Skip to main content

Try out Artist Pages for FREE now! 💅

Get it here
iMusician logo
All blog posts

How to Make Ambient Electronic Music

Share this article on
How to Make Ambient Electronic Music

Ambient music is characterized by its immersive sound and use of sonic space. In this article, we look into how ambient music is made and how you, as a producer, can start creating atmospheric electronic music.

How to make ambient music

In our previous article on ambient music, we looked into the genre's history and listed some of its key elements. We described it as an immersive, experimental genre that revolves around how sound and ambiance are distributed across the sonic space. Today, we want to take a closer look at how to make ambient music and dive into various approaches to the music production process. Keep in mind that making music is not a linear procedure. Our list is not chronological, and it is up to you to decide what you want to tackle first.

Envisioning a physical space

Producers of ambient music take various approaches to creating mesmerizing, immersive soundscapes. One of them revolves around envisioning a physical space or setting in which the music is to be experienced. Let’s give it a try by taking a closer look at the following image of a liminal swimming pool. Imagine yourself standing inside the room, observing the movements of the water.

What noises can you hear while standing in the room? How does it feel to be there? Is it warm or cold, bright or dark, colorful or dull? What emotions do you associate with the space? How can you translate them into sound in a way that represents your feelings and the space itself? How does sound behave in the room? How does it reverberate? While not absolutely necessary, imagining a physical space in a detailed way can help you communicate various moods and ambiances more accurately.

Selecting the right sounds

Since harmony and melody play a crucial role in ambient music, sound selection can make or break the quality and mood of your track. But do not worry! As a multifaceted genre, ambient music is open to experimentation and the usage of unconventional sounds. To create vast soundscapes, artists work with analog and digital synths capable of producing harmonious pads, drones, and other atmospheric sounds. They sometimes work with digital or analog versions of real instruments such as pianos or flutes.

They then layer them with other synth-based elements, such as leads, plucks, or bells. Because ambient music focuses on atmosphere, tone, texture, and timbre, producers usually add noise, sound effects, and field recordings to round off a track. Although rhythmic elements are not a necessity, some artists like to add drums to their tracks to give them more structure. If we chose to work with our image of the liminal pool, we could use watery sound effects, such as waves and water drops, an airy, wide pad, short, sharp sounds that match the cold colors, and a soft synth bass with low levels of distortion.

Getting inspired by other genres

Another approach to ambient music lies in its tradition of borrowing from other genres, including classical music, jazz, or avant-garde. Producers can do so by choosing instruments commonly used in other genres, such as pianos and violins, that frequently appear in classical music. Alternatively, they can use samples from other songs and process them in a way that renders them atmospheric.

Moreover, ambient music has a history of blending with other electronic music genres. This way, tracks can be calm or dramatic, contain more or less rhythmic elements and structure, and be rich in harmony or rather minimalistic. By going down this creative path, you can transform your ambient track into one that falls in the genre of ambient house or ambient techno. You can do so by studying house and techno drum patterns and incorporating them into your work.

Making use of the sonic space

The next step is to distribute all elements across the sonic space. This requires much processing, an essential aspect of ambient music that allows sounds to blend. The auditive space consists of three dimensions: height, width, and depth.

Height is related to frequencies, with lower frequencies being perceived as lower in the mix and higher ones as further up on the height axis. Lowpass and highpass filters can help you further manipulate the position of your sounds of choice. Width can be achieved with stereo widening plugins and panning techniques. While the former allows you to decide how much space a sound should take up in the mix, the latter allows you to choose where it is placed on the left-to-right axis. Putting a sound in mono will place it right in the middle while simultaneously dampening it a bit.

Depth is controlled by various tools and techniques. Loud sounds are commonly perceived as closer to the listener, while quieter sounds seem more far away. Similarly, adding reverb to an element can make it appear further away while leaving it ‘dry’ can make it appear in closer proximity. Other effects commonly associated with ambient music are delays and echos, flangers, saturators, and other modulation tools. Such effects allow you to render sounds more fluid or give them more character.

Arrangement techniques for ambient music

Another crucial element of ambient music is how tracks are arranged. Because ambient tries to create an open, ethereal soundscape, atmospheric elements (such as pads) are usually stretched out and present throughout the entire track. A standard approach is to begin with harmonic elements and effects and slowly introduce other sounds, such as melodies, arps, bass lines, guitars, or rhythmic elements. To keep it interesting, try removing some sounds after a while and reintroducing them later.

To add more movement to a track, producers usually work with automation, which allows sound to evolve over time. For instance, adding an automation clip to a heavy lowpass filter and slowly letting in more high frequencies can make a sound appear to emerge from the water. Similarly, adding automation to a volume knob or level fader can create the illusion of a sound slowly entering or exiting the sonic space. Remember that ambient tracks are usually long, leaving much room for experimentation.

So, if we chose to work with our image, we could make some of the water sounds move across the L-R axis or use a low pass filter on some of the sounds to give them an underwater feel. We could also add much width to the pool wave sounds, cut out their high frequencies, and remove the lowest frequencies of the pad to create the illusion of the sound sitting on top of the water.

Further tips and tricks

When working on an ambient track, use techniques such as automation and crossfading to create smooth transitions between different elements and sections.

Use repetition to create an immersive experience.

Get comfortable when working on your track – a cozy environment will allow you to lean further into the ambiance and translate your real experience into music.

Ready to get your music out there?

Distribute your music to the widest range of streaming platforms and shops worldwide. 

Get Started
Share Post:
Share this article on
Always stay up-to-date

All You Need.
All in One Place.

Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.