Building a Dance Track

May 29th 2012

a dance track from scratch can be a daunting process, but by following
some simple rules, a lot of practice and cultivating a small ruthless
streak the results will be worth sending off to your favourite label. 


Here we’ll look at building a basic 4/4 dance track (the theory still
holds for any genre though) using some audio samples and MIDI files from

Your starting point should of course be a blank song in your sequencer,
and from here we’ll start to layer up our basic percussion sounds in an
8 bar loop.


One top tip while we’re getting started: listen to the style of music
that you’re aiming to create exhaustively and try to get a feel for the
types of sounds your favourite producers use, and then compare your own
choices. Getting the right sounds can make the difference between your
track smacking through speaker cones across the country’s dance floors
or the CD becoming a coaster on an A&R man’s desk, regardless of
how good the musical content is.

Once we’re happy with our percussion sounds it’s time for Bass. At this
stage choose your favourite plugin synth and have a flick through some
bass patches. Once we’ve found our basic sound it’s time to jam! For
simplicities sake we’ve dragged-and-dropped a bass line MIDI file from
a DMS pack into our arrangement. Once you’ve decided on your pattern
it’s time to tweak that sound to your preference, try altering filter
settings or adding distortion effects to liven up your bass sound.

It’s too easy to jump the gun at this early stage and start to arrange
our sounds as they would be in a finished track, but resist this
temptation! We don’t want to end up with five minutes of beautifully
arranged percussion and nothing else.

With this in mind continue to build up your track until you’ve got a
complete section, say an introduction part to the track. Next it’s time
to start a new loop, this will be the lead part to our track. Again
we’ve added a lead synthesiser MIDI file on top of our percussion and
bass line.

Repeat this process until you’ve got loops of the main parts of your
track. This loop based approach saves time, and will allow you to
gather some idea of how the different parts of your track will interact
once you arrange them. Conversely this technique will also help you
create contrasting sections that stand out from the rest of the track
(if that’s your aim!).

Now we’ve got these basic building blocks it’s time to lay out our
track to our personal preference, again at this stage it’s a good idea
to refer back to our target style. Have a listen to your favourite
tracks again and work out what you like about how they’re arranged. Ask
yourself some questions about them; How does the track build up? Why
does that bass line rock so hard when it drops into the track? The
answers to questions like these will help you get your own ideas
together about how you’ll arrange your track. It’s always a good idea
to make a very basic arrangement first, and then refine your elements.
By this point you’ll probably have worked out if there are any other
elements, such as special effects that you could fit into your track
and now’s the time to add them in.

When you’re happy with the arrangement of your track it’s time to
get that ruthless streak out. Have a critical listen through from start
to finish. This is best done with a clear head so take a break first!
One trick the pro’s use here is to turn your computer screen off,
remember we’re using our ears here not our eyes! Again ask yourself
some questions; Is that section needed there? Did the build-up do the
track justice? This technique is the best way to weed out faults in
your arrangement and mix. Saving multiple copies of your song file at
this point can help you safe guard the basic arrangement of your track
from your edits.


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