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Dubstep Basics: Learn How to Make Dubstep Music

Dubstep Basics: Learn How to Make Dubstep Music

How often have we listened to popular dubstep songs by renowned artists and thought of them as god-like because of their ability to create sounds so ethereal? Through our article, Melodyful gives you guidelines on how you can make dubstep music from your own bedroom.
Melodyful Staff
As per his official online statement on Facebook, in 2011, Skrillex, the incredibly popular dubstep artist, lost his laptop, and with it, a whole new unreleased album in Milan, Italy, when it was stolen out of his hotel room. Seeing that this genre mainly involves software, rather than actual recording of musical instruments, it must have been a huge blow for the dubstep wizard, who claims to use Ableton Live, as his favored music-making tool, along with a large number of plug-ins.
A genre of music which is especially not recommended to the fainthearted, since it sounds so transcendental and cosmic, aficionados of electronic dance music genres, such as trance, and house, admit that even those with a very accommodating palate may not be able to handle dubstep. Nevertheless, this genre enjoys a huge fan following all over the world, and artists like Skrillex, Skream, Seven Lions, Porter Robinson, Zedd, Flux Pavilion, and Bassnectar, are not unfamiliar names. First seen in England at the start of this millennium, this popular culture has evolved slowly and steadily, and we can credit Jamaican-style reggae, and UK garage music for their influences in shaping it. 

The beauty of dubstep is that, what one truly needs to create this magic from his or her own bedroom, is merely a capable laptop, the right software, optionally some hardware, like a microphone, and/or a midi keyboard, and of course, an overwhelming passion towards making music.
Requirements to Make Dubstep Music
Although the base prerequisites to making music of this genre seem few, the specifics matter; the feasibility of using particular software, the availability of memory on your computer's hard drive, and its speed, and the compatibility of your optional hardware with both your computer, and your music-making program, are very important before you set out to make music. Melodyful highlights your minimum requirements.
Laptop Requirements
Make Processor Memory OS Add. Req.
Apple Mac 1.8 GHz, Intel® Mac
2 - 4 GB
Mac OS X 10.5
or higher
DVD-ROM drive
Microsoft 2 GHz Pentium® 4
2 - 4 GB
XP Home,
Pro or higher
(Vista, Windows 7)
DVD-ROM drive,
Sound card
(ASIO driver),
Recommended Software
Any good digital audio workstation (DAW) can be used to record and produce dubstep music. Obviously learning to make the best of any software comes with practice and experimentation, so one shouldn't expect to be able to produce dubstep like a maestro overnight. Some recommended DAWs are:
  • Ableton Live
  • Image-Line FL Studio (previously known as Fruity Loops)
  • Apple GarageBand
  • Cakewalk Sonar
  • Avid Pro Tools
Mostly, good-quality software to produce dubstep music are not free to download; however, while DAW software for beginners is not very expensive, the more professional versions (like Ableton Live Suite 9), with a lot of useful add-ons, could cost more than thousands of dollars. Apart from introductory-level software itself, it is a good idea for budding dubstep artists to get their hands on some sample packs as well, to make their task easier. Sample packs would contain drum samples, loops, bass hits, and other elements that could be implemented in a dubstep track.
Suggestions for Optional Hardware
You can invest in a good synthesizer keyboard, or even a midi keyboard, especially if you have formal music training. 
It is not necessary to actually know how to play an instrument to create outstanding dubstep music, but knowledge about music theory is a must, because one often encounters terms like "transpose", "octave", "sharp", and the like, during the journey of producing electronic music.

A midi controller that contains faders, knobs and buttons can be used in collaboration with your DAW software to simplify the whole process, and also to add glamor to it, say, during a live performance. These controllers can be used to implement interesting effects, like launching clips, or entire tracks, triggering loops, mixing sounds, and a lot more.
A microphone is also a handy tool for music production. One can record raw vocals, without any EQ or compression, and add all the effects later. Nowadays, USB-connectable microphones are also available, which are even more convenient to use.
For midi controllers, launch pads, and keyboards, professionals recommend brands like Novation, Akai, M-Audio, Behringer and Alesis, while for microphones, Neumann, and Shure are reputed to be good options.
Midi Keyboard
Midi Keyboard
Recording Microphone
Recording Microphone
Basic Elements of A Dubstep Song
A dubstep track, like anything in this world, has a basic structure that it is built around. A typical song has an introduction, a couple of verses with a bridge between them, and an anti-climax, or an 'outro', to bring it to a close.
Tips and Tricks to Get Started
  • While the verses and the bridge are likely to be more populated with notes, bass, beats, and effects, you could opt to design the beginning and the finale with a gradual build-up (or stripping away) of elements.
  • While starting, you could break things down to the fundamentals, work on them separately, and later put them together. You could add the innovative effects that give your song its other-worldly feeling, as finishing touches to your work.
  • It is always better to have a direction, so as to maintain focus, because otherwise, amongst aspirants who are new to this, there is a tendency to get lost in between, out of fascination for the absence of a limit to which one can experiment
  • However, professional dubstep DJs suggest that one should go about this in a manner where you follow your inspiration, and that is why they largely favor software such as Ableton Live, that is said to be primarily intuitive.
  • Melodyful suggests having a core premise, like a melody, or beat, to build on.
  • Do a lot of 'research'. Listen to a lot of sample, and later popular tracks, and take note of how they are structured so that you will have a better idea, as a beginner, what your work should sound like when you are done.
The Beat
Dubstep music gets its identity solely from the uniqueness of the drum beats. The sparseness of it in the beginning of the track, and the slow buildup until the climax, followed by reverting to the basic, is characteristic of a dubstep song.

You can incorporate your favorite drum samples from your sample pack in your song, although the absolute basic requirement is a good kick, and snare beat.
When you begin, set your project's tempo to 140 bpm. This is the ideal tempo to clock at, although some producers make music at a low 125 bpm, or increase it to a little higher value.
The true feel of dubstep comes with setting drum beats at half-time, and bass/musical notes at normal time. The various distinctive effects, like the wobble bass, glitch rhythms, and so on, are more suited to this format. This is why, while the tempo is so high, a typical dubstep song would have the drum kick and snare placed at beats one and three.
Your mission is to create a loop of beats that would repeat throughout the track. The number of steps in your loop could be as high as 32. As mentioned above, the kick and snare drum beats could be placed strategically at the right steps of the loop. Also, you can experiment with grace notes, duple beats, triple beats (the last two can be tried out at both 140 bpm and 70 bpm to keep things interesting), and even additional beat effects like cymbals, tambourines, etc.
Snares can be layered to elicit a deep, dynamic effect.
Different software have different tools that can help you create music better. For example, you can shuffle the entire beats of your pattern, on some. Try to get to know the full extent of what can be done with the software you are using.
The Melody
It is unnecessary to impress upon any would-be electronic dance music DJ, the importance of melody in the song he or she intends to play. Without a catchy tune, the plain rhythm of the song can hold the attention of the crowd for only so long. The bass and melody are meant to enhance the drum beats of the song, and carry listeners through to the end of it. However, in dubstep, the beats are the real hero, therefore it is important to have an uncomplicated basic melody.

Keep the synth regular, and simple.
You can try to experiment with the sound of different instruments, but do so within a limit, because even minimalistic sounds can work wonders with the beats when it all comes together, and too much may not sound the way it was intended to.
If you have a good library of samples, and sound kits, you can easily put together the melody you envisioned.
To figure out various notes, you can use additional hardware for DAWs, like your keyboard.
You could even add vocals to the track using your microphone. However, dubstep music and elaborate vocals do not generally go together. There is no harm in experimenting, but keep that in mind when you do.
Keep an ear out to make sure that you get your bass line correct, or the end product will be disastrous.
Once the tune of your melody is finalized, you can add additional effects. The wobble, or 'wub', is a common recurrence in a typical dubstep song, and beginners who really want to understand this in depth, can start by applying a low pass filter on the bass of their song. 
Apart from the input from hardware, and software samples, one can also use Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins to generate the desired output, from instrumental sounds, to synth, and other effects.
What is 'the Drop'?
  • The characteristic of a dubstep song that sets it apart from other music, is the climax of the rhythm, after which, the beat just 'drops'. 
  • The buildup that leads to the drop should have progressively increasing sound, and therefore, during the development of the song, aspiring artists can work along the lines of keeping the basic beats (kick + snare/layered snare) untouched in the beginning, and compounding the effects in the loops closer to the climax.
  • After the drop, generally the song is broken down to its basic elements again. The artist can take the song in any direction, as per his or her taste, from this point on. Some artists come up with an electronic piece which could be considered the "guitar solo" of the song, where they retain the original beats, and add effects like wobbles, and wacky sound samples in a very freestyle manner. There are also others who like to round up the basic feel of the song in a minimalistic manner, like a synopsis, and build it up once again from fundamentals, leading to the next verse. It is truly up to you, to unleash your creativity at this point.
Additional Suggestions
  1. The typical length of a dubstep song is 4 - 6 minutes. Any longer, and you may find it difficult to keep your audience's interest.
  2. A pair of good quality headphones will take you a long way, so it is wise to invest more in them, and less in more and more sample kits/hardware.
  3. The 'dark' and eerie feeling that is associated with dubstep can be brought about by using more minor notes in your melody.
  4. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we would like to stress that you should ALWAYS keep things simple. Whether it is drum beats, melodies, or the bass, never overcomplicate. With a distinctive base to build up on, one can create magic.
  5. Listen, learn, and experiment. Listen to sub-genres of dubstep too, like, for example, brostep. Learn everything you need to about the software you are using, and also learn techniques of optimization, like equalization, noise reduction, filtering, limiting, and so on, as they can be very useful to make your song sound right. Experiment with new styles, with myriad influences to guide you.
We hope that with our outline of all the basics that you need to equip yourself with, in order to create dubstep music, we were able to give you more clarity, and the required push in the right direction. Although dubstep can be fairly challenging to create, because there are no rigid rules (even though songs of this genre do have a limiting structure), the satisfaction of creating something so mind-blowing with one's own ingenuity is incentive enough to want to stay motivated. Above all, one needs to have a lot of enthusiasm, and surreal patience, to learn from all avenues, to be successful at making dubstep music.