Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Making music is easier than you think, especially when taking the process down to smaller pieces. Follow this step-by-step tutorial by Ableton Certified Trainer LNA and make a techno track from start to finish in Ableton Live.
Producing a track from the first ideas to a finished banger is quite an achievement. Choosing the right sounds and effects, remembering the best practices and learning new skills is fun, but it might also feel overwhelming at times. Luckily, there’s a way around it.
Dividing the production process into 10 simple steps makes it much easier to handle. Instead of tackling the entirety at once, just take one step at a time and you’ll soon find yourself with a finished track, ready for mixing and mastering!
The 10-step rule works wonders for beginners, but it can also help more advanced producers when trying out new approaches or less familiar genres. Getting off the beaten path enhances your creative confidence, which in turn helps you finish more songs.
Whether you love the pounding techno kick or search for some new challenges, here’s an easy-to-follow guide into making a techno track in 10 steps. Click the headlines to find respective material from the video above.
This Is Techno! · 120–150 BPM · Repetitive and looping · Plenty of lifts and automated movement
A powerful kick is the core of any techno track. Create a four-on-the-floor beat by adding a 909 Core Kit on a drum rack. Try layering 2–3 kicks with different tonal characters and add some boom with Drum Buss. You can also use EQ to enhance the area around 50–100 Hz.
An extra tip for a strong kick is to keep it in mono. Do this in Utility or choose to mono a certain amount of the lowest frequencies.
To make the kick stand out even more, create a special techno rumble around it. A great way of doing this is by using a return track and adding EQ Eight, Delay and Saturator on it.
Use a low pass filter on EQ Eight to let the low-end sub-bass through. Play around with Delay, try its Ping Pong effect and set different beat divisions on both channels (e.g. 3 on the left and 2 on the right). At this point, add a bit of colour with Saturator – you can come back to it in the end for some automation.
Create two samples of open hi-hat to get some variation. Follow the pattern kick – HH – kick – HH.
Make a 16th note pattern for closed hi-hat and add some velocity changes to the notes. You can also use clip envelopes to add movement and modulation by pitch bending the clip.
Inspired by techno DJ and producer Amelie Lens, find a few metallic sounds and samples for your track. If needed, edit them by using Simpler or other appropriate tools. Try warping, extending, reversing and pitch shifting the sounds and spice them up with effects like Delay, Chorus, Reverb, Redux and Saturator.
Then add the sounds on a drum rack and make a cool pattern out of them to create some of that dark and atmospheric feeling techno is known for.
Choose a synth and play one midi note. Then do the magic by adding the Arpeggiator and adjusting the rate (e.g. 1/8 or 1/16) to get a fast arpeggiated synth sound.
Try finding different melody lines as well, but keep things simple – in techno less is more!
In techno, one or two vocal phrases is often enough – this is not the genre for complicated lyrics. Female voices are most common, but no one keeps you from experimenting!
Polish up the vocals by adding effects like EQ Eight, Saturator, Chorus, Reverb or even Vocoder.
A good techno track also needs some sweet-sounding sweeps and swells.
Create a simple white noise note with a synth or use a ready-made sample. Add Auto Filter and make a cool pulsing effect by choosing a desired wave shape, adjusting the LFO controls and lowering the low pass filter.
You can also try Gate sidechained to the kick to create a ducking effect for some rhythm and movement.
Techno tracks usually follow the structures ABCABC, ABAB or BCB. Find the one most suitable for you and arrange your track accordingly.
Movement and dynamic changes, achieved by automating effects, are very important in a repetitive genre like techno. Where is the tension? Where is the relief? How do you transition from one to another – maybe with a cool-sounding lift or drop?
2 x Lift It Up! · Reverse cymbals to get an easy lift. · Create transposed lifts by using clip envelopes.
The last step is all about automating, adding audio effects and finalising the details.
Layer tracks where needed, get creative with effects and add some extra movement, space and texture with them – try e.g. Saturator, Chorus, Reverb and Delay. Don’t forget to automate the awesome techno rumble you created on step 2!
Other Genres? If techno is not your cup of tea, take a look at LNA’s playlist of other 10-step tutorials and make a house track or a pop song instead! You’ll also find respective cheat sheets on LNA's shop to help you with your workflow.
Photos: Alena Darmel & Monica Griffin / Pexels