How Dubstep Works

The Breakdown: The Basics of Dubstep

Dubstep artist Benga performs in Leeds, England.
Dubstep artist Benga performs in Leeds, England.
Gary Wolstenholme/Redfern/Getty Images

Although dubstep is a constantly evolving musical genre, there are some important structural elements that apply to many tracks.

  • Bass line. A heavy, persistent low end (or low-pitched bass) is a staple of the genre, and dubstep is perhaps best identified by its ''wobble.'' Producers manipulate synthesizer settings and software programs to achieve an oscillating effect on bass lines, which are then usually synched to the beat of the song. Traditional dubstep also incorporates sub-bass -- tones at the lowest audible frequencies. Occasionally going as low as 20 Hertz (the lowest frequency that humans can hear), these tones require special speaker systems to convey the rumbling sound properly.
  • Rhythm and tempo. Dubstep songs usually move at about 140 beats per minute (bpm), though the half-time rhythms of many songs create a tempo that feels like 70 bpm. The drums also incorporate syncopation, a technique in which the rhythms accent beats not typically emphasized.
  • Key and song structure. Chord progressions and melodies are often in minor keys to convey a dark or somber tone, and sounds are laden with reverb to create an illusion of space. Most dubstep songs are instrumental, but some artists choose to incorporate vocals. Song structures often progress from an introduction to a bass drop (more on that below) to a repeated main section into an outro [source: Jenkins].
  • Bass drop. After the song builds for several measures during the introduction, the music pauses or fades momentarily. When it kicks back in, added layers of bass give the beat a fuller, more powerful sound.

Now that we know what to listen for in a dubstep song, let's find out how the sound was created.