You may be wondering what exactly do I mean when I give this article the title ‘Make Your Own Dubstep’. This is not an article written to encourage people who don’t make music to start producing. This article is all about being original, finding your own voice, focusing on innovation and my views on imitation. You may wonder why there is a picture of Steve Jobs to the right of this article about making dubstep. I think it doesn’t need to be explained, but just in case I will mention quickly that we all recognize his face and know what he stands for. To many that might be the fact that he was an asshole to many people but beyond that, 100 years into the future he will be remembered for his innovation. As I type this up on my MacBook Pro I think what if he had spent his entire life copying others?
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “dubstep all sounds the same”, or “drum and bass all sounds the same”? Usually these people are saying that because they don’t really like these genres of bass music, and to many of them the music might indeed actually all sound the same. When you begin to listen to a new musical genre more closely, you will start to notice intricacies in it and the differences between different songs will become more apparent. This is true for anything in life – if you look at paintings by famous artists from the Renaissance period, they might all look the same at first until you get more familiar with trademark styles of each of the different artists.
Despite this, even as a dubstep and a drum and bass producer, I myself feel that some styles of these genres do all sound the same. I think there are too many copycats and not enough originators. You might agree with me to some extent, perhaps you agree with me 100%.
It is clear that there are a few key producers who are able to come out with their own trademark sound through various techniques (which we will come to later in this article), and then there are a lot of others who are obviously inspired and influenced by this ‘new sound’, and want to try to replicate it as best they can. There is nothing wrong with being influenced and inspired by other music. It is human nature. The problem is when you spend all of your efforts trying to sound like your favourite artist.
The True Innovators
There is only one of you in the world, so why not find your own voice and style? Think about your favourite artists, or people who really stand out to you as being innovative. How do you think they got there? Sure, they definitely had their own influences and were inspired by other artists too, but they obviously didn’t copy every single technique and trademark sound of those innovators.
However, they did borrow certain elements from those people who influenced them, and this is where I want to start off my advice for you to grow and develop your own sound as an artist.
As already mentioned, it is human nature to learn from those around us who know how to do things that we want to learn how to do. Copying is part of the learning process. In fact, many of the best producers spend a lot of time reverse engineering certain segments or specific sound design of their favourite artists, to learn how they made certain sounds. I am all for this and I think it is a great way to learn new techniques.
Another thing you may have noticed some producers do is imitate very closely to one particular artist that they follow and then evolve that sound further in a different direction. An example that springs to mind in dubstep is Xilent being inspired and influenced by Seven Lions. Seven Lions has an incredible talent for making beautiful sounding dubstep that has very clean mix downs. His songs always are always very well finished off and complete masterpieces. They obviously take him a lot of time to make. One notable element of Seven Lions’ trademark sound is his incorporation of trance sounds in his dubstep. This works very well because trance is roughly double the tempo of dubstep. I know a lot of people would argue that dubstep is typically around 140 to 145 BPM, but to me it is more accurate to say that dubstep is usually between 70 and 72.5 BPM, because the snare in the 3 and the 4 of each bar is half tempo. So getting back to my point, Xilent is very inspired by Seven Lions’ dubstep and he has incorporated several elements of Seven Lions’ music in his own production, including these trance influences. Xilent grew up listening to a lot of Goa Trance so this stands to reason. However, where they start to differ is that Xilent’s dubstep is much more geared towards the dance floor audience and has a lot more energy than Seven Lions’ music, which is often much more chilled out.
So when does imitation become counter intuitive?
I think that if you are trying too hard to sound like another artist, and a lot of people who hear your music on Soundcloud and elsewhere are commenting that it sounds very similar to joe bloggs’ music, it may be time to reassess your music and figure out how to diversify your influences. I would personally rather make one amazing and original song in my entire life than 100 or 1000 songs that sounded great, but were very similar to another artist.
How To Be An Innovator
So here are my points on how to be an innovator.
1. Expand your horizons
Listen to other genres of music outside of dubstep (or whatever your focus genre is). You will notice a lot more music concepts in other music, and you could incorporate some of them into your own music. Another thing you can do here to get different musical styles into your own music is to do dubstep remixes of songs from completely different genres. Have you heard anyone do a dubstep remix of a jazz song, or a heavy metal song? This may not sound like a good idea while you’re reading this, but if done well and the right song is chosen, you could get some incredible results that could get you a lot of recognition.
2. Collaborate with other artists who you have a lot of respect for
Stickybuds gave me this tip in the BassGorilla Podcast. Although Stickybuds is more of a glitch hop and ghetto funk producer, what he said is relevant to this topic. He said that he likes to work with people who he thinks are better producers than him, because he learns so much from them in the process. He gave another excellent point about collaborating – he said that it is half the amount of work (in theory) of making an entire song by yourself, and you get to reach two audiences (your own and your collaborator’s). So you can grow as an artist in various ways when collaborating. The key is to finish what your started and keeping yourself motivated to get to the end result.
3. Experiment (a lot!)
This is the biggest point I want to make in this article. It is that you should experiment with lots of seemingly random techniques. Some of them will sound terrible, but every once in a while you’ll discover some new way of making sounds that will revolutionize your overall sound. Some of those will become elements that make up your trademark sound! Also, the more you get used to experimenting, the more discoveries you will make AND the more you will get used to trying out new, seemingly weird things. This is the best way to evolve your own sound and find your own voice. This is what all of your favourite artists and those who you see as being the most innovative producers are doing.
If you do this enough, you could eventually become that producer whose style everyone else is trying to figure out and trying to imitate, and that will be a much more satisfying feeling than the feeling you will get from making a song that sounds exactly like one of your favourite producers.
Experimentation With Sound Design
The world, or universe I should say, of sound design has endless possibilities, but many of us often spend so much time just trying to sound like other people. To experiment with sound design, my approach is to make a midi patch in a synth, bounce it down to audio, then apply all kinds of effects to it (effects plugins that you wouldn’t normally think of using on a certain instrument), and then resample that audio again, and rinse and repeat. You will get some scarily good results and some terrifyingly unique sounds. Store these sounds in a folder or an instrument rack so that you can use them in future projects. Ableton Live makes this especially easy to do. I tend to record a long note (the root note of the song, say for about 20 seconds or so), with lots of filter movements on it (especially for bass), and then EQ out all of the unpleasant frequencies in that one long note before bouncing it out to audio and putting it in a sampler. This way, I can play that sample at different notes without the nasty frequencies showing up on any note that I play.
By repeatedly applying different effects and resampling over and over, the sound will have little resemblance to how it originally sounded and you will literally create your own sound.
I think a lot of this will be focusing on the sound design of every element in your song, but quite often as producers we focus so much on the production and engineering side of things that we forget to focus on writing something that actually sounds original and excites our listeners. So another important point I want to make here is that it is important that you focus on experimenting with different chord progressions, different combinations of instruments, and blending different styles together that wouldn’t normally be done (for example, jazz and 70’s funk in a dubstep style format).
Make Your Own Dubstep (Not Someone Else’s…)
So that concludes this article. When it comes to the whole experimentation side of things, I recommend anyone to spend a lot of time on this, and have fun with it. Remember to listen to other genres that you wouldn’t normally listen to and you will discover some ideas for arrangements, compositions and melodies that will open up new doors for you and help you to make your own dubstep sound that much more original.
Thanks for reading 😉 Come and connect with me on Google+ for future updates about what we’re up to at BassGorilla.com.