I’m about 2 years into my career as a minimal deep tech house producer. My quest is to get to 1 million Spotify plays. You can hear my music at leonthelover.com.
I learned about ghost arrangement over in the FMM group. Keith Mills has some brilliant videos where he analyzes track arrangements and breakdowns. Ghost arrangement is the process of carefully listening to a track and making notes on what instruments and effects are used (and at what time).
I wanted to repeat that process for my own benefit on 3 of my favorite minimal deep tech breakdowns. I hoped that by learning what makes a great breakdown, I could get better at creating them myself.
Breakdowns (and drops) are at the heart of house and techno music. It’s brilliant to experience a song as the producer removes elements from underneath you (the listener). A great breakdown will leave you dancing in mid-air, until finally letting you fall in silence and land back on the full and familiar track at the drop.
So what actually are the elements at play?
The first is withholding. The most obvious is that the kick and bass are removed, and of course, you crave getting it back.
As elements are removed, there is often a simpler or quieter element (like a top loop) to maintain the rhythm (groove) of the track. This is what keeps you going as the track gets simpler and simpler. Or, call and response patterns may continue even after the kick and bass are removed.
Since this is very repetitive music, a good breakdown needs to provide contrast with the rest of the track. This can be accomplished with reverb and filters almost as if the music is moving away from you. Then, at the drop, it lands back in your face.
Lastly, there’s suspense and anticipation of the drop. The classic single-note high string is used a lot in house tracks to pull you through the breakdown. High and low pass filters will likely create motion either into the break (cut low frequencies with a low pass) or back towards the drop (add high frequencies with a high pass). Chaos in the rhythm and exponential movement (a curve instead of a straight line) also builds tension and uneasiness that can only be resolved by the drop.
I want to hear your techniques for great breakdowns. Also, leave me a comment to let me know which tracks have your favorite breakdowns.
Related: Minimal Deep Tech Chord Stabs, Should I Publish My Music on Audius?