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“Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?"

Updated: Feb 2

Hey Friends, 

Have you ever asked a successful 'Music producer' how they begin their tracks, only to find their answer a little vague? Why is this? Isn’t it always the same, the way we begin? If not, what are the possibilities?

Important matters first: “Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?" And what does this have to do with music, you might ask? Well, let’s dive in and find out. I will be referencing ‘Electronic Music’ throughout, but feel free to apply this to your own style of music!

The dilemma of “Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg” stems from the observation that all chickens hatch from eggs and all chicken eggs are laid by chickens. "Chicken-and-egg" is a metaphoric adjective describing situations where it is not clear which of two events should be considered the cause and which should be considered the effect, to express a scenario of infinite regress, or to express the difficulty of sequencing actions where each seems to depend on others being done first.

Table of Contents > How to make Electronic Music
> Tempo & Genre

> Write the Drum Beat first

> Beginning instead with any musical element we like

> Building Healthy habits and Successful routines > Gathering material, ideas, samples

> Setting Constraints

> In Summary

> Quote of the week

> Recommended reading list How to make Electronic Music A quick search of the internet for 'How to make Electronic Music' leads us to WikiHow, which gives step-by-step instructions. How to Make Electronic Music

But hang on, are there any other things for us to consider? “Without a good question, a good answer has no place to go” - Clayton Christensen.

Tempo & Genre

Let’s begin with a simple starting point by choosing the Tempo for our song. If we decide later things should be sped up or slowed down, don’t sweat! This is simple enough to change in our DAW. When choosing the Tempo of our track, do we just pick a random number between 0 - 999, or are there any considerations to make?

We could begin by asking ourselves, what Genre are we planning to produce today? House, Techno, IDM, Ambient, Electronica, Breaks, Deep House, etc. Most Genres and Sub genres have an average Tempo range specific to this style of music. So, once we have decided on what Genre we’re making today, it can be as simple as choosing a value within the average Tempo range specific to this style of music.

How do we find out these average Tempo ranges? A quick Google search can do the trick. I have linked a couple of handy resources below:

  • The good folks at London Sound Academy have put together a very handy ‘electronic dance music genres’ guide including Tempo range. Check it out [here] link

  • A couple of other handy resources I frequently use: SongBPM, Beatport

Write the Drum Beat first

Now, let’s assume you have a trusty DAW, a MIDI Controller, Computer for making music on, Instruments, Plugins, a Huge sample library! You can never have too many 😉 a Sound card / Audio interface, and maybe a Microphone. Where do we head next?

Let’s ask the question - what Musical element do you think the majority of 'Electronic Music producers' start their tracks with? And if so, what do you think is the reason for this? If you guessed ‘Writing their drum beat’ first, you would probably be right. What are some of the main reasons for this?

Many electronic genres originally emerged around nightclubs and dancing. Because of these roots, it’s very common to produce electronic music beginning with the beat before adding chords and melodic elements. A solid drum beat acts as a foundation and establishes the overall energy of a track. Whatever the style, there are some key components that make up a beat: kick, snare or clap, hi-hats and cymbals, toms, and other pitched drums. How you sequence and arrange beats will depend on the sub-genre you want to write, so listen closely to reference tracks to get a feel for how the rhythms move and elements complement each other to create the overall sound.

Beginning instead, with any musical element we like

Instead of writing the drum beat first, how about beginning our track with any musical element we like? Is this an option? Maybe start by creating a bass line, choosing chords, writing a melody, adding a vocal, creating transition effects, etc. Remember “Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?"

"Fun fact: if we always start writing our tracks the same way, we may always end up with the same results. Keeping this in mind, one of my favourite approaches is to write the drums very last, after I have composed all of the musical elements of the track. The benefits of this approach include increased awareness of the space left for drums and what's needed to support and drive the track. This can turn an ordinary track into a banger!"

Some things you can try (In no particular order):

  • Starting with a sample (Can literally be anything that inspires you) a vocal, field recording - and build your track around it. (Essentially you’re remixing a sample.)"As the music progresses, you have the option either to incorporate the sample as a permanent part of the track or to treat it merely as a placeholder, which you'll remove once its role as the 'Party Starter' is fulfilled."

  • Skeleton Drums, begin with (a full drum beat loop sample) as a placeholder. Pick a loop that sets the mood, vibe of the track you’re aiming for and play, sequence, and record in, the core elements of your track. When you have all the musical elements sounding the way you would like them to. Go ahead and delete this drum loop and build up your own drum kit, percussion to fit with the rest of the track! Currently, one of my favourite techniques on rotation.

  • My most preferred way of working these days. Starting with the Musical elements first, could be the Chords, Melody, Bass, Harmonies, Vocals, try and nail the core, WOW, hook, memorable moment of the track first!

Building Healthy habits and Successful routines

What are some other habits and routines we can do before beginning Music projects, anytime, anywhere? 

How do we capture our thoughts and not let our ideas slip away?

Try taking a small notebook with you wherever you go - and write ‘Shit’ down (many a good idea or a crappy one, slips away) when we rely only on our memory. 

If you prefer to use TECH - use a voice memo app to record voice notes onto your mobile phone. 

Where do we find Sources of Inspiration? What are some of the great incubators? 

Some of my favourites include, walks in nature, watching movies, reading books, looking at photos, artwork, traveling, reading, having conversations, listening to the radio, podcasts, surfing the net, reading poems. There’s an endless supply of ideas just listening and observing the world we live in. 

Gathering material, ideas, samples:

  • Make an empty folder on your desktop. Mine’s called ‘Use Me’ and drag & drop in there samples, music, recording bits for later. There are some amazing FREE Sound libraries online. I have linked a couple of cool examples below:

  • FreeSound

  • Native Instruments Blog

Buy a ZOOM or Tascam portable recorder and take it with you wherever you go and record your own samples. An amazing way to bring originality and uniqueness to your music. One of these. Tascam Portable Recorders

  • Make ‘Music’ playlists of your favourite artists, record labels, etc., on Spotify, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. Use these for listening sessions before starting a new music production. Limbering up our ears, identifying music elements, emotions, which we might want to incorporate into our own music. In much the same way an athlete stretches before exercising.

  • Make a text document for copying and pasting web links, to music or whatever inspires you.. Don’t let those crappy or good ideas!! Slip away!!

  • Try writing a Track prompt, here’s one I came up with “Write a track that sounds like aliens partying in Roswell” and Goooooo. All of these are great Catalysts for starting new tracks!!

Setting Constraints

What about setting some constraints before we get started? Switching off any distractions, setting some limits so we don’t disappear down a random rabbit hole for hours.. 

I personally love the example shared by renowned writer Neil Gaiman during an interview with Tim Ferriss - Neil Gaiman interview with Tim Ferriss where he describes the ‘Permission’ he gives himself to either write or do absolutely ‘NOTHING’. The key being he literally means absolutely nothing. Sure you can take in your surrounds, look out the window of  your studio space if it has one. Or you can pick up a pen and write, create, work on your art. You have permission to do so. I’m sure most of us can imagine “Doing absolutely Nothing” isn’t that great after a while! It goes without saying - a successful and healthy habit is to eliminate all distractions when working on your art, 100% of the time. Try switching your computers WIFI OFF.

Give your Music the full undivided attention it deserves!! You and others will notice the difference!

In Summary

My students often ask me, ‘What instrument, Musical element do I start with? How should I begin my track? So I thought it would be a fun subject to discuss. Compare with the “Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?" Dilemma. Does it really matter if the Melody comes before Drums, Drums before Melody? There really is NO right or wrong answers. It’s all down to you and your imagination. It can be good practice though to switch things up from time to time and do the opposite of what you normally do for new and interesting results. In the main, this was looking at things from a beginner's perspective, but hopefully, there was something to take away for the more experienced producers also. There are many benefits to be gained by setting up good habits and workflows. Don’t let those creative ideas slip away and kick off tracks using them!! Today’s post is very much written from my personal perspective as a Teacher and Creator - the things I talk about here are a reflection of things I actually think about and employ in my own music.

Happy Creating! Heath

Quote of the Week: “All art is a work in progress. It’s helpful to see the piece we’re working on as an experiment. One in which we can’t predict the outcome. Whatever the result, we will receive useful information that will benefit the next experiment. If you start from the position that there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, and creativity is just free play with no rules, it’s easier to submerge yourself joyfully in the process of making things. We’re not playing to win, we’re playing to play. And ultimately, playing is fun. Perfectionism gets in the way of fun. A more skillful goal might be to find comfort in the process. To make and put out successive works with ease.” - Rick Rubin.

Recommended Reading List  - Books about the 'Creative process'

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