Futuristic music covers a wide musical genre and the term can describe music with any futuristic element, be it unusual instruments, synthetic effects and mechanical or digital sounds that celebrate the machine and computer age.
To make futuristic music, you need access to recording equipment, sound processing effects such as reverb and modulation, and a lot of creativity and imagination. Very little music theory applies to creating futuristic music, making it very liberating.
For me, futuristic music is like a brother to sci-fi or space music.
Futuristic music is becoming extremely important in the world of gaming, where game developers are creating future or imagined worlds and, as a result, want unique soundscapes and ambience.
In this article, I will cover everything you need to know to create futuristic music.
1. Setup Your Recording Studio
What Gear Do I Need To Make Futuristic Music?
To make futuristic music, ideally, you will need access to the following gear:
- PC or MAC computer.
- Recording software. Audacity is a great free recording software if you are starting out.
- Recording hardware. If you plan to create the sounds from external sound sources, you will need a microphone to capture the sound.
If you have a MIDI piano which connects to your computer, you will be able to download VSTs (virtual instruments) for PC or AU (Audio Units) for Mac that will help you create sounds within your computer. I have described this in detail later.
- Access to sound effects such as reverb and delay. Audacity has these included for free.
To make futuristic music, you will need some way to produce and record sound. Access to a computer is important.
Once you have a means to record sound, the next step is to create your sounds. There are two ways to do this:
- Record sounds externally through a microphone
- Use a MIDI keyboard and VST instruments
1. Recording Sounds Externally
If you are planning to record real world sound effects that you create yourself, you will need a microphone that can connect to your computer.
As a beginner, the fastest and cheapest way to get setup with a microphone for recording is to use a USB microphone that connects directly to your computer such as the Rode NT-USB, USB Condenser Microphone.
Typically, USB microphones are “plug and play”, so there is no need for any expensive audio interfaces.
2. Using VST or AU Musical Instruments
My preferred method for writing and producing futuristic music is to use a MIDI keyboard with VST (virtual instruments) or AU (audio unit instruments)
VST and AU are the same thing. The difference is that VSTs are typically used in PC music production software and AUs are used in MAC production software, such as Logic Pro or Garageband.
VST stands for “Virtual Studio Technology”. When we talk about a VST musical instrument, we are referring to a piece of software that can recreate the sounds of a music instrument, for example, a piece of software that can recreate the sound of a piano digitally.
We use these VST musical instruments as add-ons to a music production recording package.
Because VST instruments are so varied, you can find any musical sound under the sun, from standard piano to extreme futuristic sounds.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Audacity, which is the best free recording software, does not support VST musical instruments.
If you want to use VST or AU instruments (which I 100% recommend as the sounds are limitless) you will need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) recording package that can support VSTs or AUs.
Here are some great DAWs, with some price ranges, to give you an idea of what is out there. Most of these DAWS have starter options for those who are new to music production and do not want to invest hundreds straight away.
|DAW Software Name||Price Range|
|Logic Pro X (Mac Only)||£175|
|Cubase||£85 to £600|
|Pro Tools||£94 (for one year licence) to £2500|
|Abelton Live||£70 to £480|
|Bitwig Studio||£80 to £319|
|Reason||£169 (for one year licence) to £450|
2. Pick Your Sounds
Once you have set up your DAW (digital audio workstation), now the fun of actually making futuristic music begins.
It is important to pick great sounds and interesting instruments when creating futuristic music.
I find it helps when creating futuristic sounds or soundscapes for futuristic games, to have a sound bank of interesting and great sounds ready to go.
Often, just having great sounding musical instruments or interesting sound effects can inspire some amazing work.
This is where the magic of using VSTs (as mentioned previously) comes into play. There are so many great VST plug-ins out there, you just need your creativity and imagination to create a fabulous futuristic sound.
What Are The Best VSTs To Make Futuristic Sounding Music?
Here are some of my favourite VSTs for futuristic sounds.
If you are using a MAC based music production software package, you will need the AU (audio unit) version.
|VST Name||Comments||Where To Find|
|Audiomodern Riffer||Digital sounds effects. Also nice for electronic dance music production||View On Gear4Music|
|Reveal Sound Spire||Very nice sci-fi sounds.||View On Gear4Music|
|Sugar Bytes Nest||Endless possibilities to create unique sounds. A bot complicated for beginners||View On Gear4Music|
|FabFilter Twin 2||Excellent sounding polyphonic synthesizer||View On Gear4Music|
|Native Instruments Komplete 13||Amazing and full sound bank. Will cover so much!||View On Gear4Music|
What Makes Certain Music Sound Futuristic?
In general, electronic sound effects and unusual instruments make music sound futuristic. This is because they create a modern feeling.
That said, a lot of cinematic orchestral scores also seem to be futuristic. This is because they create a feeling of being in an unknown place or time.
I believe that if music makes you think about a technology that we have not yet achieved in our daily lives, or takes you to a place in your imagination that differs greatly from what we know, then it can be called futuristic music.
How Do You Make Futuristic Sounds?
Futuristic sounds can be created by using electronic instruments, such as synthesizers and effects processors, such as reverb and modulation effects. You can also create futuristic sounds by processing acoustic sounds with electronic effects.
One way to create a futuristic sound is to use a synthesizer to generate a tone, and then use an effects processor to create delays, echoes, and other effects.
Another way to create a futuristic sound is to take an acoustic instrument, such as a piano or guitar, and process the sound with electronic effects. This can be done by recording the acoustic instrument into a computer, and then using software to apply delays, echoes, and other effects to the sound.
Finally, it can be a great idea to use lots of different instruments playing the same notes and blending them together to create new and interesting melodies.
The great thing about making futuristic sounding music is that it is completely undefined. You can be as creative as you would like as there is no right or wrong way.
3. Pick Your Musical Key
Futuristic music does not have a recognisable musical key as it is so varied. You get to decide what you want to do.
Many futuristic pieces use unusual time signatures, such as 5/4 or 7/8 time, and harmonic progressions that might not be found in traditional music. This helps to create a unique and futuristic sound.
When it comes to making futuristic music, go with your feelings.
If you want it to sound dark, pick minor notes. If you want it to sound extreme, use a full range of notes from very low to very high.
This is one of the great things about futuristic music; there are no expectations and you can follow your instinct or compose what feels right for your futuristic world.
4. Use Musical Tropes From Sci-Fi
Traditional Sci-Fi music uses lots of very recognisable tropes that give a science fiction sound.
If your futuristic music idea fits into the world of science fiction, it’s useful to use some of the common sci-fi musical tropes in your production.
What Musical Tropes Make Sci-Fi Music Recognisable?
- A sense of eeriness
- Ominous feeling
- A feeling of exotic places
- A feeling of discovery
- Unusual sounding instruments.
5. Use Rare Musical Instruments
To create an unusual and futuristic world, it will help to use rare musical instruments as this will make your audience pay attention and get a feeling of the unfamiliar.
It can be a great idea to look at the genre of sci-fi music when seeking rare musical instruments.
Here are some of the more unusual musical instruments that are used in the science fiction musical genre.
I particularly love the waterphone. Here is a great video explaining this beautiful instrument.
6. Blend Real & Synthetic Musical Instruments
If you use synthetic digital instruments such as synthesizers, VSTs and AUs, it can be very easy to stay in the digital world and never record a real musical instrument again.
To give your futuristic soundtrack a real edge, and to make it sound futuristic yet realistic, it is a great idea to blend real and synthetic instruments in your production.
For example, if you have an underscore of digital instruments and synthesizers, yet record your main melody on a real instrument such as the waterphone, your listeners will identify the sounds of the waterphone as being natural and real.
In combination with the digital instruments, this mixing of real and digital musical instruments with give authentic and realistic sound to your futuristic soundtrack.
7. Use Audio Effects
Many music producers, especially the most experienced, stick to a range of audio effects they know and understand.
When producing futuristic music, however, it is important to be creative and step outside your comfort zone. Experiment with a range of audio effects.
One area that can make your futuristic music sparkle is using audio sound effects such as modulation, delay, echo and reverb.
When looking to create something different, have a look around your audio production software at the range of audio effects available to see what you can do differently.
8. Use Automation
In music production, automation is the process of recording and controlling the movement of parameters over time. Parameters could mean aspects of sound, such as volume, panning, modulation, equalization, pitch, and other parameters.
Using automation can help to create a more polished and professional sounding final mix.
For example, when producing futuristic music using automation to change the modulation of a track over time can create an unusual and unsettling vibe.
In automation, there are a few basic things that you need to know.
First, you need to understand what the different parameters are and what they do.
Second, you need to be familiar with the recording equipment and software that you’re using.
Finally, you need to be comfortable using the automation features of your software.
As automation in music production is a full topic outside the scope of this article, to get started, check out this video which covers the basics of automation in music production and what it is.
9. Use Sound Effects To Build Your World
If you are making futuristic music as part of a soundtrack for game, it will really help to have an idea of what your world looks like and what types of sounds will exist in that world.
For example, if your futuristic music has a nuclear fallout theme, then mechanical sounds of rust, broken metal, or the clipping static sound of a Geiger counter might be useful to use in the background of your soundtrack to create a sense of this futuristic soundscape.
It is possible to use sound effects such as metal drums as percussion to embed these sound effects into the musical melody.
Again, it is important to be creative and experiment to ensure you get the emotions and atmosphere of your futuristic music just right.
10. Use Synth Pads
Many great sci-fi theme tunes or futuristic sounding music will use a synth pad or sound bed in the underscore to create a mood.
A synth pad, often called a pad, is a synthesiser, VST, or AU that generates long and sustained notes.
Unlike other VSTs and AUs, they are designed with long and sustained notes which puts them in the category of synth pads. Although they can be used as lead instruments, often the sounds are soft and mellow to create atmosphere in the underscore.
Often, this sound is so embedded as part of the underscore it is hard to identify it. It can be just one long sustained note or a couple of notes at most.
When composing futuristic music, I find it helpful to start with a synth pad. I will find a musical note or tone that fits my world, play this sustained note and then build the music around this sustained note.
By the end of the production, the note cannot be heard as it is so embedded. However, the feeling and vibe of the note is still present in the musical track as I built all the sounds up and around this one sustained note.
If you want to make futuristic music, break the rules!
The best way to make futuristic music is to experiment with unusual sounds and effects. You don’t need a lot of musical training or knowledge to get started, just a willingness to explore and be creative.
Experiment with unusual instruments, synthetic effects and sounds that celebrate the machine age.
Listen to lots of science fiction soundtracks for inspiration and don’t be afraid to blend real and synthetic instruments together.
With a little creativity and imagination, you can create some truly amazing futuristic music that will take your listeners on a journey to another world. With a little practice, you’ll be creating your own futuristic masterpieces in no time!