Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 6: “House” Music

By Shamus Posted Sunday Sep 13, 2015

Filed under: Music 50 comments

It’s been almost a year since I did one of these posts where I infuriate music nerds by explaining everything simply enough for you to understand, but just wrong enough to be really, really annoying.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am both a music snob and a music slob. Some people have deep, broad tastes. They appreciate everything from classical to metal, and know lots of obscure things about everything on the spectrum. My tastes are narrow and shallow. I basically only like electronic music, and I only like the catchy mainstream stuff. I’m not particularly knowledgeable. I can’t explain the musical roots and influences of an artist or genre. My talent for music appreciation begins and ends with, “This sounds catchy. I’ll listen to it until I’m sick of it.”

So reading music lessons from me is like getting lessons in movie production from somebody who only watches Michael Bay movies. It’s not that I can’t teach you anything, it’s just that there are literally tens of thousands of people in the world who could teach you orders of magnitude more.

But as luck would have it, I run this blog and not them, so you’ll have to settle for the flakes of knowledge I manage to glean from Wikipedia and my own misguided experiments. Today’s lesson – which has already been obnoxiously spoiled by the post title – is on the genre of “house music”. Here’s an example of the form:

I really like this tune, right up until the singing starts somewhere after the one-minute mark. I’m not a huge fan of having vocals beyond “ooohs”, “ahhhs”, and maybe the occasional two-word interjection encouraging the listener to get down, get up, feel the beat, or shake some part of their anatomy. Anything more complex than that is annoying. Partly because it’s a lot of words that, after deciphering them, don’t seem to mean anything, and partly because the people who compose these lyrics generally can’t rhyme for shit.

It’s a terrible idea for me to share this track, since it’s going to set the bar pretty high for my attempt. (Spoiler: I’m not anywhere close to being in this league of composition.) But I need to show you what I was aiming for before I can explain why I fell short.

House music originated in the early 80’s, just after the birth of the electronic keyboard and just before the death of disco. This was back in the time when people were still figuring out all the crazy stuff you could do with an electronic keyboard and all the different sounds it could make. It was a time when an enterprising DJ could invent a new music genre with nothing more than some psychoactive drugs and a three-day weekend.

There are conflicting stories on how house music began, who invented it, and how it was named. But everyone seems to agree that it originated in Chicago and was centered around a couple of particular clubs. Even all these decades later the sound is still associated with Chicago, despite the fact that it went global ages agoIn the MAGIX Music Maker program I use, a lot of the house loops have “Chicago” in the name..

It’s not my favorite genre or anything. I don’t go looking for house music when I want something to listen to. But it does manage to fall into the narrow band of stuff I can enjoy if it appears. The thing that fascinated me about it was that one part of my brain knew what it was and the other part didn’t. If you played me some electronic music, I could correctly identify if it was house or not. But if you asked me to explain what made it house music, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I could sort songs into house / not-house, but I couldn’t explain what criteria I was using.

This intra-cranial dysfunction amused me, so I decided to see if I could figure it out. I opened up a new project and began trying to copy the style, looking for the DNA that made this genre what it is.

Several hours later I had nothing to show for my efforts except for a small collection of song snippets that were almost, but not quite, entirely unlike house music. So I cheated and looked it up on Wikipedia.

As you might expect, the boundaries of musical genres are kind of flimsy. House music seems to have these ingredients:

  1. A kick drum on the 4/4 beat. It inherits this from disco. This produces the steady thump-thump-thump-thump that most club music is known for.
  2. Really large chords. In the past I’ve described chords as collections of 3 notes that go together according to the mystifying and hopelessly obtuse properties of the heptatonic scale. But if you know what you’re doing you can stack a lot more notes on top of those three. Music nerds will bury you in theory and math if you ask them to explain which ones, but you can work it out yourself if you get a three-note chord going and experiment with additional notes until you find something that doesn’t sound like a cat walking on a piano.
  3. Wikipedia doesn’t say so, but I think it’s actually kind of minimalist in terms of number of instruments playing at once. I heard all of the crazy chords and assumed the music was complicated, so I began stacking up tons of simple instruments. This is backwards. What I needed to be doing was sticking to three instruments, all of which are trying to play tons of notes.
  4. Constant key or instrument changes. Unlike (say) techno or dubstepI originally typed ‘Dumbstep’. You may or may not find this appropriate, depending on taste. where you might loop the same hook for a whole minute, house seems to suffer from musical ADHD and jumps to a new pattern as soon as you begin to recognize the old one. This seems to counter the simplicity of the arrangement. Instead of maching eight different instruments / tracks together in a giant pile, you only do three at a time, but change them frequently.
  5. A lot of examples have vocal loops, but that’s true of nearly all electronic so I don’t know that it would be fair to say it’s a characteristic of house.
  6. While not written anywhere, on Soundcloud House tracks seem to have about an 85% chance of featuring a picture of a conventionally attractive woman in the thumbnail.
  7. Lots of them feature vocals, the overwhelming majority of which are female.
  8. My gut tells me house songs are more likely to contain major chords than its sibling genres like techno, electro, eurodance, dubstep, chillstep, etc. They’re all in minor keys, of course. (Like, half of them are A minor.) But house has this upbeat party vibe that makes it more likely to throw the occasional major chord in the mix.

So after hammering away at these constraints for a while, I managed to come up with this:

I even went the extra mile and gave it a stock photo lady for an icon, just like the pros use!

I wouldn’t add female vocals even if I could, but it felt kind of barren without any voice at all. So I threw in some french lady from, reading public domain fiction in French.

It has a certain charm, but it doesn’t quite sound like the stuff you’d hear in a real club where genuine human beings would gather for actual dancing. It’s lacking something, and I’m not sure what it is.

It looks complex, but there's usually only 3 instruments (plus drums) playing at any given time.
It looks complex, but there's usually only 3 instruments (plus drums) playing at any given time.

It’s said that a bad musician blames his instrument. It’s already been established that I’m a bad musician, so I guess it doesn’t hurt if I go this route. The other tracks – the ones made by real musicians – sound… fuller? They don’t have more instruments, but the ones they’re using sound richer somehow. In particular, the lead I have playing at the minute and a half mark sounds way too “8-bit” and not enough “Chicago”. It might be a limitation of the software I’m using, but it also might be that I’m just not using the existing instruments to their fullest. I’m not sure what my sound needs. More “real” (sampled) instruments instead of wave-synth? More echo and reverb? More sound-bending effects like flange or phaser? Even taller chords?

I don’t know. I tried. Hope you enjoyed the attempt, even if you don’t dig the result.



[1] In the MAGIX Music Maker program I use, a lot of the house loops have “Chicago” in the name.

[2] I originally typed ‘Dumbstep’. You may or may not find this appropriate, depending on taste.

From The Archives:

50 thoughts on “Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 6: “House” Music

  1. TheAngryMongoose says:

    Shamus said a swear!

  2. 4th Dimension says:

    The sample you provided sounds quicker than yours and it has more contrasts, as in rapid changes of volume that give it a beat. It is true that their instruments also sound more lively too, but your song is not helped by the fact that it’s allmost monotone in it’s volume and kind of slow on the beat.

    But than again I’m a music n00b

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      Am I the only person who can’t see / click on the other song? All I see is a Soundcloud logo. Maybe they don’t like hot-linking? [shrug]

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Could be that your browser doesn’t support this embed.

        1. AileTheAlien says:

          But I can play Shamus’ song. They’re both hosted on SoundCloud.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            In that case the only reason why it’s not loading is that the first song doesn’t have a conventionally attactive girl as a thumbanail, so the soundcloud doesn’t recognize it as house. ;)

      2. Fizban says:

        If you use noscript you have to allow both the soundcloud and sndcdn addresses to get it to work. Happens a lot with media players.

  3. Zasabi says:

    This feels like a track out of a Sci Fi Adventure circa Playstation/Dreamcast era, actually (Phantasy Star Online maybe?). It’s a really nice groove, but certainly isn’t what I would consider House either.

    Really catchy though. Hmm. Good stuff!

    1. ngthagg says:

      Agreed. It sounds like I’ve just entered a club in a cyberpunk rpg from the 90’s.

  4. Robyrt says:

    I don’t generally listen to house music, but the example track you provided has the lead melody strictly limited to the current major chord almost the whole time, and fake strings or fake piano as a backing instrument on an extended series of big chords. The instrumentation sounds like it could all be in the same ill-advised synth orchestra (except for the drums), which gives it a feeling of cohesion even though the loops change pretty frequently.

    For a less music-nerd explanation of how to make your chords bigger, just add some additional copies of the same notes, one octave lower or higher. If it’s too much, cut the volume by 1/3 or 1/2 on the extra notes, or spell out the chord like you’re playing a piano (add the notes quickly from low to high). You don’t want to sound like the Inception soundtrack, but you also don’t want to sound like 4 violins instead of a string quartet.

  5. Da Mage says:

    I have a similar opinion to vocals as you, but I’ve found that vocals in another language (aka, not english) sound good. I think because I don’t know what is said, the voice just blends in as ‘part of the music’, rather than words that I process.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      “words that I process”

      This is why I prefer music without singing, or foreign-language songs. My brain’s constantly trying to shout at me, “Hey! Some humans are talking in your ears – let’s stop concentrating on whatever you’re actually trying to do, so we can hear what they have to say!”

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        I know the feeling. If I’m processing language I can’t be paying attention on anything else, and I can only process the sounds from one source or I start loosing my shit quickly. I once stopped a bussinnes conversation over a cell phone because while driving I hit an intersection, so I exused myself to the person I was talking with and killed the call in order to return the focus on the traffic. I also can not talk and pay attention to two people at the same time, if I’m on the phone DO NOT try to “help” me by commenting on my conversation and expect me to process bouthof you.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’m the exact opposite. I dunno, to me music without a human voice just isn’t very interesting. Give me a song not with just vocals but with lyrics, or better yet a song with a narrative in it. If I like it I’ll probably listen to it almost exclusively for a little while and then when it comes up on a playlist I’ll be able to mumble most of the lyrics on autopilot. And I do that even when doing work that requires some focus.

        That said I also can’t focus on two audio inputs at once so whenever sound is relevant I need to turn the music off.

  6. Greg says:

    I don’t really know how to tell if something is authentic house or not. In fact I’d never even heard of the genre when I ran across some tracks by Kuroneko Lounge on Youtube, their Touhou Project house sets. I like them a lot, and they’re almost all available for free download in mp3 form from their website, and of course being based on game tunes they’re almost entirely free of vocals, so if that’s your thing you might like them too. Their website is here.

  7. Steve R says:

    I just love the fact you’ve openly used some completely arbitrary French speech as a kind of instrument. (Not the sort of music I’d normally listen to, but I couldn’t resist checking it out after that. I quite like it actually.) And I like the title. :-)

  8. Toasty Virus says:

    I think you’ll find what you’re missing is the crazy amount of production that goes into every single aspect of every instrument to make it sound as full as humanly possible, right from how it’s synthesised to how it’s EQ’d in this final mix.

    It still sounds pretty great though! Glad this series is making a return.

  9. Neko says:

    Yay, music post.

    Incidentally, I really like the current (er, as of a few episodes ago, I need to catch up) Diecast outro music. Obviously you only normally get feedback when it changes and everyone hates change… but yeah, I really like it.

  10. This feels more New Age’y to me.

    One of the issues of making music is that regardless of the music you make, the style of the artist always shine through. So one can not sound not like themselves.
    Unless House is your style then you will probably not be able to do House.

    As to it sounding too 8bity, you could try a lowpass filter to soften the highs on a instrument. Or maybe use a stereo widener/surround effect on it (and altering the wet/dry of the effect so it’s more wet than dry) should diffuse the harshness some.
    More echo or reverb may or may not fix it, sometimes the right type of echo or reverb is more important than how much of it (how wet) the effect is.

    You could also experiment with layering the sound twice but in different octaves.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      Ditto on the harshness. That instrument sounds like it’s half musical instrument, half audio glitch. Definitely doesn’t sound like something that could be created by a normal instrument. I mean, synth already sounds like that, and electronic already uses actual hiss/audio-glitch sometimes, but this sound is like…in the uncanney valley between completely “real”-sounding, and completely “fake”-sounding? Something like that. [shrug]

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      And since Max Martin and/or his protégés write like, 70% of all Top 40 pop tracks these days, that’s why so much Top 40 sounds the same.

  11. Ethan B says:

    As someone who has DJ’ed house music in the past on a hobbyist basis, and in more recent years transitioned to attempting to make my own, I figure I’ll throw in my two cents. Although most electronic/dance music is usually fairly simple musically/harmonically, more effort tends to go into creating and shaping the sounds you use, as well as in the mixing/mastering stage to make them gel together as a whole.

    On the sound design front, even aside from say, creating/customizing synth patches, it is very common to layer several component sounds into a single composite sound, especially with the kick and snare drum, and the bass line, as these are the three anchor elements of a house track. With the kick drum, for example, you might layer together a kick sound that has a lot of low end/sub bass with another that has a more interesting sounding attack.

    The biggest thing missing in the track you’ve posted is that the kick drum doesn’t cut through the mix even though it is supposed to be driving the song. This can be helped by the aformentioned layering as well as EQ’ing and compression, and even a little bit of light distortion/saturation, but a big thing that a lot of electronic music producers do to make room for the kick, is for parts that are long held out notes or chords (as opposed to more staccato/jumpy elements) that reduces the volume of those parts in time to the beat, usually a compressor that is triggered (“sidechained”) off of the kick drum channel, although there are other ways to achieve the same effect.

    Aside from that, yes, to answer your question, you can get a lot of mileage out of subtle, well placed modulation effects like phaser/flanger/chorus, and especially the bread and butter effect of house music, the low pass (or high pass) filter with a slowly changing cutoff frequency. More commercial (“big room”) genres of dance music (and I would include the example song from the beginning of your post in this category) often use loads of reverb and delay, but I generally use them in smaller amounts on individual elements to help the mix gel together. If you have an element that you want to sit further back in the mix, in addition it helps to EQ off some of the high end of the sound and add some reverb to it to make it sound like it’s farther away from the listener.

    I think you’re right, though, that efforts like this to produce electronic music where most of the effort has been put into composition and putting in a lot of different notes/sections over focusing on the mix does lend it a “game soundtrack” feel. I liked the music for the Persona games, even though some of the songs that were shooting for a house music or drum’n’bass didn’t have the same level of polish as tracks released by producers/DJs who focus on those genres.

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks for this. Really interesting.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        I know just enough for what Ethan is saying to sound correct. If you end up working on things a bit more in light of that, I’d love to hear Les Mots retooled for comparison. There’s a lot of good in that track.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      Have you found that different genres of dance music tend to have similar ranges of tempo/BPM? E.g., this DJ site posted a guide, and I’m just wondering if reflects your own experience.

      Is there an approach to song transitions when the songs’ tempos are different? Like, is it easier to just fade out the last track really quickly and fade in the next track fast as well? Or are there other tricks to transition smoothly? Do you just make sure all the tracks in the set are mixed to be similar BPM?

      1. Ethan B says:

        Usually the assumption is that the songs’ tempo won’t be exactly the same, particularly in the past mixing on vinyl where the speed of the turntable would drift a little (or a lot if it needed servicing). The idea is that you cue up the first beat of the song you want to mix in time with the song that’s already playing and adjust the speed of the turntable until you can hear that they are staying in time together. You still don’t want the songs to be too far apart in tempo because the speed/pitch slider isn’t going to go far enough to match, say, a 90 bpm song with a 120 bpm song, and because, in the case of vinyl at least, the pitch of the song follows the speed of the turntable and you don’t want the song sounding all chipmunk-y. This is less of an issue with modern digital DJ equipment and software since you can change speed without affecting pitch, and the beat detection algorithms are good enough that you don’t really have to match the tempos manually if you don’t want, but it’s still can sound a little weird to have a song sped up or slowed down too much.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      Alright, so maybe you can explain this to me:
      I’ve always thought that the name “house” comes from the fact that it’s only put together by the DJ during the party itself, quasi house-made. So the DJ would have pre-made loops which of course all use the same rythm and chord progression, then fade them in and out, and layer some filters on top, decide on the spot when to put in a break or somesuch. I thought that’s why you’d often hear some effects fade in or out, and similar slow variations in the sound while the instruments actually keep playing the same thing.

      … is that just something I made up or is there some truth to it?

      For the record: I hated everything Techno (or House/Trance/younameit) back in the 90’s, but I guess I mellowed with age. That’s why I’m now trying to figure out things I wouldn’t have wanted to have anything to do with 20 years ago.

      1. Ethan B says:

        As Shamus hints at in his post, the backstory I’ve always heard for the name “house” was it came from a Chicago nightclub in 80’s called “The Warehouse”. (There was incidentally a related genre name of “garage” that came from a New York club called “Paradise Garage”.) Here is a fun bit of history I’ve seen going around recently in the form of a Chicago news report from the early days of house music.

        In electronic music, most DJs are mixing and beatmatching between prerecorded tracks for a seamless mix of music to keep people on the dancefloor, perhaps occasionally playing an acapella over the top of an instrumental track for a sort of live remix/mashup. (I always enjoyed it as a DJ when the tracks were simple enough or went together well enough that I could keep them riding together in the mix for several minutes at a time.) Usually if you get into working with component loops that is regarded as crossing over into live performance (“live PA”) territory, although software packages like Ableton Live and Traktor have made it easier to blur the line between the two.

  12. BeamSplashX says:

    genre emulation aside, i liked this track a lot!

    as for it sounding too gamey, you could just tell people you were going back to house music’s roots:

    i was worried for a moment because i thought i hadn’t put out any new songs since your last post, and i’ve been at this music thing for years (luckily i slipped something out in april)

  13. TheLetterF says:

    While I don’t know much about House[period], French house is my genre of choice. I think what separated your song from the “pros”, is that many French House artists will play their music on an instrument, then inject it into their computer beats. Fred Falke, one of the greatest French House musicians, is known for creating a loop on his computer, then jamming away with a bass and keyboard until he finds something he likes.

    If you’ve got an hour and a half, you can watch his “in the studio” video, to see his entire process of music making from start to finish. It’s a very interesting watch.

  14. Hermocrates says:

    Your opening bassline actually reminds me of Unreal Tournament music. Is that a good thing? I think it’s a good thing.

    It’s actually not a bad track, and leagues better than I ever managed while dabbling with FLStudio (or Fruity Loops, as it was when I first started). But something you might consider playing with, to aim towards that “fuller” Chicago sound, is the low-pass filter cutoff and the resonance on the leads or bassline. A dynamic I often hear in electronic music is to set the resonance high, and then ramp the LPF cutoff up and down over a few measures. Although, to be honest, it’s been years since I played with this stuff, so I don’t really remember most of the synth settings and filtering I had learned about.

    Anyway, I appreciate the post: as a formerly-aspiring electronic musician, I can sympathize with your woes and enjoy seeing you push on where I had already given up. Good luck with your future compositions!

    EDIT: Listening again, I think you might already be using the LPF/res trick (e.g., on the piano chord progressions around 1:45), so ignore me if I’m just telling you amateurish stuff you learned an eon ago.

  15. Erik says:

    The thing that jumps out at me when listening is that despite all you’ve said in your analysis, the bass line/kick drum *isn’t* the driver of the song – in fact, it’s almost lost in the mix. The melodic keyboard is the center of the mix, and that’s not House.

    One thing I read from Peter Gabriel about how his composition style changed in the mid-70s seems appropriate here. He went from “keyboard-up” composition, where he started on a piano and built the rest of the song out from there, to “drum-up” composition, where he came up with a drum line he liked and built up from that. You can hear that change from (say) Solsbury Hill to (say) Intruder or Shock the Monkey.

    You may want to try a remix based on that: turn off everything except the bass and drum lines, then play with the mix until that sounds vibrant and muscular. Then bring the melody, vocals, etc. up until they work – but without stepping on the bottom at all! Good dance music *has* to move your hips first. If it doesn’t, it’s not dance music.

    Not that I’m throwing asparagus here – this is definitely better than anything I’ve managed to come up with in my playing around. But like many things, it’s easier to see where someone else’s work needs fixing than to do it oneself. You’re far better at actually doing it than I’ve been.

    1. Shamus says:

      Based on the feedback from Ethan and yourself, I went looking for answers and found this:

      Which perfectly describes the problem I’m having. Too many overlapping frequencies completely bury the drums. If I boost the drums, it turns into an over-boosted mess. I need to give the instruments room and not mindlessly shove so many things into the same range.

      My instinct is to remix the whole thing right now, but I think I need to give it a few days, watch some more videos (NO, YOU SHOULD WORK ON YOUR VIDEOGAME SHAMUS) and soak up some more knowledge and then revisit this.

    2. Radagast says:

      I was going to say exactly this same thing. At first listen I just thought that your drums were lower quality than the first recording, but they really aren’t, both are similar electronic kits.

      IMO your problem with the lead is the bends – they are way too even and obviously computerized. Do you have any way to input them by hand? A better quality sample would help sure, but for me that’s what made it glaringly obvious that it was a computer playing a MIDI track and not a bunch of people playing electronic instruments.

  16. Dubstep is electronica’s car refusing to turn over.

    That said, I still love the shit out of it.

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      Man, over 90% of the dubstep I hear is terrible to my ears, but it’s also the last time any kind of popular music seemed to do something genuinely original. So I really respect it for that.

  17. Narida says:

    For what it’s worth, the french word “ignorer” and “to ignore” are false friends: “ignorer” means “to be ignorant of”, so the title translates as “To be ignorant of the words”. Considering you mentioned the vocals don’t make any sense, I’m guessing you were going for “Ignore the words”. ;-)

    1. Liam O'Hagan says:

      Yeah, perhaps méconnaà®tre would have been more appropriate.

    2. Shamus says:

      Yeah. I outsourced the job to Google translate, and I guess it failed me.

      Fun fact:

      When I realized that “mots” was “words” I was really disappointed. We borrowed “bon mots” to mean “witty or cutting remarks, witticisms, sayings”. Almost everyone knows than “bon” is “good” (bonjour, bon apetite, bon chance, etc) so I figured “mots” must be loaded with meaning. Maybe it means ideas, or imagery, or some advanced form of cutting snark.

      But no. It’s just “words”. So “bon mots” are just “good words”, which sounds hopelessly lame when translated literally.

      1. Liam O'Hagan says:

        Ce qui est dit dans le langue franà§aises sons exotiques :)

        1. DaveMc says:

          Quiquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Running gag between me and my wife: Zorro rescues the maiden from whatever she needs rescuing from this time, and after having reached the safe balcony, he holds her in his strong, strong arms, looks in her eyes and says, with flaming passion:

            Estación de ferrocarril!

            She sighs, they kiss, credits roll.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          …as can be readily seen by the amount of French lyrics injected into British songs. Sounds more sophisticated, even if they mean nothing. And even if terribly pronounced :)

    3. LCF says:

      “Ignorer” indeed means “not knowing”, but there also is “overlooking, snubbing, neglecting”.
      In this secondary sense, “Ignorer les mots” means you treat the words as some sort of self-aware entities, whom are then casually neglected.

    4. Tsi says:

      It’s totally fine to say “ignorer les mots”. It would either mean “I don’t know the words” or “don’t mind/ignore the words” and it can stay that way as an artistic choice since it’s in the infinitive form.

      In French, this word has different meanings depending on the context and conjugation. So if he wanted to say “don’t know” then “ignorer” would have to be conjugated to “ignore” and for “don’t mind/ignore”, “ignorer” would be conjugated to “ignorez”.

      ps : Just found out that ignore has the same origin as the French word which means that at some point it also meant “don’t know”, which is interesting.

  18. blue painted says:

    My instant response (as a non-consumer of House) is the whole piece is pitched too low, to my ear House music has a slightly hysterical edge from being maybe half an octave higher.

    It’s also a touch too slow, again losing that frantic edge, and as many people have commented the bass drum should be what you hear first from the club after being dropped off three streets over by a dodgy minicab driver.

  19. Aitch says:

    Just generally, one dilettante’s opinion – one of the most important facets of House music is that you need to be able to dance to it. If you can’t at least comically thrust your hips to it, something’s gone wrong.

    The synths need a bit of limiting / compression to keep the volume from peaking during modulation. They’re there for color, not necessarily to convey a tune. The beauty of using simpler waveforms are their ability to cut through a mix and be easily digestible to the ear. Simple volume sweeps, cuts, and mild panning can help dance it around the space of the drums.

    The drums should be the main focus, while everything else fills in the frequency blanks. You might try duplicating the kick drum into its constituent frequencies in separate tracks. One for sub 60hz, one for 60-120hz, one for 6k+. Play around with the levels of each to see what makes it punchy. A bit of pitch shifting, a bit of overdrive, etc. Proper compression work can really do wonders here as well.

    You can keep the snare tight by clearing out its tonal range in the synths ~4k. And while the cymbal work in house tends towards a washy kind of sound, it’s important to delineating countertempo, so reverb and effects are fine, but it may help to keep a duplicate clean hihat/whatever underneath it so the hits are sharper.

    Also, decent headphones with a relatively flat response, or at the least some decent speakers. If you can’t hear what’s going on you can’t be sure. While everyone is hearing a different mix because of the playback hardware they’re using, it helps to have something to reproduce an average. Like when you’re cooking down the final mix, take it into your car and try listening to it on the system in there.

    Sometimes it’s just easier to hear things when you’ve been listening to the same song over and over if you switch what you’re listening to it on. Or at different volumes, or after a break of 10 minutes of silence, or after listening to something else entirely.

    Hope I don’t sound like too much of an asshat with all this. I really enjoy these bits on learning to make music. Either way, all the best of luck and thanks for putting so much effort into something so potentially arcane.

  20. Ellery says:

    I really liked the track even though it wasn’t what you were shooting for. I was immediately reminded of the ’93 Autechre album Incunabula which I discovered late after watching the movie “Pi” in 1998.

    which after hearing again seems like it’s not really what you were going after either. But you might like it anyway as it seems it may fit into your taste boundary, although it may not be catchy enough. It seems to get closer to “Eve Online Soundtrack” than “groovy EDM”.

    Love the bad and wrong lessons of all sorts!

  21. LCF says:

    That’s a very nice piece, and as said before, one of the differences is in a fuller, more elaborated sound. Harmonics, stuff like that.
    It does remind of 8-bits, of Video Games, but it would not be out of place in some hip lounge bar. Make it pretentious, a bit slower perhaps, *bam* instant hit in Montmartre. Also, there’s definitely some Deus Ex / UNATCO feeling. Have you been mixing at the MJ12’s Hà´tel de l’Etoile?

  22. djshire says:

    I just now go to listen to your track.

    1) Kick drum needs to stand out more. Either the kick isn’t a very strong kick, or it needs to be EQ’d up. Find out where the drum and the bass interact, then cut out the bass at a selected point (maybe say around 80-100 hz). Mess around with this to find a place where it sounds good.

    2) Your composition is spot on, but your hi-hats sometime sound out of time with the rest of the track.

    As for house music, house is super varied from how it sounded back when it was started. While the sounds of old are still around (and popular enough), big room house (like Martin Garrix’s “Animals”) has been the big dominator over the past few years. Tech house, house with techno elements that developed very closely with each other (the techno pioneers of Detroit regularly interacted with the house pioneers of Chicago) waxes and wanes in popularity. Deep house, the more soulful of house music, sounds closest to the Garage sound that came from New York around the same time as House and Techno were being invented. I could go on, but there’s just so many sub- and micro- genres of house that I could be here all day.

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