This is not as difficult as it may seem. There's a simple guideline to
follow, and you'll be on your way to cult status.
Step 1, the music.
Forget about talent. There's enough techno out there done exactly the way
I'm going to explain that you'll soon realize that talent just gets in the
way. All you need is the will to make some really loud, pounding music.
Oh, and you'll need some cash.
Step 2, the attitude.
Get attitude, lot's of it. Know what's cool and what's not cool. Know
exactly how many times a song can be played and how many people can buy a
bands CD before it's no longer cool. Tell people you live for your music,
you're an artist. Make sure everyone knows that the gear you use is the
best. Know the lingo. Know the difference between Techno and Rave, between
E and X, between carbo fuel and kool-ade, but don't worry about the
difference between middle C and G. Call your synth an "axe" and refer to
your MIDI hookup as your "rig". Whatever computer you use for your MIDI
hookup is the best, remember that, tell others.
Step 3, the equipment.
You'll need some equipment, called "gear" by those who know. You can make
some decent techno with a minimum setup. You'll need a multi-track tape
player, like the Tascam 4 track decks. They're cheap, easy to use and
effective. You'll need at least two keyboards. One should be a fairly old
analog synth like the Prophet 5 (expensive) or old Roland synths. If you
can't find or afford an analog synth with MIDI, you can cheat by getting a
digital synth that makes good analog sounds, such as the DX-7, or Casio CZ
series. But remember, real techno musicians use analog. Whatever you do,
don't get a "Sample Player" keyboard like the Roland U-20. They have
samples of real instruments. And you don't use real isntruments in techno.
Next, you'll need a sampler. You can't make those easily recognized songs
without a few samples mixed in. A good start would be the EMAX, if you can
afford one. It also must have MIDI ports. Real musicians use MIDI, you
must too. If you can't afford an EMAX, try a Roland S-50, or even an old
Mirage. Stretch your dollars here, it'll be worth it. And, of course,
you'll need a computer. But everyone already has this, so I'll cover what
you'll need on the computer. Get a good MIDI board, like the Roland,
Opcode, Passport, whatever you can afford. Don't rely on the Soundblaster
Pro MIDI, though. No one uses those. And you'll need a sequencer program.
MasterTracks Pro is the best. Now take a day or two to learn how to hook up
the sampler, synth and 4 track to the computer. Hit the keys on the
keyboard a few times to learn what sounds it makes. Have fun with it, you
probably won't need to use the keys much after this. Learn your synth
inside out. You'll need to know how to make it deliver sounds so bizzare,
people will know it's techno by the third note. Spend some time with your
sampler to learn how to edit simple sounds. You'll need this later.
Step 4, your first song.
OK, you have the gear, you have the attitude, you have some time to kill.
Now for the music. A good skill to have is to be able to make the synth
deliver really long, complicated step sounds. Having to enter only one
note, and have it continute on to fill a whole measure is useful, and
speeds the creative process. On to the sequencer. By now you'll know how
to enter notes with the mouse and make the gear play them by playing the
sequence. See, no need to hit the keys! Don't like a note, erase it.
Think the measure should be played higher, move it up! Sounds too slow,
just speed up the tempo. Easy, just as it should be. Now for a few rules.
The tempo should be between 140 and 170 BPM, or Beats Per Minute for the
layman. Real techno is around 150 BPM. Always keep the tempo an even
number, like 140, so the DJ can easily mix your song in. Also, everything
should be done in 4/4 time. The math is easier. And remember to make
changes only at divisions of 4. Never break this rule. Someone might get
confused on the dance floor, and twist their ankle or something. The drum
track can be as simple as you want it to be, even a simple
kick-snare-kick-snare. You know there's a lot of techno out there using
this well known pattern. If you want to do your own drum track, try not to
use standard drum samples. Spice it up a bit. Sample someone hitting a
plate with a spatula, edit it and use it. Remember the rule, sample it,
loop it. If you get bored with this, or just don't have the talent, find
some old funk album, sample a clean drum pattern, and loop it. Now you
have a professional sounding drum track. Yes, it's that easy. The body of
the song is just as easy. Find some really grinding sound on your synth,
test a few random notes till it sounds dancable, and repeat it 16 times.
Now for the change. Just find another pattern of notes, and repeat that 8
or 16 time, then go back to the first pattern. You can get nearly a full
minute of music using this simple idea. For a fuller sound, you can layer
another odd sound over it, repating a note at every 2nd or 4th beat. Don't
get too complicated, though. That's not what techno is about. Now for the
samples. Watch some old movie that's on late at night on a cable channel
you don't normally watch. Record it on a VCR. Play it back till you find
some phrase or word you think is neat. Sample it. Repeat this till you
have 3-4 samples. Now take these samples, and insert them at regular
intervals in the music. If you have a sample played at the 3rd note in the
3rd measure, make sure to start it at the exact same place when the measure
is played again. You don't want to confuse your audiance. And remember to
never use real instruments. If you use any real instruments, they can only
be included in samples, and should be edited to sound unlike the original
sample. Now for a name. Here is where you can get original, but always
stay within the bounds of techno-rave music names. For a band title, pick
something technical that clicks. Try "Raster" or "Digi-Matic" or something
like that. For the song title, you need two parts, the title, and the remix
version. Even if you only have one version of your song, include a remix
name. For example, you might use "N-CODE, D-CODE (Voltage Mix)". Try to
sneak the words Rhythm, Beat, X, E, Insane, etc. into your title. But do
not put the words techno or rave in. The reasons should be obvious.
Step 5, the marketing.
OK, you have your first song. Get the gear synced up, and record it to
tape. If the 4-track version is finished, copy it to a normal tape deck,
on a Type II tape, and get it to the public. How? Easy. Take it to your
local techno DJ. Most DJ's have their own mixes available on tape. These
are usually bootleg mixes of the popular stuff. Pay him to insert your
song between 2 popular songs. This is best, since people will remember
your song as being before or after one of their favorites. Make sure the
tape has liner notes of the song and artist. This is so they can request
the song by name at the local dance club. And get all your friends to
request the song, so the DJ's will look for it, and when they finally find
it at the record shop in the DJ-remix pile, they'll scramble for it. Afraid
the DJ won't put your song on his remix? Don't worry about it, DJ's don't
make much, and usually don't have high-paying jobs. Their bills are
usually more substantial than their artistic integrity. Find their price,
meet it. Get on tape. The hard part is getting your music onto a medium
that the DJ can play. All DJ's spin records or CD's. Getting a song
recorded to these is expensive, and usually requires a lot of copies.
Again you'll need bribary. Find a record pressing plant as close as you
can. Have your tape mastered and pressed onto a record. You'll need to
get some con working to get about 10 copies of the master made, cheaply, of
course. Promise them that if the quality is up to your artistic standards,
you'll buy 1000 more. Don't put anything in writing, though. Take your
copies, put them in sleeves, make homemade labels if you need to, but make
the lettering look really cool. Don't include anymore information than the
title, record RPM and BPM of the song. The less, the better. It's much
easier to just give them to your bribed DJ friends than to try to get them
into a record store, but do both if possible. If nothing else, it will add
a little confustion to the owners of the store when someone buys them.
You're set. Within a week, someone will play the song. If it's
repetative, danceable, and kicks, they'll play it again, and again, as the
masses stomp to the techno rhythms. Wait at least 2 months before you tell
people it's your song. Make it seem like it's no big deal, that they play
your stuff all the time. From here on, it's all gravy. You can take your
new status as a local techno-god on the DJ remix tapes and played in all
the best clubs, or you can expand on this idea, and go the limit. Con a
small label company into a deal where they make nearly all the profit, but
agree to buy you more gear, a lot of it. Stacks of gear. With more gear
comes more attitude, more sounds. Still the same talent, but you know how
to play the game. Soon you'll be cranking out dance tracks at high rates,
and have remixes upon remixes. Now tour with Moby or The Prodigy. Tell
people you know Praga Kahn and Flood personally. Remember, the system
feeds itself. Rave on.
-- A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila . Mitch Ratliffe, _Technology Review_ April, 1992
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