Waiting For The Drop: The Anatomy Of An EDM Song

Mar 27, 2014

This week people from around the world have come to Miami for Ultra and Winter Music Conference—all in the name of electronic dance music, or EDM.
Credit Creative Commons / Flickr user Tony Nungaray

Ultra Music Festival and Winter Music Conference bring to Miami the beats and bass of electronic dance music, or EDM. But if you don't get what all the noise is about, here we bring you an explainer, and below that, a short tutorial on making the beats so many are crazed for.


1. You start off with a simple four-beat bass drum. This is the basic head-nodding element.

This is obviously not unique to EDM. Disco, new wave and kraut rock, all EDM predecessors, also had that four-beat kick. Very unlike classical or jazz right?

2. Add a high hat on the up beat to get a “boom-chick-boom-chick” sound -- that's your driving motion.

There are many varieties on where the high hat falls in relation to the kick. In the sample above, it falls regularly on the kick's up-beat. But the two can also be less regular and march-like. It could also go this way: "boom-chick-boom-boom-boom-chick."

3. Some claps give the beat variety, as well as the beginnings of a theme.

"EDM" is an umbrella term for any type of electronic music that has these three basic elements (a four-beat measure kick or bass drum, and then a downbeat). That downbeat is created using both the high hat and clap sounds. They signal when the start of the four-beat cycle is. Listen again and see if you now know where beat No. 1 is.

4. Add a basic melody using a synthesizer, like below, or any number of other instruments.

Sometimes DJs sample other musicians music to create melody, or they can layer songs of the same tempo to create a new song.

5. Additional elements, like bass, propel the song forward. They help build energy and tension before "the drop." High-quality sound systems are important to EDM, because some of the music's elements are subtle and can be difficult to hear on standard speakers.

EDM layers and removes various sonic elements, like different drums or melodies. Changes happen gradually over time. Often EDM songs are much longer than a typical three-minute song. They generally run longer than 10 minutes, with an ebb and flow of various pieces of the music.

6. A big part of the music's appeal is the drop. That's the climax of the song -- after it builds intensity, often stripping out the kick at some point. Sometimes there's a beat during which all the sounds stop and then the heavy bass drum comes in. The effect is a sort of resolution at a peak place of high energy.

Check out a few examples of the drop below:

Now that you know the basics, try your hand at making an EDM song.


Tutorial samples courtesy of Corey Chase.