In part one of our training I revealed the two secrets that mean anyone can finish a track in 24 hours (or less!). In today’s article, the second of three, I’ll show you the actual six steps you need to take to get to the finish line quickly.
This technique is especially good if you’re daunted by the time commitment – after all, you’ve got a day job to hold down, perhaps kids too. I’m busier than ever these days, but something amazing is also happening: I’ve never put out more music in my life!
Just last week I received my new track from my mastering engineer (Gene Grimaldi of Oasis Mastering, same dude who worked on Lana Del Rey, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Lady Gaga to name a few…). I shared it in part one of our training, but here it is again in case you haven’t heard it yet:
The most surprising bit? I wrote and produced this in a single day! Of course that’s not counting the time I asked the singer to come in plus a separate mix session, but the entire arrangement including the riffs and instruments were all made in a single day.
I’ve managed to streamline my production process by following a few simple rules that I live and swear by, and they’re the rules I’m going to share them with you today. Here are my six steps to making a track in your chosen style and genre – fast:
The 6 steps to making a song in a day or less
1. Pick another song that you really like
A lot of dance music, especially more popular styles like bass music, EDM, and trap, follows a formula, and with good reason: people want to know what to expect because it makes them feel “in control”. No need to reinvent the wheel here unless you’re making an experimental dub techno track (though this also has its own share of sounds and production techniques). In most pop and mainstream dance music, there’s no such thing as a completely original idea: you just pick a song that you’d like to emulate, and you’re on your way.
2. Import it into your digital audio workstation
Once you’ve got a track, you fire up your DAW of choice (I use Ableton Live) and import the song into an empty audio track. You’ve got to find out the tempo of the track you’re working with first, and enter that as the project tempo: this means that all the bars / measures will line up properly with the tune. Don’t know the tempo of the track? You just drag it into your DJ software of choice to get it.
3. Label parts of the song in your DAW
With your track imported, you then add markers (“Locators” in Ableton parlance) to specific parts of a song like the Intro, Verse, Breakdown, and Drop. I call these parts “chunks”, and this is just a way to segment musical phrases to make them easier to distinguish. Once you’ve labelled all of the chunks, you’ll have created what I call a Song Map, which is the blueprint for your production.
4. Pick out a sample pack in the same style
Believe it or not, many of the world’s biggest DJ/producers use sample packs regularly in their productions, and with good reason: sample packs are cheap, plentiful, and sound great straight out the box. The sample pack brand Vengeance has a strong following in the mainstream dance community, with popular DJ/producers like Headhunterz, David Guetta, and Armin Van Buuren vouching for it. This lets you use the same source sounds as the pros, eliminating the need for hours of sound design to come up with, say, a great sounding kick drum. (I love sound design by the way, but if you’re making a track in just one day you’ve got to work fast.)
If you think the top DJs are able to tour the world and get a Beatport chart-topper by spending an entire day getting a snare drum right, think again. The biggest names are able to churn out hit after hit while keeping a busy touring schedule precisely because they are able to delegate specific tasks of the production process effectively: using sample packs is like hiring a world-class sound designer to create the “foundations” of your track so you don’t have to spend time learning the complex craft of sound design and synthesis. This lets you focus on creating a banger, not forming the sounds that comprise it.
While there is a proper time and place for week-long studio production binges, if you want something fast, work with tools that sound great already.
5. Use the sample pack to fill out your Song Map and create the foundation of your track
You add in the sounds from your chosen sample pack to flesh out your track: this will form the foundation of your production. You can use as little of the sample pack (eg just kick and snare sounds) or as much of it as you want because they’re royalty free: this is good if you’re just starting out with producing and making music, but you’ll eventually want to add more of your own original melodies and chords as you go on your music production career.
Often you’ll be using elements that are in the same or close to the same tempo as your project, and majority of sample packs label their loops with the tempo. Musical key is another consideration, and more often than not you’ll want to use musical elements in the same key, such as basslines, pads, and synth leads. If you need to come up with a chord progression quick, you can use an app like Odesi (I used it for the track I linked above).
You should keep the track that you’ve imported as a “reference”, which you can mute / unmute when you need to check how a certain chunk sounds (ie “are there any percussion elements in the Verse chunk of your reference track, and if so should you add some percussion loops in your own production?”). Having the reference track handy means that you also check how certain elements of the mix sounds like and you can attempt to emulate it in your own production.
6. … and add in your own elements
If you’ve got a bit of music theory in you, you can add in a melody of your own to create a memorable point in your song: this is usually the “chorus” in a pop song, or “the drop” in a big room track. You can find catchy hooks in tons of modern dance: Kygo’s Firestone, the “you, ooh ooh” part in the new Calvin Harris x Rihanna song “This Is What You Came For”, and rock tracks like Coheed and Cambria’s Welcome Home all have hooks.
Again if you’ve got a bit of music theory knowledge, you could add your own synth parts or record yourself playing an instrument or doing a vocal line. Or spend an hour or two getting the drums to sound the way you like them, mixing and tweaking in broad strokes so you don’t get lost in the weeds. The idea here is to personalise bits and pieces of the track through working quickly instead of getting stuck in the trenches.
Take the 24 Hour Production Challenge!
So is the “overnight producer” a reality? In 2016, the answer is undoubtedly “yes”. As I’ve mentioned in the first part of this series, all the tools you need are available: the software you need to create a hit can be downloaded, the sounds you need to assemble it can be purchased, and the experience you have as a DJ gives you an edge in what “works” for the dancefloor.
If you’re a beginner, you may find yourself starting off with just using sample packs entirely to get your feet wet, and can then gradually move towards creating your own melodies and chord progressions, using sample packs for inspiration or just for their individual sounds (eg using a kick drum / snare drum that you really like from a pack): this comes with time and experience as well as learning things about producing as you go along. The more you take the 24 Hour Production Challenge and actually finish tracks, the better you get over time.
Music production isn’t some deep, dark mystery locked up in an ivory tower and closely guarded by big name DJs. The process can be as long or as quick as you want it to be, and that’s the coolest thing about producing music today – it gives DJs like you the ability to express yourself in another way, beyond mixing songs produced by others. So why not start today, and get a track done tomorrow?
In the third and final instalment in this series, we’re going to tackle some common questions about this method, such as “Is it really producing if you’re just using someone else’s sounds?” and “If I’m copying another song’s structure, won’t that make my song unoriginal?”, so I’ll see you then.
Are you keen on taking the 24 Hour Production Challenge? Why (or why not)? Let us know below.