As you may or may not know, as well as writing for this site I also produce electronic music under the name HUMJUNKIE. I haven’t yet found myself slotted into any one genre and tend to draw on my influences from many different styles of music. One big influence, however, is Drum ‘n’ Bass. Especially the drum part.
In order to improve my game in programming and mixing drums for my own tracks I have been doing some research online to find out what advice is out there. My digging revealed a number of very interesting articles, which I’ll link to at the end of this. Here are the big tips I pulled out and will be sure to apply to my ongoing work.
I spent far too long trying to recreate that classic DnB beat by sequencing drum machines and samples, only to finally realise what I kind of knew all along… The good old ‘amen’ style breakbeat sounds awesome and really ties together the hats and percussion element of your beat.
Beg, borrow or buy a few high quality breakbeats. Or even make your own! Which is something I like to do using realistic drum programming software like EZ Drummer. Then slice them, dice them and process them to compliment your main kick, snare and percussion. They will add that organic groove which is synonymous with great DnB.
Use Good Quality Samples
It almost goes without saying but you will not make good quality drums without good quality samples. Check out respected sample suppliers such as Loopmasters and Vengeance for some great quality sounds. Be prepared to invest a little. You will find plenty of free samples out there but they don’t come with a guarantee of quality… that said, if you do know of any good free sample sources let us know in the comments!
Bass Below Kick
In many electronic music genres the kick lives in the lowest frequencies with nothing below it. However, DnB tends to favour the sub-bass which resides below the kick. This means you’ll need to EQ out the low end of your kick and make it hit in the upper-low frequencies, around 90-100Hz for example, leaving room below for the bass.
I’ve also been advised that DnB benefits from extremely hard EQ cuts, allowing each part to sit in a very clearly defined portion of the frequency spectrum.
Use Layers to Fatten Hits
Here’s something I need to do more. The idea being that instead of using just one snare sample, for example, you blend together two or three. But this shouldn’t be done just at random. Each sample should serve a purpose. For example, you may have one with a nice mid range punch, another with a nice snappy top end and a third with some great width. Use EQ on each to avoid any nasty build ups then blend them together to form a big, coherent whole.
Subtle distortion can add character and depth to your drums. Unsubtle distortion can have it’s place too, used wisely. Maybe to break up any repetition, add movement or as a transition effect. Experiment.
Try both parallel and inline distortion. Parallel distortion can be great for beefing up drums without destroying the original sound.
Compress the Drum Bus
Compression can glue your drums together into a coherent whole. Don’t go crazy and crush them to death (or maybe do! but do it in parallel and blend it in to beef them up) but use enough to avoid it all sounding like a series of separate samples that don’t fit together. Most compressors have some decent presets if you’re not sure where to begin. Try looking for a mixbus or drum bus preset and adjusting it to taste.
Tell Me Your Drum Tips
That should be enough to think about for now. Combining these ideas will result in some really great sounding drum parts. I’ve taken these tips from DnB advice but they can be applied to your drums in many other genres.
If you have any other great tips to add, please let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to update the article for other readers.
If you are interested, here’s the last track I produced which has some DNB flavour. Would love to hear your thoughts.
I’d like to thank the members of the Heavyweight Bass Producer Forum who also helped with suggestions for this article. They are a very knowledgable bunch!
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