How to Make MELODIC TECHNO like CamelPhat in 5 Easy Steps

how to make melodic techno

Looking to make your first Melodic Techno track? Then you’ve come to the right place!

Melodic Techno is a genre that has exploded in popularity recently, with artists like CamelPhat and Anyma absolutely tearing it up.

So in this guide, we won’t waste any of your time and we’ll get straight down to business. Specifically, we’ll look at:

  • setting up your project;
  • picking the right kick
  • writing a deep bassline

… and much more! Ready? Let’s dive in.

Want the full project file for this track? For free?

✅ Full Ableton Live project

✅ Every drum sample: kick layers, hi-hats, claps…

✅ Every melodic element: pads, leads…

✅ Every Serum preset used in this project

A Quick Word on Melodic Techno

Melodic techno is a subgenre of EDM.

It blends the driving beats of techno with the emotive melodies found in progressive house.

Melodic techno emerged in the early 2010s, shaped by the increasing use of melodic elements in techno and the popularity of deep house. Artists like Tale of Us, Stephan Bodzin, and Adriatique have been instrumental in defining the genre.

Some of the key components of Melodic Techno include:

  • Driving Beats: Steady, hypnotic rhythms form the backbone of melodic techno, creating a sense of momentum and flow.
  • Emotive Melodies: Unlike traditional techno, melodic techno emphasizes melody, using evolving synth lines to evoke emotion.
  • Atmospheric Elements: Ambient pads, reverb-drenched leads, and intricate soundscapes add depth to the music.
  • Complex Arrangements: Tracks often feature dynamic progressions, building tension and release through subtle modulation.

Step 1: Setting Up our Project (BPM, Structure…)

First, let’s lay the groundwork for our Melodic Techno track.

This means setting the correct BPM and various project settings.

For the BPM; I’m going to choose 125, which is a pretty standard tempo for melodic techno. For reference, Melodic Techno tends to be between 122 and 130 BPM.

Next, in Global Key I’m going to set my key to G. A lot of Melodic Techno tracks tend to be written in G minor, F minor, or F# minor. This is because the bass response in those keys is well reproduced on a subwoofer system.

Setting our Melodic Techno BPM and Global Key
Setting our Melodic Techno BPM and Global Key

Finally, I’m going to bring in a reference track. This is a step that many producers overlook but that will save you so much time.

The reference track I’m going to use is Eternity by ANNA. This will serve as a structure for our own track. There are three main reasons why you might use a reference track:

  • the mixdown quality;
  • the structure of each section in the track;
  • the types of sounds used in the track (bass, leads, drums, etc.)

In this case, we are simply using it to give us a structural reference.

The first thing I notice is that everything tends to happen in eight-bar sections. So I’m going to create some dummy MIDI clips with a few different colors and and naming conventions to denote different sections.

After analyzing our reference track, this is the structure we are going to start with:

The structure for our Melodic Techno track
The structure for our Melodic Techno track

Our Melodic Techno structure

In order, we have:

  • Intro: 8 bars
  • Intro (development): 8 bars. This is the intro with a few extra elements added.
  • Intro Hats: 8 bars. Still the intro, but with some hi-hats coming in.
  • Intro Snare: 8 bars. Still the intro, but with the snare.
  • Intro Lead: 16 bars. Still the intro, but our main lead has come in.
  • Breakdown: 3x 8 bars. Here’s where the vocal comes in.
  • Build: 2x 8 bars.
  • Drop: 4 sections of 8 bars (A, B, C and D).

There’s more going on later in the track, but that should be enough to get us started.

Now that we’ve set all of this up, we’re ready to get into the meat and potatoes of our track.

Step 2: Picking the Right Kick

In terms of samples, you could very well just find a great Melodic Techno kick from a Melodic Techno pack.

But for the sake of this tutorial, we are going to make our own by combining two kicks together.

First I’m going to use this one here:

Our first Melodic Techno kick

Next, I’m looking for something with a bit more of a solid click (i.e. transient) to it. I’ve then just taken the high-end click from that kick and combined it with our first:

Main kick + click layered on top
Main kick + click layered on top

And this is what we have now:

Our final Melodic Techno kick

Some additional things I’ve done here are:

  • shortening the sample
  • pitching it up a bit
  • adding a limiter to control the peak with the added click

That’s our kick done, now let’s move on to the bass.

Step 3: Laying Down a Smooth Bassline

The bass is the next super important part of Melodic Techno. Let’s first take a look at our main bass sound.

The main Melodic Techno bass sound

For our main bass sound, I’m going to pull in Serum and start with a preset. We’re then going to tweak it to make it our own.

Here, sound selection is everything. Don’t settle for something that doesn’t feel immediately right. Yes, we are going to tweak it – but you want something that’s already as close as possible.

Let’s start with this one:

Starting with a Serum prest for our Melodic Techno bass
Starting with a Serum prest for our Melodic Techno bass
Serum preset for Melodic Techno bass

Before tweaking any parameters, let’s draw in some notes.

We’re going to use our root note here which is G, with a classic 16th note pattern. Then, let’s add some variations. For example, every third 16th note up can be up one octave, on every first and third beat.

Finally, let’s add some fifths. Here’s the pattern I’m going to settle on for now:

Adding some octaves and fifths in the Ableton piano roll
Adding some octaves and fifths

This is what it sounds like now:

Writing a 16th note bassline for Melodic Techno

You don’t need to go too crazy with your bassline. A lot of the work will be done with automation.

Cool! Now let’s start tweaking our bass sound.

Tweaking our bass sound

First off, I’m going to map Macro 3 to:

This will allow me to control how much the bass “opens up” with Macro 3.

In the effects, I’m going to go to the filter and map the Velocity to a few parameters. The idea here is to introduce some variation between notes. The harder a note is played, the more a filter will open up.

Mapping the Velocity to various parameters of our Filter in Serum
Mapping the Velocity to various parameters of our Filter in Serum

In the Piano Roll, I adjusted the velocities of the notes to ramp up like so:

Creating velocity variation in our notes
Creating velocity variation in our notes

This is what it sounds like now:

Our Melodic Techno bassline with some modulation

Sick 😍

Want the full project file for this track? For free?

✅ Full Ableton Live project

✅ Every drum sample: kick layers, hi-hats, claps…

✅ Every melodic element: pads, leads…

✅ Every Serum preset used in this project

Finally, let’s add some sidechain compression.

For this, I’m actually going to duplicate the kick drum channel and call it SC for the sidechain. I’m going to shorten it to a little blip. This will serve as our sidechain trigger:

Using a shortened kick as our sidechain trigger

Let’s use Ableton’s Compressor for this. Enable “Sidechain”, and under “Audio From”, select “SC”. Set the frequency cutoff to around 900 Hz. Finally, play around with the threshold, attack and release until you get something you like. These are the settings I settled on:

Sidechain compression settings
Sidechain compression settings
Adding some sidechain compression to our bass

Adding a mid-bass

Now that our main bass is dialed in, let’s fluff up the mid-range.

First, let’s duplicate the bass channel and call it “Mid Bass”.

This time, we’re going to find a completely different preset to start from:

Adding a mid-bass

Right now, the pattern is an exact copy of our main bass. So let’s deactivate some notes to create a bit more variation:

Our mid-bass Melodic Techno pattern
Our mid-bass Melodic Techno pattern

To deactivate or reactivate a note, simply select it and press “0”.

Finally, let’s low-cut this mid-bass so it doesn’t clash with our main bass:

Low-cutting our mid-bass

Finally, I’ve brought down the delay and reverb inside of Serum and added some more stereo widening. Here’s what everything sounds like now:

Our kick and 2 basses altogether

Sounding nice! You can hear that when it loops over, I’ve removed a lot of the mid-bass notes. That’s because we are going to add some sort of lead right there later on.

Next up, let’s move on to more melodic elements.

Step 4: Adding Pads and Leads

The spacey pad

To create that spacey feeling in Melodic Techno, we are going to add some atmosphere. Here, you want to find some sort of understated pad sound. This is what I’m starting with:

Adding an atmospheric pad

For the notes, I’m going to play a G minor chord. Next up, I’m going to do a bit of processing, including:

  • an Auto Filter set to low-pass;
  • an EQ8 to remove some low-end;
  • an instance of the same sidechain we used for the bass;
  • some “enveloping” on the Auto Filter to add movement.
Adding movement with “Envelope”.

I’ve also added a touch of reverb because reverb makes everything beautiful 😁

Here’s what we’ve got now:

Our pad atmosphere in context

You’ll notice that I’m bringing one note down, making the chord a sus2 chord. This is a really common technique in Melodic Techno to create that “spooky” feeling.

You can always add more modulation, for example on the wavetable position or the cutoff of a filter. But for now, let’s move on to the lead.

The main Melodic Techno lead

With leads in Melodic Techno, the standard is to get an analog-sounding, spacey type of sound.

We’re going to start with a Serum preset. But we’re going to do quite a bit more work here to make it our own.

Here’s the sound and melody we’re going to start with:

Adding a lead to our Melodic Techno arrangement

Here, it’s just a question of experimenting with different notes and seeing what feels right. By the way, you can check out this guide for a refresher on scales in EDM.

Once you’ve settled on a melody, start switching out the main wavetable.

You can also experiment with moving the wavetable position. Keep doing this process until you find something that feels right.

Moving the wavetable position to get different sounds
Moving the wavetable position to get a different sound

A trick you can use to beef up your lead is FM modulation. Here, I’ve loaded a sine wave in OSC 2 and turned on “FM FROM OSC B” in our first oscillator:

Adding some FM modulation to our lead
Adding some FM modulation to our lead

Play with the amount until you get the right level of crunch.

Next up, load up the usual suspects:

  • EQ8 to remove the low-end;
  • some OTT to make our lead poke through the mix;
  • sidechain compression

Finally, we also want to add some modulation to make things more interesting. The most obvious place to start is to modulate the frequency cutoff of the filter inside Serum:

Controlling the frequency cutoff of our lead

Layering up our Melodic Techno lead

Right now, our lead sounds great. But you know what could make it even greater? Layers 😍

If you’re new to layering, check out this video on our YouTube channel:

How to layer the smart way

To keep things simple, duplicate your lead track. Pitch the melody up one octave, then remove some of the processing (like OTT and EQing) and start browsing through different Serum patches.

Here’s the layer I settled on, mixed in with the rest:

Adding a layer to our Melodic Techno lead

I’ve added quite a bit of noise and overdrive to this layer to “dirty” things up.

Lastly, let’s switch up some notes during the second part of the loop.

Switching up our melody
Switching up our melody

Here’s what it sounds like:

Adding variation to our main lead melody

Sounding pretty sick!

So we’ve focused a lot on our melodic elements up to now. But to wrap things up, let’s return to our drums 🥁

Step 5: Filling out the Drums with Hi-Hats

So let’s add a few more drum elements.

A huge thing in Melodic Techno is those constant 16th-note hi-hats, with the offbeat hit emphasized.

First, I’m going to add this loop:

Kick and hats

Next up, I’m going to open Simpler and drag in a hat sample. I’m going to draw in 16th notes on C3 (which is the original pitch of our sample):

Adding an additional MIDI hi-hats layer

Next, let’s add a bit of velocity variation directly in the Piano Roll.

Adding velocity variation to our second hi-hats

When you add the two layers of hats, one trick you can do is to nudge them slightly so they don’t hit at the same time.

This just creates a little more space for each of those hat layers in the mix:

Delaying our loop layer for Melodic Techno
Delaying our loop layer

We can also add a very, very subtle amount of side chain on both of these layers. This is to make sure the kick is always front and center. Finally, pan one layer slightly left and the other slightly right to add some width:

Our two hi-hat loops in the context of the full mix

Nice! We’ve now got a very solid foundation to build the rest of our track out 😊

Want the full project file for this track? For free?

✅ Full Ableton Live project

✅ Every drum sample: kick layers, hi-hats, claps…

✅ Every melodic element: pads, leads…

✅ Every Serum preset used in this project

Some Last Tips on How to Make Melodic Techno

There are of course many more things we need to add to make this a fully formed Melodic Techno track. Snares, claps, impacts, fleshing out the arrangement, etc. However, these main elements should give you enough to get started.

If you want to dive deeper, the best at this stage is to use your reference track. Write what happens and what changes in each section. Then replicate that in your own track.

Got any questions? Anything unclear? Drop us a line over at [email protected]

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