June 30, 2009 by DJ Elroy
Chocolate Puma: How to Write a Hit House Track – 10 Tips
words by CHRISTEN REUTENS~
Chocolate Puma stormed into the charts in 2001 with the monumental house hit ‘I Wanna Be U’ and since then Gaston Steenkist and René ter Horst have topped the house charts many times over.
Their latest track ‘Disco Electrique’ is currently sitting at No.5 in the Beatport Top 10, and you can bet their next house track will there too.
But what goes into making a hit house track? Is there a secret formula?
Beatportal decided to jump inside the brain of the Dutch duo and get their tips for writing a hit house track.
Here are 10 basic tips that every aspiring house producer should know.
1. It has to work on the floor
First of all, a good house track has to work on the dancefloor. We always make tracks for the dancefloor. If you’re a DJ then you should know from playing out what works what doesn’t.
We always start with the rhythm. That is the key foundation to a good house track. It’s got to be funky. We don’t like rigid beats and we try to incorporate funky and soulful rhythms in order to give a track a human feeling. House is a feeling, after all. So if you can nod your head to your track and it makes you want to dance then you’ve got a good beat.
Another trick to programming beats is to actually play them on a keyboard. I was a drummer so I know how a drummer thinks. Think like a drummer.
We sample beats from old records. We hunt the web and record shops for really obscure records and then we sample drum loops. A lot of old funk and soul records have amazing rhythms and that can give your track a certain grit.
2. Pay attention to the tempo
We’ve been working at around 125 / 126 beats per minute recently. What’s considered acceptable for house music goes up and down over the years. In the early 1990s 130 bpm was pretty normal, for instance Bizarre Inc. ‘Playing With Knives’ was 130.
Our first track under Chocolate Puma ‘I Wanna B U’ was around 132 or 133 bpm! It sounds way too fast now.
The good thing about working at 125 bpm is that you have a bit more space for the funk. Silent parts in between sounds are really important to get a funk feeling in your beats. If you have percussion or hi hats running every second throughout a track than it can lose its funk, but if you space percussion out it gets a life of it own and feels more natural.
3. The arrangement ain’t that simple
What format makes the perfect house track? There is no right answer. Pop music has a fairly standard verse-chorus-verse formula, but house music is a bit all over the place.
The arrangement can make or break a track. If you want to create a more trippy or weird track, then keep people guessing on the arrangement.
If you want something that’s easy to listen to, then create a more standard arrangement.
Intro beats are handy for DJs. It makes it easy for them to mix in. Although not having a long intro doesn’t mean your track won’t work out.
Our hit The Goodmen ‘Give It Up’ didn’t have an intro at all! It started with some drums and you couldn’t mix it in, so you had to play it all on its own. DJs still liked it and it made the track stand out.
We love breakdowns. Sometimes we try to make a track without a breakdown but we always end up putting one in. The fact is, house music and breakdowns go hand in hand.
People like them, and they always work on the dancefloor. So use that.
Another tip: it’s important to play your track out live to see how the arrangement works on the floor. It always sounds different at a festival or on the beach to how it sounded in your studio.
4. Work on your hook, like a boxer
A good hook is the secret to a kicking house track. It’s especially important to have one if you have vocals.
It’s difficult to explain how to write a good hook, but one rule we always follow is that if you can play it on the piano or on a flute it’s a good hook.
A hook has to be interesting and it has to touch certain emotions depending on the vibe you’re trying to create. For instance, if you want your song to be happy, a happy jumping hook will work. If you want your song to be sad, it should have a minor key hook.
You really have to work hard to make the right hook. Producing good beats is a lot easier than coming up with a melody that people will remember. Sometimes even we struggle with hooks and work with song writers to help us out.
5. How important are vocals?
Vocals can help a house track reach an anthem status, although they aren’t essential. People like to hear vocals in a record as it gives it a human connection.
The vocals must tell a story. Some random muttering will have a lot less impact than a vocal that talks about something people understand. We work with singers and one of our strengths is being able to guide vocalists towards creating a vocal that will work.
There are some constant themes in house music, like Bob Sinclar’s tracks will inevitably always have vocals about love, peace, and happiness, but that doesn’t mean you need to follow those themes.