LMMS: A Complete Guide to Dance Music Production

4 (1 reviews total)
By David Earl
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  1. 1. Gearing Up: A Preflight Checklist

About this book

You’ve scoured the forums, watched the tutorial videos, and done everything you can to learn the secrets of the art of making dance music. Everyone is saying something different about how to get into producing your own projects. This book will help connect the dots and lay a solid foundation of knowledge so you can get beats banging out of LMMS.

This book will show you the ins and outs of making Dance music with LMMS. Do you make house, trance, techno or down-tempo? After this book you’ll be able to make a song that stands out from the masses, using time honoured tricks of the trade. From inception to conception, this book will help give you a workflow to channel your muse using LMMS.

Readers will be given a brief lesson on the best of dance music history, then learn how to recreate it using the Open Source digital workstation - LMMS. The reader will be guided through creating a project from start to finish. By the end of this book, the reader will know how to create a full dance track in LMMS and make it ready for distribution.

Along the way, readers will take short stops into music theory, song arranging, recording, and other related information to give them a good foundation for making dance music with depth as well as power.

Reading LMMS: A Complete Guide to Dance Music Production will not just teach the reader how to use LMMS, but also how good dance music is crafted. The reader will not just be taught how to make decisions in LMMS, but when and why. After devouring this book, the reader should be able to focus on his or her creativity, with LMMS as a co-conspirator in the process of making great dance music.

Publication date:
September 2012


Your computer is the control center of your studio. A computer will impact not only how music is made but also how it is performed. This means major decisions like desktop or laptop, to minor decisions such as deciding which audio effects will save your computer's processor from working too hard.

If you are using a desktop or laptop, you need a Windows or Linux compatible PC. An Apple Mac will also work for LMMS. LMMS is efficient and can run on all kinds of computers. The basic specifications are: 1 GHz processor with at least 512 megabyte of RAM

LMMS plays nicely with older CPUs and is very efficient. But it's still ambitious to think that you are going to rock the house with a single core processor and roughly half a gigabyte of RAM. You'll hit the wall pretty quickly when using software instruments and effects.

A better bet would be a multi-core computer with at least 2 gigabytes of RAM. Multiple processors means more plugins and tracks. You also need enough RAM for the operating system as well as the application you are running. In the electronic music world, more CPU power and RAM means more tracks, more instruments, and speedier handling inside LMMS, as well as your other applications.

The operating system you choose will be determined by your own personal preference, and what other applications you wish to run on your computer. LMMS works on the following:

Stability is key when making electronic music. The more stable your system is, the more work you'll get done. If you don't plan to perform with LMMS, get yourself a desktop. If you need portability for performance or creating music on the go, a laptop would be the better fit. Windows and Linux seem to be the most stable operating systems to run LMMS on as far as operating systems are concerned. The OS X version is a port of 4.1.0, at the time of writing this book and is slightly less stable.

Now this could be considered 'optional', but as a general rule, you should always have an external drive for music projects. Hard drives are inexpensive these days and will ensure that your internal hard drive, whose responsibility is to run your operating system, remains less cluttered and fragmented from electronic music production.

Your external hard drive should meet these optimal specifications:

Your external hard drive needs to spin fast so that it can play many samples and audio files concurrently. Having an external drive also means easier transport if you'd like to take your sessions to other studios.

LMMS works with any active audio output that your computer has. It can use a headphone output or a more expensive external audio peripheral that hooks up to speakers.

If you would like to use a piano keyboard controller to enter notes into LMMS, there are many manufacturers that have products on the market. Simply install the appropriate driver that comes with the MIDI controller and LMMS will be able to see the device.


LMMS installers can be downloaded from the following link:


For those of us who would like to try LMMS on OS X:

The OS X version is currently 4.1.0 and is fairly stable. It is a port, however, and is not available directly from the folks at lmms.sourceforge.net. Use at your own risk!

To install LMMS, simply drag the downloaded application to your applications folder.


The LMMS application is fairly self-contained, but there are many pre-defined areas that LMMS looks to for its resources.

When we open up LMMS for the first time, we can see where LMMS is looking for its resources by opening the Edit menu and selecting Settings, followed by clicking on the folder icon on the left-hand side of the menu:

LMMS resources or where's my stuff?

This will show us where LMMS is currently pointing to for its resources.

Here's where all those paths are looking:

With the exception of the WORKING directory, we can use all of the other directories in their current locations to get up and running.

As for that WORKING directory, we should point that to our shiny new external drive we have. This is the best place to have all of our projects running. Again, please get an external drive!


We need to be diligent, almost religious, about file management. File management is what allows us to work on projects over time and not have them suddenly stop playing back right. We aren't all going to be able to write the hit dance song of the century in one night, so we need to be sure that files are named properly and are headed in the right direction when we save. The WORKING directory is a nice start, but we need to start thinking about projects that might have several revisions.

It's a good idea, when starting a song, to immediately go to the file menu and choose Save As. Here's what will happen if we don't: we work on the best song we've ever created and suddenly, inexplicably the program crashes and our work will be destroyed never to be recovered. It's happened to the best of us. If you do not save immediately, your song is only an 'I-forgot-to-plug-the-power-supply-into-my-laptop' away from oblivion.

When saving your project, there are three directories that should pop up when we save, as you can see here:

File management—keeping it together

These are three very important folders. When we have instruments or effects that have been custom-tweaked, their settings are saved in the presets directory. These settings will then be available to you in all future projects. This is how to build a palate of sounds that give our songs a specific and unique signature.

The path shown in the previous image shows the default directory on the internal drive. To use a folder on an external drive, simply create the folder on the external drive and drag the folder into the left panel of the File Save dialog box.

When we collect samples, we will toss them in the samples folder. They will also be available in our future projects in an easily accessible side bar.


Working with versions is simple. It's mostly about naming your files correctly and using subfolders. Let's save a project as First_Time_Out_v1:


When sharing a project with others, we need to keep a few things in mind:

LMMS projects will save preset data in them for a specific project, but our samples that we usually have access to will not necessarily be there. There are a couple of easy fixes for the samples and presets, but the VST plugins may be a bit more difficult.

Remember that external drive we got? The one that is so easily portable?

If this is where our WORKING directory is, we can simply take our drive to the other studio and re-point the settings window of the other studio's LMMS application to our drive while we are there.

Now we have access to all of our presets and samples again. Nice, huh?

Make sure that when leaving, the old settings are restored. It can freak a studio owner out if all of a sudden their computer is trying to find another drive for their resources. Jot a note down or take a screenshot of where their WORKING directory is located before pointing to another drive. Change the settings back before leaving. Unless playing a practical joke, in which case you are on your own.

VSTi and VST plugins are usually third-party plugins that aren't necessarily free. We may not be able to copy the VST plugins to the other studio's drive and use them. If they are freeware, we're ok. If not, the plugins may not open at all and cause havoc at the other studio. Be sure to check and see which plugins are freeware and which ones aren't. We can always write the effect to the audio of the tracks that have VST plugins on them. This way the audio will play back with the effect on someone else's LMMS application. To accomplish this, hit the red button on the track you need to export, as you can see in the following image:

Playing sessions at other studios

Then go to the File menu, and choose Export....

Now that the track alone will be saved as an audio file, we can bring this file back into our project and play it on a sample track. That should solve any compatibility issues between studios (we should also save a version of this called First_Time_Out_v5_StudioVisit to keep our versions straight).


If you are using Windows, you will likely need to download a driver for the controller:


Microphones come in all shapes and sizes as well as price points. A microphone is essentially the opposite of a speaker. A speaker pushes and pulls on air, making waves that tickle our ears. A microphone receives sound and converts it to an electrical wave that can be amplified and can be sent into a computer, audio mixer, or public address system.

Microphones come in two major categories, with a couple of odd exceptions here and there.


When you need to get an audio signal out of your computer to some speakers, or get some sound from the outside world into your computer, you need an audio interface.

All computers these days have audio interfaces built into them. They are usually enough to get the job done for most music-making endeavors. To reduce noise, get a clearer sound, and get recorded music to sound nice and open and clear, an external audio interface is usually a good idea. Audio interfaces connect to a computer via USB, Firewire, or have a card in the computer with a cable that hooks into an external box. Here's an example of an external USB/Firewire interface:

A brief introduction to sound cards and audio interfaces

On this particular interface, we have input-level trim knobs on the left, speaker volume, and headphone volume.

On the right, there are indicator lights that show us the audio's volume coming in and out of the device. This interface has a pretty nice meter. It has a green area lit up where the audio is at a comfy volume. The yellow area tells us the volume is getting close to peaking and the red area is the audio peak. We don't want audio to peak on input because it will distort. We also don't want it to peak the output, because it will distort as well.

An external audio interface like this gives us a lot of information. If you are using an internal soundcard that came with your computer, you are going to have to rely on the meters in the software you are using and your ears to tell you whether your volume is too loud or not.


When setting up our system, we'll want to start populating our hard drive with samples, loops, and other audio files to use in songs. Many electronic artists still get caught using samples that haven't been cleared. By cleared, I mean that when you sample a CD, record, mp3, or any other audio file from an artist, you need to ask permission to use it.

Heck, just the act of asking may get you noticed by the artists you are pulling from, right? It's worth a try, I guess. Most of the time you get a cold shoulder, though, so I generally advise against it.

There are many, many artists out there that are trying to get their music remixed. I suggest using Google to look up current remixing competitions on the web. I've seen remix contests of everyone from Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Sasha, to Peter Gabriel, Ok GO, and Radiohead. Here are some links to get you started:

Indaba music (http://www.indabamusic.com/home) is relatively new on the scene, but has a regularly awesome set of artists who are willing to let other artists take a crack at their work. They also provide a networking solution for artists who are looking for producers, remixers, and so on. Their roster of talent is impressive and they also have sample packs available for download:

Indaba music

Remix comps (http://www.remixcomps.com/) is a site that is always on the lookout for who is putting a remix contest out in the world. It's certainly more of an aggregate site, but one that has found remix contests for everyone from Alicia Keys to Kaskade:

Remix comps

CCmixter (http://ccmixter.org/) is another great site that actually has public domain sample packs for downloading and using. They are using a different type of copyright, creative commons that allows for other artists to use the sampled works free of litigiousness. They also have a community of remixers and artists, so it can be a great place to find other like minds in the electronic music field:


Remixing is a fantastic way to hear the sub mixes of elements from great artists. After digesting them, remixing is a way to get started by pushing the envelope of what can be done in LMMS. We'll be exploring techniques in remixing in Chapters 6 through 9, that will show how to integrate samples from other artists into our own remix. If a remix is good enough, it may even be chosen to be featured on the artists' next album, which is a cool way to get exposure.


Ok, now that we're safe from feedback, we have a couple of options. Let's start with recording with a microphone:

  1. Under Preferences, choose Devices, and make sure the device is set to record only one channel or Mono.
  2. Get something to sample. Maybe a cat, dog, or loud sibling.
  3. Grab a mic.
  4. The microphone will need to be plugged into an audio interface that has the ability to boost the microphone's audio signal properly. Also, check to see if the microphone requires Phantom Power. Phantom Power is not some strange mutation. It's a 48-volt power signal that a condenser mic requires to power its capsule properly.
  5. Once the microphone is plugged in, turn up the trim (audio input volume) on the audio interface. Most audio interfaces have a bright red light that flashes when the audio interface is getting too much signal. Don't let the signal get so loud that red lights begin to flash. We want plenty of room to be able to scream or whisper. If we don't have that room, we get clicks, pops, and distortion.
  6. There is a transport bar in Audacity that looks like the following:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  7. This is where you can pause, loop, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and record in Audacity.
  8. Grab the thing you are about to record (be careful if it is ) and hit the red 'record' button in the Audacity transport bar.
  9. Audacity will automatically create a new track according to your preferences and start recording. Once the recording is done, you can either mouse over the stop button and hit stop or you can use your space bar to stop. The audio file will then appear in the editing window of Audacity as follows:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  10. Samples should never have a lot of space at the top (beginning) of the file. If we want to trigger this sample in a song, then we need to crop the file. Audacity makes this kind of editing very simple.
  11. To zoom in a bit, we need the zoom tool. It looks like a magnifying glass in the upper-left corner of the screen, where our toolbox is located. The toolbox looks like the following:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  12. The zoom tool is just underneath the selector tool, which is what we are using right now. Click the zoom tool and select all that dead space before the audio starts. You will get a screen that looks like this:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  13. Now use your selector tool to select that area of dead space. You can adjust either side of the selection by holding down the Shift key.
  14. Now hit Delete! We now have a sample that starts right at the first sign of audio:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  15. You can also delete dead space from the middle of the file with the same technique.
  16. Ok, we can let go of that poor creature we just sampled and start using this recording. Samples need to be saved to the samples folder in our WORKING directory.
  17. In Audacity, go to File | Export.... We'll choose the 16-bit PCM for the audio file settings to give us a standard wave file. Make sure to save to the WORKING directory on that nice, spacious external drive.
  18. It's recommended to create subdirectories in the samples folder to keep yourself organized. Let's call this sample poor_creature.wav and put it in a subdirectory called Animals.
  19. When that's done, open LMMS, and we will see the sample show up in our handy sidebar!
  20. In LMMS, this is where you'll find your samples:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  21. When the sidebar opens up, you'll see the new folder called Animals:
    Time for action—recording with a microphone
  22. And here's our poor creature!
    Time for action—recording with a microphone

A studio can be anywhere these days. Some people produce great albums from their bedroom. Some folks write dance music on planes. We've heard this a lot lately, due to the simple fact that studios are so affordable, compact, and powerful, people are making all kinds of claims.

Experience tells me that humans are infinitely adaptable. Someone who flies a lot will discover the pros and cons of creating in that environment. People who record in their bedroom will become accustomed to the limitations of their space as well.

Let's explore some of the different solutions to making dance music in different scenarios. I'd like to start with the light-on-their feet laptop composer.

When you are composing on a laptop and you aren't at home, it's a good idea to have some options in the headphones department. It's also not a bad idea to find a bus-powered audio interface that gives you nice, clear sound. A portable interface means that you can also potentially have a microphone on you to record the occasional vocal or street lunatic.

We've already discussed the CPU and RAM specifications of the laptop we need. We have also agreed that a little external drive is a very good idea.

When choosing a drive for a laptop, I suggest going for a pocket drive that is bus-powered. The trick with being mobile is to travel light, and 'bus powered' means that the drive doesn't have to be plugged into a wall to make it work. When you plug the drive into a USB or Firewire-type port, it gets its power from that port as well!

Even though the drive is bus-powered, it can still be 7200rpm. It needs to be fast and have a fast bus speed. I personally am a fan of the G-drive, and the FreeAgent drives from Glyph have been nice to me.

So we have our project drive, how about the interface?

The audio interface can also be bus-powered. The PreSonus AudioBox is quite inexpensive and gives you nice, clean headphone output and mic preamps for recording in the outside world. I find this device to be the best bang for the buck, but would highly recommend checking some of the other contenders out there. It's a great template for everything you need in a mobile device, though. That is, small, light, bus-powered, and nice preamps.

Now for listening. Laptop music makers are headphone people. When out in the world, we want to shut the world out so we can work. When we're in a quiet environment, clarity and accuracy is key.

I am a huge fan of in-ear buds for when I am out in the world. I would suggest anything by Ultimate Ears or M-Audio. If you think you're getting good quality from Skullcandy or Apple earbuds, you are gravely mistaken. Be picky about your earbuds and try to research where they come from. Most earbuds come from the same manufacturer and are simply renamed and repackaged. Avoid these at all costs.

When looking for earbuds, I suggest you look first for isolation. How well do they cut the background noise down? When on a plane, train, or automobile, you'll want earbuds that attenuate the outside world at least 30 db. You don't want to be turning your earbuds up to compensate for outside noise. Doing this could damage your hearing.

Once you've found earbuds that are good at isolating, listen to the mixes you are familiar with. The better the earbuds are, the more extended the low end and high frequencies will be.

If you are in a more controlled environment, I would suggest a set of open-ear headphones for referencing your mixes. My favorite low-cost high-performance headphones are the Grado SR80 headphones. These were suggested to me by audiophiles and mastering engineers. They are under $100 and sound wonderful. I've actually mixed on them and been happy with the result. The other thing about these headphones is that you can actually talk to people in the room while you have them on. They are an open-ear design, which means that you can be aware of your surroundings if you have someone over that's asking you how the mix is coming along. I don't know how many times I've been mixing on closed-ear headphones and hit the ceiling when someone tapped my shoulder to get my attention.

It should be said that you need to be very, very mindful of your headphone volumes. Don't blow your ears out listening to mixes. Try to find a comfortable listening volume and stick with it so you get some consistency to your mix. Listening loud means that you could be distorting the mix or getting an inaccurate read on what's happening.

So that's about it for the laptop! You don't need much to get by in that configuration. It's somewhat important that when you are writing on a laptop, try to sit with good posture in a comfortable chair if you can. Sitting in a cafe is cool, so long as you aren't hunched over the laptop with your arms cramped up. This is how you get bad tendonitis of several kinds. I had bicep tendonitis, and I have to say that it really sucks.

So let's say that we're composing in a room with speakers and a desktop computer. What kind of configuration is going to give us the best sound?

Well, rooms come in all shapes and sizes. If the room is bigger, it can be good to have your speakers away from the wall a bit with some kind of dense materials behind them. If we are in a small space, it's good to have our speakers closer to the wall so that the waves coming from the speakers can develop properly, and we aren't sitting in the middle of the room.

A couple of good general rules are the following:

Many folks talk about sound-proofing a room. They usually mean making a room silent to the outside world and vice versa. In our studio, we're going to focus less on sound-proofing and think more about treatment.

Taking out the corners of the room and laying a rug down will help control the over-hyping of certain frequencies in a room. What we don't want to do is cover every surface of our room with sound absorption material. This can actually affect the way we hear a mix and will make the room sound lifeless. A good rule of thumb is to use absorption in the corners, floor, and ceiling, and on the back wall to use diffusion.

Diffusion is a way of scattering sound waves so that they lose their energy. The larger waves get broken into smaller ones that don't sum together very well. Absorption takes that same audio energy and simply converts it into heat and absorbs most of the heat energy. Absorption is generally used to control low frequency sound, and diffusion scatters the high frequency reflections in the room.

Using diffusion on reflective surfaces means we get to keep a bit of life to the room and our mixes will sound more open and clear. Diffusion panels are kind of pricey, but they are out there. It's good to do research on diffuser panels rather than try to make some of your own. Homemade diffusers can often do more harm than good. Good diffusion requires good math.

That said, let's say we need to save up for some diffusion. In the meantime, put a lot of stuff in your room on the walls. Books can be good because they have both mass and uneven surfaces. Load up the walls so that you have very uneven surfaces all over the place. As long as you aren't listening at insane volumes, you should notice a difference.

A good way to see how well our room is doing is to play a mix and stop it quickly. We may hear a bit of a tail. Did it sound low frequency? High frequency? Did it last long? If we hear a low tone after stopping, more absorption would be a good idea. If we hear fluttering echoes, diffusion is the answer.

The speakers we use in our studio are extremely important. When choosing your first pair of studio monitors, you should never pick a set of monitors simply because they sound 'good'. Sometimes speakers that sound good have less in the midrange, where our ears are very sensitive, or some other bias. We want monitors that are accurate. Accuracy is the king when we are creating music for the masses. Whether our audience is on a laptop or a high-fidelity system, we want our mix to sound good on just about anything, and our monitors are the key to giving us the truth about what's going on.

Monitor choice is very personal, but it can be expensive. In my studio I use Mackie HR824 powered monitors for my speakers. Since I do this stuff for a living, I spent a pretty large amount on them, because they are ruthlessly accurate. Speakers can be very expensive, but there are some manufacturers such as M-Audio, Logitech, and Bose that are trying to create smaller speaker systems for computers that still sound very good. I've been known to write music for advertisements from a tent using headphones, but if you can afford it, try to get the best speakers you can.

Speaker placement should be roughly an equilateral triangle with our head as one point and the speakers' cones as the other two points. This setup will give us the most accurate stereo image and center. Don't put a bunch of stuff over or between the speakers if you can get away with it. Also, we need to try not to have our speakers sitting on our desk or any large surface. Buy some inexpensive monitor stands to de-couple them. Anything a speaker touches will vibrate. The smaller and more isolated the surface, the better!


In this chapter we:

What we've done in this chapter is lay the foundation for our journey making music in LMMS. Making electronic music is a blast, and we tend to let the basic disciplines of organization, preparation, and health go out the window when we want to get started RIGHT NOW.

The thing is, when we have the right gear for the job, LMMS is more stable. When we understand where our resources are, we are never more than a couple of clicks from our presets and sample libraries. When we make bad choices in a project, we can go back to an earlier version. If we understand how sound and MIDI are used by our operating system, we can troubleshoot problems. If we want to remix or sample other artists, there are many places to do so legally. When we have a room and headphones we can trust to tell us what's going on in our mix, our music sounds better.

This chapter was installing more than just applications, hard drives, and samples. We're installing confidence in our studio. That confidence helps creativity flow from us, knowing that we can trust our system, our ethics, our ears, and our personal style of production, be it on the run or rooted in the lab at home.

Now that the prep work has been done, let's get our feet wet!

About the Author

  • David Earl

    David Earl is a music composer, producer, and performer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. His music has been heard in Film, Television, Audio Branding, and Video Games. David’s has worked for clients such as Brown Paper Bag, Summit Pictures, Double Fine, Activision, THQ, Lila Rose, Artemis, Sony, Pyramind, Ripesound, and the Juno Company. David has been balancing a life of intense creativity with a deep desire to teach. For the past 10 years, he has helped to develop various curricula for Pyramind in San Francisco. He is an Apple Certified Logic instructor, and also teaches Modular Synthesis using Reaktor. As a purely innocent and altruistic endeavor, David started posting tutorial videos to YouTube as ‘sflogicninja’ in 2007 as an attempt to help fellow producers. He now has a following of over 25,000 subscribers worldwide. He has since started creating tutorials for MacProVideo, and creates additional video material for Pyramind Online; the Online counterpart to their brick and mortar training center. David has collaborated with other writers in his field, but LMMS: A Complete Guide to Dance Music Production is his first official effort.

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Good book but unfortunately a little bit outdated (some features have been changed)
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