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The EMU Emulator

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The EMU Emulator was widely used by some big synth pop groups, but also had some characteristic timbral qualities and stock samples that were used by many EDM producers. Due to its memory storage capacity, many producers had to find ways to make the most out of its limited capacity.

The drum machine was mostly invented to accompany organists, but eventually made its way into the big recording studios. One such machine was the Linn LM-1 and later the LinnDrum. It featured quite prominently on many ‘80s pop hits. The Roland Corporation released its version of a drum machine called the TR-808, to compete with the LM-1, but didn’t have as much success in the big studios.  Its big breakthrough came when hip-hop and early house producers adopted it. 

The Roland TR-808 and its later brother the TR-909 were the go to drum machines for electronic dance music producers and are still used today. In a twist of irony, the machines have also garnered enough underground beat street cred from guys like Jeff Mills that various rock bands like Radiohead have been using them in big studios, as well. 

The Model

The home studio has now become the domain for these production methods and machines that were once restricted to the big studios or lucky early EDM producers. More and more pieces of cherished studio equipment and synthesizers used as sonic layering on big records have become accessible to the home producer. Many studios have auctioned their classic gear off and home production enthusiasts have jumped on the opportunity to buy this equipment. But for most home-based studio producers this classic equipment is still too expensive. So many music software companies have jumped on the opportunity to create plug-in software that emulates not only the professional hi-fidelity production equipment of the big studios, but also the classic instruments and equipment that were the foundations of particular EDM sounds. 

There are some purists in both the classic recording and classic EDM realms that swear by their equipment, while many home-based EDM producers only use software. Although, there are also EDM producers like Deadmau5 who started writing tracks mostly with software, but over a few years have amassed a large collection of classic analogue and digital equipment with the money made from their music gaining popularity.

There are many that may claim that home record production has been a factor in the demise of the large-scale studio. The musical realm of EDM production seems to have been taking the brunt of much of this argument. As much as pop music has been classified as EDM it is hard to ignore how pop got here and whether this EDM pop model should be compared to the rock pop model. 

It may be worthwhile to assess how the process of producing recorded music is related to the purpose of its playback. Most modern rock music recordings adhere to the hi-fidelity model, or at least they used to. Records or CDs were produced in such a way that you could listen to them on the best stereo system possible and recreate that experience. EDM, however, was and still is produced to be played back on a large-scale sound system to a crowd on a dancefloor. 

Most EDM tracks are not always considered songs, but are rather pieces in the larger durational puzzle of the mix. Each EDM track has been mixed and mastered specifically to maximize its sonic diffusion on a dancefloor. It may be more compressed to drive the loudness energy. For many EDM producers, the goal is to make the next big hit for the dancefloor. This is in contrast to the pop rock sales model of radio play and album sales. But pop music has since adopted the production methods and techniques of EDM.  The music production techniques once used by bedroom EDM producers for making dancefloor destined tunes have been appropriated for radio play and album sales. Bedroom producers such as Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and David Guetta are now in the seats that were once filled by the likes of Quincy Jones. 

The Future of EDM Production

For EDM it has been easier to quickly crank out tunes for the dancefloor. Now it seems that this model is being used to quickly crank out tunes for the radio or iTunes, as well. It’s also interpreted as the same kind of pop music of the past. However, as fast as it was to crank out singles in the past for EDM, the purpose behind the creation of those tracks was very different.  As recorded music is product, the oldest consumers of underground EDM were most likely DJs and collectors. When record labels branded many bigger-name EDM acts as electronica in the ‘90s, many aspects of the pop rock and EDM production models clashed. 

It doesn’t seem appropriate to put today’s EDM production driven music in the same camp as music that was produced to serve a very different sonic purpose. It becomes the comparison of one type of product to another. 

The history of EDM has largely been based on independent underground production, but much pop music production has now also become independent in nature, too. The medium of music recording is not very old and most people may only be familiar with the recorded music of the later 20th and early 21st centuries.  Many musical opinions are solely based on this relatively young medium.  A medium that has been used to capture performances, deliver sonic experiences from a home stereo, internalize a solo headphones listener, and move bodies on a dancefloor. 

Indeed, the medium of recorded music is at a crossroads.  It has become too expensive for large scale recording studios to stay open with more opportunities opening for the independent producer. Digital audio workstation software like ProTools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Sonar has enabled the home producer to crank out the tunes.  However, with independent EDM production, many tracks will likely be missed in a sea of abundance.  The recorded medium of music is destined for change. The purpose behind the medium is in flux. There are those that long for it to remain the same, just as there are fans of vinyl today, but a different medium of musical expression and production is certainly just around the corner.

Hailing from Vancouver BC, Chris is a full-time music nerd. His music research interests are fuelled from his lifetime addiction to all things related to music and tech. In his quest for experience, he received his B.Mus. in Jazz and is currently finishing his MFA in interdisciplinary art / electroacoustic music at Simon Fraser University.

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