Psytrance is one of the most multifaceted forms of electronic dance music, so when you’re taking your first steps into the genre as a producer, it can be a little intimidating.
With an extra focus on melody, transitional phases, and full audio spectrums, there’s a lot to learn before you can craft psytrance tracks with confidence, but I’m going to break down some basics for you.
Discover What Psytrance You’re Into
Psytrance may be a subgenre itself, but as you’re probably aware, it branches off into even smaller subgenres including…
- Full-On – Also known as melodic psytrance, Full-On is all about high energy peaks, hard bass lines, and driving beats. With tempos measuring anywhere between 145-140BPM, it’s slightly faster than standard psytrance.
- Dark Psytrance – Often utilizing eerie samples – sometimes from horror films – 148BPM tempos, and textural bits of ear candy, dark psytrance creates a very energetic yet gloomy atmosphere.
- Progressive Psytrance – This subgenre is arguably the most popular due to its musicality. Prog psytrance typically involves much slower beats and groovier bass lines than other subgenres and the production style is cleaner. If you have an astute ear, you’ll also notice that it borrows heavily from standard trance and house music.
- Suomisaundi – Created in Finland, Suomisaundi has a much more low-key sound. It’s still incredibly fast, but it has a softer sonic footprint than most of the other subgenres.
- Zenonesque – The term “Zenonesque” refers to any psytrance that borrows the signature sonic elements of the record label, Zenon Records, founded by Sensient in 2003. Music in this subgenre is characterized by low tempos and deep, dark ambient sounds
- Psybient – Psybient music takes influence from a number of electronic styles. You’ll hear more beat variations, a lot of sound effects, and tons of atmospheric effects like delay and reverb.
Once you’ve established what you’re trying to make, soak in all the sonic information you can from your favorite artists. Don’t be afraid to mimic them at first; it’s all part of the learning process.
Kit Out Your Studio Space
As long as you’ve got a pair of headphones, some decent studio monitors, and a DAW, you can make your psytrance without ever picking up a physical instrument, but I’d recommend at least buying a hardware synth.
If you’re new to synthesis, the Korg Minilogue is the perfect place to start. If you don’t have headphones yet, I absolutely adore this beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro Studio Headphone. Sure, they’re a little pricey, but they’re unbeatable when it comes to bass-heavy production.
Source Some Psytrance Project Files
A project file is an audio file of a song you can download and open in your DAW. By studying the production techniques of other artists, you can glean how certain signature sounds of the genre are created.
Start with a Short Loop
Getting that first instrument tracked is arguably the hardest part of any composition. You’re faced with the terrible blankness of your own mind. Don’t worry, though; all creatives experience this.
My advice is to start with a bit of sound design, tweaking your kick drum until it’s just right to your ear. Next, simply copy and paste your four on the floor kick beat across, say, 8 bars.
Check what key your kick beat is so you know what notes you can use for the rest of the track, then use your synth or plugins to layer in the bass.
Don’t Let Bass Frequencies Overlap Your Kick
Now that you’re tracking bass, I should mention that the cardinal sin of any sort of dance music is to layer bass frequencies on top of your beats.
You need every kick to hit as hard as possible, but when you layer your bass line directly over the top, it occupies the same sonic space, diluting the overall impact of your rhythm section.
This isn’t always the case. If you have a bass sample that is tonally dissimilar to the kick drum, it won’t detract power from the beat.
Roll Off the Decay and Sustain
The rhythm section of a psytrance track needs to really jolt the listener, by which I mean it should be deep and visceral. There should be a physicality to it, and the best way to achieve this is to roll off the decay and sustain in your DAW.
Taking away most of these basic aspects of reverberation leaves your beats punchy and sharp, ensuring each one lands with as much ferocity as the last.
Use Sub Bass
Although overlapping bass frequencies on your kick is to be avoided, doubling up your bass line with a sub bass is essential. Just make sure you thin out your initial bass so it doesn’t steal the sub bass’ limelight.
Don’t Be Afraid of Repetition
Repetition is an integral part of the trance aspect of the music, so don’t worry about making huge changes from bar to bar. Let the music be hypnotic in its persistence.
Bring the Verb
Reverb plays a massive role in psytrance production, and not just for the melodic vocal and synth sounds, but on the toms, snares, and claps too.
Get Crazy with Samples and Effects
Now it’s time to bring the psychedelia to the forefront of the mix. Choose some interesting bleeps and bloops to decorate your beat. Use them sparingly to keep things interesting.
Filter sweeps are a fantastic effect to pair with risers on build-ups or even just to augment the core rhythm for a couple of bars. Filter sweeps have a very spacey, sci-fi sound to them, so they’re perfect for psytrance.
Abandon Traditional Structures
Forget about verse/chorus song structures. Psytrance should be more of a journey rather than a circuit. As the beat remains constant except for breaks, there’s enough similarity running throughout the track without having to revisit any one section.
There you have it, folks. This is a very basic crash course in making psytrance. It’s not exactly comprehensive, but these pointers should give you a pretty solid starting point to build from.
Do bear in mind, though, that psytrance is ripe with potential for sonic self-discovery.
It’s good to take advice and learn from others, but make sure you’re always experimenting with your own ideas too. It’s those aspects of composition that are going to help you stand out in the psytrance crowd.