10-Step Guide To Make Trance Music
Do you want to learn how to make trance music, but you don’t know how to get started?
(1) Choose your genre
There are many different sub-genres of Trance music, but we can categorize them in a shortlist to make things more simple :
They each have something really special and unique about them:
Uplifting Trance is usually paced at around 138 BPM and is known for rolling basslines, euphoric and emotional breakdowns, and energetic climaxes.
Progressive Trance is usually slower and more relaxing. It may have a BPM of 128-132, deeper basslines, and focus on melodic layers and smooth transitions.
Psy Trance is usually fast-paced (140+ BPM), with emphasis on psychedelic melodies and very punchy drums and bassline.
You need to choose a sub-genre first because this will affect some of the next steps. For instance, if you make Psy Trance you may not use the same types of sounds and melodies as if you’re making Progressive Trance.
If you already know what style you want to create, then that’s perfect! Otherwise, we suggest you listen to existing trance music, radio shows, and releases to find out your favorite sub-genre.
For the purposes of this guide, we will choose our favorite genre: uplifting trance.
(2) Select Your DAW
If you don’t know what a DAW is, it’s a Digital Audio Workstation. It’s a program that will allow you to create, arrange and mix your music. Some of the most well-known DAWs are Ableton Live, FL Studio, Cubase and Logic Pro.
Most DAWs work on both PC and MAC computers, except for Logic Pro which is Apple software and works only on MAC.
Selecting the right DAW is extremely important.
Not because one of them sounds better than the others (any of the DAWs above are 100% suitable for trance music production). It’s because you need to find the perfect one for you.
Different DAWs have different interfaces and workflows, and you might find that you prefer the arrangement window and workflow of DAW A versus DAW B.
Is there a best DAW for trance? Not really. There is no “trance software” that is made specifically to create trance music. Once again, it doesn’t matter which DAW you are using, as long as it works for you. This will come with time, but it’s worth trying out different options at first, before making your initial choice.
(3) Find samples
OK, now you have found and installed a DAW that you enjoy. Now the next step is to start creating things in it. In order to do this, you need your DAW to be able to produce actual sounds!
There are two ways of making sound in a DAW: MIDI Tracks and Audio Tracks.
As you will see, both are usually necessary to make a full track. But for now, let’s focus on the audio tracks. Trance is a style of music where many elements are sample-based. This means artists use pre-made audio files for some of the elements in their tracks (also called audio loops and one-shots). These samples are dropped onto audio tracks in the DAW.
In trance music, the following elements are usually done with samples:
Drums & percussion
Sound FX (such us uplifters, Explosions, Atmospheric Sounds, etc.)
It’s important to find good sample packs containing quality samples. The better quality samples you have, the better tracks you will be able to make. In addition, having a larger variety of samples will allow you to browse through them and help you get inspired.
(4) Choose synths
Remember how there are two ways of making sound in your DAW ? The second one is MIDI tracks.
MIDI tracks (also called instrument tracks) allow you to draw notes in your DAW to play a melody. You can also plug a MIDI keyboard into your computer to play notes on a MIDI track.
But how does the MIDI track produce sound, and how do I change the sound?
This is where the magic happens. What you do is insert a VST/AU instrument (often called a VST synth or synthesizer) on the MIDI track. Then, any note that you play will go through the synthesizer and will produce sound.
This allows you to create an infinity of different sounds, because there are so many different synths available. But also because each synth has many different settings to tweak its own sound. In addition, many synths come pre-packaged with a set of different presets. These are called soundbanks (often called soundsets).
So what are some of the best VST/AU synths available?
Just like with samples, there are some free and premium VST synths. But some of the best synths available for trance music include :
Sylenth1 by LennarDigital
Spire by Reveal-Sound
Serum by XFer
(5) Choose chord & melody
This step is arguably one of the most important of all.
Trance music is a genre where chords and melodies are quite prominent. But the chords and melodies also need to make sense and be consistent throughout the track, or else if will just feel weird to listen to.
In addition, choosing a good chord sequence will allow you to already get the feeling that your track will give when listening to it. For example, does it feel uplifting, or emotional? If you start with your chord sequence first, you will already know the feeling you want to give. Then it will be easier to build around it.
Because of that, it’s a good idea to pick a specific chord sequence before even starting your track.
You can find good chord sequences by listening to other music. Especially if you listen to a song you like that’s in another style, you could easily borrow this chord sequence and use it in your track. This, however, does require a bit of training in order to figure out the chords being played, just by ear.
Once you have chosen your chord sequence, it’s easier to write a main melody around it.
You can also download chord sequences and melodies as MIDI Files from the internet. One word of caution: if you want to use downloaded MIDI files in your track, make sure they are royalty free, and that you have the rights to use them in your tracks.
(6) Create Song Structure
Basic Song Structure Explained
From intro to outro, learn the parts of a song and their purpose.
We have all sung along with our favorite songs, so whether we know if or not, we probably possess a great deal of knowledge about the parts of a song already. Let’s put some labels for these sections and define the common things that occur in each section:
Basic Song Structure Explained
Knowing the typical song layout will help songwriters create their own masterpieces. Basic song structure consists of an intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus and bridge (many times, this is all tied together in an outro, too). Below, consider this breakdown of song building blocks.
This is an easy one – it is found at the beginning and sets up the song, establishing many of the song’s important elements, such as the key, tempo, rhythmic feel and even its energy and attitude. You will find that the intro is often the same music without singing over it as the verse or even the chorus. Sometimes, however, a song’s intro will not have any material found later in the song. In this scenario, the goal is to create interest for the listener and encourage them to keep playing it. Either way, an intro typically last up to four bars.
This is where we get down to business and find out what the story is about. It’s the “Once upon a time …” section. Generally, there are multiple verses in a song, and they usually have different lyrics even though the melody will likely be the same. We get more information about the story with each additional verse. Considering that most commercial songs are between 3 and 4 minutes long, many people ask how many lines should be in the verse of the song. A good rule of thumb is to keep the song verses under 1 minute, or just a few lines.
The pre-chorus is not a necessary component and is often shorter than a verse or chorus. For the listener, it usually creates a feeling of wanting to be thrust towards the chorus.
The chorus is the big payoff and climax of the song. It’s also where the verse and pre-chorus have been reduced to a simple repeated sentiment. For example, in the song “Let it Be” by the Beatles, it is the part where the words “let it be” are repeated over and over. The chorus is often the title of the song and is usually very similar each time it occurs.
The bridge is a section that provides relief from the repetitive nature of many songs. Not only does it have different lyrics from the verse and chorus, but the music is a little different as well. It usually will start on a different chord from what the verse and chorus start with.
Use the time you already spend listening to music as an opportunity to develop a heightened understanding of these common parts of the song. Every song you hear is a chance to learn about how musicians use these different components to tell their stories.
(7) Create elements for your track
Now you have a basic trance song structure for your track. In the previous steps, you also chose a chord sequence for your track. Now you have to create everything else!
For example, in Uplifting Trance, you will usually need to create elements such as :
Plucks / counter melodies
This is usually the step that will take the most time. Spend serious time focusing on each single element and make it as interesting as possible.
Don’t focus too much on sound quality of your track at this point, or you might end up never creating all the elements. You will take care of sound quality in the next step, once the whole track is built.
In addition, this is usually when automation comes into play. Automation allows you to program any parameter of any element of your track and have this parameter change through time. For instance, maybe in the track buildup you will want your melody section to be introduced progressively, which will create a smooth transition. You can do this with automation. You would simply draw a volume automation curve in your DAW.
(8) Mix your track
In order to produce trance music, mixing is a very important step. This step relies more on technical capability rather than artistic expression. At this point, you have all your track elements laid out, but they don’t sound very good together. So let’s work on that!
Mixing a track professionally is an art in itself, but here are some basic tasks that you’ll have to do:
Every component needs to be at a reasonable level (volume), in relation to the rest of the track. For instance, if the kick drum is too loud, or if the bassline isn’t loud enough, the track will feel unbalanced. Levelling is all about achieving this great balance of the elements in your mix.
A good trick is to listen to the kick alone first, and then introduce all other elements one by one to set each of them to a pleasant level.
Giving each element its own space in the mix:
The golden rule is simply that every element of the track should be given its own “space” in the mix, as much as possible. This can be done in several ways:
First, through EQ (equalization), a process which allows you to boost or cut certain frequencies (or frequency ranges) of a sound. As you probably know, any sound occupies a specific range of frequencies across the 20 Hz-20 kHz spectrum. For example, your sub bass might currently occupy the spectrum between 20 Hz and 300 Hz. But you don’t want your sub bass to occupy higher frequency ranges. This is when you would use EQ to remove high frequencies from this sub bass.
Secondly, through stereo placement & panning : there is a 3-dimensional component to positioning sounds in the mix. When two elements occupy a similar frequency range, you might want to place one in the center of the stereo field, and another element on the sides through stereo spacing & panning.
If you follow the rules above, you will make sure the different elements in your track each have their own space. This means you will hear every part of the track more clearly. As a result, the track will sound a lot cleaner, more powerful and professional.
(9) Listen & improve
Making music is systematically a trial & error process. Trance music is very technical, and the pleasure from listening to trance music very much stems from its sound quality and sense of energy. So your track MUST sound amazing if you want it to be successful.
At this step, you want to find out if your track is good enough or whether it needs some more work. A good trick is to find an existing track that you love, and that’s in the same style as yours. Then you simply do an A/B listen of both tracks to compare them.
The reasoning behind this is simple: the other track has already proven its quality and you know it sounds professional. So this is a great way of figuring out what is wrong with your track, and improving it.
Maybe you’ll realize the kick needs to be changed. Or maybe the sub bass isn’t strong enough. Whatever it is, figure it out, and fix it! You can go through this process as many times as needed.
In order to produce trance music that sounds professional, you will have to go through all of these steps and keep practicing!
(10) Get your music out there!
At this point, you should have a pretty decent sounding trance production. Who knows, maybe you even created the next trance hit. Congratulations!
Now it’s time to let other people hear what you’ve created. There are several ways of doing that:
Show it to your friends
Post it on your social networks
Upload it to SoundCloud
Post it in Facebook groups and ask for other people’s opinions
The purpose of this step is to gather external feedback on the track, and find out if there are some parts of it that need reworking. If there are any, you should go back to step 9 and repeat this process until other people are impressed with your work.
When you feel your track is really good AND the feedback from other people is equally positive, you might want to consider sending your track to a record label.