Dance Music Production – How I got a track released on a well known German label

Here are some tips to help you with any sort of dance music production, house, techno and anything in between.

So what major German label did  I release on? Berlin's Get Physical. 

The name says it all: Get Physical tracks could hardly be more moving and corporeal.

Get Physical Music has been doing it's thing since 2005.  Over the years a number of their tracks have found their way into my files.  As they are one of the top selling labels on beatport which is where I've been shopping regularly since 2004. 

This post is about how I landed a release with them.  Taking over the details is Jacki-e, who did the music and melodies of the track.  I'm not one to collaborate, really ever, so in this instance I acted as mix engineer and arranger, perhaps executive producer, as I provided some high level strategic input.  If you're new to this blog I release my own stuff as a solo artist and share tips via this blog and a premium pay for course.  Jacki-e was a student of the course who also wanted some 1/1 instruction to help move things along faster.   We worked on this tune back in August of 2017, it's release date was 26 October 2018.  Here's the story as written by Jacki.

My track 'Marionette', on which I collaborated with Eric Louis, is being released as a single by Get Physical Music. How did I, a complete unknown in the dance music industry, get a track signed and released by a major label? 

1) Creation/Production - To answer that question we have to go back 2 and a half years to Easter 2016. I'd purchased Ableton about a year before that and I was trying to get my head around how to use it to create my own tunes. I'd created a few tracks in Ableton, but I didn't really understand EQ-ing, frequency distribution and sound separation and everything sounded dense and muddy. I was searching through the sound packs I had for some cool sounds for a new track and on a Deep House sample pack which had come from Digital DJ Tips, I came across a jaunty bass line that lodged itself inside my head for the next few weeks. The same sound pack had this great 8 bar Synth Chord Loop in the same key as the bass line and they worked together really well.

The synth chords filled in the spaces left by the bass loop and built into this dirty crescendo in the last two bars of the 8 bar loop. I put together a kick, and an additional bass chord loop to give a solid bottom end and found some hats for a nice crisp top end, then created some breakdowns and added risers and a crash for added dynamics. I liked the track. It suggested to me a puppet dance, with the lilt of the bass and the crescendo of the synth chord loop, but it sounded muddy and dense and I didn't really know how to fix that. I understood it was to do with EQ and sound separation but I didn't know how to do this effectively. So the track sat in my Ableton Project file for a year.

2) Refinement In that time I'd learnt a lot more about music production by watching on line tutorials and then implementing what I'd learned. At about the same time that I'd originally created the track (April 2016) Eric Louis did a guest mix for my radio show, A Darker Wave. I joined Eric's on line community for underground DJs and Producers, It's The DJ, and I found it to be the most valuable learning resource I was using to help me improve my production techniques. In summer 2017 Eric told me he could do four hour long one on one tutorials via Skype on the fundamentals of music production and I was eager to learn so I jumped at the chance.


Eric asked me to send him a track we could work on over the four sessions and I immediately thought of the one with the jaunty bass line and dirty synth loop that I'd shelved the previous year. In fact I'd already done some more work on the track, in particular creating four samples from the dirty 8 bar synth loop that finished in that dirty riff and, using the techniques on It's The DJ, EQ-ing them into distinctive sounds of their own. My original track was deep house but I really wanted it to have more of a techno sound. 

In the one on one sessions, Eric worked with me to do this, shaping the kick, using background noise throughout to 'glue' the sounds together, improving the risers and crashes, adding and shaping claps, refining the hi hats and teasing in the main riff. In the first session, Eric asked if I had a reference track in mind. I had, but then what I'd produced sounded nothing like what I had in ye head!! He suggested I have a listen to the Claptone remix of 'Let's Groove' by George Morel. 

To prepare for our second one on one session, Eric had asked me to look for some sounds to fill in some of the spaces and give the track some tension, colour and variety. I wanted a top end sound, maybe a melodic hook, but when I heard the George Morel track I knew what I needed. It was the bubble synth sound from 'Let's Groove'. 

I found a place in the track where I could sample it and added it to my own. In the remaining sessions Eric helped me with the final EQ-ing, arrangement and mixdown and at the end we had a really great sounding track. 

3) Release My intention was to get it mastered and upload it to my Soundcloud page, but before I did I thought I'd do the right thing and e-mail the label to ask for permission to use the bubble synth sound from the George Morel track. The label was Get Physical Music. I never expected a reply. When I received one it certainly didn't say what I expected. 

They loved the track and wanted to release it!! That was about a year ago and since then the label has had the track mastered and arranged for two fantastic remixes by S African producer Jazzuelle; a 6am Disco Remix and a Spaced Out Dream Remix. When the label asked me for the track title, I thought back to the image of the puppet dance the main bass line had given me, when I first started to put the track together. 

A puppet controlled by strings is known as a marionette and I think it fits the feel of the track. The official release date of 'Marionette' is 26th Oct and I couldn't be prouder or more excited.

Marionette is off to a strong start

OK it's Eric and I'm back.  Already charted on beatport's "Best New Tech House" chart, the tune is off to a fantastic start. I should add that the EP includes 2 fantastic remixes by South Africa's Jazzuelle.  Jazzuelle has also a repeat offender on Get Physical Music with an album and other releases behind him.  

Shop the Full EP at This Link

beatport tech house chart october 2018

Wrapping It Up

I hope you found this post helpful, there's a number of take-aways about dance music production, be it house, techno, or whatever..it doesn't matter. 

1. You need both skill and luck!  Plug away, work smart and hard on your craft because you'll never know when luck will find you.  Luck and opportunity is not totally in your control.  You can control the hours you put into your music game and what you do in that time. What you can't entirely control are things like who you will meet and how they will react to your music.  

It was luck on my part that I bumped into someone from Nervous Records back in September 2013 at Output in Brooklyn.  It was my skills that lead to them signing 3 of my singles over the years. 

It was somewhat lucky for Jacki to have gotten a not only a response from Get Physical but also a yes,  and it was skill that the music we did was worthy of a release with them.  

Luck and Opportunity are very much part of the equation and they are not entirely in your control.  

Here's another production tip

Develop your "finishing" skills.  If you don't finish what you start, that ensures your music will NEVER be heard by others.  If you've been doing this a while and have folders full of groovy beats and ideas that are not more than a minute long, you need to stop making new music and work on your finishing skills.  Finishing off a dance track is hard and daunting at first and can often seem boring and un-sexy.  

But this is where rubber meets the road. 

Once you finish a track you can work smarter the next time. It used to take me the better part of a full work week to complete a track from start to finish.  We're talking a good 25-30 hours spread over weeks and months.  

Now I spend 4-10 hours on a track.

Mixing is no longer super time consuming, it's a rather mundane task.  If you practice and develop your ear and how selective you are about sounds, there's really nothin fancy or complex to do in the mix down phase. 

Plugins Oh Boy!

One could get lost in the number of plugins available for mixing.  In this case, the track was done 100% in Ableton with no 3rd party plugins.  I love my UAD stuff but again this was a project we collaborated on so it's not helpful for me to try and teach Jacki stuff if she doesn't have the same plugins I do. 

Because she asked for 1/1 instruction, I worked with her files in Ableton Live using Live's native plugins.  

The version that went to Get Physical was exported straight from Ableton.

That said, I love my UAD plugins and they are very helpful for me, more so some years ago, a bit less so now.  Reason for that is that in this time, I've gotten better at picking sounds, be it from sample packs or VSTs.  

The better things sound in the creation phase the less heavy lifting needs to be done when mixing down.

Think about it like this.

If you were recording a band, the quality of the initial recording is super important.  A good recording and mix engineer will get good at capturing good recordings and performances right?  Take this concept and apply it to dance/techno electronic music production.  

Jacki came to the table with some solid ideas that didn't need a ton of work as far as mixing.  She did need help with song structure and some little things to give the tune extra bits of interesting content or "ear candy."

Develop your "finishing" skills.  If you don't finish what you start, that ensures your music will NEVER be heard by others.  If you've been doing this a while and have folders full of groovy beats and ideas that are not more than a minute long, you need to stop making new music and work on your finishing skills.  Finishing off a dance track is hard and daunting at first and can often seem boring and un-sexy.  

But this is where rubber meets the road. 

Once you finish a track you can work smarter the next time. It used to take me the better part of a full work week to complete a track from start to finish.  We're talking a good 25-30 hours spread over weeks and months.  

Now I spend 4-10 hours on a track.

Mixing is no longer super time consuming, it's a rather mundane task.  If you practice and develop your ear and how selective you are about sounds, there's really nothin fancy or complex to do in the mix down phase. 

Plugins Oh Boy!

One could get lost in the number of plugins available for mixing.  In this case, the track was done 100% in Ableton with no 3rd party plugins.  I love my UAD stuff but again this was a project we collaborated on so it's not helpful for me to try and teach Jacki stuff if she doesn't have the same plugins I do. 

Because she asked for 1/1 instruction, I worked with her files in Ableton Live using Live's native plugins.  

The version that went to Get Physical was exported straight from Ableton.

That said, I love my UAD plugins and they are very helpful for me, more so some years ago, a bit less so now.  Reason for that is that in this time, I've gotten better at picking sounds, be it from sample packs or VSTs.  

The better things sound in the creation phase the less heavy lifting needs to be done when mixing down.

Think about it like this.

If you were recording a band, the quality of the initial recording is super important.  A good recording and mix engineer will get good at capturing good recordings and performances right?  Take this concept and apply it to dance/techno electronic music production.  

Jacki came to the table with some solid ideas that didn't need a ton of work as far as mixing.  She did need help with song structure and some little things to give the tune extra bits of interesting content or "ear candy."

Develop your "finishing" skills.  If you don't finish what you start, that ensures your music will NEVER be heard by others.  If you've been doing this a while and have folders full of groovy beats and ideas that are not more than a minute long, you need to stop making new music and work on your finishing skills.  Finishing off a dance track is hard and daunting at first and can often seem boring and un-sexy.  

But this is where rubber meets the road. 

Once you finish a track you can work smarter the next time. It used to take me the better part of a full work week to complete a track from start to finish.  We're talking a good 25-30 hours spread over weeks and months.  

Now I spend 4-10 hours on a track.

Mixing is no longer super time consuming, it's a rather mundane task.  If you practice and develop your ear and how selective you are about sounds, there's really nothin fancy or complex to do in the mix down phase. 

Plugins Oh Boy!

One could get lost in the number of plugins available for mixing.  In this case, the track was done 100% in Ableton with no 3rd party plugins.  I love my UAD stuff but again this was a project we collaborated on so it's not helpful for me to try and teach Jacki stuff if she doesn't have the same plugins I do. 

Because she asked for 1/1 instruction, I worked with her files in Ableton Live using Live's native plugins.  

The version that went to Get Physical was exported straight from Ableton.

That said, I love my UAD plugins and they are very helpful for me, more so some years ago, a bit less so now.  Reason for that is that in this time, I've gotten better at picking sounds, be it from sample packs or VSTs.  

The better things sound in the creation phase the less heavy lifting needs to be done when mixing down.

Think about it like this.

If you were recording a band, the quality of the initial recording is super important.  A good recording and mix engineer will get good at capturing good recordings and performances right?  Take this concept and apply it to dance/techno electronic music production.  

Jacki came to the table with some solid ideas that didn't need a ton of work as far as mixing.  She did need help with song structure and some little things to give the tune extra bits of interesting content or "ear candy."

Last Tip and Final Thoughts

Mastering - there seems to be this idea that one must master their own music, so new producers who can barely make and mix a full dance track now task themselves with learning how to also deliver a punchy, dynamic, dance floor ready master.

Mastering is TOO MUCH to take on and I assure you, your "do it yourself" masters are going to come up short.

Some people out there are just really cheap - the costs of entry have never been cheaper so those producers hunting for samples and software for little to no cost will probably never shell out the $20-$40 to have a pro master their music.

To the reasonable people out there this is a bargain for what's delivered. If you have good music labels want to sign and release there's a good chance that the label will master your track with their preferred mastering guy or gal. 

It's true that mastering can't polish a turd, but mastering will make your tracks sound heads and shoulders better than your "self master."  

I highly recommend hiring a mastering engineer and going through the process.  This was you know what's up to you to fix in the mix and when you hand it off to them, they will take care of the fancy mid side EQ treatments, multi-bad compression, as well as delivering appropriate levels of loudness.

In closing Marionette is now out for sale.

If you need more thorough dance / techno production help and instruction have a look at my course.

News from the community and beyond

Check out what's happening within the ItsTheDJ community and the rest of the music world.

That's Melanie abobe from NJ who came for DJ lessons last Spring. She's been practicing away on her XDJ RX2 mk2, and just played her friends birthday party. Go Mel!

There's Dean Zlato from Sydney rocking out a Thursday night party.  Dean has been consistently playing events and is a rising star down under.  You can catch his weekly radio show on soundcloud.

Mir. Z. Ali rocking a room in Los Angeles.  He's made a name for himself and is a frequent performer in the LA underground scene. 

Big News Coming from Jacki-e of "A Darker Wave"

Jacki runs a weekly radio show called "A Darker Wave" - we've been connected on FB for some time as I made a guest appearance on her show about 3 some years ago.  It's been over a year in the works, but Jacki's first track to be professionally released is coming out on a major Berlin dance label - more on that shortly, but artwork is complete as are 2 fine remixes.  Here's Jacki on soundcloud.

Agent Orange's Witch Doktor Edit finds a home on Drumcode Radio

Ara aka Agent Orange stopped by the blog last year.   His recent edit of the classic Armand Van Helden track Witch Doktor has been getting support from Carl Cox and Adam Beyer.  Catch it in this week's drum code radio - the 2nd song in

news worth checking out

New documentary called "The Sound of Berlin" is out now.

New York City based House Icon, David Morales calls out Kanye West for stealing one of his bass-lines.

In 1988, Acid House swept Britain - NYTimes w/ the story.

Psyk discusses new alias "MAAN"

"DJ Samuel" aka Sam Paganini shares an early mixtape from the 1990.  Listen on SC.

Young rising star Avision / Anthony Cardinale shares production tips --"His tracks and remixes have been released by such esteemed labels as Intec, On Edge Society, InMotion LTD and Mark Broom's Beardman Records, and supported by the likes of Chris Liebing, Pan-Pot, Joseph Capriati, Ben Sims, Paco Osuna and many more."

And in other news Pioneer and Native Instruments have dropped new stuff.

Competition is always good.  Pioneers release isn't such a big deal - yet another controller in the XDJ line.  This time it's a less costly version of their XDJ-RX.

Native Instruments drops a ton of stuff w/ Traktor 3 coming soon along with updated S2 and S4 controllers.  The S4 comes in at $899 which is less that Pioneers DDJ 1000 and new XDJ RR.  Between these 3 offerings there's a good amount to choose from for the serious DJ who doesn't want to shell out big bucks.

The Traktor S4 MK3 looks interesting!  While full details are limited it looks like it can run as a stand alone mixer which is a win for anyone with a turntable and it can play from IOS with the Traktor DJ app.  However the app has collected dust for a while - to me the question is if you can run 4 tracks with the controller playing from the Traktor DJ app.

Im sure Traktor users are psyched for Traktor 3.0.  I'm more of a Maschine user so I'm hoping a big Maschine update is coming soon.

Finish Faster – Luca Agnelli “Voltumna” Analysis and Mock Arrangement in Ableton

Free Ableton Arrangement Template Based on Voltumna by Luca Agnelli

I listened to this tune in great detail, jotting notes down below and making a template to arrange from in Ableton. Shorten your production time when you study the masters and take the guesswork out of arranging.

The screenshot above isn't the real working session of the tune, but a template I made in Ableton using silent “dummy” midi &audio clips.

Studying other people’s music is a great way to improve your own productions. This way the process becomes internalized and you’re no longer guessing how to finish a track.

Today we’re taking a look at Luca Agnelli's Voltumna - the original mix. 

Here Are Some High Level Notes And Key Takeaways

The structure is quite typical.  Lots of 16 bar patterns, the main drop is at bar 145 which I've seen in other tracks. On a macro level there's 3 main sections.  Intro, middle section, and conclusion.  This is a great example of less is more.  I don't think there's too many individual sounds used in this tune but the ones picked are very good and well used.

Also a good example of varying these parts over time to increase energy and attention.  
Listen to the open hi hats, there are points where they shuffle through out the tune.  The chord stab sound also has varying energy levels through out.
What I've done in this file is label the different patterns when I heard changes.  For example the ride cymbals wash out with a hi pass filter.  

Bar 1-8  Track opens with a pounding kick, hi hats and percussion pattern. There’s a pumping airy sound you can tell is side chained to the kick.  The congas are mixed low in the mix, I almost didn’t hear them.  The other percussion part is more prominent 

Bar 9-16  More of the same only the kick is hi passed for a the last 2 beats of bar 16 and some delay is applied to the conga 

Bar 17-32 Another distorted “clank” kind of percussion sound is added, the kick is hi passed for 4 beats of bar 32 or the 16 part pattern  making it sound like it’s not there - the percussion is delayed.  At Bar 17 there are some very very subtle shakers in the mix panned a bit left.   

Bar 33-48 The melody or hook appears it’s the flute like sound, we also hear some rides which are hi passed as the pattern evolves.    The rides have a hi pass filter where the cut off is increased so as bar 49 approaches the rides “wash out.”   At Bar 41 the kick is severely hi passed meaning the lows are removed.  This is a little 8 bar break down

Bar 49-65  Here’s the first little drop where we hear kind of a vocal drone sound.  This gets used throughout the track typically every 8-16 bars.  When the energy of the song is highest it’s used more frequently The melody or hook is fully present in the mix.  At bar 57 the chords start fading in so by bar 65 both the hook and chords are at full volume.  There’s also a more open hi hat that starts at bar 49

Bar 57-89 Here’s a typical 32 bar section often found in many techno tracks.  At Bar 57 the chords fade in by bar 73 all sounds are present in the mix.  The riff or hook and the chords plus all the percussive parts.  So far this is where energy is highest in the tune.  At bar 73 we here some subtle variations to the chords and the hi hats.  

At Bar 85 the Kick is hi passed so it sounds like it’s not in the mix for 4 bars.

Bar 89-112 .  This is another drop in the tune where the melody has been removed and the chords are mostly faded out at the start of Bar 89. They fade back in and in this section the chords kinda get wild as do the hi hats.  At bar 112 the kicks are reversed for a subtle effect. 

Bar 113 - Here’s we’re moving towards the main break down of the track.   The melodic part that sounds like a flute returns at bar 121 the kick is hi passed.  The Rides come back in and “wash out” with the hi pass filter like we heard previously.  The drone sound repeats to give some sense of repeating patterns. 

Bar 129 - the chords come back and slowly fade in.  All percussion is out of the mix.  The kick is out for 8 bars.  

Bar 137, A hi passed kick returns along w/ some cymbals to build energy -  The “clank” percussion sound is there but low passed so it’s not super present in the mix.  Just enough to build  energy for the drop at Bar 145.   Bar 145 is a typical spot to end a break down. 

Bar 145 -160 Typical 16 bar pattern where all elements are playing together.  At the end of bar 160 the kick is hi passed for 2 beats.

Bar 161-176 - another 16 bar section.  At the beginning of the measure list to the hi hats they shuffle and have some repeated notes which vary the energy of the track.  The keys also go crazy for 8 bars and then wind down as bar 177 approaches.  Also the kick is hi passed for the last 4 beats of bar 176.

Bar 177 - the chords are removed as energy is removed from the song.  The melodic part fades out over the next 8 bars.

Bar 185 This is the DJ outtro or conclusion of the tune identical to the intro of the song.  Just kick, hats and percussion.

Bar 209 is it and the song is over. 

Dance Music Production Production Tip: Layering

I've always liked classic rock and have a new found appreciation for how it's produced and mixed.

In this post I'm referring to the use of layers.

My older cousins Mike and Tony are purely rock fans - they never "got" the DJ stuff I do. To them it's all noise, lol.

As they say an "Apple doesn't fall far from the tree" so their kids dig Led Zeppelin and what not.

After seeing my cousin Taylor make a few appearances w her Dads cover band I asked if she wanted to collaborate so long story short she picked Fleetwood Mac's Dreams to so an interpretation of.

With rock layering is used a ton - especially on vocals and guitars.

We ended up with a total of 5 vocal tracks - 2 takes for the lead and 3 background vocal tracks.

That ear candy and airy sparkle we seek to add in our own productions really isn't anything new and is an age old way of adding interesting content to a mix.

Listen to Stevie Nicks vocals in the original version of "Dreams" - the song itself is a master lesson in simplicity and less is more.

But the various vocal parts all work together in complimentary ways to sound big and lush.

Leading into the chorus there's some single word backing parts "stillness" "heartbeat"

Have a watch of this in-depth video where I play you all of the parts where I used layering.  Lead vocals, back ground vocals, rhythm and lead guitar.  And yes all that guitar works in this cover - it's still very much house.  

Stream "Dreams" by Eric Louis & Taylor Paige

Also available for purchase on places like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play

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