THIS IS IMPORTANT: everything here is written by me and I’m not an expert, I’m just a self-taught mashcore producer so if you like my sound or need some basics, feel free to read this! Everything comes from my own experience and countless other articles I’ve read and videos I’ve watched. Some other producers helped me to start as well.
Part 0. Before you start
You need to think thoroughly about how much do you want to sacrifice for music and how big you wanna get. There are huge, and I mean REALLY HUGE, differences between, said, semi-professional metalcore band and a bedroom producer of witch house music in terms of money involved, ways of promoting the music etc. I really believe that you can be a really nice chiptune musician with just a Windows PC and FamiTracker, but on the other hand I’ve heard that paying $300 for mastering per track is “suspiciously low” and that having a $500 photo session is an entry-level must-do thing, so yeah. This is heavy genre-reliant but that’s not the only thing that affects that. Same thing applies to what you have to learn: you don’t have to learn composing completely for some genres (schranz, mashcore, drone), you don’t have to pay much attention to mixing with some either (black metal, punk, noise), while with others you really shouldn’t even try without having thousands of dollars to spend (basically recording real instruments aiming to sound better than that blackened noisegrindish noisepunk band from your neighbor’s garage), let alone the time you have to spend before you actually start to release stuff (especially applies, obviously, to genres that require composition AND mixing skills, such as symphonic IDM, jazzstep and maybe complextro or whatever). Yes – you will need a lot of time (unless you want to make improvised noise or whatever obv). If you think about musicmaking really seriously, you’d probably have to sacrifice some of your social life and work/school time (though maybe spending just all of your free time on music will work too). As for promoting within different genres, I’m not that much knowledgeable about stuff other than net-based distribution so that’s what I’m gonna elaborate the most, but basically, the obvious: try to get in the biggest label related to your style possible, keep contact with your listeners (and other musicians, labels etc!) and play live if that makes any sense – this applies both to internetcore netlabels and serious symphonic dnb-rock fusion bands, just the methods of getting accepted by the label seem different. Don’t forget about Soundcloud, YouTube etc! And if you don’t release via a label, choose bandcamp. It’s possible to get recognized without external help (Renard) but I don’t know how, never managed to do so. I strongly discourage selling heavily sampled or otherwise stolen stuff. There’s also the “niche market” theory to consider: despite what internetcore hipsters may tell you, it’s NOT easy to be famous just because you produce popular genre (dubstep, trap, house). It’s basically QUITE THE OPPOSITE when you’re not really big. Basically, popular genre = MANY people trying to be big and many people having a lot of money to help themselves. There aren’t many people who produce mashcore, that’s why it’s easier to get recognized there. The difference is, popular in breakcore means 300000 lastfm listeners, popular in dubstep means 1300000 of them, but you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if you aspire for the latter in the first place anyway.
tl;dr: you’re gonna need a lot of time if you want to be serious, also a lot of money if you want to go beyond 100% digital music
If I didn’t discourage you at this point, move on to the next part!
Part 1. Getting started
Ok, so you want to make electronic music. I’m writing this in 2015, so if you aren’t aiming for real chiptune (as opposed to “fakebit”) or real oldschool analog stuff and don’t need a keyboard to compose, the only thing you need is a computer, software and something to listen to your stuff on. As for the computer itself, I’m just gonna state the obvious: the faster – the better (samplers love RAM, synths and effects love the CPU), and it’s probably better to use a desktop PC as laptops tend to get hotter and have way too small screen resolutions (1280×720 is not enough, neither is 1366×800 – btw, why do mobile phones keep getting higher resolutions and laptops don’t? ಠ_ಠ). As for the sound quality, it doesn’t seem to matter as you’d want to get a USB soundcard anyway (details later). I’ve heard that Macs tend to have much shorter latency than Windows PCs, but I’ve never really used one. As for the software, the only thing worth saying is that I really think that the DAW doesn’t matter (as long as it’s one of the ones that are considered professional), at least not at this point if you’re reading this. I tried both FL Studio and Ableton Live and, well, it all comes down to your samples and plugins anyway. I made a list of recommendations at the end of this article. As for “something to listen to your stuff on” – cheap studio headphones are better than cheap studio speakers, good studio speakers are better than good studio headphones, it’s probably the best to have both (and compare your stuff to others’ on various sources. Tip: if you have really bad phones/speakers, make use of spectrum analyzers for comparing, Voxengo SPAN is free). Go for studio stuff with flat frequency response, NOT hi-fi!
tl;dr: get a PC and a DAW obviously, and get studio headphones if you can’t afford really good speakers
Part 2. Getting started for real
I use mostly FL Studio, so I’ll focus on it, but you can use anything else, really. Important tip for every beginner: try to refrain from using default presets of plugins, especially the ones that are built in into your DAW. Classic patches for stuff such as the M1 are okay, but Sytrus sequences are not. Same thing goes for samples – you probably shouldn’t use FL Studio’s exclusive drumkits (the original amen break is a bit frowned upon in breakcore nowadays too, especially if it’s not very edited and sounds obvious), but a sampled or emulated TR-909 is okay if you need it. Try getting a lot of different samples and patches for synths (many are free!), and learn from them! Experiment with all these knobs, learn what’s ADSR and how do the basic waveshapes sound like if you feel like you need to program your own synth patches, but keep experimenting. Try different effects – different reverb plugins may sound different even on really similar settings, and so on. Hell, go watch some YouTube tutorials (many of them are okay but keep your consciousness while watching them anyway) and try generating your own gabber kicks with a synth and a distortion effect! Here’s the simplest thing you can begin with (FL Studio 11+ only):
If you also want to compose, well, that’s a completely different thing and I feel even less competent about that than the rest, but basically, try starting with analyzing other’s songs and learning basic music theory (read about scales, chords and such; chord progressions are pretty important which I learned the hard way), playing the keyboard also helps.
If you’re really lazy, you can start by stealing some chord progression (just google it; also try inverting some chords and transposing the whole thing) and building a “melody” within the same scale, putting notes mostly where the chords are too. I made this literally in two minutes (all the white keys are within the scale, chords are in the background):
And it sounds like this:
Pssst, there’s also a little shortcut for FL users:
PS: I’ve heard a few “songs” where the melody was completely random and out of any tune. If you feel like you can’t hear that, go read about tone deafness and I am completely serious.
tl;dr: avoid default presets and built-in plugins, download a lot of free samples, plugins and patches and experiment with everything; read about music theory and analyze other’s tracks if you want to compose
Part 3. Making a song out of that
Now it’s time to try making your first song. Again, there are huge differences between the approach you should take for each genre, so I’m gonna divide this part into two (or three?) subsections.
a) sample-based stuff (mashcore, samplecore, mashups): this is the most loosely defined one when it comes to production, you just need to be creative, especially when it comes to transitions between songs (unless you want to work with a mess of 9000 songs at once like Reizoko Cj, which is great too but I can’t really help you with that). The most basic kit you need for mashcore is some original song, drumloops and gabber kicks (please, try going beyond that though!). The more (but still rhythmically!) sliced up the breaks and less obvious sounding kicks, the better. Try downloading a great bunch of drumloops and generating your own kicks, or at least grab a lot of them too. You must also highpass the original sample (probably drumloops too), so it won’t collide with your kicks (this is always important, more info in the “original compositions” subsection). I usually do it with a medium to sharp knee around 140Hz (which is probably way too high lol), but it depends on the original of course (and how much do you pitch it up). I believe that the song structure rules don’t apply here, just be creative, make the track sound interesting because “boring” is the last word you want to hear about your mashcore!
tl;dr: highpass the original sample to avoid colliding with your kicks, be creative with transitions and pay attention to the rhythm if you make mashcore
b) original compositions (most of the rest, such as UK hardcore): this is way more complex and it’s not something I’m good at, but here’s how I understand it anyway: unlike sample-based stuff and some fast heavy gabba kick-reliant styles (I’ve never heard a bassline in speedcore for example, probably pretty much only because it’s so fast that there’s no place for it between the kickdrums; also breakcore that’s not melodic), you need a melodic bassline. More often than not, it’s similar to the main (lead) melody, but simpler. Generally, from what I understand it’s good to start with a chord progression (which you’d use for pad and/or arp later, think: makina), and then create a main melody and a bassline over it (refer to Part 2 if you need help with that). New gabber and hardstyle are good examples of being slow enough to include a bassline, this is sometimes achieved by using tuned kicks. Again, you don’t want anything to collide with your basses and kicks – highpass your lead synth and guitar and pretty much everything but the bass and kicks at 80Hz or something (and don’t play the kickdrum and bassline at the same time or use sidechain compression for that, google how to do this in your DAW). You should also consider writing separate (but similar) progressions for the chorus and for the verses. Basic construction I can suggest is intro – verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge/breakdown/something else – chorus – outro. It’s easy to find help about that on the internet, also remember to analyze professional artists!
tl;dr: learn to compose if you want to make originals, the amount of how much you have to learn varies between genres, generic construction is intro – verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge/breakdown/something else – chorus – outro (I’d still suggest reading the whole subsection if you care about composing)
c) bonus – neither of those two (techno, noise etc): for some stuff you don’t need a bassline (speedcore), a main melody (oldschool dubstep like Loefah) or chords (many house songs), for some you don’t need anything melodic (hard techno). Just read more about various genres if you’re interested, but remember – you shouldn’t follow the rules just for the sake of it, be creative! Want to make hard techno with complex chord progressions? Why not! Also, tip for noise: everything that’s made 100% digitally and relies on white noise has already been done. Again, be creative, record your car and layer it up with slowed down sound of your old broken toy. Nobody wants to hear software-generated noises anymore. Oh, and one more thing: working in a genre that doesn’t require composing harmonically complex chords isn’t 100% equal to taking the easier way (though, obviously, the more you have to learn, the more time you’re gonna need). You just have to do something else to make your music interesting.
tl;dr: you don’t have to compose for some styles such as hard techno, but you still need to do something to make your music interesting
Keep in mind that it’s not an FL Studio tutorial, so I’m not gonna teach you how to synchronize a sample to the project tempo or anything, but please keep an eye on it (drumloops played over a sample with no sync sound really awful), just refer to you DAW manual or YT tutorials. I tried to record a video of me creating a really short mashcore-ish thing in FL, but Camtasia failed to save it so I gave up, at least for now. Same thing goes for key sync, you need to understand pitch if you want to work with melodies (again, please refer to the part where I talk about composing for more). Here’s a short but important thing about sampling, though:
First 8 seconds is a track with added chiptune based on the melody from the song (done by ear but if you’re lazy, search for midi). 8-15 is my own melody build on the scale of the original track. 15-31 is original track and chip melodies tuned up 1 tone. Part from 31 is important: it’s detuned, you mustn’t do that! If you have trouble synchronizing the pitch of sped up tracks, remember about this knob, that’s what you’re looking for:
(100 cents = difference between two keys on the keyboard, 1200 cents = octave)
tl;dr: pay attention to tempo and pitch sync because it’s vital
Part 4. Advanced tips
-multiband compression is priceless for normalizing the low end of different gabba kicks,
-cut off everything below ~25Hz (and probably above ~20kHz with soft knee) as you won’t hear it anyway (the latter allows better sounding MP3 compression too lol),
-keep mono compatibility in mind, no pointless phase inversion! This is especially important for low frequencies, you really don’t want your kicks to cancel out on a (mono!) subwoofer system. Maximus and Ozone Imager can take care of this, so you can pan your kicks while forcing the low end to stay in the center,
-read some books (or at least articles or watch long YT videos) about mixing AND mastering. If you’re reading this you probably won’t be a mastering engineer, nor you’ll hire one to make the job for you – but there’s still a lot of useful tips you should know, like the ones about cutting off unwanted frequencies or keeping the bass mono I just metioned,
-I personally think that, at least in *core styles, too loud/clipping (and sometimes a bit too quiet too) is much better than overcompressed – turn off that master Fruity Limiter if you don’t know how to use it!
-rendering a loop of a few (also layered) tempo-synchronized drumloops save A LOT of time if you work on breakcore with loops,
-room reverb > mono,
-try to refrain from panning anything 100% left or 100% right; while you won’t hear any difference between 85% and 100% on speakers, 100% pan sounds painful on closed-back headphones,
-if you want to record vocals cheap and don’t have anything yet, buy an external soundcard first and then think about the microphone. I’m serious, you won’t hear much difference between a dynamic microphone for $20 and the cheapest $4 electret (take notice – yes, the cheapest ones are condenser microphones!) one if you’re going to record vocals in your bedroom, but you’ll hear a HUGE difference between your laptop’s built-in “super HD audio 2000” soundcard and even a $15 but external (USB) one, even though both are advertised as having a “16-bit input” just because they -technically- can run it. I measured my laptop’s input and there’s noise at about -40dB, which makes it effectively BELOW 8 BITS. The USB one I bought has an SNR of about 70dB, which is still lower than it should be for 16-bit cards (6*16=96), but it literally cost 50 PLN in 2013 for a brand new one. Also, try to minimize the amount of sound that’s being reflected by your environment, stay away from walls and such (there is a whole thing about that, called room treatment; also applies to speakers btw), and use quiet closed-back headphones so your music won’t bleed thru the microphone; make a pop filter out of something and beware of ground loops (refer to wikipedia for further details),
-if you want your mixes to sound good, refer to professionals. I’m serious, go and listen to some Britney Spears on YT and then think about it. Of course your bass will be much more huge in your gabber tracks, but even so, listen to Roughsketch instead of odaxelagnia for reference.
tl;dr: generic mixing guides are useful, external soundcard is more important than the quality of microphone if you want to record vocals the absolute cheapest way
Part 5. Afterthought
You really should keep in mind the part 0 thingy, it’s important. Don’t force yourself to do anything if you really don’t like it, but if you decide to do, don’t give up. You WILL need a lot of time, but if you really enjoy making music, you’ll survive. Don’t think about music as a way of making money, unfortunately only the really popular can make a living out of music (in less popular genres it’s not easy because it’s really hard to make the music sound so great it’ll appeal to an audience that’s wide enough, think Venetian Snares, and in more popular genres it’s not easy either because many people will compete with you). As for competing, by the way: I think it’s okay to compare your sounds to others’, especially when it comes to mixing and amount of complexity within the genre. Especially the first, you really need a good reference if you want your tracks to sound good, even if you’ll still be worse, just try your best! Also, get inspiration from a lot of different stuff (this is especially true for composing and for people who tend to stick to genre boundaries)! If you can’t make a living out of music, at least contribute to the scene by being interesting. Try being different while still being good, by putting effort and time while still knowing that you’re free of genre restrictions or anything. Record your loud washing machine with your smartphone, filter the hell out of it and make it an intro for your atmospheric speedcore track with chinese folk influences, because why the hell not! At least you won’t use the same generic sad background sample for the 9000th time.
tl;dr: you’ll need time so give up now or never, compare your mixes to pros, experiment
Plugin recommendations (mostly for cheapos like me):
-I like Harmor for “talking basses” and other wobbly stuff, as an alternative to Massive,
-ABL2 is probably the best 303 emulator out there,
-BiT BOX (free) is a better idea than tb_toad if you don’t want to program your own chip drums,
-Crystal softsynth is free, as well as AM Freehand and Synth1 (my fav for fakebit leads)!
-drsid is too and it’s my favorite for chip drums (C64 style),
-try Cyclop or Spire if you don’t want to use Massive,
-FabFilter Timeless 2 is a really great and advanced delay plugin,
-MykraDelay is probably the best from the free ones (delays),
-go for PianoVerb if you need a free reverb plugin (GlaceVerb should be ok too),
-you don’t need Kontakt if you only want to emulate some orchestral chords, go for free soundfonts and I’m serious,
-if you really need Kontakt, though, there’s a free version called Kontakt Player and there are some free libraries,
-M1 LE is free if you’ve got certain stuff something from Korg if I undestand correctly,
-magical8bitPlug (free) is ok for NES-style triangle waveshape,
-Nepheton and Drumazon are probably the best 808 and 909 emulators, though tbh I don’t have them,
-I don’t recommend any particular guitar library, but as for the effects, Guitar Rig and AmpliTube seem the best and I personally prefer the sound of the latter,
-TAL Bassline is really simple and free,
-Trilogy for bass guitar emulation,
-BigSeq2 may be useful for breakcore and is definitely a good alternative to dblue glitch, as well as Effectrix and iZotope Stutter Edit… just don’t use the dblue glitch sequencer, PLEASE (single effects are okay),
-Emissary and mda Bandisto = free dists,
-FabFilter Simplon is my favorite hp/lp/bp filter,
-try Fragmental, free effect for experiments,
-geektronic = free bitcrusher with built-in LFO,
-grANALizer – free granular effect,
-KarmaFX and Voxengo have some free effects too,
-Ohmicide is my fav dist for gabba kicks,
-Speakerphone is unreplaceable for realistic environmental sounds (easy to use reverb + EQ with built-in ambience samples),
-Turnado is great for live performances with knobs,
-WOW is a cool filter,
-W1 is a free alternative to the famous L2 maximizer.
If you want to do everything completely free, get Buzz or LMMS and free VST plugins and don’t sample anybody, just do everything on your own and use public domain sample packs. Or just get OpenMPT or FamiTracker.
tl;dr: BiT BOX, Synth1, AM Freehand, PianoVerb, some soundfonts, M1 Le, geektronic, Fragmental, W1, OpenMPT, FamiTracker and Voxengo’s & KarmaFX stuff are free and cool. dblue glitch is not.
I can’t stress enough that I am in no way an expert and I’d really suggest to get inspired by stuff better than just internetcore if you want to be serious though!