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The Techno Tricks is the fusion of man, music and machine, growing out of late-80s Detroit, via Europe, to become the worldwide phenomenon that we know today.
The style is made for the club, with a strong percussive backbone, played in 4/4 time. Some of the main trademarks of techno include minimalism and repetition. With slow, calm evolving changes throughout the length of the track acting to explore the musical themes of each piece – all while keeping the groove rolling.
So you want to learn how to make techno? I don’t blame you – there’s something special about that hypnotic sound that has defined electronic music for years.
START WITH THE BEAT
Because the techno tricks leans so heavily on its percussion and drums, these are often the first thing that music producers get to grips with when creating a track. When we say ‘start with drums’, we don’t just mean laying down four bars: we mean constructing the basic beat and percussion, and then starting to duplicate them out to form a track.
By adding some variation throughout, slowly evolving the patterns of each part, and dropping elements of your beat and percussion out and then in as the track progresses, you can start to get a picture of how your track will shape up – although of course, you can always change it to make more sense with your other instruments as things are fleshed out.
REFERENCE YOUR ARRANGEMENT
It might seem strange, but in this world of unlimited choices, leaving your options open can be counter-productive. You may have infinite routes to go down, but there are infinity-minus-one wrong choices you can make when creating your the techno tricks track.
By dragging the techno tricks that you respect right into your DAW from the start, and marketing out its key sections – intro, main beat, build-up, drop, variation, etc… – in your DAW, you’ll have a basic skeleton of how to start structuring your track. You’re not copying the track itself here, with its musical elements; just how it flows together from one part to the next. This can be tremendously helpful as a scaffolding to making your own tune.
If you want to take it further, you can indeed adopt the track’s key and tempo, and start by adding some additional elements of your own to bulk it out – think some chords and percussion, perhaps. Then, when you remove the original track, you’ll have even more elements in place to start design original sounds around.
Classic techno took advantage of early sampling technology, with artists squeezing as much from the gear of the time as they possibly could. One obvious way to mess up a sample back then was to hit the sampler’s Reverse button.
Today’s DAWs make it instant and accessible to reverse a sound, which you can layer into your tune alongside the original sample or as its own sound. When doing this, make sure not to go overboard, as the effect can be fairly cliche and overcooked when you’re writing for a minimal style. If you think you’re in danger of this, keep volumes down and low-pass filter your reversed sounds, keeping them as effects.
While most music is played to the grid, especially in Techno, reversed sounds are often best retimed by hand, with their loudest moments (their transient ‘attack’ portions) now coming later in the same. Try moving the reversed sounds with your DAW’s grid disabled, and even try chopping off or fading out that transient to keep the sample in context.
FIND YOUR OWN PERCUSSION
With beats being so crucial to techno, simply whipping out some 909 sounds won’t make you original whatsoever. There are plenty of strategies to fix this, and we’ll talk about plenty of them in this article, but the best way to sound original is to create your own samples from scratch.
Using a handheld recorder, a proper mic or even your phone microphone, head out and look for some real-world hits to add into your track. While creeping around an industrial estate could be the right thing for a certain flavour of techno, you don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to. Get creative with what you find around the house (and especially in the kitchen) to come up with samples that nobody else could possibly have as well.
FILTERS FOR THE TECHNO TRICKS
Filtering is used in two main ways in techno. While mixing, use gentle filters that resemble analogue-style hardware, making 6dB or 12dB high- or low-pass filters where necessary to help instruments work together.
To evolve the sound of a synth element, meanwhile, introduce some resonance to a filter, and slowly move the cutoff over a few bars using automation in your DAW, and then back down again.
DELAY FOR TECHNO
Delay is a key effect for your lead sounds. Typically, a relatively calm delay Time (1/4) set with a low Mix level and a medium Feedback amount will give you that techno feel when it kicks in, but this is highly dependent on your individual track, and just a starting point for your effect.
Talking variation throughout a track, one key parameter to change is the send level into the delay – you are using your delays on sends, right. This lets you control the amount of signal sent into the delay at crucial points, ramping things up when the track is in full swing or building up, and backing off for the quieter, calmer parts.
Use your delay’s filters to mix in its signal and make the mix a little less busy and crowded. Again, keeping things subtle is key in techno production.
MODULAR AND ANALOGUE SOUNDS
The roots of the techno tricks lie in analogue sounds – particularly in Roland’s 303 and 909 grooveboxes. These have carried over since then, and the analogue sound remains a key element of techno today. Using analogue emulations of effect processors also counts as getting ‘that analogue sound’. Try using classic compressors, filters and distortion effects as plugins to get the vibe that’s associated with the genre.
Modern techno tends to use modern analogue equipment to do its thing. One particular focus of the ‘Berlin school’ (and beyond) in recent years is modular synthesis. While a huge modular rig is out of most people’s price range. There are software versions of modular systems that are way cheaper, take up less space, and can save and recall entire setups. Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular, Softyoutube Modular, and VCV Rack are perfect examples.
The Techno Tricks is a 4/4 genre, yes, but the key to livening it up is to move off the beat. Syncopation, put simply, means to place the stresses of a rhythm (the accents) on a place other than each beat. This means that while you might have a rhythmic melody line that hits both on and off the beat. Try alternative increasing the velocities of some of those notes that lie away from the bar lines and beat lines in your sequencer. You might well want to return to the grid on beat 1 of each bar, but the most interesting, innovative techno music has plenty of action away from those times when the kick hits.