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How to build up a track

How to build up the track correctly, first kick & bass and what phases are to do next? Maybe I’m doing that phase sequences in wrong way, so maybe get stucked.

From the previous question from Mattias

Basically, there are several ways to build up a track:

Start with a kick and bass. It’s a good way to start if you trying to achieve something totally new. Let’s say, you have produced a couple of tracks with nearly the same kick-bass combo, but now you’d like to create something all-new — maybe a track in a different tempo or even in another genre. I call it “out of comfort zone”. Making everything from scratch, synthesizing kick and bass from a blank page is a good way to learn.

Getting out of comfort zone

Start with a melodic pattern. Go this way if you planning to make a track with a strong melodic accent. I like this approach because it’s absolutely independent of the sound itself as you focused just on a melody. Literally speaking, you can compose a melodic pattern with a cheap in-ears headphones with an “Initial” preset of your synth, which obviously won’t work for kick-bass start. So, in general, it’s a good way to quickly transmit idea from your head into the digital world. It works better with a midi-keyboard.

Start with an idea. The “idea” could be anything: interesting moment in breakdown, vocal sample or a special effect. Something that hook you up and lays the foundation for the track. It might be hard to find such idea, but if you did — the track is almost done. Just wrap up it properly.

I can’t say which way is correct, simply because there is no such thing as “correct” or “better”. But I can recommend two things. First, try to keep entire picture in your head, even if the track is currently complete just on 10%. Think of it as a contour of your drawing sketch. Secondly, make sure that each part — the beat, the leads, the textures and so on — sounds good in the mix as well as solo. Is the melody makes you wanna dance even without a kick? Are the kick and bass “groovy” enough even with an actual groove, like high hats? If answers are “no”, then you’re doing something wrong. For this reason usually I add hats and percussions in the end.

Progressive JPEG method by Artemy Lebedev

Illustration sketch. Although it’s just about 20% complete, thanks to the contour you can see how the final result will look like. Illustration — Tatiana Sokolovskaya

To give a real life example, last year I remixed the collaboration of Christopher Lawrence and Jonathan Allyn called The Human Element. The original track is great, however, I thought would be cool to bring something totally new into this. So I’ve added the new melody, i.e. went by the “start with a melodic pattern” path.

As you can hear, there are only very basic sounds, initial presets.

Everything else was built later once I’ve done with the melody. And here is the outcome:

Also, pay attention to the after-breakdown moment here. Slowly, but surely, special effects and groovy elements were grown on top of the naked kick and bass — I call it a “snowball effect”, where each element brings extra energy. So when you will build up a track, think of it as you rolling a snowball, it might help :-)

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This post is a part of the “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as music production, sound design, performance, management, marketing, and career advice in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.