The Assembly Line – Music Production Step 1

As music creation tools become more accessible and powerful it has never been easier to make great records without emptying your wallet. You may not realize it, but as a DJ, you already have a production-oriented mind. All you need to do is acquaint yourself with the right tools to get the music in your head on paper. So get pumped– you’ll be throwing original songs into your DJ set before you know it!

Before we jump into specific production tutorials, I want to get you thinking about what kind of music you really want to create. With this focus in mind you’ll be able to take it in the direction YOU want.


You may already have an idea of the sound you’re aiming for, and that’s great. But for those who have no idea of the direction you want to go, don’t panic. Here’s a suggestion for narrowing down who you are musically:

1.    Get out a pen and paper.
2.    Now write down a list of three your favorite artists.
3.    Next to each artist draw 2 to 3 lines connecting to your favorite songs from that artist.
4.    Next to each of those songs, write why you love the song.

For this part, I suggest actually going back and listening to the songs rather than going from memory– you may find that you hear things you didn’t hear before when you analyze them. Do you love the pumping bass lines? The distorted vocal loop? The four-on-the-floor kick drum? Maybe the barely-audible high-pitched drone in the back of the mix. It doesn’t matter if it’s an instrument, a melody, or even just a fleeting moment; you know what you love about the song.

Here’s mine as an example:

You see the list on the right? That’s your sonic profile. You just musically eHarmonie’d yourself and found your match. These are musical elements that you find beauty in. Your aim should be to filter everything you love about your favorite artists and combine them into one package.


With a computer, the software of your preference, and a MIDI controller, you have a virtual symphony at your fingertips. Now go exploring. No rules or anything. Just explore the software, sounds, processors, and don’t worry about what’s right or not; just do what sounds good to you. Go put a bit crusher on an entire drum kit. I don’t even care. Go nuts, Trent Reznor.

After you’re done exploring, you can start adding some structure to your music. Here’s your first assignment:

1.    Take your favorite song, import it into an audio track,
2.    Using virtual instruments, do your best to recreate the drum part.
3.    Try to match the drum sounds as best you can

This is a good exercise not only in beat recognition, but also how to pick out sounds and samples that work well. It’s also the first step in figuring out what kind of music you want to craft. Don’t worry if it’s tough at first, step-by-step tutorial videos are on their way.

A note from Ean:
Just the other day I sat with one of our employees over lunch and explained how the Dj industry has dramatically changed in the 15 years I have been involved.  Back then, with mix CD’s and mix tapes as the dominant medium, Dj’s like Paul Oakenfeld and Carl Cox were not known for their productions but for their mixes. As we all know, this is no longer the case. Famous producers like DeadMau5 are the defacto dj super-stars and massive dance tracks seem to be the only road to stardom.  Since our mission has always been, and continues to be, making our readers the best that you can be, we will start including articles on the topic of producing great dance tracks in Logic and other software.

If you have any specific problems or questions post them in the comments!


Compression Basics

Djs Guide To Mastering pt 1

Djs Guide To Mastering pt 2

Dance MusicElectronic ProductionLogictutorials
Comments (33)
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  • Vocal Samples

    Thanks for the great post, is it ok if i link to the image. I would really love to write a post or 2 about this aswell.

  • Chris Penn

    Excellent article.
    It looks like the natural progression of the DJ industry will create de facto stars out of live performers/producers who can put down massive electronic dance hits in real time. With the sophisticated software available, it wouldn’t be impossible for one man to lay three or four different lead instrument lines onto one base track, with a real guitar, live vocals, or a real keyboard (actual piano would be awesome lol).
    The amount of automation that would go into mixing and mastering something that complex in real time is unfathomable; as an aspiring DJ with no good equipment, its daunting. On the other hand, restrictions are what drives creativity. 😀

  • SherpaPsy

    Great article! Not sure what the buzz around Ableton is all about though, never realy fancied it. I am drawn to Renoise ( ) which though tracker based in origin and workflow has an awesome amount of flexability. That and its quite cheap to get very community based, and runs on Win/OS X/Linux.

  • Armando

    They’re a lot of tips and tricks for ableton out there, I as much as I <3 and use Ableton, I think the community as a whole could benefit from the many advantages of including logic into your production assembly line. Making the boom boom a little louder 😉 <3 the engine hate the workflow.

  • DubbLife

    Im sooooooo glad Im not the only cat who uses Logic these days. Geez. 🙂

  • sensorama

    Well… i dont know about america but Paul O, Cox, Väth and all of them were actually famous for their productions aswell as their dj skills.
    Funny that.

  • D-Jam

    The best way to learn I found is to try remixing your favorite tunes (especially old school tunes) into versions you would play in a set. I know we’ve seen tons of this happening, but it’s ideal to learn from so you go from amateur sounding to polished.

    Utilize the internet. There are loads of blogs, message boards, and now social networks full of tips, tricks, and people who will listen to your stuff and offer suggestions. I know Airbase’s youtube videos showed me a lot…and they could be used in almost any music production.

    Put out quality over quantity…and strive to keep innovating. You might get to the point where your remixes are getting tons of downloads and people praise your skills. Don’t suddenly get comfy and then stale. Listen out there to what else turns you on, and perhaps take your hand at it. Seen many producers suddenly fall out of the spotlight because the big trends changed, and they didn’t change with them.

    It also helps to come up with one great track every month or few months as opposed to a mediocre new track every week.

    Keep a list of ideas. I know I’m still learning much in DAW, but every time an idea comes into my head I write it down. That’s how you have a list of things you want to do and tracks to make.

    Be patient…it doesn’t happen quickly.

  • Anonymous

    good article i have been introducing my own beats into my mixes for about a year now. ableton is my tool of choice. i like your idea about writing things down to help give you direction. but truthfully i almost never know what i’ll get until i’m done. like a mad sceintist i experiment.

  • me

    tutorials on productions in ableton would be great as well!

  • Travis

    The “choose 3 artists” approach is a good start, for an ear…. Though without already understanding many of the current techniques and methods used in production to create particular sounds and effects… one is not going to be able to breakout some “A-list” of pros that he/she likes about each track (a lot of those you listed are technically reaching beyond any beginner’s concepts). It’s more then obvious the composer(s) of this article already understands music production on a level well beyond any novice.

    Personally I think just listening to the artist you like and trying to disect the pieces of the track as much as possible is more then enough to get started. Each genre of electronic music tends to have a certain style of arrangement (especially with how percussion and beat are affected). If you’re in to house production I have to admit this book is full of outstanding information:

  • Dom

    Askin’ myself.

    Why talented guys like you Ean, are not on your way to “stardom”.

    What I mean is… i guess u would be able to create crazy stuff that ppl probably would want to listen to (forget the stardom)

  • Bob

    I’m trying to get my head around production at the minute so these articles are always welcome.

    The subject, of big name DJs being known as producers first, is very close to my heart. I hung out at one of London’s biggest clubs a lot in the early 2000s, and saw so many DJs who had been booked solely based on their productions.

    Some were great, sure. But some were terrible. With playing live being a comparative rarity in dance music, the first thing that happens when you make a big tune is that you get DJ bookings. Doesn’t actually matter whether you’re a good DJ or not…

    The sad fact is that this is even more prevalent now, because nobody makes money from selling records any more. So the only way producers can make a living is by going out and DJing.

    If you really want to make it as a DJ, get producing. As Ean says, the days of making it big as a DJ alone are over.

  • Dilby

    @samms: sorry to burst your bubble brother but there is no “right way to make basslines”, no “best synth for making basslines” etc. A bassline is an element of the track and a great track is more than the sum of it’s parts. To see what I mean, search the net for a remix pack of a track that has a great bassline, listen to the bassline by itself, then try jamming that bassline into another track. 9/10 times the result will sound average or worse. The reason is that the bassline sounds awesome in the context of the grove and other sounds of the track but it needs them in order to be its best. TIP: To make a sub-bass get a synth and add a sine wave to the 1st oscillator and pitch it down one octave, now play notes in the 3rd and 2nd octave on your keyboard/piano roll. This is the most basic sub bass. Add a saw wave at a lower volume to another oscillator, detune it a bit, add some noise for grit, low-pass filter the synth. Try adding a compressor, distortion unit, eq etc to it and see what you can do. Avoid reverb on a low bass like this as it will make mud and rumble in the track.

  • Dj PC3

    Completely agree… I am looking now to start producing in the Hip Hop genre…

  • Tito

    I don’t get the idea about the obsession about being superstar dj. If you do really mix well tracks then you are a dj. The article is good but I feel this selling point to all bedrooms dj’s can be superstars if they produce a heat track, morning to evening, then your goal is not to be a dj, instead be a producer/musician. Dj is more about make a crowd have the nights of their lives. I love to be a dj and still focusing on the crowd, the other things ( fame, money , chics or whatever you are looking for) will come.

  • Holotropik

    I for one am glad production is finally taking back focus from the Mix tape/DJ set. Pushing things in a musical direction will only help raise the credibility of all electronic music styles and sort out the posers.

    When you ask Joe on the street “who makes dance music?” he will mostly say “a DJ makes it”….

    I have been playing Live off machines for over 10 years and I still get called a DJ and even have some DJs ask me what model CDJ the Korg ESX-1 is!! OMFG! LOL!

  • Lovebump

    Great article, looking forward to the next installment. I’ve been producing for about 3 years now, Ableton is the way forward for sure.

    I agree with taking your favourite tune and trying to re-create it in your DAW.

    It’s harder than you think and you will learn a lot.

    Great work DJTT.


  • samms

    i started to produce recently, i have been watching all kind of tutorials and allready have some scenes, some cool samples and loops of my own, etc. but i discoverd that, by far, the hardest thing to get just right is the bass. infact, i know some local djs that produce and they all tell that its the hardest things plus i can’t find any kind tutorial that really explainsn it! i am trying to do those really heavy sub-basses and more minimal dark bass.. basically techno/minimal(what you want to call it).. i read that basically any good bass is done in layers, that makes it even harder to find it out for myself. would really apreciate it! cheers DJTT;)

  • steve

    you say logic, but i think you should discuss tutorials in ableton if possible. that’s where the real future is, if not already

  • Vinicius Hoffmann

    Loved it 😀
    I do this type of music analysis in my library with some keywords like the ones that you mentioned.
    I’m a database administrator, so I have a crush on attributes, I do put a lot of attributes on my music to better organise and find the mood that I want to put on my set when I’m playing.
    This is just like that

    By the way, I love the music “Bizarre Contact – Monkey Mind”, it’s one of my favorites psytrance fullon songs 🙂

  • l.

    Nice and interesting one…

    Starting off years ago with a strictly hiphop-centered mind, I was DJing with vinyl…what else…
    Then london hit me with tracks that were called breakbeats and then jungle. I totally freaked out…this was the thing to go for.
    You see: back in the days…
    Then came a long phase of not DJing, but listening to all kinds of music and collecting…
    I follow this blog for a few years now and I must say, that the creative part always touched me the most. So now, all of a sudden I got a mixtape from a stranger…
    …and it was a Drum’n’Bass Tape.
    I started diggin out my old records again and tortured my neighbours…

    so last week I ordered a Stealth Control (for an affordable start) and a pair of Dicers.
    With Traktor Scratch Pro now I’m hittin it again…can’t wait for the first party in years to rock…
    It’s because of you guys, I relaunched my old passion again.

    So this article really touched me, because while and after all these different kinds of music I love and don’t want to miss, I was always unsure of what to take out to play…years went by…
    in this article I read what I figured out in the last few months.
    take the things you love and condense them into a collection.

    I am more than interested of whats to come…

    thanks DJTT and the whole massive…

  • wikkid1

    great article, or actually great intro to the (hopefully) following series.

    ive been messing around with DAWs for years, from back when impulse tracker was the sh!t, to reason and now ableton. but ive never been able to actually come up with anything that id risk playing for an audience.

    i can come up with the craziest ideas, but when it comes to actually programming them thats where the problems start. so id love it if this series went somewhat in depth with DAWs, im not talking about taking apart the effects/filters and figuring every function and knob, but a bit deeper then the basic intro to the program.

  • chad

    It was only just last night, that I was getting frustrated with myself, because I couldn’t produce anything I like. Everything that was coming out of my DAW was the same, and while I’d make some progress after watching a tutorial, I still had no direction.

    This is just what I needed to hear DJTT. After reading the article, I think I need to experiment more, and not stress if something doesn’t sound spot on.

  • Owen

    Thank you Mike. DJTT is by far the best blog I have even read. I have had an old version of ableton on my laptop for ages now and all I ever do with it is mess around, making strange sounds and drum patterns. But I have never been able to get past that step in the process. Look forward to more articles on production.

  • Max

    Never saw this listing method before, that seems interesting!!
    Even for advanced producers, when the inspiration is missing, taking a few tracks and writing this list might be very helpful to get ideas!!

  • Double DutchDj

    As always you guys are setting the bar really with these posts, the choose your 3 favourite artists theory is genius. Looking forward to next posts

  • 5aint

    Hey Pil! Just popping in, Cool article mate!! Nice one!… Totally agree with sitting down and writing down where you want to be headed before you start.
    Back with you guys soon 🙂

  • funk sinatra

    very nice ideas…i myself started as a musician then became a dj, and still learned more about music watching people dance (or not)

    my two cents – try cutting trax in ableton to bits and find what parts really work, then make that your edit.try it out and learn….

  • piopro

    this aeems very much to be the case these days you can’t be recognized as just a DJ ne more, production seems a major part now to become known you have to produce beats and reflect them in your DJ sets if recognition in main stream dance music is what you seek. so it seem an education in the music business is vital to succeed, how it works regarding promotion, copyright, royalties, & record labels a lot to take in some articles on this subject would be nice if the site start to talk production.

  • Anonymous

    i cant wait to read the rest of these articles…thanks djtt!