Electronic dance music (EDM) is becoming an increasingly popular form of music in club environments all over the world. In the last few years, the evolution of electronic dance music has been one of the biggest developments in the DJ and club scenes. It’s also been an engine for many clubs to experiment with new genres and ‘in your face’ sounds to appeal to new generations of clubbers. Now, electronic dance music equipment has improved so much that even the most die hard techno fan can easily mix up his or her songs on a set of CD turntables or even a computer, with the proper software and mixer.
The evolution of electronic dance music equipment has been both revolutionary and radicalizing. In the beginning, it consisted mainly of simple audio recording devices that allowed the studio DJ to feed tracks to speakers and convert them into a live sound environment, often using a mono tone sound stream. Over time, more advanced digital audio workstation (DAW) products have come onto the market. These pieces of software allow a studio DJ to easily create complex digital audio tracks and edit and mix them with ease. Many DJs have also learned how to use the effects and sound fusing capabilities of some of the more expensive electronic dance music equipment on the market. This fusing of high end electronic dance music equipment with studio recordings has allowed DJs to collaborate with their home recording studio setup and put together their own personal musical universe inside their recording space.
While the evolution of electronic music equipment has enabled producers to expand their studio practice beyond the boundaries of traditional mono tape and reel recordings, there are still some limitations inherent in the process. For example, a typical CD full of digital audio tracks will lack the necessary headroom to properly vocalize or instrument solo tracks with great feeling and clarity. Even though vocals are usually the last track on a CD before the tracklist, most producers still tend to mix the vocals as close to the speakers as possible, sometimes in’ing the audience as well. The result is often dull, lifeless vocals and poor performances by the performers.
Stereo imaging and panning are two additional methods of optimizing the stereo image on a CD. Stereo imaging is a method by which the producer pans one audio channel (usually the left or right) of the stereo image during playback in order to generate an “orientation” to the music produced that is consistent with the musical content. Panning is a more mechanical process, which uses the + and – buttons on a mixer to adjust the tilt of the pan. It can be performed on a mono track or a CD-ROM. The advantage of this panning technique is that it can be done in real time without having to wait for the master to sync the new stereo image.
Some producers still argue that the vocals on a hip hop record aren’t really beats at all because no bass is present. This is absolutely true. The production tools available to producers these days are so advanced that they allow you to make some very sophisticated audio with just a few knobs. Of course, the lack of bass can make for some very heavy and droning productions, but the end result is always the same – a great electronic dance track! Unfortunately, there’s no way to make a hip-hop track “solo”. This is another example of why a producer should never “live in the studio” and still optimize the stereo mix.
Another common complaint about electronic music production and mixing are the fact that the sounds “seem” digital rather than organic. The digital output from a compressor or other digital effects unit may be very subtle, but it often results in sounds that don’t really have a natural feel to them. The best way to combat this is to tweak your sound production tools until you’re able to get the sound you want.
Finally, another issue that has a lot to do with the live vocalist’s ability to perform on-air is the perception that a live vocalist requires more rehearsal time. The reality is that most radio hosts get their start on radio shows that feature guests sing into a microphone. That said, radio hosts have spent years perfecting their technical skills and getting the right voice qualities and body language to perform on-air. Vocalists don’t have nearly as much practice time as radio hosts. You’ll need to get out there and practice, but you can reduce your rehearsal time by working with a vocal coach or vocalist who works closely with a band or a DJ.
If you’re serious about breaking into the electronic dance music industry as a vocalist, don’t listen to any reviews of vocal gear. You need professional equipment to create the sounds that you need to get noticed. If you feel like your voice isn’t good enough for radio, consider recording some tracks and auditioning to perform with an ensemble. You might find that you have a unique sound that is extremely well suited to the electronic music production industry and the vocalist positions available there. Be prepared to take a few auditions before you feel like you’re ready to move forward in this business.