The Foundation For Detroit-Style Techno

Techno music in America got it’s start in Detroit – but how can you create that sound in your tracks? The incredible DJ Stryke walks us through the very foundation of this style of music in Electronic Music Production:

Adan: In Nashville, 90% of the songs start with just a guitar/vocal.

But in a track like this, which doesn’t have any guitar or vocals, how do you know where to start? What’s the foundation for creating this style of track?

Greg: There are so many different styles of techno and electronic music. And more specifically, American techno was invented in the United States in Detroit – a few guys up there got together and basically created an entirely brand new form of American music.

So that has been and continues to play a really huge role in what I do.

For this track, it started with the arpeggio.

I wanted to go for a very Detroit-style feel, and I can do that with the arpeggio. I’ll show you how I made the sound from scratch, which is my favorite way to create sounds.

I’ll be using Pro Tools and a soft synth, but you can do this with any subtractive synth – hardware or software.

I started with a basic wave form, I took a square pulse.

[wc_box color=”primary” text_align=”left”][wc_heading type=”h1″ title=”Step one – fire up your square pulse.” text_align=”left”][/wc_box]

I’ll use step time to actually put this part together.

Adan: When you say step time, what does that mean?

Greg: To start, you pull up your EVENT OPERATION and pull up your STEP INPUT window.


Step input allows you to record just one note at a time. It’s a great way to create arpeggios without having to play them at full speed. I’ll just play in whichever key I’m in, which in this case is G minor.

I’ll just start creating, just pressing notes. You can select the length of the notes, which in this case is 16th notes. This will give us a nice faster paced arpeggio.

Typically I want my MIDI velocity set all the way up, so push it up to 127, I can always automate that or bring it down later if I need to.

At this point, any key I press on my midi controller, I’m going to be inputting a 16th note to that, so I might go ahead and start doing a series,  and again this is going to be in G minor.

We don’t need to do this for the entire track, just a few series will do.

There are times that I’ll do this in real time, but typically I like the results that I get with this method.

Adan: So while you’re pulling that up, let me encourage you and kick open XPand2! or whatever software synth that you have that has a subtractive synthesizer, load up a sound, and start using step input to create your own arpeggios. This method is going to give you awesome results, as it clearly has in this track.

MIDIGreg: I basically randomly entered a few notes in the correct key, typically I’ll go for 16 bars or until I feel like I may have something good to work with. I might trim it down, loop only a section of it, or use the entire thing.

So that is how I start building arpeggios. Again, there are times I’ll do it real time because I do play the keys, but when I’m going for a very robotic, Detroit-style track, I’ll go with this form of entering it in.

You can even start to layer these with slightly detuned tracks, which we’ve done here. This gives it a thicker sound.

So there you have it – that’s the foundation of this track and works well for Detroit-style techno music.

You can learn even more amazing tips for electronic music production here!

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