The BEST tips, techniques, and production secrets on the web

The BEST tips, techniques, and production secrets on the web
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

How to Glitch-ify your Dubstep Tracks

A key component to making creative dubstep lies in attention to detail. Often, the more detailed and complex your soundscape, the more your track will stand out from the plethora of competition on Beatport, Soundcloud, Youtube and the internet in general. In most cases, complexity indicates a certain skill: the art of subtlety. Dubstep subgenres like complextro (technically not a specific subgenre, but let’s say it is for the sake of example) are almost entirely based upon their detailed structure with the rapid morphing from one bass sound into the next, syncopated waveform oscillation, percussive additives and more, lending the “complex” aspect to it’s name. It’s all in the “glitch,” as you will soon learn. It is the art of the unexpected. Today we will be exploring how you can “glitch-ify” your own tracks, making them as interesting as possible.

As previously stated, the secret to great, glitchy sound lies in the unexpected nature of your transitions, sounds, and overall flow. Start by creating your bass patches. If you are a Massive user (I would highly suggest investing in this wonderful software instrument if you are not), create a bass patch with a fast attack, long sustain and some grit. Throw a Sine Shaper onto it along with a Tele Tube or Classic Tube effect to bring out some distortion. Adjust the stereo width to your liking.

Now that you have one bass patch you are happy with, it is time to make the next one. Here is where the “dubstep mindset” really comes in. You want to be glitchy and unexpected, so adapt this concept into your workflow. You know that your last bass sound was hard-hitting and gritty, so perhaps it might be worth your while to make a bass with a slower attack and more warmth to counter it. How you will use it in the context of the song comes later. Don’t worry about that just yet. For now, create a palette of varying bass sounds.

When you have two basses with qualities that lie on completely opposite sides of the aural spectrum, make at least three more to fill out the middle arena of sound. (By “middle” I am not inferring midrange frequencies, per se). Make some basses that include aspects of both your first and your second bass patches, but this time around add some interesting effects via wavetable oscillation, filters and 3rd party effects plugins. The key is to exercise true freedom when it comes to sound design. While it is important to think of your work as a whole and envision the atmosphere of the end result, too much planning can inhibit your creativity as you will end up losing that sought-after “craziness” that you can only get with musical freedom being point number one in your musical mindset.

Play around with different ratios in your oscillators and don’t be too discouraged if what you are making sounds lackluster on its own in solo mode. All too often I slave over getting a patch to sound “just right” in solo mode, not realizing that the “power” I am seeking is really that of the full mix. You may have just heard your track and thought to add a new bass; next, you add the midi instrument track for the bass and solo it to work on crafting that sound without background noise. Here is the pitfall one must be aware of in this stage: don’t try to make your bass as loud (or worse, louder) than the pre-existing mix. Your sound obviously can’t hold the same amount of amplitude or frequency range as the entire mix of your song in one sound and expect it to blend well, so it is important to bear this in mind when you are finding your basses a little weak while in the designing stage (in solo mode). Keep A and B-ing your new sound in solo with the rest of your mix so that you are working towards a solid sound that meshes with the mix rather than one that tries to overpower it. It is easy to get carried away with distortion and volume, but be wary of how you treat these when it comes to basses since the quickest way to lose your balance in the mixing stage is by working with sounds that are competing with just about everything else in your track. I guarantee you, if you follow this step carefully you will be much happier and quite surprised at how amazing some of those basses are that you otherwise thought would not be powerful enough. Power doesn’t necessarily come from volume. It comes from a balanced mix with well-crafted sounds — sounds that were crafted with that particular attention to detail that is crucial in glitchy electro or dubstep.

While an array of bass sounds with different modulation rates lends the glitch aspect to your low-end groove, cymbals and white noise swells can play crucial roles in your high-end and your buildups. The standard crash cymbal features a long decay and quite often a slight tinge of reverb. To glitch things up a bit, try separating your sample in half and remove a portion of it in the middle so that there is a small gab between the two sections. When done correctly, you can get a nice, flavorful stutter effect which really lends some interesting flavor to an otherwise normal crash cymbal. A perfect example of this can be heard in Porter Robinson’s song “Spitfire.” (

It might also be worth your while to take into consideration the level of interest of your kick and snare patterns. A 4-on-the-floor, thumping kick might work well for house or electro, but when it comes to glitchy dubstep it simply will not suffice. Switch things up and try cutting into half time at key parts of your song. A few “misplaced” kicks often lend a really interesting aspect to dubstep that artists like Skrillex have been known to use prevalently. It is critical to make sure your overall beats themselves are quantized to the grid so as to preserve neatness and order, but transitions can be made much more interesting when you let the beat fall to the wayside with a quick flurry of bombastic mayhem during those key transitions. (I practiced this technique in my Leona Lewis “Trouble” remix which can be heard throughout the song, particularly at the transition starting at 1:42. Pay attention to what the kick does there.

The key to adding interesting glitch aspects lies in how creative you are willing to get. It requires an open mind and a loosing of all of those “hard and fast rules” you were taught to follow. While it does pay to stick to formulas that have been known to work, sticking too much to any given formula will only lead you into the arena of “heard it once, heard it a million times” and no producer wants that. Think for yourself, use your ears, and open your minds! The possibilities are endless.

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