Getting started

Before we start the production process, you’ll need a rough idea of what you’re creating and how to lay everything out. There’s a simple song form you can use, and while you don’t have to stick to this, it rarely fails: Intro - Verse - Build - Chorus - Interlude - Verse - Build - Chorus - Outro. As for what to fill into those sections, that’s exactly what we’re about to cover; the most important sections to nail down are the verses and choruses — after that, simply adapt pieces of the verse and chorus to create the intro, interlude and outro, and use tools like riser samples to help create the builds, along with processing techniques like rising filters and snare rolls. With this broad-stroke overview in place, it’s time to start creating the melody, chords, bass and drums to fill everything in!


To keep things simple (and actually stick to our 15 minute goal), let’s assume we’re writing an EDM track. Every EDM track needs a strong lead, right? So let’s start with the melody — there are countless ways to come up with a great melody (and plenty of plug-ins that promise to do it for you), but the simplest one is to sing it. No, you don’t have to be a great singer; you just have to sound out something that works. In fact, you might even be better off if you’re not a trained vocalist, because the entire reason behind this exercise is that it’s typically easier to sing a good melody than a bad one!

Feel and fumble your way through it as much as you need, then once you have something you feel is half decent, get it into your DAW as MIDI. From there, pull up Usynth DRIVE, one of UJAM’s free plugins (and specifically tailored to EDM), and search through some of the Leads presets. Decide whether you want it played by a soft or aggressive synth patch, as this will have a dramatic effect on the final sound — don’t worry, you can always change your mind about this later. If your lead sounds still doesn’t feel like it has quite the spice you’re looking for, try throwing our free Finisher MICRO on it to add some movement, color and depth!


DRIVE also has a number of flexible presets for creating chords; if you want something choppier like with future bass, Flutatious is a safe bet to start with if you go light on the Ambience and Finisher.. Generally, your choruses or higher energy sections need something a bit stronger and more distorted, or at least with more intensity — then you can use a modified version for the verses or reach for a different preset entirely with less harmonic content and complexity. The exact sounds you use matter far less than the actual chords you choose and the dramatic curve of the song as a whole.

To add some movement throughout each section, you can choose a few plugins and parameters to automate — filter cutoff is one of the more common options, but reverb wetness, tremolo depth and others are quite common (and all should be readily available in your DAW’s native plugins). This will also save you some time diving through different samples, since you’ll already be adding variation into your arrangement.


Once you’ve established the melody, designing a great bass sound isn’t a far jump. You can start with any of the bass sounds in DRIVE, or if you want a wider selection to start with, you can use a lead sound and pitch it down to your liking, tweaking the Dark/Bright knob to adjust the color as needed. Since our goal here is to have a finished track in just 15 minutes, it’s better to keep things simple and confine your bass line to root notes, playing the bottom notes of each chord. The fastest way to do this is by copying only the bottom notes from the chords MIDI and pasting this as new MIDI data onto your bass track (or tracks, if you’re layering multiple).

You can often build a full, dynamic bass with just 3 layers: a sub (which can be as simple as sine or triangle wave with a little saturation from your DAW’s native plugins), mid-bass (the main “meat” of the sound that determines the overall quality) and texture (a thin, high-passed top layer with healthy amounts of distortion, noise, reverb, etc.). For the choruses, use all 3; for the verses, drop out the texture layer and switch to a softer preset for the mid-bass. Is this a little too simple? Maybe ... but when your goal is speed, it’s necessary to take a couple shortcuts as long as the final result still sounds good!

Drums and effects

At this point, we would normally recommend using one of our excellent Beatmakers to help you get down a beat as quickly as possible ... but since we’re working entirely with free material, your best bet is to either 1) work purely with audio and drag samples directly onto audio tracks (you can find tons of great free drum sounds here), or 2) use some sort of drum machine plugin made by your DAW’s manufacturer. When in doubt, start with a simple 4-to-the-floor beat or place your kick on beats 1 and 3 and snare on beats 2 and 4. Both tend to work quite well depending on the genre you're going for, and the only thing you need to do from there is add in some high hats and some auxiliary percussion if desired. Add in some drum fills between phrases (which you can use samples for) and you're good to go!

For a quick mix and master, apply EQ, compression, saturation, delay, reverb, etc. as desired and compress and limit the master track. Given the extreme time constraints, this won't be the loudest, most perfect master ever, and that’s totally fine. If you got anywhere close to 15 minutes following this process, congratulations! You're well on your way to finishing and releasing a lot more music — and if you want a quick general guide to common audio effects, check out our article here.

Wrapping up

The purpose of this exercise isn't to create amazing music; it's to familiarize yourself with what it feels like to move quickly. You don't have the opportunity to second guess your decisions and rework the same section a thousand times. Make it a point to do this every now and then and you’ll find that ideas come to you almost effortlessly — because they have to.

Have fun, move fast and enjoy the process; you’ll be amazed at how much music you can create in a short span of time!


About the Author

Harry Lodes is a copywriter, marketing consultant and content writer for audio and ecommerce brands. He lives in the Philadelphia area, releasing Eastern/Western hybrid EDM under the artist name KAIRI hearkening back to his roots in Berklee College of Music.