Music producers used to wear white coats and work in labs with machines that were bigger than them. Producing music was expensive. Way out of the reach of ordinary folk. Then came the Personal Computer, then MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface). MIDI allowed instruments and software to talk to each other. Anyone with a PC, some software, and talent could become their own producer. Before long, clubs began to vibrate with classic anthems. Here’s five secrets on how they’re made.
1. The Software
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It records, edits, mixes, and masters sound. The producer uses the software to cut, paste, splice, and rearrange music files. With the computer, it’s the most important bit of gear a producer has. There’s plenty of choices, too. Audacity is brilliant, free, and works on Windows and Macs. Garageband is fantastic but only available to Mac users. Windows has the equally brilliant FL Studio, available for free in its demo version. The more skilled and adventurous go for programmes like Cubase. Reaper or Logic Pro.
2. Music Theory
Paul McCartney, the biggest-selling songwriter ever, can’t read music. But he’s an outlier. As a minimum, most music producers have a basic grasp of music theory. They may not have an orchestra in their home, but what they’re making is still music. The same rules apply. Music theory fundamentals help with improvisation. Producers become more creative and it speeds up their production rate. Paul McCartney can’t read music, but The Beatles producer, George Martin, did.
Without mixing, all music would sound like it was recorded inside a metal can. There’s two important elements to any mix. The first is the balance between the sounds and instruments. Have you ever heard a recording where the vocals were too quiet or the drums too loud? Not good. That’s why producers rely on EQ, compression, and the volume fader. The second element is emotion. Any producer can find the right balance. But it’s the great ones that release the artistic intent in their mix. They introduce effects like delay and reverb. They add the right amount at the right time and for just long enough to get the emotion they’re looking for. It’s what distinguishes an anthem from a classic anthem.
Sampling is the use of a sound or piece of music from another recording and blending it into a new composition. But not every producer asks permission. Remember Vanilla Ice’s problems when he sampled the bass-line from the Queen/Bowie song ‘Under Pressure’ for his own hit ‘Ice Ice Baby’? That case involved a lot of arguing between lawyers to prove infringement. But technology now makes it easy to discover illegal music samples. No matter how deep they’re buried in the mix. But it’s never been easier for producers to find the right sound for their anthem. Enormous amounts of midi samples are now available online.
Mastering is the last step of post-production. There’s no point in producing a great track if it doesn’t sound right on the listener’s audio equipment. Mastering balance’s the sonic components of the mix and improves playback. It also makes sure the sound is uniform and consistent across all the tracks on an album.
There’s more to producing great club anthems, but these five basics are enough to begin with. Is the music in you? Do you have a great sound in your head? Download a DAW and some midi samples to your laptop and start producing so we can all get to hear.