One of the most difficult things to get right when you’re producing your music is the drums. There are a lot of factors that play into this, but today we are going to cover one easy technique you can apply to your drums to differentiate them from the more amateur sounding registers to something more professional.
The first thing you need to think about is how complex your drum patterns are going to be. Some of the best tracks have very simple drums, but there’s more complexity hidden just out of sight (so to speak) than first meets the ear. It doesn't matter if you have a very complex drum set up with loads of little layers, or you use a simple drum machine with 8 tracks, there are tricks you can use that are universal for drums.
Of course, compression is a really important part of creating drum patterns that pop and stand out of the mix. Drums that are compressed well will sound so much better than those that aren’t. It’s an essential tool if you want to emphasise the impact of your drum sounds!
But today, let’s take a little focus on hi hats, and a couple of tricks you can use in your productions to beef up these key players in your drum roster. So get your DAW ready, because today with Top Music Arts we will be getting hands on with hi hats.
First, create a simple 4 bar pattern for your hi hats. Some people prefer to use a Drum Rack or Simpler/Sampler set up and draw in a MIDI pattern, whereas others like to drag in the sample and use them on an audio track.
Personally, I prefer using the audio sample, so my hi hat patterns look like this.
It's a fairly simple little pattern, which is the point for this exercise.
You don't have to copy mine exactly, but get yourself a hi hat pattern in and set it to loop.
First, drag and drop a Simple Delay plug in, and hit play on your project. What you want to do with this is experiment with the delay time for Right and Left channels. You can either turn on Sync, so the delays are rhythmically in time with your project, or you can change the delay value to Milliseconds and get weird with your rhythms. You can also link the two channels, or have them play independently. These are all factors of the overall sound you can change and tweak to get the vibe you're going for.
Experiment with what rhythms sound good in the context of the rest of your track (if you're working on one) but if not, just have a mess around until something clicks with you. Often you'll find a setting that just vibes!
Once you're happy with the patterns created by the delay times, drag the Dry/Wet control all the way down, and gently bring it up until you can subtly hear the delayed signal. Often something as little as 5% is enough to bring in an audible addition to your hi hats, but you can set it to whatever value sounds good to you.
The Dry/Wet signal is controlling how much of the delayed (or Wet) signal we are hearing blended in with the Dry signal. Once you've found a value you're happy with, it's time to have a look at the Feedback control.
The Feedback control is in charge of how many times the delayed signal repeats itself. You might want to only hear the delay once, or you might want to bring the value up and hear the repetitions several times. You can create some really interesting rhythmic interplay with this control.
Turn the value all the way to 95% to hear the full effect, and then gradually bring it down until it sounds natural. Often, I find this trick is really good for humanising your drums slightly. Often the rigid programming of electronic drums can be lacking a certain flair, and adding these subtle delayed signals adds more variation and humanisation to the overall sound.
There are no rules for this, so play with the settings until you get an effect you're happy with.
The key to allowing this hi hat to shine in your mix now, is adding Compression.
You want to set a ratio of something around 4:1, and bring the Threshold down around half way. This should allow the impact of your Dry hi hats to pop, with the delayed signal adding a nice background ambiance to the mix.
Experiment, as always, with the Output control. You might want your hi hats to be really punchy and in the forefront of the mix, or you might want them to be more subtle and hide in the background. You'd be surprised by how much a barely audible part can add or detract from your music!
So, hopefully if you've followed the tips up above you will have added more flair and interest to your hi hat patterns. Now remember, there's no limit to this, so once you've done one, find a different hi hat sample.
Perhaps if you have a very high frequency heavy hi hat sample, you could go for a more crunchy mid frequency sound, or maybe even a shaker. If you want to get really creative, you don't even have to use a hi hat smaple, you could use a shaker, or a sound that just matches the rhythmic role a hi hat plays in the context of a drum arrangement.
Adding several layers of these delay patterned hi hats is a great way to bring some depth to your drums, so be sure to try them out!
Thanks for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts, and make sure you stick around for all your Music Production resources!