do anything with music, I’ve got a Scarlett Solo but anything modern and equivalent would do the job perfectly fine. This allows us to heave a very strong output and the ability to play with sound frequencies much better without the interference of your whole computer’s electronics while doing it. It does wonders to be honest, but if you can’t afford one right now, it’s okay – nothing changes as this is not a must, but be sure to buy one of these as soon as possible.

Choose a DAW
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, or the piece of software you’re going to be spending the most time with while you’re crafting sounds. I use Logic Pro X, however Ableton Live has been a proven tool that works perfectly for techno.

👦 Friendly Reminder:
Don’t get stuck on which DAW you’re going to use. Try what you like the most because you’re going to spend the most time in it, however the factor is knowing the software to fully use its potential that’s going to give you the ability to produce professional sound.

Get familiar with the sound spectrum

Sound is reproduced using frequencies, everything you hear is basically a signal that’s repeating itself a given amount of occurrences per second. 1Hz means the signal would need a total of 1 second to be reproduced, however what the human hearing and speakers themselves allow us to hear is from 20Hz and all the way up-to 20KHz (20000Hz).

The range of 20Hz to 60Hz can be considered the sub-bass, 60Hz to 120Hz the bass, 120Hz to 250Hz the mid-bass and everything that’s higher would be the main melodics, percussions and other elements in the upper overhead ranges.

As you can see on the equalizer screenshot above, almost half of it contains the frequency range up-to 500Hz as humans naturally start to lose the sensitivity as frequencies go above and higher. Most sources tell that we’re capable listening to frequencies up-to 20KHz, but you must consider that this means for someone with perfect hearing and certain age, however the main point is that as higher frequencies go they start to get thinner and more difficult to hear for most.

Cool Resource
Frequency Tone Generator
A slider that generates frequencies from the lowest up-to the highest of the range. (!!!) First set your slider at a lower amount such as 100Hz with the volume on the lower side of things until you get comfortable with it.

Reproducing the sound neutrally
A huge factor in properly hearing the reproduced frequencies is having a neutral source of sound production, meaning that you’d need some sort of studio monitors or headphones that will do the job for you. If you use regular “Beats” or other high-bass headphones for example, when you’re producing music your stuff is going to sound overly or oppositely saturated in the low field. If the headphones don’t have highs, you’ll be cranking them so much that when somebody else plays your music it will sound way off.

👦 Friendly Reminder:
Also very important to not get stuck on the pricing of the equipment, there are budget variants of both headphones and studio monitors that will do the job just fine, the trick is to be familiar with the equipment you own and know its limits. This naturally evolves with time as you gain more experience with the sounds and frequencies.

Producing, mixing and mastering…
I’ve always seen producing as a separate art-form from the others, a producer does not need to be its own mixing and mastering engineer, and the latter doesn’t have to know how to produce. Some people are able to fully grasp the whole spectrum of this creative category, however to learn to produce means to be able to design your own sounds and get a certain sound you’re aiming for, thus learning mixing and other technicals in that process, however mixing has some rules that go way beyond just that.

So we’re basically just going to be playing around with frequencies to get a certain sound that will sound like a groove and eventually and gradually working up our way to having a full techno track at the end. We will explore kicks, snares, hi-hats and other rhythm elements that will help us get the full techno beat, learn something about sound design and I hope many interesting tips and tricks in the following series.

Check out the Resources page that contains many links and downloads that are very valuable to have when starting, all gathered at one place for free.

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ℹ️ We will be back with gonzo reviews as soon as we return to a new normal that is acceptable for the people. Until then, let's listen to some music, what do you think?