Advanced Drum Production Techniques Part 2

Posted by James Cullen on

In the first part of this guide I took you through the first steps of creating a drum pattern using my advanced drum production techniques. These are tips and tricks I've learned through experimentation and trial and error, and I'm passing them on to you because they have helped me create better and stronger music with really good drums.

If you followed the steps in part 1, you should have a drum pattern that looks a little something like this. Don't worry if you haven't followed mine exactly, as the concepts are applicable either way!

 

We've got a Kick, Hats, Snare, Clap, Crash Cymbal and Tambourine. These complete the first three categories of drums I mentioned in Part 1. In this guide, we are going to be looking at the other categories.

These are..

  • Effects - We didn't cover effects in part 1, but these play a vital part in creating advanced drum beats. We will cover Compression and Delay in particular.
  • Longer Progressions - In part 1, I mentioned how we can use progressions to make our beats retain the listener's interest. The Crash and the Tambourine formed part of this; we will use more rhythmic hits and progressions to advance the drums.

 

So, going back to our drum beat, the first thing we will do now is duplicate the loop, and then create a small arrangement. Once we've completed the steps in part 1, what we have is the basis of our drums. However, we now have to start thinking in the overall context of the track, so the arrangement has to come into play.

So, you should have 8 bars of your loop. Move this so it begins on bar 8, and then create an 'Intro' using some of your elements. Sometimes you may want to start with the kick, other times you may want to bring it in later. There's no right or wrong, so just experiment. As a reference point, here's what I have.


As you can see, we've moved the full arrangement to begin at bar 8, and used the hi hats on their own to begin, as well as a crash cymbal. Bar 5 introduces the snare and clap pattern we made, and then we get to Bar 8.

So, let's look at the steps we can take to make this beat more complex. For clarity, I will keep the tracks and audio parts we made in part 1 as Pink, and then add anything new in Green.

 

Building on the foundation.

The first thing I've done is added a Replika delay to the crash cymbal that starts the track. I've used a dotted 1/8 note, delay time with a relatively low mix and feedback. This just adds some character and atmosphere, and that's what is most important to bear in mind at this stage. If the beat we made in Part 1 was the foundation, we now need to think about building upon that to create more interest.

You can use delay on one shot percussive or melodic hits to really add space and interest to your arrangements. Try adding subtle levels of delay to things like your snare or clap phrases too; really low in the mix so as to not be overbearing, but present enough that you can hear the difference.

The easiest way to build more interest in your music is to think of the individual parts or individual occurences of a sample. Bear in mind your progressions, and apply any necessary effects too. You could have a super delayed booming sound that only occurs twice in the entire track! 

To return to our example, you'll see that as well as adding a Delay to the crash, I've also duplicated the channel to use a reversed crash sample, as you can see below.

 The main things to note here are; the automation on the Pink Crash channel. I decided I only wanted the Delay to play on the first cymbal of the track, so I automated the mix of the Replika plug in to reach zero by the time the main beat comes in. 

Also, the reversed crash. I've done this by duplicating the track and reversing the audio sample. You can do this in the Clip Editor by selecting the 'Rev' button, you can find this in the same panel as the Transpose, Detune and Gain controls, as shown here.

You can see that the new reversed crash cymbal plays just before the original, which plays a similar role to a white noise riser in a lot of dance music. It provides a moment of anticipation; building up to the next section. This is of course key to the point we covered about progressions. Using a reversed cymbal every 16 or 32 bars to denote changes in sections seems like a simple idea, but it can drastically change the overall vibe of a track by adding that subtle level of build up. 

Bear in mind, that this is just an example of how you can do this. Obviously you don't have to add a reversed Crash cymbal every time, there are a tonne of ways you can implement this little reversed technique. Other percussions samples, atmospheres, melodic elements, it can sound good on anything, so experiment!

 

Adding Character.

Now, some producers have their own personal producer tags which play in all of their tracks. Sometimes it's appropriate to have this level of character and personalisations in your music. In genres like trap, for example, where the rapper and the producer are two separate artists, it's a good way for the producer to ensure their music is recognisable as specifically theirs. 

 

"If young Metro don't trust you, I'm gon' shoot you."
                                                                            - Future, at some point.
However, it doesn't have to just be a trap thing, another way to do this could be to have a particular sample or sound that you use in all your beats. There's a sample I really like, you'll find it in a lot of sample packs called 'Bubble' and it's a very zappy high pitched sound. I like to add this to my drum beats at the 'drop' section to provide that little impact letting the listener know we've arrived!
I've also added a Replika delay to it, with quite a generous helping of feedback, to ensure it gives that element of dimension and space to the track. When you get to this stage of making your drum beats, you shouldn't just be thinking about the drums anymore, you should be thinking about the context of the entire track you're about to build. 
Think about space for a bass or a synth lead, or a pad, or vocals. These consideration need to be at the forefront of your mind so you can imagine how your drums will play into the overall vibe of the track. By all means, if you haven't been following along with my example and re-creating the same beat exactly, and you've been making your own drum beat, feel free to drop some melodic elements or bass lines in at this point, this will help you apply more of the techniques to your drums that revolve around the arrangement.
So, to build on this point, have a look at the image below.
In the above section, we're at Bar 17. This means we've had our 8 bar intro, and another 8 bars with the kick drum. Thinking about the arrangement, it's time to create a bit of variation. I've added in a new sample; it's a vocal chant saying 'hey' and I have it playing on beats 2 and 4 of each bar. You will also notice the reversed crash has come back, leading us in to this new section, and the Bubble sound marks this new section as well. 
You'll also notice we've dropped out the kick. This is a great technique to use throughout your track. Not only as in the example above, but think about dropping out your kick for a bar or even a beat at a time at crucial points in the arrangment of your track. This can be a great way to subvert the listener's expectations. 
It's also another way we add variation, as the point of this exercise is to avoid creating drums that are boring and repetitive. What we don't want to do is fall into the trap of adding too much; too many elements and effects that the beat sounds cluttered and messy. In order to get around this, we can do things like drop out certain parts for one or two counts, or a bar here or there. Try it out in your track and see how you like the sound of it.

Inserting Silence.

You can refer to the technique I mentioned above as 'inserting silence'. Think of silence as an equal tool you can use in your music, as powerful and useful as a kick drum sample. You can almost imagine it as a sample of silence in a sample pack. 

So, to illustrate this concept, I've edited the section of drum arrangements from bar 17 onwards. As you can see below, the snare and clap pattern drops out at bar 21, and then the top two hi hat parts also drop out at bar 23. What this does is strips down the arrangement one part at a time, doing the opposite of building one on top of the other. It removes an element at a time, and it serves as a 'build up' of sorts; providing a sense of anticipation moving into the next section.

Now, as I've repeatedly mentioned up until this point, we need to think about our overall arrangement. This section now sounds perfect to build up to a 'drop' of sorts. There's space, anticipation and the right level of layering. So now what we need to think about is going back over what we have and seeing if anything needs tweaking. You can do this while you apply compression to your drum parts; as you hear them brought to life by the compressor, you can also imagine them in the final arrangement. I find that compression helps by making them sound more 'produced' and finished, so if there are any glaring issues, or you want to try some rhythm variations, it's a good time to experiment.

 

Compression.

At this point, you shouldn't consider the sections you've already made done and boxed off. You'll find that your beats will evolve as the overall track progresses, so now let's go back and evaluate what we've done, while also adding in some compression. 
Compression is something technical, a necessary bit of processing that you'll be adding to all of your drum parts, so I find it's a useful trick to keep your creativity active and do any tweaks while you apply your Compression. If you make this into a habit, then you'll constantly be evaluating your arrangments while you're applying your technical effects (as this works for EQ etc). You'll essentially be doing two things at once; keeping your mind actively focused on the music, while applying an essential bit of processing.
 
As you can see, I've grouped the 3 hi hat channels and applied a Glue Compressor to the group. I have set the Threshold to -33dB with the Makeup to just under 15dB. But as always, don't take these values as gospel and experiment until your hi hats have that proper punch to them. 
As you can see in the image below, I've now added Compression to the kick drum as well. It's really important to get your settings right on the money when you're applying Compression to your drums. You'll see that I've applied quite a drastic Ratio of 5.25 : 1, and I've brought a lot of Threshold in too at -32dB. Balancing these settings with the Output level gives a really punchy kick drum.
As a general rule, the bigger Compression ratio you use, the more compressed your drums are going to sound. I know that sounds like a bit of an obvious statement, but remember that Compression can really bring your drums to life. It's one of the most important elements when making your drums sound puncy and full of life. When you take genres like American Dubstep / Brostep, the drums there are super duper compressed.
You'll need to be careful with dynamics though, as you should bear in mind that a Compressor can severely limit the dynamic range of a sample. This is really useful to remember when we're compressing phrases that contain a range of velocities like our hi hats from part 1.
Apply this kind of Compression across all of your drum parts, and you should have a nice punchy arrangement. 

Final Thoughts.

At this stage in the process then, you should have done the following:
  • Created a complex drum arrangement, using variations of dynamics and velocity.
  • Used structure to create different sections, bearing in mind the 'Insert Silence' concept. Have you tried dropping your kick out for a bar?
  • You should have applied some effects and some one shot hits to your arrangement, maybe even a producer tag or a signature sample.
  • Finally, added the right levels of compression to bring your drums to life and add weight and punch to the arrangement.

Now, you can use these techniques as a framework to create more complex and advanced drum patterns. Practice doing this to make sure your music is constantly improving, and now use the project we've just created to try and make a track!

 

Thanks for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts, as always, we appreciate you taking the time to learn with us. Don't forget to check out our great deals on Ableton Project templates, and keep an eye out for some cool new content in the future!


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