The 4 Elements Of A Perfect Dance Track

Josh Rackstraw | Read time: 4 mins
beginner music production dance music formula DJ/producer tips
Last updated 7 May, 2020

4216

Endor’s “Pump It Up” was released on Defected in October last year – and I love it. I’ve always had a soft spot for cheesy house music; the original track came out when I was a teenager and it literally sounds like a summer holiday to me. Endor has stripped it right back to create a cheeky floorfiller for all but the most serious of clubs.

Another reason that I love it is that it’s a reminder of how simple dance music can be. I have a massive respect for the talent and hard work that lies behind all music production and composition, but I also really love the fact that all you really need is a laptop to start making music; and “Pump It Up” is a great reminder of that.

Drums, bass, melody, vocals…

There are countless examples of house tracks that are made up of nothing more than a four-on-the-floor drum beat, a 16-bar bass loop, a simple melody, and a vocal hook.

That’s the original recipe, created in the 1980s in Chicago. Pump it up is a perfect example of how these four elements can come together with a little production magic to create a hit. So let’s go through these elements, one by one, and see how they work together.

Learn how to do this: Check out our production course for DJs

The 4 Essential Elements

1. Drums

You already know how the drums are going to sound before they start. Dum, Tsch, Dum, Tsch. It almost feels ridiculous to explain the percussion in house music, but just in case you’re trying this at home: set your BPM to 128, add a 909 kick on every beat, add a clap on the second and fourth beat, then add a closed high-hat on every half-beat. If you’re feeling really jazzy, turn the last high-hat of every bar into an open high-hat.

And that’s it.

There’s so much more that I could go into here (he doesn’t even use a snare in this song!) because house music is made of rhythm. But just know that number one records have been made with nothing more than a simple four-on-the-floor beat.

2. Bass

I couldn’t help but smile when the bass kicked in the first time I heard this track. It’s a nice touch that Endor has added this contemporary electro sound to the mix, but all it needs to do is add a little swing to the vocal hook – using the same notes in the exact same order – which shows how the “less is more” approach can often be best when it comes to dance music.

Read this next: 9 Reasons Why You Need To Learn Ableton Live Right Now

I’d like to point out here that the rhythm of the bassline, and the variations that Endor has added just before the break at minute 1.08 of the radio edit, are genius touches which make the track his own, and marks him down as one to watch for the future. But using a tool like beat repeat, or just chopping up and pitch shifting your bass line are simple ways to create this kind of variation.

3. Melody

The melody in Pump It Up is provided by just two chords and is taken directly from Danzel’s original. It’s a sparse nod that reinforces the rhythm provided by the bass and creates a little tension.

Melody is very important; it could be argued that all music is made up of rhythm and melody, but it just shows that with the right two chords you have everything you need to create a song (something which is also true for many other genres of music).

4. Vocals

Pumping it up is something that Endor really values. And he really wants you to know how much he values it.

Like with the drums, there’s not too much to explain here, but it’s interesting to note that the vocal melody starts on the fourth beat of the bar, which creates something like a “call and response”.

It’s hard to explain this using words, but the simple way of looking at it is that it’s hard to sing “Don’t you know, pump it up, you’ve got to pump it up” without your brain automatically adding another “Don’t you know” at the end.

This is because you’ve only sung three beats of a bar, and our brains are programmed to add in the ending. Call it a pick-up note, call it anacrusis (don’t call it syncopation because it technically isn’t), it’s a simple technique that keeps the track rolling over (another example of this technique applied to a vocal loop is the “Because” in “Because… We! Are! Your! Friends!”, which also starts on the fourth beat of the bar).

…and some production magic

In this article, I’ve argued that house music composition is easy. But production and mixing are two entirely separate processes, and that’s where things get interesting.

In this case, the track features auto-filters, crowd noise, a reversed hi-hat reverb tail, auto-panning, and some beat chopping/looping effects. However, if you’re a digital DJ, you’ll already have an idea of what most of these effects are and how they work. There’s also compression, reverb, EQing and all the other standard production techniques, but we’ll go into those another time.

Now you try…

I want you to understand how simple music production can be. It’s something you can teach yourself, and you don’t need expensive equipment to get it started. Many producers use a laptop and a pair of headphones and nothing else.

Learn how to do this: Check out our production course for DJs

Can you think of any other examples of house tracks that are made up of nothing more than the four elements? Do you have any questions about Endor’s track? Let’s get chatting in the comments!

Click here for your free DJ Gear and software guide