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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Correct Way to Choose Drum and Percussion Samples

One of the key elements involved in the creation of a memorable, catchy, and heavy dubstep track is the power of your drums and percussion. The beat is what drives the song, gets the crowd jumping, and carries the context of your drops and buildups. It is critical to spend extra time perfecting your beats as to ensure a meaningful, successful recording. It is just as important that you focus on choosing the right samples for your beats. After all, a beat is precisely the sum of its parts and it pays to bear this in mind when crafting your own.

It is easy to fall into the trap of dragging any old snare or kick sample out of your Vengeance pack, but don’t allow that habit to befall you. As killer as some of those sounds might initially seem as you scroll through the list while trialing a few here and there, it is important to remember that you are hearing them out of context. The key to choosing the right sample lies in how it will mesh with the rest of the music. For instance, a bass-heavy track with minimal leads or high-end might call for a kick with a little more snap to it, so as to juxtapose the sub frequencies of the bass with just the right amount of attack. Use your ears and don’t be afraid to completely scrap a sound for a better version if you find that what you have isn’t working. Often, you might think a particular sample has all the components you need (a kick with heavy ‘thump’ and a snappy attack, say) while trialing it in your browser window, only to find that it falls short of what you had expected it would accomplish in the context of the mix. Now, you could do one of two things at this point: a.) Spend countless hours toiling with EQ and compression settings in order to make that kick sound halfway decent, or b.) Find a better sample.

The key to great sounding drums and percussion mostly pertains to the quality of the sample. Of course, every sample will need some degree of doctoring (whether it be EQ, compression, reverb, etc.) but it is important to consider the initial quality of the dry sample before you delve into perfecting it. You will save yourself many hours of work, not to mention frustration, in the long run.

A good deal of dubstep producers are led to believe that it is necessary to layer your kicks and snares in order to achieve that sought-after heaviness but I am here to tell you that this practice it is not necessarily do-or-die. I will explain the ins and outs of layering in a future article and will keep this post mainly about picking the best drum samples you can, whether you choose to layer them or not. Layering absolutely works, and can be an excellent technique but it isn’t the only correct way, nor is it a fool-proof method for getting great sounds. There are a number of pitfalls that could occur during the layering process such as phase cancellation, clipping due to unnecessary frequencies if you are not careful with your EQ and compression settings, and an overall unorganized mix. Sure, with the right amount of skill you can certainly navigate yourself around these traps but for the novice producer, and in general, it is much more fruitful to find one really great sample and shape it to perfection.

The same rules apply to snares, hi hats, cymbals, rides, toms, ethnic percussion and so forth. Take the extra time to sculpt a sound that will truly be worthwhile in your mix, and if you are using a sample library, make sure you bear in mind how you want the song to sound before you start laying down tracks. This applies not only to drums and percussion but to the rest of your instruments as well. A good jumping off point comes when you can visualize your mix in your head, taking into consideration your key frequency points. When you do this, you will have a better idea of what samples to choose from your sound bank since you know roughly what range of frequency you need to fill. Obviously the entire frequency spectrum will be utilized in some respect, but even a very rough visualization of your spectral palette will come in handy down the line.

For dubstep, you already know going in that your track will consist of heavy sub frequencies pumped between 16-50Hz respectively as far as your bass is concerned, so you are now left with the knowledge that you will need some tracks that feature a higher timbre so as to complement the lows of your bass. This should be common sense, but one would be surprised at how easy it is to neglect a frequency range when one mixes under false assumptions. For example, a well-produced kick drum is low-frequency dominated but the snappiness comes from the high end of the spectrum (usually a high-shelf boost around 2kHz or a very subtle hi hat sample with appropriate filtering) while the punchiness prevails at between 2-5kHz (which would be boosted about 2dB or so on your second or “high” kick sample, if you are going the layering route).

Oftentimes some tribal and ethnic percussion sounds work great to complement the pulse of the kick, and a syncopated rhythm works wonders in achieving a driving groove on a dubstep track. Experiment with some different rhythms and throw in some unexpected percussion sounds to spice things up. You might even find that those seemingly random analog blips and down-sampled one-hits that are packed into some sample libraries can provide some really exciting and dynamic flavor that you otherwise might never have dreamed of. It pays to experiment. Be cautious, however, as what might at first sound unique could later prove to be more along the lines of inconsistent or distracting. This is why it is important, as I mentioned in my first article “The Dubstep Mindset,” to take a few extra days to let your track sink in. Even going back to listen the next morning after a night of heavy work sometimes proves quite a puzzling and often annoying instance in which you are left wondering what the hell you were just listening to, and how you could have thought it was acceptable at the time. “It sounded fucking sick the other night, what the hell happened?” You don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself uttering that phrase. Trust me. Take a day or two to let your “final” product sink in before you upload.

Finding the right samples takes time, but what doesn’t when it comes to making a great track? Never rush the trialing process. Try a million different kicks if you have to. Do it until you get the right one. But don’t drive yourself crazy because as soon as you take the fun out of the creation process, the negative vibes begin to manifest into them noticeable inconsistencies within the music itself. It can be extremely tough to find that middle ground but once you are in the zone, take advantage of it and take note of the feeling. Incorporate that vibe into your workflow and the choosing process becomes much easier, as does the entire production session.

1 comment:

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