Although I like most electronic genres – including Dubstep – there's also a lot of Dubstep I do not like. I'm calling that kind of Dubstep "Hack'n'Slay", and it's usually the style of youngsters fresh to the genre. I feel like they're overdoing the style of mixing synthesizers. I imagine them producing their music like so: "oh I love this, lets put that distortion noise in here, oh look at this drop, aw what a nice break down, now add some synth screams" etc. etc. After all, you end up having a track created of nothing but different sound effects, just like someone had his synthesizer running and then hack'n'slayed the buttons on his control panel.
When you understand a music track as a puzzle, they created a row of puzzle pieces that do not fit together, so they had to cram it together and you have broken edges and weird transitions. The picture in total is not visible whatsoever. When making electronic music, you have so many possibilities compared to a "normal" instrument, and that is where the actual difficulty lies in. Opposed to finding a melody, you also have to set up a whole sound concept, a composition that reveals the big picture when you're done.
Speaking of pictures, there is another thing I want to touch on. I've had ongoing arguments with a lot of people whether producers should even be called artists. The typical argument I hear is that it does not require any skills in particular to press a spacebar or right click, compared to the talent needed to play the piano or a violin etc. A good friend of mine especially got upset about how people are worshipping deadmau5 concerts, when – according to her – he doesn't do anything other than just queueing songs and then jump around on stage. I used to respond that he actually mixes the tunes. It is true that many of his performances are pre-produced and he is basically playing stuff that is already done. Nevertheless, he is using the crossfaders for the transitions, he loops certain things and I think he also adapts the concert depending on how the crowd is going. But then again, all of that is heavily computer aided, so it is hard to mess up the flow of a song if the computer loops at the perfect spot for you with just one press on that button.
So what exactly is the difficulty when it comes to making electronic music? Is it really that simple so that basically everyone can make it? I think, the biggest aha-effect strikes when you try it out yourself. Because what you do is open up a program like FL studio for example. The good thing about FL studio is that there is a (almost) fully featured free demo version available. The only smart limitation is that you cannot load a song. You can save your masterpieces, but you can't export or load them. Hence you can try out everything, play around, mix cool stuff, but if you want to use it like a normal user, you have to buy it, which is super fair in my opinion. But back to the point, you open up a program like FL studio, and then it literally strikes you where the difficulty is hidden: where to even start? Basically, you have a blank project open. Not a single note is defined, no instruments, no given meter, nothing at all. Try to make just one bass line, and you will understand why you need experience with that program.
Also, when starting a new project, that is the time where the real creativity is required. Have you ever wondered how producers come up with their melodies? I mean, there is only a given number of chords, notes, harmonies etc. Still, they often manage to find a melody that is unique yet good (it is obviously simple to come up with something unique if you apply randomness, but that usually doesn't sound that great). So by the freedom of unlimited possibilities as I mentioned beforehand, producers also are bound to know where they want to end up finally.
I opened up that demo version of FL studio, and my first thought when I saw the interface was "alright then, how does this even work, where to start?" This is where all the specific knowledge is required, the basics like how to add a bass line, a drum track, how to import vocals, where are the equalizers, how to add and configure sound effects, etc. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion, that producers of electronic music are more like painters. The difficult part is not to hang the picture from the wall and attending exhibitions as artist; putting a nail in the wall and hanging a picture on that nail is a task basically anyone could learn, such as pressing spacebar or syncing beats with heavily computer aided virtual decks is. The difficult part is how to combine all the possible elements those studios offer to create a unique and amazing sound experience that people recognize as music, much like an artist starts with a white canvas every time he begins a new painting and has to create an image that looks appealing and means something to some people other than himself. And that is where professionals differ from rookies. Looking at deadmau5, I am sure he always has a concept of how his tracks shall sound in the end. That doesn't mean he won't test around or decides for other sounds during the creative process, but I am sure he got the idea of how it should sound before he even starts to turn the digital knobs. Of course he also has a lot of technical know-how, which he sometimes shows of in his streams, for example when talking about how you should split up your music into different tracks so you can put different compressors on the tracks, because otherwise the bass drum compressor squashes all sounds etc. That's actually a thing I already did wrong when I derped around in music maker software.
Lastly, I want to highlight something that I always mention when I talk to other people about what impresses me most about Joel and his professionality: if you tune in during one of his streams, there is most likely playing some amazing music, a loop of chords or a sound pattern or a melody of a song that is yet to be released or sadly never will be finished at all. The special thing about him is that he's doing a lot of stuff with modular systems, i. e. he actually uses hardware and not software to generate the audio signals and only defines the notes on the PC. The usage of hardware requires a lot of knowledge, since all the modules have to be manually wired up in the correct manner, and their knob, slider and switch settings are not chosen from a predefined set, but you have to set them to the right values by standing up and going around. So when you always join the stream in the middle of the night and everything is set up already, you start to think "ah, he got his setup perfected, and know it's all about turning the right knobs a few degrees and that's it". That opinion is based on what you see in the middle of a stream. But then you go to YouTube and watch how some streams start: you see Joel in his studio, and the first thing he does is grab all the wires that are plugged into his modular walls, and he pulls them out and puts the cables back into his cable box. That is where you realize he not just has figured out a good setup, but he actually knows what he's doing. That sounds trivial, but if you have seen those modular things with their 10 in- and 16 outputs, all doing something different, then you know what I mean. That is some impressive stuff, like there is just one sound playing, and then he gets up, goes to that one module out of 12 in his studio, turning the one knob out of the 1200 in his studio, and that sound changes – that is "The Art of Making Electronic Music" to me.