Techno is a forever evolving genre due to its electronic nature and reliance on synthesisers, drum machines and hardware.
In this article Studio Slave are going to highlight some key production tips to keep up with this fast-paced and revolutionary genre.
SYNTHESISING AND LAYERING
Sourcing your own drum hits and percussion samples can help to make your track stand out amongst the rest. For the hardcore sound designers, this can be synthesising every precise sound. Or for those of you that don’t like the idea of spending hours modulating sine-waves then opt for layering individual sample hits together and applying some processing to them.
Use delay to help add depth and dimension to sounds such as hats. This can really help the stereo imaging of your track as well as adding additional layers of interest.
Play around with the delay and feedback settings to create new rhythms and if your feeling really adventurous try nudging the delay slightly before or after the grid to give your programming some groove.
Sample selection is a factor that should be considered right from the start of your track. If your not creating your own samples be sure to use a decent sample pack. At the moment we recommend DMP (dance music production online) sample packs as well as D -Unity’s ‘Unity’ sample packs. If you want a more rustic feel you could always resample some samples off of some old vinyl records.
DMP’s Jaeger sample pack
Unity records sample packs
Learn to use your effects wisely. Due to the lack of melody and harmony in techno a lot of the interest lies in the rhythms and choice of effects. These effects don’t have to be anything more complicated than reverb and delay. They just have to be used in new, creative and interesting ways. Make sure you familiarise yourself with your DAWs native effects before you start purchasing loads of expensive plugins that will take a lot of time to learn.
Listen to each and every sample within your arrangement in solo and then in context and check that it is adding value to your track, you should be listening for any imperfections or abnormalities in pitch, timing, timbre and dynamics. And then fine tuning them to be absolutely perfect. In this more minimal genre there is absolutely no excuse for having weak samples or not using them to their best abilities.
Once you have programmed your rhythms duplicate your clips and see what alternative rhythms you can come up with by reversing and inverting different midi notes. You can also try adjusting the start and end points of your clip to induce polyrhythms.
Claps can sometimes actually have a negative effect on the pace and groove of your track. If your going for that extremely hard 4 to the floor rolling techno groove it may be wise to just use an open hat or a shaker and remove the clap completely. If you feel like using a clap later in the arrangement try applying a low pass filter to it so it’s less prominent in the mix. Another technique is to use a a very washed over chamber reverb.
Play with the pre-delay times of your reverbs. These can be used to accentuate groove as well as add extra rhythmical elements without actually adding more instrumentation. This is also good for helping your drums to appear more punchy as the reverb sound is not washing into the decay of the sample. If your doing this It’s important to use shorter reverb times so as not to overlap your different elements. This could also be achieved with a gated reverb.
Tempo to Milliseconds conversion chart.
THE HUMBLE 909
It goes without saying this legendary drum machine is a techno staple. Assuming most of you can’t afford to buy yourself one of the original 909s then check out the Aira Tr-8 from Roland which is a Tr-808 & Tr-909 emulation rolled into one. Failing this, get hold of a decent set of 909 samples and process them till they’re perfect. Then save them somewhere as your go to 909 techno preset. Also check out our free samples section of the website for some of our own beefed up 808s and 909s.
Use an Arpeggiator to build a layer of depth to your production. This can ebb and flow in and out as the track progresses as well as enhancing the groove and any melodies at play. Most synths have a built in arpeggiator but if not then Ableton Lives native arpeggiator does the trick just fine.
COMPRESS TO IMPRESS
Rather than using normal compression on your track try a multi-band compressor or a separate compressor for the kick. This will stop other parts of the track being effected when the kick triggers the compressor. This will also give you more control over keeping the dynamics of the kick fairly constant.
REVERSE & INVERT
Once you have programmed some nice midi loops try to get some more exotic ideas by flipping sections of the clip with the use of the invert and reverse functions. We can go deeper into our quest for exotic grooves by adjusting the loop start point in 16th notes. Keep a kick going on another channel whilst you do this and stop when you hear something you like.
METALLIC INDUSTRIAL SOUNDS
Techno as a genre has always been closely associated to raw industrial sounds and grit. To recreate some of these sounds try an FM synthesiser or plug-in such as Native Instruments FM8. Typically FM synthesis is used to recreate bell, glass and metallic objects so it is perfect for this genre of electronic music.
Acid has always been a staple throughout countless techno records since the Tb-303 came into play. These pieces of equipment are getting extremely rare and expensive to get hold of so if your looking for acid hardware we recommend Roland’s Tb3 which is part of the new Aira range. Also check out this link for the online acid machine which also emulates the sounds of the TB-303 and also allows you to save your sounds and sequences.
MAKE IT TRIBAL
Give your productions a tribal feel with the use of conga or bongo loops. If your feeling adventurous try slicing them up in a sampler and mapping them across the keyboard. You can now jam out some riffs of your own.
vocals can be made more interesting by giving them a ‘trippy’ or unusual flavour. This usually involves down-pitching. The possibilities don’t end there, try adding different effects chains to see what you can come up with. Resonators, vocoders and harmonising plugins are perfect for taking your vocals to another world.
When using time based effects to create buildups or breakdowns try setting the ‘ms’ parameter of the delay to an unusual timing. You can get deep into the automation and programming so that the delays drift wildly out of time with each other then resolve back in sync in time for the next section or the kick drum to come back in.
The most important element of dance floor techno is undoubtedly the kick drum. Make sure your kick drum sound goes nice and deep – if it hasn’t got any bottom end at about the 80 – 140Hz level it’ll sound weak. We suggest leaving room underneath your kick for sub frequencies. A kicks fundamental frequency can go as low as approximately 50Hz which equates to G1. But remember, rules are there to be broken. We have heard some wonderful productions with kicks as low as 35Hz.
Take a sample recorder and try recording random sounds from around the house. These can then be processed and sculpted into anything from hi-hats to percussive hits. Using different warping engines and transposing your sounds down an octave or running them through a resonator plugin can create some interesting atmospheres and soundscapes. for recording samples we recommend the Tascam DR-40 v2, or the slightly cheaper Tascam DR-05.
If your snare drum feels a bit too much, try lopping off some of the bottom end with a high-pass filter. This can be turned into quite a harsh effect with the resonance turned up. Alternatively, if your snare drum is hitting too hard you can either use a transient designer to tame the peaks, gently reduce the High shelf EQ gain or you could use a compressor with a fast attack and release to tame the peak.
For building atmospheric sounds and textural landscapes try pushing the transposition settings of your DAW. In Ableton making use of the tone and texture warp engines can really benefit your sound design. Another go-to technique for these sort of sounds is granular forms of synthesis and manipulation such as grain delays.
You may wish to distort your kick drums to give them some bite and extra harmonics. When doing this try splitting your kicks EQ so the distortion doesn’t affect the sub frequencies. Distorting these frequencies can make the kick lose a lot of that low end power and impact.
When using drum racks and impulse devices for any percussive samples make sure you split the channels of the device do that you have complete control over the envelopes, effects, levels and panning of each individual sample. You can do this using auxiliary channels by setting the inputs to the relevant sound from the multi-output device. Remember to set the monitoring to ‘IN’ to ensure you can always here the signal coming from the device regardless of your record-arm settings.
Some interesting polyrhythmic effects can be achieved by setting a sample’s loop length so that it is out of sync with the rest of the track. Typically by half a bar which allows it to stay musical whilst continually offsetting its rhythm with each repeat. To further this we can use an auto filter and record some unlinked session automation over a long period of time so the loop constantly evolves.