Essential EDM Tools
This article will focus on the essential EDM tools for creating Electronic Dance Music. EDM relies just as heavily on the technology as it does on the music. To be proficient at creating this genre of music it is necessary to fully comprehend the technology behind it.
Musical Instrument Digital Interface
MIDI, which stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface,” is a system that allows electronic musical instruments and computers to send instructions to each other. MIDI is not any type of sound or audio, it is purely data. Recording a MIDI performance will reveal the following including the notes that were played, how hard they were pressed, when they were released and more.
MIDI instruments like keyboard controllers can be used to play other MIDI compatible instruments, including software synths. A MIDI device that controls another is referred to as a controller. When you play a MIDI instrument, it produces data that will be captured by a sequencer.
The sequencer is the most important aspect of any dance musician’s studio. Whether hardware or software, it ties all the technology together. Today’s sequencers can work with both MIDI and audio, permitting the musician to not only record specific notes at specific times but also to record and edit audio and apply effects and processing; all in real time. Today’s software sequencers are known as Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, for short. Processing power in computers has reached the stage where it is now entirely possible to create, edit, mix and master an entire song on a laptop.
Sequencers contain many tools such as effects, a piano roll editor which allows for easy editing of MIDI data, and the ability to sync other gear to it. With the use of a MIDI interface, the sequencer can send out start and stop information to control drum machines, keyboard workstations, or sequencers on other computers. Some machines such as Akai MPCs and keyboard workstations like the Yamaha Montage have their own built-in sequencers. The captured MIDI performance is a set of instructions to recreate the performance. Since it doesn’t contain any actual sound, you can choose the best sound for a performance even after it’s recorded.
A huge part of the EDM sound is the rigid timing. Unlike a real drummer, which may drift through several tempos throughout a song, sequencing drums usually results in tighter timing. Quantization, otherwise known as timing correction, helps land your notes in the correct place. Either while recording, or after the fact, quantizing a performance will move notes to the nearest predetermined note value such as the closest 16th note. While quantizing will make a performance sound tight and mechanical, “swing” can add a bit of human feel to your sequence. Many quantizers accomplish swing by allowing you to assign a percentage to the quantization value. For example, a setting of 50 percent moves the note halfway between where you played it and the next quantization point designated by your quantization value.
Boxes of Sounds
It is time to look at sound generators, the core of the MIDI studio. Whether it’s a keyboard synthesizer, drum machine, sampler or software synth; sound from these devices are triggered by MIDI. The basic building block of synthesis is known as an oscillator which is a sound-producing circuit. Analog synthesis is achieved by combining a number of oscillators together to create a timbre that is very rich in harmonics. This rich sound can be sculpted using a series of modifiers. The number of modifiers available on a synthesizer is entirely dependent on the model, but all synths offer a way of filtering out certain harmonics and of shaping the overall volume of the timbre.
A low-frequency oscillator (LFO) can be used to alter the sound. An LFO produces a signal that is inaudible to the human ear. They are used to modulate other parameters, known as the destination. The result is movement of sound. LFOs can create tones like a wailing police siren, tremolo effects and wobble bass typically found in Dubstep music.
In the ‘80s, the introduction of samplers changed the face of music forever. They are one of the most creative tools you can have at your disposal. Samplers allow you to use any recording as an instrument. A Ping-Pong ball thrown at a garage door can become a tom. Hitting a rolled up newspaper against a wall can make a kick drum and the hissing from a steam pipe can become a hi-hat.
After the sound has been recorded, it can be manipulated using a series of editing parameters. These are very similar to those found on synthesizers, and also played back in different pitches using a controller. Samples can be reversed, pitch-shifted, and time-stretched (adjusting the length of a sample while leaving the pitch unchanged). Most samplers also allow you to change the bit depth (quality) of your sample, thereby downgrading the quality to produce a lo-fi effect.
Keep in mind, if you sample a commercial recording artist, you must “clear” the sample before releasing the music. If you don’t, you can get sued. The copyright belongs to the creator. It is protected from the moment of conception. It exists for the lifetime of the creator and another 70 years after their death. After that, it becomes public domain and is free to sample. a piece of music was written hundreds of years ago, does not mean you can sample the song from a commercial recording. The performance of the piece is also copyrighted. Sample clearance must be obtained by both the author of the song, as well as the owner of the master recording.
Although electronic music hardware is making a comeback, software equivalents of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers are an integral part of today’s EDM idiom. The GUI is designed to look just like a piece of hardware with buttons and knobs. They can be controlled by a variety of MIDI controllers.
I keep mentioning “controllers” without a proper explanation. A MIDI controller is what will allow you to control your DAW, soft synths and external gear. They usually do not have any built-in sounds. They are found in many formats such as keyboards, drum pads and wind controllers.
Speaking of sound, how will you hear everything properly in order to mix? First off, you’ll need an audio interface, an integral part of any computer-based musician’s set up. The audio interface will allow you to bring audio into a computer as well as play it back. When comparing stock soundcards that are built into your computer, an aftermarket audio interface will have stunning audio quality. It will also have low latency (the buildup of delays in an audio signal as they travel through the inputs of the audio interface, through the computer and software, and then back through the output of the interface).
Monitors or Phones
In order to hear your music you will need a pair of closed-back studio headphones or a pair of studio monitors. They are designed to represent your music with a flat response. Unlike your car stereo or blue-tooth speaker, monitors are not colored. They allow you to hear your music as it is. This will help in the process of tracking and mixing.
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Written By: Headsnack