The EDM Production Roadmap Feature Image

The EDM Production Roadmap

Neel Erickson
October 30th, 2018

Welcome to The EDM Production Roadmap. Our month-by-month plan for the first year of a new EDM producer, outlining the best resources available to you.

In this article, we’re going to show you exactly what you need to do in your first year of EDM production to improve as much and as quickly as possible, starting from the ground up.

Here is the big problem.

(It’s a luxury problem, really. But a problem, nonetheless.)
There is A LOT of educational material out there to become an EDM producer.

See, most people get on a decent EDM production level after about 3 years. We’ve been there ourselves. It’s a long, inefficient road of contradicting information in a vast and confusing ocean of online production tips.

We bet that with the right structure, what takes other people three years to master, you can reach in just one!

Whether you’ve never produced a track before or are at the early stages of your journey, this guide will help you fast track your learning and walk you through proficiency in a single year.

This guide isn’t for the weak, and it isn’t for the lazy. It’s for the motivated and the inspired, for the individuals who really want to make it. Ready? Let’s get to it.

 

Month 1: Picking the right tools

The very first step in your EDM production journey is actually a step back: you need to figure out where you are and what you’ll need to overcome in the next twelve months.

Start by reading The 5 Stages of An Electronic Music Producer – it’s simply put the best big-picture overview out there, and it’s a free read.

It outlines your 5 stages as a producer:

  1. Initiation
  2. Exponential Learning
  3. The Dip
  4. Proficiency
  5. Mastery

Our goal is to get you through those first 4 stages as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Equipment

At this point, you’re probably aware that you need a few things to get started: a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation – the software we make music in), a synthesizer, some headphones, and a midi keyboard.

There are a ton of options out there, and as a beginner producer it’s hard to make an informed decision here. Don’t worry, we’ve made them for you.

Music Writing Software

As mentioned above, we make our music in programs referred to as Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs. A simple google search for various DAWs will return names like Ableton, Logic Pro, FL Studio, and Cubase, to name a few.

But which one do you choose?

The short answer: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Honestly – great music can be made in any of the major DAWs.

However – we found that the majority of tutorials and courses out there are taught in Ableton Live (plus it’s great for Live Performance, if you ever decide to go that route).

Synthesizer

Again, there are tons of great options out there. Googling will return names like Serum, Massive, Sylenth, and Spire, and honestly there are plenty of tutorials for each of these.

The most popular synth on the market right now (and the one we recommend) is Serum by Xfer Records. It’s consistently the most common for tutorials and courses, and it’s available on Splice’s Rent-to-Own program.

Speakers or Headphones?

Obviously, we need to be able to listen to what we make, and laptop speakers or simple earbuds won’t cut it. High-quality monitoring is a must, but there are hundreds of options out there and a few decisions to make:

Your first is whether to get headphones or speakers.

Most people’s gut tells them to get speakers. They look cooler, and we know that professional studios use them. Therefore, they must be better… right?

Don’t be fooled.

Speakers are great, but they’re only as good as the environment you listen to them in. Unless your room is acoustically treated, you’ll run into a number of balance and frequency issues with your speakers – basically, your speakers will lie to you.

Headphones, on the other hand, provide a controlled listening environment. They won’t change based on where you are, and they’re portable. If you only produce music when you can sit in front of speakers, you’ll severely limit yourself.

To make the decision easier, headphones tend to be considerably cheaper than speakers for comparable quality.

With headphones being the best choice, the next question is – which ones?

We recommend the Audio Technica M50X. At $150, they’re on the cheaper end of professional headphones, but they still provide phenomenal quality. A higher tiered option that’s also great for mixing and mastering is the Sennheiser HD600.

Midi Keyboard

You don’t absolutely need a Midi Keyboard to make good music. It just helps, tremendously.

We recommend going to a local music store (e.g. Guitar Center) to play around with some of these. Each keyboard has a slightly different feel with different added options, and this one really is a preference-driven choice.

Not even sure what your preference would be? Don’t sweat it.

If you just want the keyboard for the keys (for example, to play melodies and create chords), check out the M-Audio Keystation 49. It’s one of the cheaper options at $100, but it works great.

If the idea of using faders, knobs, and a finger drum pad interests you, then we would recommend the Novation Launchkey 49. It’s $200, integrates with the major DAWs, and provides everything you’ll need out of a midi keyboard.

Equipment Summary

  • DAW: Ableton Live 10
  • Synthesizer: Xfer Records Serum
  • Headphones: Audio Technica M50X
  • Midi Keyboard: M-Audio Keystation 49 OR Novation Launchkey 49

Electronic Music Production 101

Great, you have everything you need to start making music. Now, you just need to learn what to do with it all.

Ten years ago, this step would have been a nightmare – especially for the beginner. Luckily, Sam Matla over at EDMProd.com has you covered for your first month.

Start your educational journey by reading How to Make Electronic Music (free article).

Sam does a great job here of focusing on the bigger picture and helping you develop the right mindset for your journey.

Once you’ve done that and are ready to commit to working your ass off for the next year, the best thing you can do is simply to get started with making music.

With such a big learning curve, you want to eliminate as much noise as possible and only learn exactly what you need to. If you found the article above helpful, we strongly recommend enrolling in Sam’s EDM Foundations Course.

The course takes you through 4 songs in 4 weeks, and it’s undeniably the best early-stages learning tool out there. Hundreds of beginners have taken the course and have nothing but great things to say.

If you’re serious about this journey, EDM Foundations is your chance to prove it.

Month Two: EDM production orientation

First of all, congratulations on making it through your first month of EDM production.

You worked hard to learn the EDM production fundamentals, and you’ve undoubtedly realized that whether you flew through the material or struggled at times, there’s still a ton left to learn and no time to waste.

As you progress through this next month, focus on keeping your energy and momentum going, and get yourself in the mindset of learning as much as possible.

Fair warning: this month involves a decent bit of reading for the first two weeks.

Kick it off by familiarizing yourself with the industry jargon. The best way to start is by reading through The Ultimate EDM Production Glossary (free courtesy of EDMTips.com).

Then, begin diving into specific topics of EDM production. Read up on compression, saturation, distortion, reverb, delay, and equalization.

Google will be your friend here, but we’ve also written a couple of posts of our own on these topics: The Definitive Guide to Distortion and Your Guide to Everything Reverb.

Once you’ve read through these, you’ll benefit most from analyzing existing music and learning what makes great music, well, great.

Producer and instructor Connor O’Brien at EDMProd has written some phenomenal (and free!) track breakdowns covering a handful of genres.

If you’re still hungry for more, read through the free articles on the EDMTips Blog.

Try to get through all of this reading (and more, if you can) within the first two weeks of the second month.

We guarantee you’ll have a much better understanding of what makes music work, and you’ll be best prepared to continue with your productions.

In your third week, head over to Hyperbitsmusic.com and check out The LaidBack Luke Remix Start to Finish Course. Hyperbits is an active professional producer, and he developed a great complete walkthrough of one of his remixes.

You’ll find yourself applying a lot of the information you just read, and more importantly, you’ll be able to contextualize all of it for future use.

If you’ve been following and returning to this guide, you’re now heading into your third month with at least 5 full songs already under your belt.

Take a breath, pat yourself on the back.

This is hard work, especially at the rate we’re going. Hopefully you can already feel the results and are excited to keep going.

If you find yourself tiring out, head back to the 5 Stages Article and remind yourself of the bigger picture and why you got into this in the first place.

Month Three: Mastering your DAW

Now that you have some experience working in the DAW and understand the fundamentals, it’s time to start diving further into the various aspects of music production.

The best thing you can do at this stage is to learn your DAW, and learn it well.

Every single producer we talked to said they wished they would have spent more time early on learning their DAW.

Why? Because the DAW is the producer’s primary instrument. Musicians don’t wait 5 years to learn every note in their instrument, so neither should you.

Prepare yourself mentally for this one: it’s probably the least exciting step of EDM production yet.

So to kick off your third month, buy and read Ableton Live 10 Power! in the first two weeks. The book teaches you everything you need to know about Ableton’s devices, and it does a great job of providing real-world examples.

Once you’ve done that, check out the Ableton Workflow Bible written by Connor O’Brien. It’s packed with unique tips to make your music more interesting.

*Side note: don’t worry about completing the included 30-day Creativity Challenge just yet. We’ll come back to that later in the EDM Production Roadmap.

While you’re going through the readings for the third month, complete your next track. All of this information is great, but you still need to practice to get good, as is with anything in life.

At this point, you might find yourself in need of more samples or Serum presets. If so, we’d recommend checking out Splice. It boasts a wide EDM production sample and preset selection, project collaboration functionality, and a rock-solid user interface.

Month Four: Music theory and mixing

The next focus in your journey should be on music theory and basic mixing.

As much as music is a creative expression, there are undeniably technical aspects to it, on both the compositional side (theory) and the presentation side (mixing).

Composition and mixing are intertwined, but since composition comes first in the journey, we recommend starting your fourth month by taking the EDMTips Music Theory for EDM Producers course.

Don’t let the title “Music Theory” discourage or frighten you. This course is a great introduction, and it will teach you how best to build melodies, chords, bass lines, drum progressions, and arrangements.

While you’re taking this course, read through our free How to Mix Music Series for an introduction and high-level view of how you should approach mixing your tracks.

Afterwards, take the time to read through and internalize the information in Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio. It’s a dense read at times, but everything is tailored to the bedroom and small-den producer and it’s filled with great examples.

Just like last month, you want to be sure to complete another full track, doing your best to implement the specific techniques you’ve just learned.

Months Five and Six: Finishing projects

At this stage of the EDM production journey, one of the most common frustrations is that music takes such a long time to finish.

A lot of producers tend to lose motivation around now, as they’ve been working incredibly hard for a while but their productions take forever to finish and are still lacking in quality.

Our biggest piece of advice is to not be discouraged – almost everyone goes through this stage at some point, and the ones that make it are the ones that routinely push through.

The best thing you can do at this point is to learn how to work more quickly.

Why?

The faster you work, the more you can finish (Why You Should Finish More Music). The more you finish, the better you’ll get. Simple.

Kick off your fifth month by reading our free article: How to Streamline Your Workflow: Production Habits and Tips and then the EDMTips free article: Getting Music Finished!

Once you’ve gone through those, we’d recommend starting Workflow Foundations, the second course by EDMProd. The course focuses on idea expansion and development, providing tons of tricks to make the music making process faster and easier for you.

Take your time with this – use the whole fifth and sixth months to get through the content – and practice it along the way.

At this point, we’d also recommend you start training your ear. As producers, we can only make something sound as good as we can hear.

We strongly recommend SoundGym for this (sign up, then use this 20% off discount they’ve hooked us up with). SoundGym has gamified ear training, so you can spend 30 minutes a day playing games that train your ear on EQ, volume, distortion, reverb, delay, compression, and more.

The platform provides extraordinary results, and you’ll have a lot of fun going through the exercises!

Lastly, as you progress through your fifth and sixth months, remember to write two more full tracks – and do your best to mix them.

BONUS: If you’re looking for a little more track guidance at this point and liked the Hyperbits course from month two, his co-instructor Syence just released a new Start to Finish which is definitely worth checking out.

Months Seven, Eight, and Nine: Optimising

Now that you’ve been at this intensely for half a year, you should start to feel like you have some idea of what you’re doing.

You’ve covered all of the fundamentals and should have a good idea of what it takes to make a great track.

So over the next three months, we suggest you dive deep into three specific topics: Creativity, Sound Design, and Mixing.

Around your seventh month, EDM production can start to feel like a bit of a grind, and inspiration tends to fade for a lot of people. It helps to take a step back, reconnect with why you started this journey, and reboot your creativity.

Bring back the 30-day Creativity Challenge from the Ableton Workflow Bible that we set aside in month three, and work through those exercises every day.

Along with that, read through The Producer’s Guide to Workflow and Creativity, another great work by Sam Matla at EDMProd.

In month eight, we’d recommend taking some time to learn the fundamentals of sound design. While you don’t need to be an expert sound designer to be a great producer, you definitely need to at least understand when and how to tweak presets to fit your tracks. Plus, designing your own sounds is a great way to spark creativity.

To tackle this, reverse engineer your favorite presets (that is, use the preset as an example to recreate the sound yourself, and pay attention to how each piece affects the sound).

For a more focused approach, head to Syntorial and train yourself daily for one month.

Moving forward, you’ll want to revisit mixing in month 9, going more in-depth this time.

You should be noticing that while your music is definitely getting better and better, professional EDM productions will have a consistently better polish to them. They have a better sense of space, and the sounds are way clearer.

The tips you got from our mixing series and the Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio are great starters, but if you want to really excel, you need to dive further.

Since we at Heroic Academy especially believe in the importance of a mix, we’ve created a Smart Mixing Masterclass for you that truly covers everything you need to know to get a professional-sounding mix.

Remember to continue your ear training on SoundGym every single day, and create a finished track each month.

Months Ten, Eleven, and Twelve: Prepare for the next level

You’ll have likely developed your own set of strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be familiar with the majority of what you find on the internet.

So, what next?

Develop your own feedback mechanisms and pursue more personalized education.

Participate in online forums and Facebook groups, providing feedback to others and seeking feedback of your own. Start building a network of likeminded people around you.

If you’ve found the EDMProd resources valuable, it’s worth checking out their coaching program for a 1-on-1 approach.

If you’re struggling to find contacts and aren’t interested in 1-on-1 coaching, a great way to test yourself is to try to recreate a couple of your favorite songs in your tenth month. Try to do as much of the recreation on your own as you can, but feel free to reference tutorials and examples along the way.

As you conclude your first year, the most important things you can be doing are finishing as much music as possible and pursuing higher levels of feedback and education.

The single best resource we can point you towards would be the Hyperbits Masterclass. It’s an eight-week program that consistently shows amazing results (students have gone on to perform at EDC, Tomorrowland, Electric Zoo, Spring Awakening, and Snowglobe, among others).

As you wrap up the masterclass at the end of your twelfth month, take another step back and reflect on the past year.

You’ve learned a TON, and your music has grown tremendously.

This is truly just the start of your broader musical journey, but if you followed this roadmap through and through, you’ll be ready for it.

We hope you enjoyed the read and would encourage you to post any questions you might have in the comments!