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The Creative Electronic Music Producer

Book Review By Hugh Robjohns
Published July 2023

The Creative Electronic Music Producer

Most Sound On Sound readers probably have some level of interest in electronic music, so Thomas Brett’s book (published 2021 by Routledge/Focal Press, ISBN 978‑0‑367‑90079‑3) about creating and producing electronic music is likely to be of interest. The author is both a professional percussionist and an electronic music producer, having released several of his own recordings involving tuned percussion and electronic sounds, as well as publishing compositions specifically for marimba and vibraphone.

Naturally, there are practical aspects and advice‑a‑plenty too, but Brett’s approach is a cerebral one...

This is not a step‑by‑step ‘how‑to’ book of driving a DAW or synthesizer, though. Naturally, there are practical aspects and advice aplenty too, but Brett’s approach is a cerebral one — a deep philosophical analysis of the various creative inspirations, ideas and processes involved in producing electronic music, so for the reader this manuscript is definitely more of an intellectual exercise than a practical one.

The book’s 156‑pages are divided into eight main chapters, plus an introduction and an appendix, which lists a very eclectic selection of recommended listening material pertaining to each chapter’s contents. An introduction explains the author’s own inspirations, history and personal approach to electronic music creation and production, circling around the fundamental idea that producing electronic music is open‑ended; it’s a game of infinite possibilities of recording, sampling, synthesizing, sequencing and arranging, all with myriad options. Throughout the book Brett quotes a multitude of established electronic music composers, drawing wisdom from their comments, which are mostly derived from interviews and articles published across a wide range of sources (all meticulously listed in a References section of the book).

Chapter one examines the three supporting pillars of electronic music production (sampling, MIDI and the DAW), with a brief history of their developments and the resulting capability of working entirely ‘in the box’ should that be appropriate, culminating in a case study using Ableton Live. The following chapter moves on to production workflows and how software and hardware are integrated to form a ‘system’. Brett then considers how the producer steers the music direction while also being steered by the system itself as it inspires ideas through its own complexities. Brian Eno’s generative loop machines idea is used as a case study.

In the next chapter Brett describes how to start: the ideas of beginning anywhere and of improvising, of working quickly to capture ideas before overthinking them, and of using placeholder chords to provide a shape without having to delve into detail. The same broad concepts apply to the selection of sounds, which is the subject of chapter four, looking at the role of presets to access sounds quickly and to create palettes of complementary sounds. This leads on to the history of sampling systems, the whole idea of sound design, and of synthesized versus natural organic sounds.

Chapter five considers the role of YouTube for sharing work with peers and fans alike, and for its countless production tutorials and demonstrations, with a group of interesting case studies of how these can be used in your own music production processes. Next up is a chapter on rhythm programming, the anatomy of a groove, and Brett’s five rhythmic principles.

Chapter six looks at the role of disruption in moving the production process forward, re‑energising the interest, and to avoid things sounding predictable: how mistakes can be folded back in to the music as a modulation to add new interest and to spur new ideas. The same goes for re‑sampling sounds within a track to use in layers elsewhere.

The penultimate chapter explores editing as a production tool, adjusting phrasing, and creating repetitions and variations. Lastly, Brett delivers a chapter on arranging and mixing, and describes a variety of approaches and techniques, again with fascinating case studies. In his conclusion Brett lists six key production concepts: contrast, compensations, musical lines, surprise, efficiency, accumulations. And if you want them explained, you’ll need to read the book!

I am, fundamentally, an engineer with a very practical root to my own electronic music making, but Brett’s book has given me lots to think about in terms of my intellectual approach, my inspirations, and my processes. The many fascinating insights into the methodologies of the greats of electronic music production have made The Creative Electronic Music Producer an inspirational and motivating read.


Paperback (as reviewed) £31.99. eBook £22.39. Hardback £140.

Paperback (as reviewed) $42.95. eBook $30.06. Hardback $170.