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Getting started in trance

The very basics of how to get started in the trance form of dance music. Hey, you need an analog synthesizer!

You need to know Dance Music inside out. The genre of Dance Music is divided into many different sub-genres. Make a slight mistake on any of the basic sonic components and you will be out-of-genre, which is possibly the biggest mistake a budding Dance Music producer can make. Since Dance Music evolves so rapidly there are no rules (except for the ones that are already out of date). You have to watch and listen. Go to a club that plays your favourite kind of Dance Music, watch for the tracks that get people on the dancefloor. They are the tracks to analyse and imitate.

You need to be able to coax vibrant exciting sounds from your synthesizer. Perhaps you can get away with using just the presets, but that is hardly being creative in the true sense of the word. You need to be able to make sounds evolve, often over long periods of time. You need to be able to make a track build and build, using filter sweeps, changes in resonance and a whole armoury of tricks, preferably under automated control.

You need to understand the rhythms of Dance Music. You could use a sampled drum track, or you can create your own. You need to understand the essence of the basic Dance Music percussion sounds; kick, hihat, snare and clap. Each can come in limitless variations, but only some are suitable. You need to be able to make a snare drum crescendo using the automated functions of your computer sequencer.

The equipment you need...

'Synthesizer', in Dance Music, means 'analogue synthesizer', or a digitally modelled version of analogue synthesis. Analogue synthesizers can be hardware with real knobs to touch and twist. Or they can be software living inside your computer. Either way, a good analogue synthesizer can provide a rich palette of sounds for the Dance Music producer. Software synths are great because you 'buy once and use many'. A hardware synth can only work to the limit of its multitimbrality, which is often quite a severe limit with digitally modelled analogue synthesizers. Software synths can have several 'instances' on separate tracks.

You need a computer sequencer that will allow you to automate almost every parameter of your sound sources. You can perform a filter sweep live as you mix. But what about two or more sweeps happening at the same time, together with a pan and volume change?

If you can manage without vocals then your basic kit will be a synthesizer and computer sequencer. If you have a sampler, which you will need for vocal samples, you can also get sample CDs which include commonly used sound elements which you can mix and match with your own creativity. You don't necessarily have to have a multitrack recorder, but it can certainly help.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004