Howdy, how has the last few weeks been for ya then? Good I hope. They were great for me, and yes if you were thinking did I manage to get some studio time in on my Honeymoon, well the answer is yes…. and no! Ha.
I’ll get back to that in a bit. First of I wanted to talk about layering breaks and how important this drum n bass production technique is. I kinda went over some concepts in an earlier blog post. You can read it here. When I look through the statistics a lot of people want information about how to layer their drums. Now, layering drums can be a tricky thing. I spent years in my early production life trying to do so… and failed miserably! I tried every VST Plugin, every VSTi Plugin and every DAW out there with NO LUCK but with sheer determination and the guidance from a few inspirational souls my breaks started to come together. Bit by bit everything that I was taught started to make sense to me and when you hit that point things are good! Anyways, lets get you up to that point because there’s nothing like a big PHAT break that YOU made!
Lets Get Rolling
The first thing I like to do is start with a drum break I like the sound of. What I’m looking for is a nice kick, snare and hat sound. The break must be PHAT! Its important here to pick a great sounding break. If you’re struggling to find any breaks check out Loopmasters for some drum n bass samples. If you pick a crap break your already in a losing position. This is why the Amen break is so loved/abused. Its a great sounding break! Generally I like the sound of old funk breaks. Loop them up and apply a bit of EQ to bring out the individual elements in the break kick, snare etc.
I use either the Sonnox EQ or my trusty UAD Cambridge EQ (above). They are some my favourite VST Plugins for sure! I definitely cut the bottom out of the breaks, say lower then 50hz. I don’t want too much going on down there as you have to leave some room for the sub. If you find that you have a subby kick, EQ that shit out of there or replace the break entirely.
You need to do this NOW or its going to screw stuff up for later. One of the only options you have if you want to keep the kick is to use a method called “Sidechaining”. This is technique is very popular in House music but its popularity is growing in drum n bass production circles. Next, I’ll limit the break a little to bring out some of the levels. This helps to give the drum break a healthy amount of snap or punch usually .
I use the Sonnox Transmod for this as its ultra transparent and I love the little drive setting on there (truly one the best VST Plugins out there). Just to let you know I work at the tempo of the break for this. I don’ t import the break into Cubase at drum n bass tempo. Just use the original tempo of the break. ( I got to give credit to Nik from Noisia this for this one. Big ups… Me and the wife spent some time in Groningen In the Netherlands with the Noisia boys. Awesome dudes! Maybe even the highlight of our 6 weeks!) Anyway… moving on.
Time To Get Edward Scissors Out!
Once I have the break rolling and its phat as funk. I’ll open up the audio editor in Cubase for some chop chop action. Its a simple matter of using Cubase’s hit point detection tool and the rest is history. If your NOT using Cubase (why aren’t you? lol) then you could use Propellerhead Recycle or Native Instruments Kontakt etc to slice up the beat. Or is you wanted to get ultra simple on it you could just cut it up in the project window. Dead easy that is!
Time For The Fun Stuff!
Now, after that’s all done I’ll separate the hits onto different audio channels to work with. I’ll boot the tempo up to drum n bass friendly tempo of 172bpm and I’ll have a look at the break hits and shorten the hits (if there to long) or play around with the envelopes if I think there is too much noise or air in there for my liking. I’ll then buss the drums to a Group Buss (Cubase calls them Groups) and apply some compression and some slight/heavy distortion.
I’ll use the Sonnox Dynamics for the compression and I’ll use Studio Devil for the distortion. I’ll try other plugins out as well if I’m not getting what I want from the other 2. I do all this to gel the break back together and to give the break my own vibe. I’ll then bounce out this break and start all other again. If I don’t think the kick has enough punch I’ll layer it with another kick, same for the snare hats etc. I have a library of hits that I turn to when some parts need reinforcing. Remember when layering to check Cubase’s Phase button to see if the hits are sounding good or not. I could write a whole article on phase so I’m not going to get into that one! Its crazy! Anyways, just try to be a precise as you can and try a few different hits out.
Please Sir Can I Have Some More?
Now I just don’t layer individual hits onto my breaks, some times I’ll layer whole breaks themselves. The trick here is to be selective about what layers your trying to merge together. Try to pick 2 layers that complement each other. Maybe 1 has a nice kick snare and other a nice shuffle? Maybe one break is crusty sounding and the other punchy but clean? The whole plan is to join them together and make them sound like they are from the same kit. You use COMPRESSION for this and a bit of distortion if you will please. Place the plugins on your drum bus. Make sure you are bussing your drums that your trying to layer! Amit describes the Wave C4 compressor like cheese melting over your beats. It helps glue stuff together Period! Now personally I don’t really get down with Multiband limiting/compression but you have to find a plugin you like to work with.
The UAD LA2A works great for me and lets not forget the daddy of them all the WAVES SSL G Buss! Killer! 2 of the best VST Plugins for gelling shit together!
Don’t forget that you don’t have to use all the elements in the loop your trying to layer up! You have the choice to take out a crap sounding snare or kick etc. Rearrange the hits so the pattern fits the one your working on or come up with a whole new pattern/loop. I like to only take the first few hits from shaker loops and loop them around etc. Oh, and I like to quantize to 16’s. I know I know, I’ve been playing around with swing and groove quantize for years but for dancefloor stuff I like to keep it straight. People like Noisia, Phace and Misanthrop can still make it sound funky with the beats quantized to 16s. Who am I to mess with that cold hard fact?
To Finish Up
Okay, I hope that has cleared some stuff up for you. Maybe not ultra detailed as I wanted but for that I’m going to start putting together some short/long videos on drum n bass production. There is something wicked about videos I really love. So In the videos I’ll show you how I use my favourite VST plugins and show you around the studio and more. Anyways.. good luck with your tune making and I’ll see you on the dancefloor.
No Frills and Locus Sydney