Dance Floor Composition
Recently I have been trying to identify the differences between what I consider a ‘good’ tune and a ‘bad’ tune. After a period of analysing drum and bass music, patterns began to emerge. It’s now becoming clear to me why certain tunes ‘work,’ others don’t and some obliterate a dance floor.
A strong vibe is created when all of the separate elements combine to create something which is more than the sum of their parts. Vibe is the feeling you get when a track sounds like it’s challenging you, creating a visual for you to examine and presenting an image of what it sounds like, presenting itself in an almost intimidating way. When a track has a great vibe, it really comes to life. Here are two examples of drum and bass tracks I found to have a really strong vibe:
‘Micro Organism’ is an interesting one. The entire track is shaped around a single idea. Whatever that idea is differs from person to person but every part of the track is dedicated toward creating a certain image and developing it.
‘Lifespan’ is similar but focuses more on creating a certain mood, or emotional response. The track is simple but uses clever ideas such as repetition and carefully structured atmosphere to convey some kind of sense of being.
The problem most people face every time they produce a track is the task of ‘gluing’ each element (drums, bass, chords etc.) of the track together, while trying to create something worth listening to and that moves you. The idea that every aspect of one’s track must be flawless (to the extent that one can make it) is one I’ve had from the very beginning. The idea that not only everything must be perfect, all elements of your track need to serve a clear purpose and ideally, combine to create something really cool, something with a definite vibe. This is one of the greatest challenges when producing a song. I know that if I simply spend a certain amount of time producing a sound, it will eventually be satisfactory. But creating a song with a great vibe is much harder.
So, how do we approach this? There are a range of methods you can use but here are some that I have found to make the whole process much easier.
Use fewer, but stronger elements
This means making your snare the best damn snare you’ve ever heard. Cut out extraneous basses and synths if they’re just there because you spent 17 hours on them. Make the ones that work as good as you can. The ear can only focus on a couple of main elements at once, so if you make them strong and stand out, that’s all you need. Less is more.
Make your intro lead into your drop
This can be tough at times and is something I often struggle with but remember that the sole purpose of an intro is to ready a listener for the “drop.” Having a strong element or rhythm carry over from the intro to the drop can often create a sense of flow between the two sections. Although other times it takes a bit of mucking around with different sounds and FX to create such an effect.
Figure out what you’re trying to convey
Have you stumbled upon a wacky rhythm in a bass that you were trying to make a pad out of? Run with it and build a track around that idea. Interesting tracks almost always have a central idea, such as a rhythmic element which the song is based upon. It is also important to consider whether your song will be a dance floor or non-dance floor track, will the idea be progressive or do you want it to be short and sweet. Once you have identified these aspects you can reference similar tracks to see how their central idea was executed within the rest of the composition.
Develop your ideas
This builds on the first point. If you have a really good sound, develop it over time and add to it. Make every section of your song build upon the last and think of your tune as an organic entity.
These ideas are obviously part of what constitutes being a musician so one could spend their life studying these things. The challenge with producing is trying to make sounds, whilst at the same time figuring out how you are going to use them effectively.
On a dance floor, nobody cares or can even necessarily hear your painstaking detail in percussion; all that’s apparent in a loud club is the kick, snare and a couple of main basses, lead synths/vocals. Make sure all of these ideas are working together and are strong throughout your composition. If you’re making a dance floor tune, make a tune for the dance floor and figure out what that means. If you’re making something deeper, make something deeper and make it as beautiful and detailed as you can whilst still getting the idea of the track across.
By Louis Fourie (Lockjaw)