So I released my latest album recently. It's called Becomesher, released under the name IV. This album by far is my most developed, mature work, and I am boundlessly proud of it. I spent about 6 months working on it, and every song took on average a few weeks' time to make. You should go listen before you read the rest of this article! Though, if you don't, there are still points I think are relevant to anyone creating electronic music.
Not too long after release, I received this e-mail from somebody who enjoyed the album:
Dude... Ivy... What can I say. Becomesher is amazing. I haven't heard anything close to Drukqs and you've made me a happy man by creating something along the same vein, but so unique in your own way.
I was about to start my journey into creating some tracks along the Drukq vein. Out of curiosity, what are you using to create your tracks? Again... great stuff and I was also enjoying your blog posts.
Keep making music!
In my normal hyper-active fashion, I respond within the hour with a characteristically long-winded, unwarranted monologue in attempt to answer not only the question, but also hopefully the motivation behind it. Here is that response (with some minor edits and formatting):
First off: thanks so much, man! I really appreciate it. I'm so happy to hear that you like my album and that I could get across the vibes I was trying to convey.
Every track was written and sequenced in Renoise. I highly recommend the workflow of Renoise for this kind of music, and it's been the backbone of the whole album. It's also not very hard to learn, if you have some experience with DAWs generally—I think I only started using it in December 2019, less than a year ago. Just grab the demo, read the quickstart manual and go to town. You don't need to have any experience with tracker software. I didn't have any.
I also bought a cheap stereo recorder (tascam dr-05x) and used it to record basically whatever I could think of that makes sound, much of which ended up in a lot of the songs. for ex. about half of the sounds in Hoo4! were recorded and lightly processed for Renoise—the claps during the drum break are all me clapping, the high pitched "beeping" melody was my microwave's beep, there is a "creaking" sound in the ambient section from an old chair I have, etc. Also the "vocals" in Nutter Crash were recorded from the same device.
In some songs I used VCV rack for various sounds (e.g. much of the percussion and bassline in The Cool Dog, and the repeating bassline in Crawdad). VCV is really fun when I'm tired of sequencing really precise and robotic stuff, and I just want to make some gnarly textures or rhythms or riffs or whatever.
Let me give you some unwarranted general songwriting advice in this genre:
1. MOST IMPORTANT THING: learn your drum patterns.
Transcribe patterns from artists you like, in order to see what they "look like" and feel like, and to get a better ear for the different common patterns and syncopations out there. this is easier than it might seem—just use your taste, there are only so many drum patterns that sound good. It also doesn't really matter what sounds you use to practice this.
common patterns include, like, four-on-the-floor beats you hear in house, techno. Also the "jungle" pattern with the one syncopated kick after the third beat (kick-and-snare-and-and-kick-snare). this is all pretty basic but super important. the rhythmic patterns you choose are often the very the basis for genre in electronic music. learn these and learn how to mutate them to your will.
2. melody and drums are equally important.
unless you are trying to be Autechre, then I can't help you—they are doing their own insane thing, orthogonal to what I like to make. Every note you insert, whether it be a part of a drum pattern, a melody, a bassline, or whatever, is going to be interacting simultaneously with every other note in the song. don't neglect anything! strike a balance. there is a very clear difference between minimalism and laziness.
It doesn't hurt to know a little counterpoint, or at least, "techno counterpoint".
3. sample choice matters.
it is worth considering how different a drum machine one-shot will sound to a slice in some sampled funk breakbeat or whatever. I think one-shots tend to sound more "choppy" or "robotic" and require a bit more precision/tweaking, while breaks sound very stuck-together and flow more naturally.
Consider the two songs "Make thedrums gofast" and "WTF IV" from Becomesher: the first one uses almost exclusively drum machines, and the latter breakbeat samples. They have a lot of similar sounding patterns, but (for multiple reasons) I think they have very different sounds to them. Personally, I'm growing more partial to individual one-shots than breaks lately, but they both will always serve a purpose. There's a reason people are still making fresh tunes with the Amen break or Funky drummer.
Also, go listen to RDJ album by aphex and Hard Normal Daddy (or Feed Me Weird Things) by Squarepusher. these are both "drill & bass" or "idm" albums from a similar time period, but they sound quite different from each other. One of the reasons for this is that RDJ tends to use more drum machines, whereas Squarepusher seems to prefer chopping samples. I think he's used that one break samples he does in like 30 different tracks.
4. have way too much time on your hands.
or just neglect your health to do it. I mean it—a lot of this stuff is simply just grinding. like, Make Thedrums Gofast took me a really long time. I basically was writing every song, slowly, at around the same time, so it's hard to say how long any individual one took to complete, but that one I think I probably spent a couple weeks simply hand-placing all the fucking drum hits in it. it can get really boring lol. My advice is to switch between whatever you're working on so you don't get bored.
And don't get too attached to stuff. I scrapped about as many half-finished WIPs as there are completed songs in the album. and I still feel like a few of those tracks are a bit unfinished. But after nearly 6 months of working on it full time I feel like you need to stop somewhere.
Making music like this requires a lot of precision, which, when it comes down to it, requires a lot of time.
5. steal everything.
ok I lied, this is the most important thing. Picasso said it and I'm saying it again. steal what you can from other artists. especially things you like. but don't just steal to steal, steal to learn, and take advantage of the knowledge that comes from people who did stuff before you.
I feel like just about every second in every song I made is in some way ripping off some specific artist. I could tell you their names, too, but that would maybe ruin the mystique.
Anyway, I'm sorry this email got way out of hand. but that's my advice to you, not knowing your musical history or anything. I'm not trying to be patronizing if you know all of this stuff already, lol, but let me know if you have any other questions! oh, and, would you mind if I posted this response on my blog?  I've been meaning to write out a "general tips" guide for a while and you gave me a good enough reason. Lol
 When you find yourself typing this out, it's time to learn notation.
 The answer was "yes".