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575

royalty-free
samples from
future loops

Make better

Improve your groove with our essential drum


and percussion production tutorials

Featuring
Get hands-on with NI Maschine, Akai MPC
Software and Vengeance Phalanx
Create perfect sampled acoustic drum kit tracks
The best software drum machines revealed
Talking beats with Mr Scruff, Reso, Om Unit and more

Special 66 2014
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welcome
As the bedrock on which all the other elements of
any dance or electronic track sit, getting your
drum and percussion parts collectively, your
beats sounding their best is probably the most
important part of the entire production process.
Weak beats will undermine everything else in an
otherwise solid mix, whether that weakness comes
in the form of bad (meaning bad) sound selection,
tepid processing or pedestrian programming.
With this
Special on your studio bookshelf,
such groove-sapping issues need never trouble
you again. Over these 98 walkthrough-packed
pages, well get you up to speed on working with
synthesised and sampled drum sounds,
programming electronic and acoustic drum and
percussion parts, creating larger-than-life,
Hollywood-style beats, getting hands-on with
Maschine and MPC Software, and more. Each and
every tutorial comes with all the files required to
follow along on your Mac or PC, and six of them
are brought to life onscreen in video form. As well
as that little lot, well also reveal our pick of the
finest software drum machines on the market and
get some words of wisdom from seven masters or
the beat-making art.
So, whether youre creating house, techno,
trance, chillwave, hip-hop, DnB, dubstep, EDM or
trap, rest assured that youve come to the right
place to righten your rhythms.
ENJOY THE ISSUE

Future Publishing Limited 2014. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be
used or reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing
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Computer Music special / 3

Make great music


on your PC or Mac!

Computer Music is the magazine for musicians with a PC or Mac. Its packed with tutorials,
videos, samples and exclusive software to help you make great music now!

www.computermusic.co.uk
Available digitally on these devices

special Issue 66

contents

07 Drum sequencing essentials


If you want to make awesome beats without relying on prefab
loops, you need to get your sequencing chops together

16 S
 ampled
beats

Get more from your rhythm


loops with our guide to
slicing, dicing, layering,
processing and generally
messing with sampled beats

76 B
 uild a sample kit
with Phalanx

Vengeance Sounds powerful, flexible drum sampler is a onestop shop for dance and electronic beats of all kinds

80 Gear guide

Whether youre after a


synth-based drum
machine or a realistic
drum kit ROMpler, our
pick of the finest virtual
instruments on the
market will see you right

24 Synthesised beats

With our help youll soon feel right at home with analogue-style
subtractive synthesis and physical modeling

32 P
 rogramming
realistic
acoustic
drums

While the majority of this


Special is dedicated to the
discussion of electronic beats,
every producer should be able
to program convincing drum
kit parts should the need arise.
We show you how

40 Programming percussion

Congas, bongos, djembe, timbales weaving intricate


percussion lines into your beats isnt as hard as you might think

48 Cinematic beats

Inspired by the big, bombastic sounds of Hollywood movies, we


explore a range of larger-than-life percussion possibilities

89 The beat makers


54 Mixing beats

Once youve selected your sounds and sequenced your


groove, its time to get mixing

Seven of the electronic music scenes


leading lights tell us how they go about the
process of beat production, and let us in on
some of the software they use to do it

64 Make beats with Maschine

NIs hybrid groovebox might be cutting-edge, but that doesnt


mean it cant be used to make high-fat old-school beats

70 Make beats with


MPC Software

Go back to the future with the 21st-century incarnation of Akais


seminal sample-based grooveboxes

98 DOWNLOAD
You can get your hands on all the
tutorial files, samples and videos that
Special on the disc
accompany this
and at vault.computermusic.co.uk
select Computer Music issue 66

Computer Music special / 5

Mag/DVD

Future Music is the mag for the latest gear and how todays cutting-edge music makers use it.
Weve been making the future since 1992. Make sure that youre part of it.

Drum sequencing

essentials

Sequence your own


house, trap and DnB
beats from scratch
with our easy-to-follow
walkthroughs

With countless excellent sample libraries


just a few clicks and a credit card away, its
easy to find pre-programmed loops in
practically any conceivable style these days.
But although they can be a convenient
shortcut to producing professional-sounding
music, relying on them for all your beats isnt
an approach wed recommend.
The advantage of being able to program your
own beats from scratch is that youll gain a
better understanding of how they work, both
rhythmically and sonically. Knowing what gives
a particular genre its groove and which drums
are used to generate which sounds is a hugely
useful skill when it comes to composing and
mixing dance music.
Creating rhythms using one-shot samples or
drum machines gives you a far greater level of
control over the sound than loops ever can
and, of course, theres nothing to stop you from
combining both.

Of course, starting your beat production


endeavours with nothing more than a blank
arrange page can be somewhat intimidating,
especially if you dont even know what tempo
you should be working at for your particular
genre, let alone the specifics of which sounds or
rhythms you need to use to create an
appropriate beat for it.
Never fear, though, because thats where this
tutorial comes in! Over the following pages, well
show you how to make beats in three of the
hottest dance music styles entirely from scratch,
either using drum kits included with your DAW
or samples provided in our Tutorial Files folder.
Dont worry if youre an absolute production
beginner these walkthroughs will show you
what to do click by click, giving you a better
understanding of how dance music beats are
constructed and hopefully inspiring you to
come up with ways in which you can put your
own creative spin on them.
Computer Music special / 7

> drum programming essentials


> Step by step 1. Making a house beat in Cubase

video

Tutorial

Files

Create a new project in Cubase, then right-click the Track List and
select Add Instrument Track. Click the instrument slot in the
window that appears and select SynthHALion Sonic SE. When you
click the Add Track button, a new instrument track with HALion Sonic
SE on it will appear.

Close the window layout panel by clicking outside it, then select
the Drum&Perc filter in the Category column. Activating this filter
means that only drum kit presets will be shown in the list on the right,
making it much easier to find what were looking for. Scroll down to the
bottom of the list and double-click T9 Analog Kit.

Click the Loop button on the transport bar to activate the loop,
then double-click the first bar on the instrument track to create a
new MIDI region. Select MIDIOpen Drum Editor from the menu. Lets
start with a four-to-the-floor kick drum. Click the Drumstick icon on
the Tool Buttons menu at the top left-hand corner of the interface.

8 / Computer Music special

To load a drum kit, click the Load Program button (the square with
the downwards-pointing arrow towards the top centre of the
interface). This brings up a huge list of presets. Open the window
layout panel with the button at the bottom left-hand corner of the
interface, and activate the Filters option if its not already on.

This closes the Load Program menu and loads ourchosen kit. You
can hear how it sounds by playing your MIDI controller or clicking
the keys on HALion Sonic SEs virtual keyboard. Close HALion Sonic
SEs interface, and drag between bars 1 and 2 on the ruler above the
arrangement to set up a loop.

Using the Drumstick tool, add hits by clicking the vertical lines.
The darker lines represent the fours beats of the bar. Click every
beat of the bar in the Bass Drum row to create a four-to-the-floor kick
pattern. Press the Play button in the transport bar to hear how it
sounds. While the beat continues to play, lets add some more sounds.

Add a Hand Clap on the second and fourth beats. As well as putting
sounds on beats, we can put them between beats, too. There are
four beats in a bar these are called quarter-notes, and well also use
eighth- and 16th-notes in this example. By default, Cubases grid also
displays paler 16th-note divisions.

Add Closed Hi-Hats on the first, second, eighth and tenth


16th-notes. This sounds OK, but the rhythm is very straight itll
sound a lot better with some swing. Turn the Swing parameter on the
left up to 50%. As you do this, every other 16th-note grid line will move
to the right slightly, shuffling the beat.

Two 16th-notes are the same length as one eighth-note. Put Open
Hi-Hats on every other eighth-note. This kick, clap and open hats
pattern gives us a very basic house music template to work with, which
we can make more interesting by adding other sounds. Lets give the
beat more energy with the addition of some closed hats.

10

Press Ctrl+A on PC or Cmd+A on Mac to select all the drum hits,


then Q to quantise them. Most of the hits will be unaffected
because theyre on quarter- or eighth-notes, but the Closed Hi-Hats on
16th-notes will be moved to the shifted grid lines. This gives us a much
funkier, classic-style house groove. (Audio: House beat.wav)

Timing is everything
This may sound obvious, but its easy to
underestimate the importance of timing
when it comes to making dance beats. The
subtle swing timing change applied in the
last step of the walkthrough above only
makes a difference of a fraction of a second to
a handful of the sequenced hits, but it greatly
enhances the overall feel. The beat instantly
sounds funkier, and is much easier to listen to
for an extended period. So what exactly is
swing, and why is it such a powerful tool?
Swing also known as shuffle and
groove is a rhythmic device that first
emerged in a formal sense with the blues, the
great-granddaddy of contemporary popular
music. It involves varying the timing of the
rhythm, usually so that every other eighth- or
16th-note plays slightlylate,giving the beat a
shuffled feel. In step 9 of the walkthrough, all

the beats have perfectly rigid timing, which is


pretty unexciting to listen to. When we delay
every other 16th-note in Step 10 by turning up
the Swing parameter, the slight timing
variations from note to note turn the beat
from flat to funky.
Its important to
note that you dont
have to apply swing to
a whole drum track to
capitalise on the
effect. Swinging just
one element (the
hi-hats, usually) teases
the ear while maintaining the overall
tightness of the beat.
Part of the reason that breakbeats
(sampled drum breaks) are so popular in
dance is that their inherent groove gives the

producer a quick and effective way to lend a


track a funky feel. You can learn a lot about
rhythm programming by simply loading a
break you like the rhythm of into your DAW,
setting the project tempo to that of the beat,

Note that you dont have to apply


swing to a whole drum track to
capitalise on the effect
and examining the timing fluctuations. Some
DAWs even have the ability to analyse audio
clips and extract the timing and volume
variations of their groove as a template that
can then be applied to audio and MIDI parts.
Computer Music special / 9

> drum programming essentials


> Step by step 2. Sequencing a trap beat in Logic Pro

Start a new project in Logic Pro with a software instrument track.


Click the button with the arrows on the right-hand side of the
instrument slot in the Inspector to bring up a list of available
instruments, and select EXS24 (Sampler)Stereo from the list.

Double-click the Tempo field in the control bar and set it to


130bpm, then click the Display Mode button and select Custom.
This is important when creating a trap beat, because it enables us to
switch the Piano Roll Editors grid between time signatures on the fly.

Double-click the MIDI region to bring up the Piano Roll Editor. Well
start by adding the fundamental elements of the beat: the kick on
beat 1 and the snare on beat 3. Hold Cmd to switch to the Pencil tool,
and click B0 on the first beats of the first and second bars.

10 / Computer Music special

By default, the Bus 2 send is turned up a little, so turn it down to 0.


In EXS24, click the empty patch name slot above the Cutoff knob
and select Drums & PercussionElectronic Drum KitsEXS 808. This
gives us a set of awesome Roland TR-808 drum machine samples to
play with an essential ingredient of trap.

Drag over bars 1 and 2 in the Cycle Area above the arrangement to
set a loop, then right-click that area on the EXS24 track and select
Create Empty MIDI Region. Next, drag the right-hand side of the
region over to the end of the second bar now we have a two-bar MIDI
region to program our beat in.

This creates a powerful, booming 808 sub note, though if youre


listening on laptop speakers all youll hear is its high-end attack! As
always, headphones or proper monitors are recommended. Add D1
notes on beats 1.3 and 2.3. We now have the bare bones of our trap
rhythm, which we can spice up with extra elements.

#
For starters, lets beef the snare up by layering it up with D 1 (clap)
and E1 (higher snare) notes on the same beat. This makes it sound
bigger and sharpens its attack. Adding some kicks gives the beat more
of a rhythmic feel. Copy the kick pattern shown above, which is a little
more interesting and danceable.

In the control bar, click /16 under the time signature and select /12
instead. This enables us to quickly enter triplets. Add six more
#
hi-hats on F 1 on the final two beats of the first bar, as shown above.
When youre done, return the grid to /16.

10

11

Currently, all of the hits are at the same volume level. This isnt a
problem for the kicks and snares in this particular beat, as we want
them to be consistently loud and solid-sounding, but the hi-hats would
sound a bit more natural with some volume variation. Click the MIDI
Draw button to show each hits velocity level.

12

Trap isnt trap without those sparkly hi-hats, and these are typically
the most complex part of the beat. Well use the closed hi-hat
#
sound on F 1 for this pattern start by drawing in eighth-notes for the
first two beats. Next, well change up the rhythm by introducing some
triplets. This is where we need to change the timing of the grid

Now enter another four eighth-notes on the first two beats of the
second bar. For the last two beats, use /12 then /32 to add triplets
followed by a quick roll. To shorten the length of the 32nd-notes, drag
their right-hand edges to the left. This interplay between the kick and
hi-hat rhythms is what a trap beat is all about.

As you can see from the panel that appears, each hit has a velocity
value, which tells the EXS24 how loud you want the note to be. To
change the velocity level of a hit, drag over it to select it in the piano
roll editor, then drag its velocity value in the MIDI Draw panel. Add
some variation to give the beat a more natural, human sound. (Audio:
Trap beat.wav)

Computer Music special / 11

> drum programming essentials


> Step by step 3. Programming a drum n bass beat in Ableton Live

Launch Live and press the Tab key to switch from Session to
Arrangement view. We dont need to use the default setups audio
tracks, so select them all and press Backspace to get rid of them. Enter
174 into the tempo field at the top left-hand corner of the interface.

Drag over bar 5 on the MIDI track and press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+M to


create a MIDI clip, then Ctrl/Cmd+L to loop the region. Doubleclick the MIDI clip to bring up the MIDI editor.

Double-click the title of the second MIDI track to select it, and this
time drag Snare 1.wav onto the channel strip. Add hits on 1.2 and
1.4 that last until 1.2.3 and 1.4.3, as shown. This kind of kick-and-snare
rhythm is the foundation of most DnB beats, but it needs the addition
of a few more elements to make it fuller and faster.

12 / Computer Music special

In the Tutorial Files/Drum programming essentials/


Programming a DnB beat in Ableton Live folder youll find some
DnB-ready drum sounds. Select the first MIDI track and drag Kick.wav
into the empty device chain pane at the bottom of the interface to
automatically create a Simpler instrument that we can trigger via MIDI
to play back the sound.

Double-click C3 on the first beat of the bar, and drag the right-hand
side of the note created so that it runs to 1.1.2 this may not be
visible depending on your zoom level, but its half way between the
start of the first beat and 1.1.3. Create another beat of the same length
starting on 1.3.3. When combined with a snare on beats 2 and 4, this
creates a 2-step pattern.

Press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+T to create a new MIDI track. Drag Hat.wav


onto it to call up a Simpler instrument, and create a new MIDI part.
Put a short note on the first beat of the bar that lasts until 1.1.1, then
press Ctrl/Cmd+4 to turn off snap to grid.

Hold Alt and drag the note over to just past 1.1.2 to make a copy of
it. Again, you can drag vertically on the ruler at the top of the editor
to zoom in and out. We want this hi-hat to be quieter than the first one,
so drag its velocity level in the panel below down to 40 or so.

The hi-hats are quite loud, so turn the Track Volume down to -3dB.
Now our beat is rolling along nicely, lets funk it up a little bit. Add
another MIDI track, drag Snare 2.wav onto it and create a new MIDI
clip. Were going to use this new sound to play some ghost notes.

10

11

We want this snare to be much quieter than the main one, so turn
its Track Volume down to -7.5dB. We can use this ghost snare part
to provide variation to the beat and help it sound less repetitive. Click
the arrow at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to hide the
MIDI editor. Drag over all the clips created so far and duplicate them.

12

This timing and velocity variation will give us a more natural,


rolling hi-hat pattern that will complement our rigid kicks and
snares. Press Ctrl/Cmd+4 to turn snap back on, then drag over the
area between beats 1 and 1.1.3. Now Press Ctrl/Cmd+D to duplicate the
hats and copy them out so that they last for the whole bar.

A ghost note is a quieter hit on the snare with a different timbre to


that of the main hits, used to make the rhythm more syncopated
and involved. Double-click the MIDI part to bring up the MIDI editor
and add 32nd-note hits on 1.2.3, 1.2.4 and 1.3.2.

Now click the first of the two ghost snare clips and press 0 to mute
it. This very quickly turns our one-bar loop into a two-bar loop
thats easier to listen to for extended periods. Select the entire
sequence by dragging on one of the tracks, and press Ctrl/Cmd+L to
loop it. Another way to keep a dance music beat involving is to add
and remove elements as the track progresses.

Computer Music special / 13

> drum programming essentials


> Step by step 3. Programming a drum n bass beat in Ableton Live (continued)

13

15

Duplicate the two-bar section out three times to make an eight-bar


sequence. Add a new MIDI track and drag Ride cymbal.wav onto
it. Create a new one-bar-long MIDI clip at the start of the second half of
the sequence and trigger the ride cymbal sound on eighth-notes. Turn
the Track Volume down to -9dB.

Grouping the tracks enables us to edit them as a single entity.


Zoom in on the bar before the ride begins, then drag over the sixth
eighth-note on the group track and delete it. Highlight the fifth eighthnote and duplicate it.

14

16

Drag the right-hand side of the clip out so that it lasts until the end
of the sequence. To make the transition between the sections
more exciting, lets create a fill. Select the kick and ride tracks (hold
Shift) and press Ctrl/Cmd+G to group them.

This creates a fairly subtle variation on the beat that indicates to


the listener that something is about to happen. Another useful tool
for accenting particular parts of a beat is the crash cymbal. Create a
new MIDI track, drag Crash.wav onto it and trigger a single note at the
start of the ride section lasting for an entire bar so that the whole
sound can play. (Audio: DnB beat.wav)

Pick and mix


In these walkthroughs, weve focused purely
on sequencing drum sounds rather than
processing them. The resulting beats might
be relatively simple, but theyre solidsounding and consistent with what you might
expect from their respective genres. An
important element of this is sound selection.
For each tutorial weve specified that you use
a particular set of sounds, and its easy to
hear how differently things can turn out just
load the EXS24 or HALion Sonic SE with a
different kit after youve programmed the
beat. Sometimes the results will be
interesting (for example, the Goa Remix kit
makes a surprisingly cool substitute for the
EXS 808 one), but more often than not they
will be less than satisfying.
Trying to make a particular style of beat
without the right sounds is often frustrating,
14 / Computer Music special

and it takes time to learn what kinds of


sounds work in any particular context. It can
be tempting for new producers to always pick
the biggest, baddest-sounding sample or kit,
and then make it sound even more extreme
by heavily processing
it in ill-advised ways. If
you find yourself
falling into this trap,
practice your beat
programming with
the pre-programmed
kits from sample
packs or your DAWs
included library. These will offer a sonic
consistency that makes it easier to
concentrate on learning how to use each
sound and the tricks that you can achieve
with variations in velocity and timing.

Once youve got to grips with creating


beats using preset kits, you can take things to
the next level by selecting each sound
individually and processing it. Get your hands
on high-quality versions of tracks that you

Practice your beat programming


with the pre-programmed kits
from sample packs
consider to have decent beats preferably
ones where the beat plays on its own during
the intro or outro and load them into your
DAW, where you can loop the relevant
sections and study them more easily.

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Sampled beats
Working with
sampled loops is an
effective and fun way
to produce beats
but only if you know
how to step beyond
the obvious

16 / Computer Music special

Using prefab drum loops to quickly make


beats is probably one of the first things
that you did upon coming face to face with a
DAW for the first time. Its a quick, easy and
fun way to make music, particularly for
beginners, though thats not to say that it
cant also be a creatively valid and rewarding
technique you just have to look at hip-hop, a
genre that began with DJs creating extended,
looping drum solos by using two turntables
and two copies of the same record, to see just
how innovative and exciting loop-based
music production can be. DAWs are hugely
powerful audio editing tools, and by fully
exploiting them, we can turn loops into
flexible musical building blocks that offer
endless scope and potential.
Not all loops will sit together perfectly,
because of differences in timing and/or tuning.
Thankfully, both of these issues can be resolved

pretty easily with the advanced timestretching


and pitchshifting trickery that todays music
software is capable of.
Ironically, to get the most out of loops, it
really helps to have a good understanding of
how beats are programmed from scratch: if you
dont know how to construct the kind of
rhythms you want to create, or have a grasp of
how swing works, say, youre going to be limited
to making only the most basic of alterations to
your loops.
In these walkthroughs well show you how to
slice, fade, rearrange, layer, timestretch, EQ and
pitchshift loops to create new rhythms and
create fuller, more satisfying beats. Combine
these techniques with the advice in Drum
Programming Essentials on p7 and youll be fully
tooled up with the beat-sculpting skills required
you to make your biggest, baddest-sounding
drum tracks yet.

sampled beats <


> Step by step

1. Basic beat-slicing in Logic Pro

Tutorial

Files

Create a new project with an audio track, and click the Apple
Loops button at the top right-hand corner of the interface to bring
up Logics Loop Browser. Near the top left-hand corner of the matrix of
search filters is a button that reads All Drums. Click it to filter the view
down to just drum loops.

Press Enter to select Import, and the loop will appear on the audio
track. Drag over bars 1 and 2 in the ruler above the arrangement to
activate Cycle mode and press Play on the transport bar to play the
loop back. Because were working with an Apple Loop, itll
automatically change its tempo to match the project.

We can change the rhythm of the beat quickly and easily by slicing
the loop. Click the Apple Loops button again to hide the menu,
then click the left-click Tool menu and select the Scissors tool. Now
you can slice the audio by clicking it. Zoom in so that you can see the
waveform more clearly.

Scroll down to House Grounded Beat 01 and drag it onto the


audio track. A window will pop up, asking if youd like to import the
loops tempo information. In this case it doesnt matter whether we do
this or not: this Apple Loop doesnt have any tempo variation, and its
tempo is 120bpm, which is the same as the project.

As the beat plays back, double-click the Tempo field, type in


135bpm and press Enter. Youll hear that Logic switches to the
new tempo, but unlike speeding up a tape or turntable, the beats pitch
remains the same, because its being timestretched rather than
resampled see A Change of Pace on p20 for more on this.

Lets slice out the first hi-hat. The hi-hats are the smaller events
between the large kick drums that sit on each beat. Click the
waveform just before the first hi-hat, then just before the second kick,
as shown above. The vertical lines created on either side of the hi-hat
show that its now separate to the rest of the beat.

Computer Music special / 17

> Step by step 1. Basic beat-slicing in Logic Pro (continued)

11

Set the left-click Tool menu back to the Pointer tool, then click the
hi-hat slice and press Backspace to delete it. The gap weve
created gives the beat a stop-start motion at the beginning, but if you
listen carefully, youll hear the very start of the hi-hat before the gap.
(Audio: Unwanted hat)

By default, Logics Snap mode is set to Smart, which means its


resolution is dependent on the current zoom level. As were
zoomed in pretty tight, we can drag the bottom right-hand edge of the
waveform to the left slightly, getting rid of the start of the hi-hat
without adversely affecting the kick. (Audio: Removed hat.wav)

Depending on where you a slice a loop, it might sound unnatural if


it goes from a full sound to silence too quickly. Lets demonstrate
this. Shorten the first kick so that it ends between 1.1.1 and 1.1.2. Youll
notice that the sound ends abruptly, which gives it an unnatural feel.
(Audio: No fade)

18 / Computer Music special

Zoom in on the end of the first kick and youll see that the hi-hat
does indeed start before the section weve cut. Because Logics
Snap mode was active when we sliced the audio, it was cut exactly at
1.1.3, but the hat starts slightly before that. Thankfully, theres an easy
way to fix this.

10

Sometimes when you slice a sample, you might get an audible


click at its beginning or end. This is usually due to the sample
starting or finishing at a non-zero point in the waveform, and you can
avoid it by activating your DAWs snap to zero-crossing function. In
Logics Edit menu, Snap Edits to Zero Crossing is active by default.

12

Click the More arrow in the Region Inspector Fade In and Fade
Out parameters will appear. Drag up in the space to the right of the
Fade Out parameter until it reads 10. Now when you play the sound
back its still very short, but the smooth volume fade at the end stops it
sounding so unnatural. (Audio: Short fade)

sampled beats <


> Step by step 2. Layering and rearranging loops in Cubase

Layering drum loops can be a great technique for making more


complex, beefier rhythms. Create a new empty project in Cubase,
and drag Kick.wav into the arrangement. This loop is a bit faster than
the default Cubase project tempo of 120bpm, so we can either change
the project tempo or tweak the loop to fit.

Double-click Kick.wav in the arrangement to open the sample


editor, then click the AudioWarp tab to expand it. Activate
Musical mode by clicking the musical note button. This automatically
timestretches the loop, which now plays back in time with the
metronome. Turn the metronome off by deactivating Click in the
transport panel. (Audio: Timestretched kick)

In this mode, the audio is resampled rather than timestretched, so


its pitch drops slightly but the transient of each kick is better
preserved. Now lets add another loop to complement the kick. Close
the audio editor and drag Tops.wav into the space below Kick.wav.
Activate Musical mode and change the algorithm to lastique Pro
Tape again. (Audio: Kick and tops)

Lets make the loop fit our 120bpm project. In the ruler above the
arrangement, drag over the bar with Kick.wav in it, then click the
Cycle On/Off button in the transport panel to loop that region. If you
play the loop back and activate the metronome, youll hear that the
kick drum goes out of time towards the end of the bar.

With the metronome deactivated, its easier to hear that Cubases


default timestretching mode has had an undesirable effect if you
listen closely youll hear a slight pitched whoosh on each beat. Locate
the Algorithm parameter at the top of the window, and change it to
lastiquelastique Pro Tape. (Audio: Resampled kick)

Next, add Ghetto beat.wav below the previous two samples and
repeat the same process. This loop has an extra kick at the end,
which makes the rhythm a little messy. Select the Scissors tool and
click midway through the Ghetto beat to slice it in two.

Computer Music special / 19

> Step by step 2. Layering and rearranging loops in Cubase (continued)

Delete the second half of the loop, then select the remaining half.
Press Ctrl+D on PC or Cmd+D on Mac to duplicate this half of the
beat. By replacing unwanted material like this, we can make beats with
different rhythms work together. (Audio: Rearranged beat)

On playback, youll see the channels frequency content displayed


in the analyser theres a big peak in the low end where the loops
big, bassy kick drum sits. Lets high-pass filter it out. Hover your mouse
pointer over the lowest bands 1 to make it a power button. Click it to
activate the band.

Theres still one problem with our beat: Ghetto beat.wavs kick
drum is interfering with the main kick. It doesnt sound terrible, but
theres a way we can get a much clearer sound while retaining the
Ghetto beats characteristic top end. Click the Ghetto beat track in the
Track List, then expand the Equalizers tab in the Inspector.

10

Now click the EQ shape on the right to bring up a list of available


filter types. Select High Pass I, then drag the Frequency of the
band up to 1.55kHz. This takes out the loops low end, helping our
original kick sound clear in the mix. (Audio: EQed beat)

A change of pace
Often, youll want to change the tempo or
pitch of a loop to make it fit with other
elements of a track. There are two ways to do
this: resampling and granular processing.
Resampling works much like speeding up or
slowing down a tape machine or vinyl record
player. The tempo and pitch are inextricably
linked, so the slower the audio data is played
back, the lower in pitch it becomes, and the
faster its played back, the higher in pitch it
rises. The advantage of this method is that its
quick and easy for software to perform, and it
usually maintains the transients and texture
of the audio well.
Frequently, though, its beneficial to be
able to control the tempo and pitch of a
sound independently, and this is where
granular processing (often known in this
context as warping) comes into play. By
slicing the audio into thousands of tiny
20 / Computer Music special

sections and duplicating or removing them


as necessary, its possible to make an audio
clip much longer or shorter a technique
known as timestretching. And when
combined with resampling, it can also be
used to change the pitch of the audio thats
pitchshifting. The catch is that this process is
more likely to have an impact on the quality
of the audio, which is why most DAWs and
samplers offer a choice of granular
processing or warping algorithms. Some
algorithms will work better with beats, others
with pitched musical material or vocals, so
its worth getting to know all of your
softwares available algorithms to find out
which are best suited to particular tasks.
Another way in which DAWs and samplers
can be used to change the tempo of loops is
by slicing them into individual beats, which
can then be played back faster or slower. This

technique preserves the pitch of the audio


and leaves the loops transients unaffected,
although it can sound unnatural if the loop
features longer sounds such as ride cymbals.
This slicing information can be stored in the
Acidized WAV, Apple Loops (AIF) and REX
(RX2) file formats, and most current software
can work with all three, automatically
adjusting imported audio in any of these
formats to fit your projects tempo.
For the uninitiated, Propellerheads
ReCycle (229, available from www.
propellerheads.se) is a venerable piece of
software for slicing loops and exporting RX2
files. These days, though, most DAWs and
samplers can slice loops into sections and
create sampler patches and MIDI timing
sequences automatically, so its worth
investigating your existing softwares loopslicing capabilities to see what its capable of.

sampled beats <


> Step by step 3. Applying swing to loops in Ableton Live 

video

Because not all loops have exactly the same groove (see Timing Is
Everything on p9), you may need to tweak a loops timing to work
with its accompanying material. There are a couple of ways to do this
in Ableton Live. Drag Shuffle house.wav and Straight castanets.wav
onto separate audio tracks in the first bar of a Live arrangement.

We can adjust the castanets timing by double-clicking the


waveform to bring it up in the Clip View. Double-click the ruler
above the third castanet to add a yellow warp marker. We can now
adjust the timing of the second castanet without affecting the rest of
the loop. Press Ctrl/Cmd+4 to deactivate Lives Snap mode.

This is where Lives Groove Extraction capability comes in handy.


Double-click the warp markers youve created to delete them.
Right-click House shuffle.wav and select Extract Groove(s). Live will
take a few moments to analyse the audio. When its done, click the
wavy button on the left of the interface to bring up the Groove Pool.

Press Ctrl/Cmd+L to set up a loop around the samples. Drag down


on the ruler over the arrangement to zoom in on the waveforms.
Look at Shuffle house.wav. Youll see that the closed hat of the first
beat plays a bit after 1.1.2, but Straight castanets.wav has much more
rigid timing, sitting perfectly on 1.1.3. (Audio: Unaligned beats)

You can now drag the castanets into exactly the right position.
Changes that are made in the Clip View will be reflected in the
waveforms on the arrangement move the castanets to the right until
they sit perfectly under the closed hi-hat. This technique works well for
small jobs, but it would take quite a while to tweak the rest of the beat
in this manner.

Youll see House Shuffle in there this is the groove we just


created. Drag the groove onto Straight Castanets and its timing
will automatically be adjusted to fit the groove. Finally, turn the clips
Transpose parameter up to 3 so that it sits more comfortably with
House shuffle.wav. (Audio: Aligned beats)

Computer Music special / 21

> synthesised beats

Synthesised

beats

We all want to stand out from the crowd, and theres no


better way of carving out your own identity than by
creating your own drum sounds from scratch
The earliest drum machines were little
more than preset analogue cheese
machines, ticking off time in a series of thin
clicks, beeps and bloops that bore no
resemblance to actual drums whatsoever.
Eventually, however, these potential-packed
devices were rediscovered by a new
generation of musicians who embraced the
quirky, synthetic character of those sounds.
And why not? Acoustic drums are ubiquitous
to the point of drawing almost no attention, and
their organic nature just doesnt suit the
majority of electronic and dance music; and
24 / Computer Music special

with all the power of modern software


synthesisers at our disposal, it ought to be easy
to craft unique, ear-catching sounds from the
ground up.
There are numerous drum machine plugins
out there that draw purely upon synthesis to
forge their beats. For the novice electronic
musician, these instruments can seem arcane
and even intimidating, but they neednt be, as
many of them tap into the same technologies
that form the basis of your regular non-drumspecific synthesisers. Over the years the
terminology has gained something of a

common language, and once you learn one, you


can easily apply it to another.
In this tutorial well give you the lowdown on
drum synths and how you can use them to craft
your own sound. Well clue you in on various
synthesis techniques, describing them in terms
that anyone can understand. Well teach you
how to exploit those techniques for specific
types of sounds and take you step-by-step
through the functions youll need to make your
own kicks, snares, hi-hats and more. Well draw
upon a number of instruments, but most of what
you will learn can be applied to any drum synth.

synthesised beats <

Artificial intelligence: synthesis exposed


Creating your own sounds with a drum
synthesiser requires learning a little about one
or more synthesis techniques. If you already
know a bit about programming your own
sounds on a standard melodic synth, you
already have a head start. However, if youre
new to synthesis, its bound to seem somewhat
arcane at first.
Well start, then, with the most common form
of synthesis employed by drum machines:
subtractive synthesis. This technique is most
commonly associated with retro-styled
analogue synths, but is also used in other forms
of synthesis, even sample playback varieties.
The idea is pretty simple: you start with an
oscillator that generates a waveform. Using a
filter, you subtract frequencies from that
waveform until you achieve the desired tone.
The filter frequency, pitch of the oscillator(s) and

If youre new to
synthesis, its bound
to seem somewhat
arcane at first
overall volume might be shaped over time using
an envelope generator. This envelope generator
might consist of two or more adjustable
parameters that enable you to, say, fade the
sound or frequencies in or out. Well discuss this
in more detail a little later on.
An envelope generator is a modulator, and a
modulator is any function that directly affects

(modulates) another. A typical tremolo is a good


example. It consists of a common modulation
source called an LFO (low-frequency oscillator)
unlike the oscillator described above, the
waveform of an LFO oscillates below the audible
range, hence the name. When applied to
amplitude (volume), an LFO causes the volume
to shift up and down, resulting in tremolo. If its
applied to pitch, you get vibrato.
There are many different types of modulator,
including velocity level and pressure. You can
use audio oscillators to modulate the pitch or
amplitude of other audio oscillators, producing
frequency modulation (FM), amplitude
modulation (AM) and ring modulation (where
only the sum and difference of the two inputs
remain, without the input signals themselves).
These often produce metallic, clangorous tones
very useful for drums and percussion.

> Step by step 1. It all starts with the oscillators

Tutorial

Files

Lets begin at the beginning with the oscillator(s) that generate


the basic waveform(s) or sound. Were using Sonic Charges
Microtonic here (www.soniccharge.com), but these techniques will
apply to many other machines, too even keyboard synths. First, click
the downward arrow at the top-left corner and choose Initialize
Preset. This sets all the controls to their default starting points.

Now our sounds is a nice, woody thok, which we can transform


into a kick drum. In the Oscillator section, push the Osc Freq slider
all the way to the left to lower the pitch. Note that the sine waveform is
selected (it looks like a snake). The others are triangle and sawtooth,
which have more harmonics, meaning they sound richer. Try them.

Make sure the 1 c button is highlighted. This is the drum well edit.
Trigger the C note from your MIDI keyboard. It sounds like a tiny,
fuzzy sort of snare drum. Drums are often synthesised from both a
pitched tone and a noise layer. Push the Mix slider in the left-hand
section all the way to Osc. This gets rid of the noise.

Lets use the triangle waveform. Microtonic allows us to modulate


the pitch of our oscillator currently, the selected Pitch Mod type
is the amplitude envelope. More on envelopes later, but for now its
enough to know that this one affects the pitch over time when you play
a note. Try moving the Pitch Mod Amount knob to +30 or so to hear
how this affects the sound.

Computer Music special / 25

> synthesised beats


> Step by step 2. Envelope generators

As weve mentioned, envelope generators shape a sound over


time. Drum machines usually have only a few envelope controls, so
lets check them out. Well continue with the Microtonic sound we
started on the previous page. Weve already used an envelope to
modulate the pitch, but lets take a closer look at the process. Crank up
the Oscillator sections Decay knob.

Different developers present their envelopes in different ways, and


any given envelope might have a varying number of stages. Lets
look at Audio Damage Tattoo (www.audiodamage.com). Using the
default Light House kit, select Snare 9 by clicking it in the column on
the left. Play an E2 on your keyboard to trigger it. The display at the top
will show its parameters.

Lets take a look at a knob-based envelope generator. Rob Papens


Punch (www.robpapen.com) is a good candidate for this one
the default startup kit is fine. In the Dynamic Select section, click the
BD2 button to select that drum for editing. The top of the screen will
reflect your selection. You can trigger the sound with the button, too.

26 / Computer Music special

Trigger the sound. Hear how it now fades out over a longer period
of time? Thats our decay increase in action, lengthening the tail
that is, the final stage of the sound. The first stage is the attack, which
controls how long it takes the sound to reach full volume. Turn the
Attack control up halfway or so and listen to the effect.

The two windows at the top are graphical envelopes, meaning that
their settings are visualised in the displays. Click the right-most
little square in the Noise Amp Envelope and drag it to the left. Try the
sound. Youve just changed the decay of this envelope.

The Amp Envelope section in the middle-left of the GUI has three
knobs labelled Attack, Hold and Decay. Hold does what the name
implies, holding the sound at full volume for a period of time before
the decay begins. Try it for yourself. Youll probably need to shorten
the Decay time to hear it.

synthesised beats <


> Step by step 3. Pitch envelope for tom tom sounds

Lets adjust some envelopes to create that recognisable synthetic


tom sound our Microtonic SimpleKick patch is a good start. Push
the Mix slider slightly to the right, increase the Osc Freq to C1 and
push the Oscillator Decay to 1197ms. Sounds pretty good already!

Now for some finishing touches. For a classic disco tom, we need
to reduce the envelopes Rate to around 890ms and Amount to
around 20ms. Set the Noise Filter Freq to around 1300Hz for less fizz.
Try switching the waveform to a sine wave for a more realistic sound.

> Step by step 4. Filters+noise=hi-hats

Lets make a hi-hat, using filters to sculpt a complex waveform into


the required sound. Call up LinPlug RMV (www.linplug.com) and
select Pad 7 (a hi-hat sample). Change the Module at the top left to a
Drum Synth. This replaces the sample with an electronic tone.

The Reso(nance) control emphasises the frequencies around the


cutoff point. Nudge it up to about 10 oclock to make the sound
more shrill. The Noise sections envelope Decay is set pretty high
reduce it to around 8 oclock for a shorter sound.

There are two components to our synth: the Oscillator and the
Noise section. Currently, the Mix between the two is all the way to
the left (oscillator). Crank it fully clockwise for noise. Theres a low-pass
filter in the Noise section. Use the cutoff to filter out the highs set the
Cut knob to 4 oclock.

Activate the Filter section at the lower left and select HP24 mode.
This will filter out some lows for a more metallic sound. Set the
Filter Cutoff to 11 oclock and the Env knob to around 2 oclock. Thats a
classic beatbox hi-hat. You can use the same patch as a cymbal by
simply increasing the envelope Decay.

Computer Music special / 27

> synthesised beats

Physical modelling
Lets take a break from subtractive synthesis to
discuss physical modelling. This is a relatively
modern technique that uses mathematical
models of the behaviour of real-world acoustic
and electric instruments. Physical modelling has
the ability to introduce subtle changes based on
performance, just like a real instrument. Its
actually been around since 1971, but it didnt
become practical until computers became
commonplace. Early hardware attempts werent
terribly successful, as musicians discovered that
they were, in fact, a little bit too much like
acoustic instruments meaning it took a lot of
practice to make them sound good.
However, we desktop producers are an
intrepid lot and always clamouring for new
sounds, and a few software developers have
rekindled the promise of physical modelling,
providing new and interesting instruments that

have a life and breath you simply wont get from


samples or analogue synths. Logic Pro users, for
example, have a superb physical modelling
instrument built into their DAW in the form of
Sculpture, while Ableton Live users can avail
themselves of Collision, a modelling instrument
specifically designed for percussion. Applied
Acoustics Systems have an entire product line
based on physical modelling, including the
mighty Tassman, a modular synth that allows
you to mix physical modelling synthesis with
old-fashioned analogue, and Chromaphone, a
dedicated percussion instrument.
Physical modelling breaks down the
behaviour of acoustic and electric instruments
into exciters and resonators. The resonator is
the part of an instrument that vibrates (a drum
skin, for example), while the exciter is the bit that
sets that vibration into motion (a hand or a

Modelling has the


ability to introduce
subtle changes based
on performance
drumstick striking said skin). A drums shell or
body is also a resonator.
Depending on the instrument, you may be
able to define things like the stiffness of the
drum skin, the size of the shell or the material
that each element is made from. This means not
only the potential to recreate instruments but
even the ability to create entirely new ones.

> Step by step 5. Physical modelling basics

Weve learned a little about analogue-style subtractive synthesis;


now lets take a brief detour into physical modelling. Well be using
Image-Lines Drumaxx (www.image-line.com) for this walkthrough,
but most of what we do can be applied to any physical modelling
synth. Open Drumaxx in your host. Well start with the default kit; click

Audition the sound. Its a loud, noisy thwack. The Amplitude knob
controls the force with which the mallet strikes the drum. Theres a
lot of noise, though. That noise is used to add realism to the sound,
emulating the sound of softer mallets and brushes. Reduce the Noise
Level knob to around 34%.

28 / Computer Music special

As you can hear, this pad triggers a bass drum. Lets take a look at
the synthesis section just below the drum pads. As weve learned,
physical modelling synths use exciters and resonators to make their
sounds. Drumaxxs exciter is controlled by the Mallet section, in which
theres an Amplitude knob. Turn it all the way up.

Now lets check out the Mallet sections Decay function. Youve
already learned how decay works in a typical envelope generator,
and this works in a similar way, affecting the decay time of the mallet
hit. Longer decay times equal slower, boomier hits. Short times are
more precise and sudden. Turn the Decay knob to around 44% and
trigger the sound to hear the effect.

synthesised beats <

On to the Membrane section. This is our resonator, or the part of


the drum thats excited into action by the mallet the skin or head.
It, too, has a Decay knob, which affects the decay time of the skins
response. Turn it up to around 77% and trigger your sound. It now has
a resonant, ringing tone.

We now have a very loud crash. As useful as that is, the high
frequencies are overpowering, so lower the Cutoff knob to around
24%. This reduces the amount of high-frequency content, just as it did
in the previous walkthrough.

The Tension function is very important in a modelled sound, just


as it is on an actual acoustic drum. Reduce the Tension to around
68% and trigger the sound. Thats a bigger, beefier tone, if still a little
metallic. Now lets have a play with the Size knob. We neednt tell you
what that does! Set it to around 30%.

Now lets get really tricky. Go to the Velocity Modulation section on


the right. Click the top slot and choose Mallet Decay from the
menu. Set the slots knob to 65%. This will increase the Mallet Decay
with harder strikes. Youll likely need to reduce the Mallets Amplitude
to around 72% as we have here. Dont be afraid to experiment!

Computer Music special / 29

> synthesised beats


> Step by step 6. Putting it all together: classic kicks

Youre now armed with a basic understanding of two very different


methods of synthesising drum sounds, so lets put that knowledge
to work. For this walkthrough, were using FXPansions Tremor (www.
fxpansion.com). Fire it up in your host DAW, right-click the Kick
channel in the mixer section and select Reset to initialise the sound.

Start in the Oscillator section, reducing the Pitch to C1. Turn the
Shape knob fully clockwise to select a triangle waveform and turn
the Roll knob all the way down in the adjacent Harmonics section. This
rolls off the upper harmonics and sounds much more like the familiar
analogue triangle wave.

Next, set the Filter Cutoff to around 81.00Hz. This will all but kill
the sound, but only temporarily. Assign Tremors Fast Envelope to
the Cutoff by clicking FENV in the Voice Modulations Sources section,
and move the arrow in the outer ring of the Cutoff knob to maximum
for full modulation.

30 / Computer Music special

Trigger the sound by hitting C2 on your MIDI keyboard. We now


have a clanking, bell-like tone. Believe it or not, were going to
transform that into a kick drum. Click the Synth button just above the
Kick channel to open the synth editor for this channel. As you can see,
there are many familiar parameters on display.

Next, find the Amp Env(elope) section. The Attack and Hold are
fine at 0, but reduce the Decay to around 0.645s and the Curve to
31%. The Curve parameter affects how steep the Decay slope is
youll see how it changes in the display. OK, were getting closer to a
kick now. Go to the Filter section and select LPF4 mode.

Click SRC in the Voice Modulation Sources section. Set the Fast
Envelopes Decay to 0.041s and Curve to 31%. Go to the Pre
section and boost the Drive slider to around 13dB. Audition the sound.
Use the dropdown menu in the Synth FX section to add a Channel
Compressor and tweak the levels to taste for a big impact.

synthesised beats <


> Step by step 7. Putting it all together: classic snares

Lets add a snare to our Tremor kit. Return to the Kit section and
reset the Snare to initialise the sound, as we did with the Kick in the
previous walkthrough. Click the Synth button to bring up the Snare
#
channels editor and increase the Oscillator sections Pitch to F 4. That
would make a good tubular bell, but its a terrible snare! Well fix that.

Audition the sound. Youll note that its much brighter you could
almost use it for a hi-hat or cymbal with a bit of envelope shaping,
so keep that in mind. In the Amp Envelope section, set the Decay to
around 0.688s. Now, in the Filter section, increase the Rez (resonance)
to about 12%.

Go back to the Mixer and reduce the Noise level until you can hear
a good blend of noise and oscillator. The oscillator still sounds like
a cowbell, so reduce the Space knob in the Membrane section until
you get a slightly less metallic sound. Click SENV in Voice Modulation
Sources and assign it to Oscillator Pitch with an amount of 98Hz.

We can use noise as the basis for a classic drum machine-style


snare. In Tremors Mixer, temporarily turn the Osc knob all the way
down and the Noise knob all the way up. Now when you trigger the
sound, you should hear a nice, noisy burst. Crank the Noise sections
Tone knob up to around 88Hz.

Our sound is really taking shape. Click the FENV button in the
Voice Modulation Sources section, then drag the outer ring of the
Osc knob in the Mixer section fully clockwise to push the mod amount
all the way up. Click the SRC button in the Voice Modulation Sources
section when youre done.

Click SRC and play the sound. You should hear the Oscillator Pitch
go down slightly as the sound plays out. Experiment with the Slow
Envelope settings until you get a sound you like. Give the Pre sections
Drive a boost for more oomph if you like. Weve routed the FENV to
the Cutoff and added a little distortion and reverb to ours.

Computer Music special / 31

Programming realistic

acoustic drums

No in-depth guide to the


production of beats could
claim to be complete
without a tutorial on making
your own realistic drum kit
parts. Here we go, then

The arrival of the drum kit ROMpler (a


sample playback instrument designed to
recreate the real thing) forever changed the
music-making landscape, bringing anyone
with a few hundred quid to spare the ability
to produce totally realistic drums entirely in
the box. Sample-based instruments such as
Toontracks Superior and FXpansions BFD
are highly intricate but visually familiar, and
are able to accurately recreate all the
nuances of a real drum kit or enough of
them to produce convincing tracks, at least.
While acoustic drum ROMplers usually
include large libraries of pre-programmed

32 / Computer Music special

patterns, tailoring them to your needs can be


challenging. Here well show you how its done,
exploring each stage of the process in order to
bestow upon you all the techniques required to
program drum kit grooves of your own.
Stage one is understanding the anatomy of
both the kit and the player. Drumming is a highly
physical process, and how the drums and
cymbals are struck varies a great deal between
drummers and musical styles. Not only that, but
the obvious four-limb physical limitation has to
be taken into consideration, too.
After weve addressed those fundamentals
well look at how to program a basic beat,

including the techniques required to make it


sound realistic and the variations youll need to
work in through different sections of a track.
Then its on to fills: these are used to punctuate
intros, endings and section changes, and are
often more dynamic than the main groove. Well
then take things to the next level with a look at
drumming rudiments and how they can help
you to create more technically complex parts.
Real drum kits can sound very unrefined, and
often what you really want is punch combined
with the subtleties of a real player. So, in our final
section well provide a series of tips specific to
mixing real drum kit sounds.

programming realistic acoustic drums <

Anatomy of a drummer (and their drum kit)


One of the most fascinating aspects of
drumming is the almost open-ended nature of
the kit itself. Essentially, a drum kit can be
whatever you want it to be, from a small threepiece setup to a massive tom tom-laden
monster with electronic elements thrown in for
good measure.
Thankfully for us, most drum grooves and
patterns can be recreated on a basic kit with a
core set of standardised drum and cymbal
sounds. The former comprise a bass drum, a
snare drum and two or three toms, while the
cymbals will typically consist of a set of hi-hats, a
ride cymbal and one or more crashes. These are
sometimes enhanced with percussion in the
form of a cowbell, tambourine or woodblock.
Your drum ROMpler will be packed with sounds
in all of these categories, providing a level of
sound-selection flexibility that youd struggle to

One limitation you


should always bear in
mind is the physicality
of the drummer
match even in the most well-equipped realworld recording studio.
Each kit piece can be played in many ways in
terms of not only volume, but also stick
technique and even stick type. Your ROMpler
will include many different articulations, and
once youve got your basic pattern
programmed, its these articulations that can

really help to make your drum parts sound more


convincing and realistic.
If youre looking to program truly realistic
drum parts, one limitation you should always
bear in mind is the physicality of the drummer
him/herself were referring here to the fourlimb limit, or in other words, the obvious fact
that a drummer can only play a maximum of
four kit elements simultaneously. Not only that,
but if you watch a drummer play a drum kit, it
soon becomes apparent that their four limbs are
assigned to specific roles, further limiting your
flexibility. Quite simply, the kick drum and hi-hat
foot pedals take up two of the drummers
available limbs, leaving you two arms with
which to play everything else.
In this first walkthrough were going to take a
quick tour of the drum kit, looking at the sounds
available and how theyre played.

> Step by step 1. The drum kit: a guided tour

Tutorial

Files

Lets take a look at a typical drum kit. One foot plays the kick (bass)
drum and the other foot controls the openness of the hi-hats. That
leaves the hands to play the snare, hi-hats, toms, ride cymbal and crash
cymbals. In a groove, one hand plays the snare and the other the hats
or ride, while in a fill, both hands play the toms and crashes.

Further common snare drum variants include the sidestick, where


the tip of the stick rests on the drum head and the shaft strikes the
rim. There are also stick variants such as brushes and rods, both of
which provide a less punchy sound. These will have an obvious effect
on the main snare backbeat, but will also influence the other drums
and the cymbals.

The sound of the snare drum is one of the most important aspects
of any track. Your ROMpler will probably offer clean snare hits as
well as rimshots, which strike the head and rim together for added
punch. You might also get different snare articulations. To allow you to
program natural-sounding parts, snares are typically more deeply
sampled than other drums. (Audio: Step 2)

For the most part, the kick or bass drum provides solidity and an
anchor for the whole groove. It might play on beats 1 and 3 for rock
and pop, beat 3 only for reggae, or all four beats for dance music, to
give three very general examples. The sound of the kick drum is
affected by the type of beater used to strike it, the most common
options being wood or felt wood produces a harder, brighter tone
and attack. Your ROMpler may well feature both.

Computer Music special / 33

> Step by step 1. The drum kit: a guided tour (continued)

The hi-hats are a pair of small cymbals held together on a stand by


a pedal-operated pull-rod. The pedal controls how tight the two
cymbals are, from clamped shut to fully open. Controlling this pressure
while hitting the top cymbal can produce a variety of sounds. Hi-hats
can also be played just by closing them with the foot pedal, for a less
up-front sound that serves a different rhythmic purpose.

Most drum kits include at least one rack tom and one floor tom,
although you can have many more if you wish. You can use a
(usually floor) tom to beat out a rhythmic pattern along with the kick
and snare (replacing the hi-hats), but more typically, youll be rolling
around them from one to the next for fills.

34 / Computer Music special

The ride cymbal is used as an alternative to the hi-hats, typically


playing the same pattern (straight eighth-notes much of the time)
but with a much more sustained sound. Playing articulations include
the tip on the main body and the shoulder (just below the tip) on the
bell for accents. You can also use the body of the stick on the edge of
the cymbal for big, gong-like tones.

Crash cymbals are used for accenting specific points within a


pattern, and youll most often find them at the beginning of a bar
and/or phrase. Theyre hardly ever struck on their own in the audio
example, youll hear one crash with a kick and another on its own,
highlighting the difference in impact. Crashes can also be choked at
the end of a passage for a tight finish. (Audio: Step 8)

programming realistic acoustic drums <

Programming basic beats


The canon of standard drum pattern templates
is so large and varied that we cant hope to cover
them all here. However, what we can do is
present you with the fundamentals and
encourage you to listen closely to the sort of
music you want to create and learn the ropes by
copying the patterns you hear.
In general terms, most of the time the various
kit elements are used in quite predictable ways.
Thinking in terms of the quarter-notes in a bar of
4/4 time, for a straight rock or pop beat, the kick
falls on beats 1 and 3, the snare falls on beats 2
and 4 (the backbeat), and the hi-hats or ride
cymbal play all eighth- or 16th-notes (hi-hats
only for the latter unless the tempo is low) in the
bar. This foundation pattern is augmented with
crash cymbals on the downbeat at the top of a
section, in-between notes on the kick drum and
grace notes on the snare. When programming

Remember to mute
concurrent notes that
would be impossible
to play in real life
beats, remember to mute concurrent notes that
would be impossible to play in real life: if you
program a crash and snare hit on the same beat,
for example, you should remove the hi-hat hit.
In the following two pages, well look at how
you get from that basic pattern to something
that sounds like its being performed by a real
drummer. This is achieved via a combination of

velocity, timing and the use of articulations. As


youll see, its impossible to overstate how
important articulations can be, particularly with
regard to feel and humanity. Also, a good
drummer will be able to push and pull the timing
of a groove, playing behind or ahead of the
musical pulse.
Replicating these nuances in all their detail
can be time-consuming, but if youre at least
reasonably good at holding down a rhythm, you
can always have a go at playing at least some of
your drum part in on a MIDI keyboard more on
this on p36. Either way, its worth remembering
that if anyone else is going to be overdubbing
other instruments later, the drums need to be
pretty tight without being robotic.
Finally, well look at how to modify the basic
groove to create variations for each section of
the track (verse, chorus, etc).

> Step by step 2. Programming the basic drum part

video

Getting a basic kit pattern started is very easy. Here, were drawing
kick drum hits on quarter-notes 1 and 3, and snares on quarternotes 2 and 4. If we copy that out through a four-bar section, believe it
or not, thats the basic rhythmic skeleton of the vast majority of
contemporary music. (Audio: Step 1)

Returning to the kick, we now add some variation in the form of an


eighth-note hit before the second kick of each bar. We also add
extra hits to the snare pattern at the end of every fourth bar, on eighthnotes 6 and 8. This second change creates a sense of repetition every
fourth bar.

The hi-hats ride over the top of the kick and snare, and usually
comprise straight eighth- or 16th-notes. The latter are played twohanded, with the snare hit replacing the hi-hat on the backbeat rather
than being concurrent with it. With no velocity variation, the hi-hats
sound robotic, but well return to that in the next section.

Our final basic element is a crash cymbal, which we put on the


downbeat of bar 1. However, we want this to happen every eight
bars, so we need to repeat our four-bar section as well. So we now have
the syncopated snare adding internal repetition every four bars and
the crash marking every eight bars. It still sounds very basic, but well
finesse it in the next walkthrough.

Computer Music special / 35

> programming realistic acoustic drums


> Step by step 3. Humanising and creating section variations

video

The most important element for tweaking to add feel to drum


parts is the hi-hats. Drummers instinctively accent the hits that
coincide with the kick and snare, and we can do this using velocity and/
or articulations. Here weve gone for the latter, choosing an even more
open sound to go with the kick hits so that theyre accented slightly
more. (Audio: Step 1)

Our next hi-hat variation is the gradual introduction of open hats


over the last bar or two of a section. This is a good technique for
signalling the change to a new section or building into a short fill.
Notice that were not only shifting articulations but are also gradually
increasing the velocity.

Moving on to song section variations, youll often want to switch


from the hi-hats to the ride cymbal for the chorus. An easy way to
do this is to simply copy the hi-hat part, then modify it to match the
available articulations this may well involve tweaking velocities, too.
Finally, for tighter timing in the chorus, increase the quantise
percentage on the accent beats to tighten up the groove.

36 / Computer Music special

You can extend this concept with the pea-soup hi-hat. This is an
open or semi-open hi-hat hit thats immediately choked by the next
(closed) hit. Here were adding a pea-soup hat every other bar on the
last eighth-note, playing a looser articulation. Note also how our
ROMpler is programmed to automatically choke the hi-hat on the next
hit. (Audio: Step 2)

A great way to add feel is to play the hi-hat or ride on your MIDI
keyboard. Here weve recorded our human feel hi-hats on one
note, then converted the result into a quantisation template a feature
youll find in many DAWs. We then apply the template timing and
velocity to the multi-note programmed part, thus retaining our
carefully selected articulations.

A less common variation is to shift the hi-hat part to the floor tom.
Here, once again, weve adjusted it to match the articulation and
velocity. We can also repeat the snare variation every two bars. Finally,
on every fourth bar we stop the toms on quarter-note 3, bringing both
hands together to play a snare flam see how the two notes are played
closely together.

programming realistic acoustic drums <


> Step by step 4. Programming fills

Fills can be long or short, but ultimately they need to work well
with the other instrumentation in the track. They typically mark
the end of eight- or 16-bar sections, but be prepared to use subtle onebeat fills to mark the end of four- or even two-bar sections. Here were
looking to use a one-bar fill to mark the end of eight bars.

Working onwards from the downbeat kick, we want to try a


pushed fill moving from the snare to the rack tom, then the floor
tom, then back to the snare on beat 4. Thinking in 16th-notes, the kick
falls on the 1, the snare falls on 3, the rack tom on 6 and the floor tom
on 9, which is the third-quarter note.

The next step is to adjust the final kick, which acts as a sort of
grace note before the final snare. Here were manually nudging it
later, which helps to emphasise the final snare as it pulls everything
back in time. Next, we can nudge the snare and toms slightly later to
make the fill sound more laid-back.

If youre happy recording your fills in with your MIDI keyboard,


thats the way to go. If not, a good starting point is to think about
which beats will continue through the fill from the main groove. For
our one-bar fill, weve kept the downbeat kick and the snare on beat 4.
Everything else is muted, and we now have a start and end point to
work within. (Audio: Step 2)

Lets fill the gaps between the snare and toms with extra kicks.
Again, these have a syncopated feel they fall on 16th-notes 5, 8, 10
and 12. Thats the basics of the fill done, but we can instantly improve it
by adjusting the timing. Try keeping the starting kick and end snare
hard-quantised and modifying events inside the fill.

Now we add some snare ghost notes. These essentially fill in the
available 16th-notes between the snare and toms in the fill. We can
shift their timing a little later, much like the toms. Also, as theyre ghost
notes, we keep the velocities lower and choose a softer articulation.
Finally, we can increase the velocities of some of the main hits to
emphasise the overall feel. (Audio: Step 6)

Computer Music special / 37

> programming realistic acoustic drums

Rudiments: the building blocks of realistic drum parts


It is completely possible to play the drums
without ever studying drum rudiments at all, but
the chances are that youd be using at least
some of them without realising it and just like
players of melodic instruments with their scales
and arpeggios, good drummers will ensure that
they work diligently on rudiments as part of
their regular practice regime. For nondrummers looking to create realistic drum parts,
rudiments can be an excellent source of
rhythmic ideas, particularly bearing in mind that
you dont have to learn to actually play them
you simply need to apply the rhythms to the
various kit elements.
Rudiments are fundamental rhythmic
patterns comprising specific sequences of left/
right stick/pedal hits, and essentially forming a
library of playing techniques and phrases that
make up the vocabulary of drumming. On their

own they may look like a series of dry technical


exercises, but theyre actually used within songs
to augment patterns or as the basis for complex
fills and solos.
Probably the simplest of all rudiments is the
flam, which consists simply of two notes played
very close together, the second louder than the
first for timing purposes, this is written as a
grace note and a primary note. Then there are
three types of roll: single-stroke, double-stroke
and press (or buzz). With the first two, each
hand plays one or two evenly spaced notes at a
time, while a press roll involves controlled
pressing of the stick tips into the drum head to
generate a very fast series of bounced hits that
combine from hand to hand to create the classic
circus-style drum roll.
The third category is the drag, which
combines a double grace note with a primary

note. And finally theres the paradiddle,


combining evenly spaced configurations of
alternating single and double hits.
Each of these four categories contains
numerous variations and expansions on the
headline rudiment (ratamacue, pataflafla,
flamacue, etc), and any of them can be
combined to form so-called hybrid rudiments
as well.
The great thing about rudiments is that they
can be played around the kit to great effect, but
its still important to accent certain beats within
the rudiment rather than just playing them
completely straight, as this helps retain the
overall pulse of the track.
In the last walkthrough of this tutorial, were
going to take two simple rudiments the single
paradiddle and the drag and use them to
create a tom fill over one bar.

> Step by step 5. Drum rudiments in action

The basic paradiddle pattern consists of evenly spaced 16th-notes


with the sticking pattern R L R R L R L L. Weve programmed this on
two MIDI notes so that you can see the sticking clearly. We could
repeat the pattern twice to fill the bar, but for our fill, we stop on beat 4
to create a break before the next bar starts. (Step 1)

This sounds a bit too basic in its current form, so we also shift
quarter-notes 2 and 4 onto the snare drum to accent those beats.
To accent beats 1 and 3, we can add in the kick drum. Further accents
are also added for the toms that play with the kick.

38 / Computer Music special

Next we need to spread the paradiddle out across the toms. Well
use just the floor tom and rack tom, leading with the floor tom. We
simply shift each of our notes to the corresponding rack tom and floor
tom notes.

Finally, we stop on beat 4. We already have a snare falling on beat


4, so our final addition is to augment this with a drag. A drag starts
with two grace notes, and we can set these very close together like a
buzz, or shift them apart a bit for a more obvious effect.

programming realistic acoustic drums <

1. Think of the kit as one


instrument
A high-quality drum kit ROMpler will use
numerous spot mic channels, so its easy to
view them as a collection of unrelated
specific sounds, a bit like a drum machine.
However, kit drums are played as one
instrument, and when mixing them its best to
think of them as such. So, rather than
focusing on the close mics when building
your kit balance, start with the overheads or
nearer room mics as your basic stereo
canvas, then enhance them with the spot
mics as necessary.

2. Let it bleed
One of the most powerful aspects of the
better ROMplers (such as BFD3, pictured on
this page) is the inclusion of mic bleed and
cross-resonance between drums, including
sympathetic snare buzz. Being able to control
the amount of this is a truly amazing thing,
and far easier than dealing with a real kit.
Rather than waste time trying to tidy up these
sounds using traditional techniques, head
straight to the settings of your ROMpler and
control them accurately at the source.

3. Surgical EQ
Dont be afraid to EQ the close-mic channels
aggressively to get the punch that you want.
For snare body, look between 200 and
400Hz, and for kick thump get busy between
80 and 120Hz. Scooping out the low mids on
the kick works well, too. For toms, try
boosting and sweeping with a sharp peak EQ
to track down the key frequencies. Finally,
use a high-pass filter to remove any rumble

Most high-quality drum kit ROMplers feature some sort of system for controlling mic bleed between channels

and clear out unnecessary low frequencies


on all channels.

4. Stereo image, phase and mono


compatibility
Overhead and room mics can be notoriously
phasey, particularly with spaced mics,
potentially causing elements that you want
roughly in the middle (kicks and snares) to
drift off centre. To address this, adjust the L/R
balance of your overheads and room mics to
get the correct balance, then bolster them
with the close mics, keeping the snare and
kick roughly central. Phase-invert the kick
and snare close-mic channels to find the
punchiest result, and always check the
overall balance in mono.

5. Ambience timing shift


Often youll find that room mics sound great
but a little too distant, and any form of

processing applied to the recording, such as


compression or EQ, only goes to make the
problem more obvious. One useful mixing
trick is to shift the timing of the room mic
channels, nudging them earlier. Doing this on
a ROMpler may require you to bounce the
room mic channels as an audio track, then
reimport it and shift it manually. How much to
do this by depends on the room in question,
but once shifted, remember to re check the
phase coherence of the kick and snare, as
described in tip 4.

6. Compress room mics


The smoothest-sounding kit balance will
usually come from the room mics, with the
harshness of the cymbals and hats reduced
and diffused by the room reflections. This
makes the room mics ideal for some
aggressive compression. For the classic
compressed room sound, reach for a fast FET
compressor. With a medium attack, fast
release and 10dB or more of gain reduction
you can bring up the ambience, creating an
energetic sound that, even in small
quantities, will add drive to the overall kit.

7. Reverb combining

EQing individual close-mic channels can make all the


difference to the punch and clarity of your virtual kit

Nudge your room mic channels earlier in time a touch to


tighten up the perceived proximity of your ambience

While any drum kit ROMpler worth its salt will


feature room mic channels, snare drums in
particular can benefit from their own
dedicated reverb or even two reverbs. For
maximum flexibility, set up one small and one
medium-to-large reverb as auxiliary effects,
and add small quantities of each to obtain a
suitably smeared effect. If you find that
youre getting too much build-up in the low
and low-mid frequencies, EQ the lows from
the return.
Computer Music special / 39

Programming

Percussion

Whether youre crafting laid-back jazzy numbers or banging out


hard-hitting dancefloor smashers, our guide will help you to
infuse your beats with percussive groove. Shake it, baby!
In many styles of music, a basic
kick, snare and hats drum beat is
the backbone of the rhythm, but that on
its own is often not enough to make
your track groove. To really get things
shuffling along nicely, youll need to
layer up some percussion parts to
add excitement, flavour and groove to
your beat.
Much like programming realistic drum kit
parts, percussion is one of those areas of
production that many computer musicians
think theyre approaching correctly but
probably arent. Just like any other acoustic
instrument, playing percussion involves a
specific range of techniques and styles that
require untold hours of training and
practice to master. Obviously, as a MIDI
programmer, you dont actually need to be
au fait with the physical specifics of heel-tip
conga technique or the tambourine thumb

40 / Computer Music special

roll, but if youre looking to program


authentic tracks, it helps to know what
these things sound like.
In this tutorial, well tackle
percussion from a number of angles. Before
we get into the walkthroughs, well take you
on a whistlestop tour of the various
instruments that make up the Afro-Cuban
percussion family, which serves as the
standard percussive palette in
contemporary Western music, as well as a
few purely African instruments. Well also
give you an educational head start with
some video recommendations that
showcase some of the greatest
percussionists in the world doing their
astounding thing.
Our walkthroughs begin with a guide to
programming a layered percussion
ensemble alongside a bass/drums/
keyboard groove using MIDI and samples,

demonstrating some standard rhythmic


approaches to the instruments involved.
Next, well move on to spot percussion
effects, then processing sampled loops in
order to create larger-than-life top lines to
sit on top of a four-to-the-floor drum groove,
before finishing up with a treatise on
carving up REX files to make custom
percussion loops, and a collection of
programming tips. Phew!
Good percussion parts can have a hugely
beneficial effect on almost any track,
elevating it both rhythmically and texturally.
Even the addition of just a simple conga or
shaker part can transform a dull rhythm
track into a more complete-sounding,
syncopated, human groove, particularly if
the main drums are overtly electronicsounding. With all that said, lets hang about
no longer those bongos arent going to
play themselves

A quick guide to percussion


Roughly speaking, there are two broad families
of percussion that youre likely to deal with. The
first is orchestral percussion timpani, snare
drum, xylophone, etc and the other is ethnic
percussion, which really covers everything else.
There is quite a bit of crossover between these
two worlds in terms of instrumentation, but in
this feature were dealing exclusively with Latin,
African and Afro-Caribbean percussion in the
context of beat-driven music. Here, then, are
some of the most ubiquitous instruments in our
chosen category.

Congas

The cornerstone of the Cuban percussion family


and a fixture in many forms of dance music
particularly house congas generally come in
sets of two or three (tumba, conga and quinto)
and are played with the bare hands. An
established repertoire of standard conga
rhythms exists, based on the various styles of
Latin dance music and serving as a great
foundation for your own parts. When youre
ready to get into them, check out this page from
the website of top session percussionist Pete
Lockett: http://bit.ly/GItJRM.

Bongos

Another Afro-Cuban essential, the bongos are a


pair of small wooden drums serving a similar
role to the congas, although much higher
pitched and less weighty in their delivery.
Bongos are generally played on their own or
alongside a set of congas, the latter option
giving the conguero an expansive range of
pitches and tones to work with.

Timbales

A pair of single-headed metal drums on a stand,


timbales are played with a pair of thin sticks and
are used for backing riffs (including cascara,
which involves striking the sides of the shells)
and bright, loud, energetic soloing. In dance
music, they tend to be called on as a high-impact
spot effect. Timbales and cowbells/agogo bells
go together particularly well, and most players
will have one or two of the latter mounted on
the timbale stand, combining the lot to create
intricate, clattering rhythms.

Djembe

Youll see this West African drum in the hands of


buskers the world over, the reason being that it
can produce both bass and treble notes, making
it a sort of self-contained one-drum percussion
section. The djembe can also fulfil a similar role
to the congas, although its a lot louder and not
as mellow-sounding as its Cuban counterpart.

Cowbell

A clapperless, square-horn-shaped metal bell


struck with sticks, the cowbell (and/or a pair of
agogo bells) is often found mounted above the
timbales, but can also be played held in the
hand. Although generally used in rock and pop

to rigidly nail the four main beats of the bar, in


the Latin context, the cowbell plays the clave
(see p44) or a pattern based around it.

Tambourine

A wooden or plastic ring with pairs of tiny


cymbals (zils) mounted within it, the tambourine
can be skinned or unskinned, hand-held or
mounted on a drum kit or percussion rack. It
boasts a variety of uses: it can be used to play a
constant rhythm (similar to the hi-hats), for
accents (doubling up the snare on the backbeat,
perhaps) or as an effect (shaken, for that
characteristic shivery sound).

Triangle

contents with the intention of providing a hi-hatlike percussion line qualifies as a shaker.

Claves

A pair of thick, short rosewood (usually) sticks,


one of which is held with the fingertips of one
hand over the chamber made by the palm and
fingers (which acts as a resonant space) and
struck with the other. The result is a loud, cutting
attack, and claves are so named because theyre
traditionally used to tap out the guide pattern
or clave in Latin dance music. See p44 for
more on this.

Woodblocks

The butt of many a percussion-based gag, the


triangle is actually one of the most useful
supplementary sounds available to the music
producer. Whether used for one-shot accents or
effects, or to fill out the high end with the kind of
rhythm that only a triangle can deliver, its easy
to program and is just the thing to bring a funky
sheen to any track.

These days a woodblock is as likely to be made


of plastic as it is wood, but either way, its simply
a hollowed-out block with a narrow, slit-shaped
opening that can be used either as a solitary
instrument or in a set of two or more. Fulfilling a
similar background role to the cowbell and
agogo bells, the woodblock has quite a loud,
cutting sound when struck with sticks, so soft
beaters are sometimes used instead.

Shekere

Guiro

Another Latin staple of West African origin, the


shekere is a gourd with an open flared tube at
one end, wrapped in a cord net with a large
number of beads threaded into it. It can be
struck, thrown, shaken and flicked (quickly
pushing the beads around the gourd) to
produce a wide range of tones. Striking the
gourd with the heel of the hand gives a rounded,
bassy thump; hitting it with the fingertips gives a
high-pitched slap; and rapidly pushing the beads
backwards and forwards generates a slithery
shhk sound. Its one of the more technically
involved percussion instruments, not to
mention one of the most visually exciting see a
virtuoso in action at http://bit.ly/3rvuLo.

Another gourd, this time open at one end with a


series of horizontal notches cut into one side. A
stick is scraped rhythmically over these notches
to create the characteristic and instantly
recognisable sequences of short and long
sounds essential to several Latin styles.

Agogos

A pair of connected metal bells held in one


hand (unless mounted on a stand) and struck
with a stick held in the other, agogos have a
brighter, less weighty sound than the heavier
cowbell, and are a mainstay of the go-go subgenre of funk (which may or may not have
been named after them).

Cabasa

Talking drum

Shakers

Other

When a shekere would be overkill, the cabasa


steps in to provide a more compact form of
friction-based rhythm. The modern cabasa is a
wide, short metal cylinder mounted on a
wooden handle, with strings of metal beads
wrapped around it. It can be shaken to make a
rattling sound, or twisted with one hand while
the beads are held in place with the other for a
similar shhk sound to that of the shekere, but
brighter and higher in pitch. Like the shekere, a
skilled player can do pretty amazing things with
this seemingly one-dimensional instrument.
While the shekere and cabasa have their soundgenerating beads on the outside, the loosely
defined shaker family includes any sealed
enclosure filled with beads, as descended from
the seed-filled gourd made by that most
venerable of percussion manufacturers, Mother
Nature. Maracas, caxixi, egg shakers, rainsticks
anything that you shake to mobilise its rattly

An hourglass-shaped drum with heads at both


ends connected by a series of cords that tighten
when the centre of the drum, held under the
arm, is squeezed, thus changing the tension of
the heads and the pitch of the sound. Originally
used to send messages from village to village in
West Africa, the talking drum is played with a
curved stick (held in the free-arm hand) and the
fingers of the holding-arm hand, and is loud,
attacking and incredibly expressive, capable of
blasting out precision melodies and bends over
a wide pitch range.
Its impossible to detail the full range of
percussion instruments available in just one
page, so wed urge you to get online and
investigate for yourself the likes of the
berimbau, cuica, jawbone, castanets, cajon,
vibraslap, mark tree, singing bowls and a huge
array of weird and wonderful drums from all
corners of the globe.
Computer Music special / 41

> programming percussion

Percing up
The best way to get yourself
fired up for some serious
percussion programming is
to feast your senses on some
serious percussionists. Here
are some utterly unmissable
YouTube videos

bit.ly/xV7a0W

One of the greatest congueros of all time,


Mongo Santamaria, leads his own band in a
supercool rendition of his own jazz
standard, Afro Blue, from 1984. Mongo
takes his solo in the intro, but be sure to also
check out Sal Santamarias sublime shekere
solo at 4.40. Beautiful.

bit.ly/zcTHsb

Three percussion legends Giovanni


Hidalgo, Johnny Rodriguez and Orestes
Vilato pay tribute to the late, great Ray
Barretto. Feel the push and pull of the clave
and pay attention to how perfectly the trio
weave their separate lines together without
getting in each others way.

bit.ly/17iGPt

Whether leading his own band or


contributing to other peoples, Ray
Barrettos style of conga playing was
uniquely characterful. Theres not much of
him on YouTube, but this number from 1975
ably demonstrates his incredible chops.

bit.ly/rMDWSC

No video, sadly, but dont let that spoil the


Afro Cuban freight train that is Dizzy
Gillespies Manteca, featuring Chano Pozo
on congas. Chano, who died a year after this
recording was made, was the first of many
Latin percussionists to work with Dizzy,
who was largely responsible for Latin jazz
taking off in the US.

> Step by step 1. Programming realistic live percussion

Tutorial

Files

Lets start our percussive adventure with a bit of funky live action.
We throw together a quick 16-bar backing using the Apple Loops
that come with Logic Pro: drums, bass and electric piano. Its groovy
but rhythmically sparse, lending itself perfectly to the addition of
multilayered percussion. We load up a conga patch in the EXS24
sampler. (Audio: 1. Drums, bass, keys)

We overdub a fill at the end of each eight-bar section. For conga


fills, think triplets, syncopation and playing slightly behind the beat
before bursting into the next section. Audio files of each percussion
line, solo and with the band, from here on in are in the Tutorial Files
folder, in both quantised (to 16th-notes) and unquantised versions, as
are the unquantised MIDI files. (Audio: 2. With congas)

42 / Computer Music special

We record our conga part using a pad controller. We use a total of


seven different samples: four open tones, one slap, one bend and
one palm strike. The slap is used to provide the accent off the beat, and
a conga player will fill the gaps between hits with ghost notes (very
soft notes, much quieter than the others), so we do the same. We also
send a bit of the signal to a reverb for a touch of ambience.

Next, an EXS24 timbales patch, with the left hand playing


alternating quarter-notes on the two drums and the right beating
out a cascara rhythm (which, as we mentioned earlier, is played on the
shell of the drum). Our sampler patch features fairly heavy panning
between the two drums, which we rather like. Fills are also recorded at
the end of each eight-bar section. (Audio: 3. With timbales)

programming percussion <

bit.ly/f4Zwpc

The fabulously eccentric Airto Moreira does


weird things with his voice, and throws
some incredible shapes with a whole
armoury of Brazilian percussion.

bit.ly/w9Qigo

Sheila E might be best known as Princes


drummer from back in the day, but shes
also a superb percussionist away from the
kit. That shouldnt come as a surprise,
though, given that her dad, uncle, both
brothers and various other Escovedo family
members are all extremely big hitters on
the US Latin music scene.

We choose the cabasa rather than the shekere for our shaker part,
since theres already quite a lot of bottom end to our percussion
and the cabasa is the higher pitched of the two. A simple shaker part
pushes the groove along nicely and has the added benefit of providing
a splashy accent on every other snare hit. (Audio: 4. With cabasa)

For a bit of 70s cop show vibe, the triangle is easy to program and
adds extra top-end interest. We program a part in which the first
two notes in each repeat are muted (the fingers are wrapped around
the triangle to achieve this) and the third one is open (fingers removed
to allow the triangle to ring freely) simple but perfectly effective.
(Audio: 6. With triangle)

Our percussion mix is getting rather dense now, so finding space


for the actual notes of our agogo pattern proves a bit tricky!
Eventually we settle on a loping off-beat riff moving from one bell to
the other, dropping the bells out entirely for the fills at the end of each
eight-bar section. (Audio: 5. With agogos)

In nine tracks out of ten, the tambourine part will be a simple


16th-note shake pattern with accents on specific regular beats
usually 2 and 4. Use different samples for each side of the shake to
avoid the machine-gun effect any decent tambourine sampler patch
should cater for this. Our tambourine adds a layer of crunch, finishing
our groove off nicely. (Audio: 7. With tambourine)

Computer Music special / 43

> programming percussion


> Step by step 2. Spot percussion

So far weve had our percussion parts playing full-on grooves, but
percussion is also extremely useful for spot effects, to smooth over
transitions between song sections, or just for adding colour. The
vibraslap has an instantly recognisable sound we throw one in at the
start of our track, halfway through and at the end.

A set of thin tubular bells of progressively decreasing length


hanging from a horizontal crossbar, the mark tree is played by
swiping a hand through it to make that scintillating, ethereal sound
much loved by producers of 80s ballads. In our track, it makes a great
accompaniment to the Doors-style electric piano section.

Even odder than the vibraslap, you might recognise the sound of
the flexatone from Scooby Doo and other such vintage cartoons,
where it was often used to imply spooky goings-on. It can be employed
for sustained vibrato effects or used as a one-shot, as weve done in
our track at the start of bars 5 and 13.

The rainstick is a wooden tube lined with inward-pointing


protrusions (cactus needles, traditionally) and filled with beads.
When turned over it makes a sound not dissimilar to that of rain falling,
through the action of the beads rattling over the spikes. Used in a
similar way to the mark tree, ours is deployed right at the end of the
track. (Audio: Spot percussion)

The power of clave


The word clave (which translates as key in
English) has two definitions in Afro-Cuban
music: one is a percussion instrument (see
p41), the other is a type of rhythm played by
that instrument and others thats essential to
the whole genre. There are numerous clave
rhythms, including son clave, rumba clave
and 6/8 clave, each of which comprises a
number of variations used indifferent Latin
styles (son, rumba, guaracha, mambo, etc).
Utterly intrinsic to Latin music, playing in
clave refers to the phrasing of rhythms in a
very specific, formalised way. Its difficult to
understand this fully without a deep
knowledge of the music, but one important
aspect is the way the rhythm falls slightly out
of the regular duple feel (that is, straight
44 / Computer Music special

twos and fours rhythms) and veers towards


a triplet or 6/8 feel, creating a pleasing
musical ambiguity.
Unless youre looking to be 100%
authentic in your Latin percussion MIDI
programming, you dont have to adhere to
the laws of clave at all in fact, weve
disregarded it almost completely in our
walkthroughs here. If youre in a learning
mood, however, there are plenty of excellent
books available on the topic, just a Google
search away. Afro-Cuban music is a truly
fascinating subject, in terms of both history
and technique, and for those who are
prepared to put in the time learning the
basics, a whole new world of endlessly
inspiring rhythmic possibilities awaits.

programming percussion <


> Step by step 3. Creative percussion processing

Slowing our agogo bells down to 70bpm and treating them to


some ping-pong delay creates an ethereal, monastic-sounding
pattern. Lives timestretch algorithm introduces a weird sucking effect
to the dry signal, while the delays fill the stereo field. Transient-style
algorithms are best for percussion, but its always worth trying others,
of course. (Audio: Agogos delay)

POWER TIP

Percussion is a prime candidate for the extreme application of


effects. Take our conga part, for example. Its pretty groovy as it is,
but adding an Auto Filter set to a 2-beat LFO cycle gives it even more
rhythmic motion. A compressor is called for next in the chain, though,
as the movement of the filter introduces some serious volume
variation. (Audio: Conga filter)

Automation situation
When automating effects plugins on
percussion tracks, its essential that any
movements are kept in line with the rhythm
being played, unless youre after
deliberately off-kilter timings. Equally, setting
LFOs and delay times to sync with your
DAWs project tempo is usually the way to
go. However, none of the above necessarily
applies to single-hit spot percussion.

Lives Beat Repeat is a glitch plug-in to be reckoned with, and its


worth trying on all manner of material (non-Live users could
substitute Smartelectronix Supatrigga or Livecut). Were not sure what
wed use our processed triangle part for, but wed imagine the
adventurous electronica producer could get some mileage out of it.
(Audio: Triangle Beat Repeat)

We reverse our cabasa part, and its more-or-less symmetrical


attack/decay envelope means it still sounds quite cabasa-ish when
played backwards (but with percussion that has a tail, such as congas,
the difference can be dramatic try it!). We then go modulation mental,
inserting chorus and tempo-synced flanger plug-ins. Much more
interesting. (Audio: Cabasa modulated)

To finish, we treat the timbales with Soft downsampling (good for


introducing extra treble frequencies), modulated frequency
shifting (unlike pitchshifting, this shifts low frequencies more than
high ones, so its also great for retuning percussion) and a Filter Delay,
which transforms our rather thin solo timbale part into an enthusiastic
trio. (Audio: Timbales bonkers)

Computer Music special / 45

> programming percussion


> Step by step

If you want to take pre-made percussion loops and rearrange them


to really make them your own, REX files give you all the slicemanipulating power you need. In Reason, weve made a sparse, dubby
track to which were going to add some REX percussion loops. (Audio:
1. REX no perc)

Healthy options
Reasons Dr Octo Rex is an amazing REX file
player as youd hope, given that
Propellerhead created both the format and
the instrument but most DAWs can do
similar things, laying the slices of a REX file
out across the keyboard and creating a
MIDI file to trigger them correctly. In fact,
many of them can auto-slice regular WAVs
and AIFs into their samplers, too, giving the
same functionality as REX files.

A solo djembes one thing (geddit?), but chopping up a fuller loop


can yield even better results. We load another Loopmasters loop
(from their Afro Latin library) into a new Dr Octo Rex Loop Player and
hit the Copy Loop to Track button. It already sounds good, but we
can make it even better (Audio: With Afro Latin)

46 / Computer Music special

Create a Dr Octo Rex Loop Player and load the Djembe 90 bpm
REX file from the Factory Sound Bank. We want easy editing access
to the triggering notes, so we hit the Copy Loop to Track button to
sling the MIDI part onto the instruments sequencer track. We also
insert an RV7000 reverb, to position our djembe better in the mix.
(Audio: 2. With djembe)

POWER TIP

4. REX: The king of percussion

Now we move the MIDI notes around in the sequencer, designing a


new djembe pattern all our own. The result goes with the track
much better than the original, particularly at the start of the bar, where
it was clashing with the kick drum something rotten. We also reverse a
couple of slices in Dr Octo Rex. (Audio: 3. With djembe edited)

The first thing we do is quantise the lot, so that our edits snap to
the beat. Then we lose the big bass drum sound entirely, since its
clashing with our kick. After that, again, its simply a case of playing
around with the notes until we get the percussive interplay were after.
(Audio: With Afro Latin edited)

programming percussion <

Percussion programming tips


Quantise theory
Should you quantise your percussion? The
answer to that question depends on the sort
of feel youre trying to achieve and the
groove of the rest of your track. Good
percussion parts will usually have a high level
of human feel, but a lot of that comes from
dynamics and articulation, so dont feel that
quantising them will necessarily rob them of
their soul. Try it and if it sounds cool, go with
it. If it doesnt, make whatever timing
adjustments need to be made manually. Be
careful when quantising slow-attack sounds
like shakers or guiro that they dont actually
sound late when snapped to the beat. If they
do, move them back a bit.
Our Live percussion walkthrough track in
the Tutorial Files folder sounds pretty loose
au naturel (we were going for a live band feel)
maybe too loose for some tastes. Quantised,
it sounds rhythmically perfect, of course,
but does that mean its necessarily better?
Well leave you to decide

Know the limits


When programming drum kit parts, you
hopefully already know not to ever trigger
more things at once than a drummer could
physically play with their four limbs, and it
shouldnt surprise you to learn that the same
rule applies with percussion. Obviously, a
conguero cant hit more than two congas at
the same time, and you cant strike and
scrape a guiro simultaneously. Adhering to
such limitations will make your parts more
realistic and stop them becoming too dense.

Gunned down
For maximum realism, make sure your
sampler patches feature both left- and righthand strokes (where appropriate), and use
them. The difference between them might be
barely perceptible, but youll certainly hear it
if you compare a run of alternating notes with
a run of the same one repeated.

Keep it real
While percussion parts in dance and
electronic music will tend to be looped
(whether audio clips or MIDI parts), in live
tracks, they should be properly performed all
the way through. So, rather than recording
eight bars of MIDI-triggered bongos and
looping it, put in the effort to play the whole
thing live from start to finish, punching in on
any unacceptable mistakes afterwards if
necessary. Even with rhythmically
straightforward parts a shaker, for
example approaching your
percussion tracking like a proper
recording session will make a real
difference to the feel of the track.

Choking up
If youve ever programmed a
sampled drum kit, youre
probably aware of mute/choke
The snare in your drum kit should have the
backbeat ably nailed, so dont step on its
toes with your percussion parts

Many ROMplers feature separate left- and right-hand strokes, programmable on separate MIDI notes, as shown

groups, whereby certain sounds are set up to


immediately kill other sounds when
triggered closed hi-hats curtailing open
ones, for example. Mute/choke groups are
also used for percussion: muted triangle
interrupting open triangle, short cabasa rub
defeating long cabasa rub, etc. As a rule, if its
not physically possible for two specific
sounds to happen simultaneously, one
always needs to mute/choke the other.

Exercise restraint
Keep your individual percussion layers
simple. With such a broad range of sonic
flavours and colours in the percussion family,
once just a few members of it are brought
together, the result is usually a surprisingly
dense wall of sound. Always consider the
interplay between your different drums,
shakers and whatnot rhythmically, they
should lock together and move around each

other as if your virtual players have been


rehearsing for weeks rather than clashing,
with everything hitting at the same time.

Beats working
Avoid the temptation to place emphasis on
the backbeat with your percussion thats
the job of the snare drum. While certain
percussion instruments (tambourine or
cabasa, for example) make a good
accompaniment to the snare, generally you
want your perc working around the main
beat rather than sitting on top of it.

In the place
All members of your percussion ensemble
should exist in the same virtual space, so
when applying reverb, send all your grooving
percussion parts to the same plug-in using
different reverbs on each instrument will
mess up the sense of cohesion (although that
can at times be an effective technique). All of
the parts in our live project are sending to
the same reverb at varying levels. For
percussion spot effects, however, tailor the
reverb to each individual sound
according to its own specific needs.

Panning for gold


When it comes to panning the
percussion section, go for a noticeable
spread, but nothing too extreme. With
the exception of the timbales, our parts
cover a fairly narrow panorama just
enough to give a sense of width
without distracting attention from the
drums, bass and keys.
Computer Music special / 47

Cinematic

beats

Enormous drum and


percussion sounds are
the order of the day as
we turn our attention to
producing blockbuster
beats suitable for a
Hollywood epic
Larger-than-life, cinematic beats have
become such a mainstay of soundtracks,
TV idents and advertising that theyre almost
part of the contemporary media wallpaper.
Take a quick surf through Saturday night TV
or any number of the latest movie
blockbusters and youll be bombarded with
huge, epic percussion sounds. Listen a little
closer and youll hear that these sounds,
although rooted in real instruments, can also
sound otherworldly, which only adds to
their mystery and overall epic feel. To get
straight to the point of this tutorial, achieving
these cinematic sounds is primarily a case of
careful sound selection and appropriate
effects processing.
Our first step, then, is to put together a set of
core sounds that we know will deliver. Well
cherry-pick from world and orchestral
percussion to get a good sonic spread, covering
the thunderous lows and sparkling highs that
we need to create the required impact.
We can also find plenty of percussive
greatness in everyday sounds and objects. To
that end, well be looking at more unusual
sources and found sounds, too, as we include
the kitchen sink (almost) in our quest to push
the boundaries of percussion.
With our sound set sorted, well guide you
through some programming basics in order to
help you get the patterns youre used to hearing.
Well then move on to look at processing the
sounds in context using EQ, reverb, exciters and
stereo enhancement.
Finally, its worth saying that if youd rather
just go for some high-quality ready-made
sounds, there are some truly excellent sample
libraries out there Quantum Leap Stormdrum 3
and Heavyocity Damage are two particularly
good examples that work well-recorded
source material into mix-ready epic sounds. For
raw core sounds that you can process yourself,
its also worth checking out Project Sams True
Strike series, Vir2 World Impact and Native
Instruments West Africa Kontakt library, among
many others.
Right, lets make some noise!

48 / Computer Music special

cinematic beats <

Building a sound set


Without wanting to lead you down a certain
path, when youre trying to create massive,
cinematic beats, theres a certain core sample
set that you need to get together. Thats not to
say that you cant introduce your own sounds or
more unusual ones (indeed, well look at both
shortly), but were not trying to reinvent the
wheel here, and certain sounds fit well with
and are expected to be heard in cinematic
scores and music influenced by them.
For the sake of simplicity, and to reinforce the
different roles these sounds play, well divide
this core set into drums and metals. Drums
includes everything from the humble drum kit
rack tom, orchestral snare and timpani to
oversized orchestral bass drums, African
djembe, Middle Eastern darbuka, Indian tablas
and Japanese taiko (typically, the large wadaiko
drum). Of course, the complete list is way longer

Focus on tone and


try to find variations
of playing style in the
same sample set
than we can cover in its entirety, but the main
thing to appreciate is that drum sounds vary
from deep and thunderous (taiko and bass
drum) to high-pitched and ringy (tabla and
djembe), and some (tabla again) are capable of
generating a broad range of sounds on their
own. This versatility can be further enhanced by
using different types of sticks or beaters.

When we talk about metals, the array of


possible options can seem even more vast than
that of drums. Once again, although there is
general consistency in terms of instrument
types, a Chinese cymbal and a Turkish (Western)
cymbal, for example, sound very different.
Whats more, playing style has a huge influence,
too think of the difference between a crash
cymbal struck with the shank of a stick and a
crescendo roll played with beaters on the same
cymbal. Similarly, damping and choking metals
can influence their sound and range of usage.
To get started, you need to hunt down goodquality raw sounds. These may be dry and nonepic, but focus on tone and try to find variations
of playing style in the same sample set. Your
goal, ultimately, is to build a suitable and
appropriate (but not unadventurous!) sound set
for the music youre working on.

> Step by step 1. Getting the core sounds together

Tutorial

Files

Although the temptation when building cinematic, soundtrackstyle beats is to search for interesting ethnic sounds, the humble
tom tom is a brilliant option. Here, were picking some sounds from a
drum kit instrument (BFD2), including a couple of sets of matching
toms. We can also use BFDs controls to adjust their pitches and
envelopes. (Audio: Step 1a and 1b)

For musical energy and a sense of urgency, tablas are ideal, but
theyre capable of so many tones that it can be hard to know where
to start. Here, our sample set comprises 16 sounds, divided into short
slaps, choked thumps and deeper, sustained sounds. We map these
out across our sampler, so that we can pick and choose from them
when programming.

Big taiko drums are perfect for thunderous sounds, but are often
recorded with ambience, making each sample set sound very
particular. We collect together samples of hits made on the centre and
rim of the drum, plus a proper rimshot and a flam. This gives us the
programming flexibility we want but with consistency, as our hits all
come from the same sample set.

Marching band snare drums cut through pretty much anything,


and their clicky sound is great for accents or regimented musical
sections. To make the most of them, seek out a sample set with a range
of articulations, such as flams and rolls. You could program these
yourself, but they often sound much better when sampled as played.

Computer Music special / 49

> Step by step 1. Getting the core sounds together (continued)

Gongs produce a very deep and powerful sound, and when rolled
they can also give a glorious shimmering effect. Here we have
three basic sounds: a deep one produced with a soft beater, a harder
one with a stick, and one with pitchbend in it. (Audio: Step 5)

Traditional cymbals from East Asia offer a particularly interesting


bending sound that instantly evokes an exotic atmosphere. We
collect together a selection including tuned and bowed gongs the
latter are particularly good for haunting ambiences.

50 / Computer Music special

For crescendos, its good to have a selection of regular suspended


cymbal swells. Here we have two sets: one played with soft
beaters, the other a China-type cymbal played with hard beaters. The
sample sets include various lengths of crescendo rolls, as well as both
choked and sustained endings these will all prove useful at the
programming stage.

Our final sound is an orchestral tambourine, which has far more


character than the plastic rock version. For this we head back to
the percussion section in BFD2, which contains a great wooden
tambourine with multiple articulations, including muted hit, rim,
thumb roll and single shake. Lots of textures to play with!

cinematic beats <

Selecting alternative sounds


While classical orchestral and ethnic sounds are
great, to create something truly original youll
probably want to throw the sound selection net
a little wider. This could involve simply
searching for other regular sounds and using
them percussively, possibly by editing them to
make them shorter or repitching them but
theres no need to stop there. When it comes to
capturing percussion sounds, the whole world is
your oyster.
In movie production, sound effects are
created in a controlled studio environment a
process thats known as foley. The equipment
used for this usually bears little relationship to
the sounds that it generates, and in fact, weve
become so accustomed to the larger-than-life
foley sounds we hear in movies that the sounds
of real life often seem somewhat dull and
mundane in comparison.

For percussion
samples, any object
that you can hit or
shake is fair game
For percussion samples, any object that you
can hit or shake is fair game, although recording
it may not be as easy a task as youd expect.
Close miking often sounds lifeless, while
ambient miking can easily become too ambient,
so be prepared for quite a bit of trial and error.
Try stamping flamenco-style on a wooden floor
or board (hard shoe heels will be particularly

effective), slamming doors or using unusual


items as beaters. A telephone directory
slammed down on a table (or the closed lid of a
piano!) can produce a pretty usable thump, as
can whacking the bottom of a plastic tub a
laundry bin, for example.
This found sounds approach can be
particularly fruitful in your kitchen, which will be
full of appliances, metal hardware and hard
surfaces that can be used to produce edgy
sounds. With some judicious editing, layering
and repitching, you can render these totally
unrecognisable from their sources, turning
them into unusual percussive tones. Possibilities
include appliance doors (microwave, fridge,
washing machine), switches on kettles, toasters
and so on, and for industrial metals the evereffective scrape of a grill pan being moved in
and out of the cooker.

> Step by step 2. Home-made and found sounds

Our first sound combines foot stamps and a large book whacked
on a cupboard. The stamping is hard and percussive, while the
book whack is fat and heavy. We pick a few of the stamps and a couple
of the thumps, and offset the timing slightly, particularly for the
stamps. A bit of careful balancing and we have a slightly flammed
attack with a solid thump. (Audio: Step 1)

If you want a musical accent that really cuts through, its typically
done with some kind of cymbal or white noise effect. However, a
good found sound alternative is breaking glass, which can also impart
an urban or desolate feel. Here we have three samples, layered for
energy and power.

Recording a knife slicing through something on a chopping board


(a carrot, in our case) can sound great. For a percussive sound we
need a tight one-shot effect, so were editing the tail of our recording.
However, we keep the front slicing effect, which sounds a bit like a
reverse snare. Well need to bear this in mind for timing purposes later.

Metal objects usually produce a ringing sound with a quick decay.


Striking a fire extinguisher gets us a ringing tone, which we can
pitch down to create a darker effect. We use a varispeed-type
pitchshift, so that the sound becomes longer as we pitch it down.

Computer Music special / 51

> cinematic beats


> Step by step 3. Programming cinematic beats

Once you have your core sounds sorted, group them together by
type and load them into your sampler. This is far more flexible than
using raw audio on a track, particularly for pitch or velocity variations
or amplitude envelope tweaking. You can always bounce the parts
back out to audio for final processing later should you feel the need.

While we might like the loose feel of our played-in part, the beats
need to lock in with other instrumentation in the track. Two
options are to not quantise fully or use swing quantise. However, our
approach is to perfectly quantise the main downbeats and then retain
some natural timing within other parts of the pattern.

We only add drags to certain snares these are the accented notes
that help mark out the time of the overall part. Elsewhere, we can
use the same doubling up idea to accent other notes. Here were also
adding a gong to the downbeat of every eight bars.

52 / Computer Music special

Velocity is a vital consideration in the production of dynamic beats.


We program our basic tom and taiko pattern, and set our sampler
to be velocity-sensitive. By playing the part on a keyboard, we get a
true dynamic feel. Then we simply tweak the velocities to taste,
accenting significant beats (such as downbeats).

Percussionists and drummers often play ghost notes to fill the


gaps between the main beats, as well as grace notes just before
beats. The most well-known implementations of grace notes are the
flam and the drag single and double grace notes, respectively, before
the main hit. We program flams on our toms and drags on some of our
snares. (Audio: Step 4)

Cinematic beats tend to range into both the low and high extremes
of the frequency spectrum, leaving the midrange clear for other
instruments and dialogue. Its worth bearing this in mind at the sound
selection stage. We complete our track with some carefully chosen
high-frequency sounds, thus leaving space in the midrange.

cinematic beats <


> Step by step 4. Processing for bigger sounds

video

With our parts programmed, the final stage is to make them sound
as epic as possible without losing focus and swamping them in
effects. We start with a little EQ sweetening to help bring out the crack
on our toms. We use a gentle shelving EQ at 4.7kHz, boosting heavily
by 10dB. (Audio: Step 1)

Having said that, reverb is the best tool for adding scale to any
sound, and we can apply it to specific sounds for specific effects.
We insert a gated convolution reverb across the taiko, adjusting the
volume envelope tail to taste. We also set up a general purpose
convolution reverb (around 3s long) on an auxiliary, again tailoring the
volume envelope to keep things tidy.

Sometimes a sound will need a little help in the top or bottom end,
but EQ alone wont cut it. This is the time to try a harmonic exciter.
Used sparingly, these add a processed sheen thats ideal for cinematic
beats. We use both low- and high-frequency harmonic exciters as
auxiliaries rather than inserts.

To add space and scale to a sound without using a regular reverb,


we can apply short delays. We set up a stereo delay on an auxiliary,
with the two delay channels hard panned. Delay settings of 30ms and
60ms with no feedback are ideal, and we filter the low frequencies
from the wet signal to avoid low-end clutter.

Reverb can also add too much mid- and low-frequency build-up, or
sound too bright, so it usually needs tailoring with EQ. On our
auxiliary reverb we use a bell-shaped EQ cut to scoop out some of the
low mid-range at around 450Hz, and a very gentle shelving EQ cut at
around 7.5kHz to soften the highs.

Our final process is to use a stereo tool to keep the low frequencies
mono and spread the higher frequencies. Our plugin simply uses a
filter to make the frequencies below a certain point mono, and allows
us to rebalance the mid and sides aspects of the stereo signal. We can
use this on individual sounds, sub-groups or the main output.

Computer Music special / 53

Mixing beats
Put these essential mixing techniques to
work and get your beats sounding their best

Choosing/making suitable sounds and


programming the right rhythms for the
genre youre working in are fundamental to
creating great drum tracks, but no matter
how impressive your sequencing skills,
poorly mixed beats will always fail to satisfy.
This can be frustrating for the less technically
inclined musician or producer, but getting
big, clear-sounding drum mixes isnt as
complicated as you might imagine.
The golden rule is to give each element its
own space in the mix. This can be done by
manipulating frequency (with the help of
equalisers or filters), stereo panorama (using
mid/side utilities, reverb and auto-panner
54 / Computer Music special

effects, amongst other things) or volume (via


sidechain compression, gating and specialised
dynamics processors such as Logics Enveloper
or Cubases Envelope Shaper).
Getting your drums sounding right is of the
utmost importance when making dance music,
and in the following walkthroughs well show
you how these techniques can be used to
transform some very raw drum tracks into
professional-sounding, club-ready beats. Of
course, theres no one-size-fits-all-genres
approach to mixing, so well cover three
different flavours of mixdown: a full-on drum n
bass banger, a more chilled-out dubstep beat
and a stripped-back minimal house groove.

Well use a number of DAWs for these


walkthroughs, but the techniques well be
describing are universal and equally applicable
no matter what software you use in fact, all of
the plugins involved are from each DAWs stock
effects library. To whet your appetite with a
couple of examples, well show you how a
common-or-garden compressor can be used to
enhance a drum tracks transients, and how
modulation effects can be used to stereoise
mono signals. Getting to grips with good beat
mixing technique can help inform your drum
programming too, so once youve followed
these guides youll be on course to make your
best beats ever!

mixing beats <

> Step by step 1. Mixing a full-on DnB beat in Ableton Live

Tutorial

Files

Begin by setting the project tempo to 174bpm and dragging Kick.


wav, Snare.wav, Closed hat.wav, Ride.wav, Crash.wav and
Angry break.wav onto separate audio tracks. Set up a cycle loop
around the bar containing the parts, and turn all of them down to -6dB
so that they dont clip the master.

Drop the level of the snare track down to -13dB. We can see from
the uneven level meters on the kick and snare tracks that both are
in stereo. We want the kick and snare to sit at the dead centre of the
mix, so drag Lives Utility effect onto the kick track and set its Width
parameter to 0%.

Do the same on the snare track, but this time set the low-cut filter
to 130Hz. The snare could also do with some more high-end crack
we could layer it up with another sound, but using a high-shelf EQ to
boost 2dB at 4kHz works too. (Audio: EQed kick and snare)

In their raw form, these elements sound like a big mess! The
easiest way to get a handle on what were working with is to mute
everything apart from the kick and snare. When we do this, we can
hear that the snare is way too loud for the kick.

Do the same on the snare track. Next, add an EQ Eight to the kick
track. Set the first band to 12dB low-cut mode, and bring up the
Freq knob until youve removed the excess weight from the low end. A
setting of about 80Hz gives us a lighter, less stompy sound that wont
interfere with a bassline as much.

Unmute the closed hi-hat track and add another EQ Eight. Use a
12dB low-cut band at 1.6kHz to take out the messy lows. The top
end of the hi-hat is a little harsh, so use a bell shape to take off 2dB at
10kHz, and a 12dB high cut to take out everything above 18kHz.

Computer Music special / 55

> mixing beats


> Step by step 1. Mixing a full-on DnB beat in Ableton Live (continued)

11

The hi-hat is a bit too loud, so turn it down to -10dB. Next, unmute
the ride channel. This is clearly way, way too loud, so turn it down
to -24dB. Add an EQ Eight, and use a 12dB low-cut filter set to 2.9kHz
to tame its lows. This lets the rides mid character through, but stops it
from clogging up the mix so much.

This spreads the ride across the stereo panorama, but the default
settings are far too extreme for our purposes. Turn the Feedback
down to 0.55, then set the Amount to 45% and Dry/Wet to 60%. This
stops the Flanger effect from being so obvious, but still provides the
stereo feel were after. (Audio: Stereo ride)

The addition of reverb makes the snare and indeed the whole
beat start to sound a lot more natural and polished. Lives default
reverb send settings arent perfect for this sound, so bring up the
Reverb effect on the Send A channel and set the Decay Time to 2.25s.

56 / Computer Music special

We can see from the ride channels level meter that the part is in
mono. Earlier, we put our fundamental sounds the kick and snare
firmly in the middle of the mix. Less solid sounds like rides can be
moved to the side signal to give the sounds in the middle more room
to breathe. Add Lives Flanger effect to the ride channel.

10

12

The beat is starting to take shape, but it still lacks character. A good
way to give a DnB beat a more organic sound is to add a breakbeat.
Theres one among our tracks, but lets see how far we can take our
one-shot sounds before we resort to using it. Lets add some snare to
the reverb turn the Send A level on the snare track up to -10dB.

This gets the reverb closer to the sound were after, but the tail is
too long. Add a Gate after the Reverb and set its Threshold to
-45dB. Because this parameter is volume-dependent, adjusting the
send level will change how it responds. Therefore, the most practical
way to control the level of the reverb now is to use a Utility effect.

mixing beats <

13

15

Add a Utility after the Gate and set its Gain to -5dB, then use an EQ
Eight to low-cut the signal at 2.5kHz. Now, lets simulate an
overhead mic to get a more cohesive, organic sound for the whole kit.
Add all of the tracks apart from Angry Break to a group. Delete the
default Simple Delay effect on the Send B track, and add Overdrive,
Reverb and EQ Eight effects.

Unsolo the send. Now weve got a decent sound out of our oneshots, lets try adding the break to the mix. Angry Break is very
loud, so turn it down to -20dB before unmuting it. The break has lots of
rumbling lows, so use EQ Eight to low-cut it at 220Hz. We can get a
cleaner sound if we sidechain the break with the kick and snare.

14

16

Set the Overdrive Drive to 87%, the Reverb Decay Time to 410ms
and the Dry/Wet to 100%, and use the EQ Eight to low-cut at
1.5kHz. Turn the drum groups Send B level up to -18dB. Solo the Send
B return channel to take a listen to what this adds its just a smeared,
dirty reverb with no lows, but it helps the drums sound more authentic.
(Audio: Overhead simulation)

Add a Compressor to the Angry Break channel, and set its


sidechain input to the kick channel. Turn the Threshold down to
-19.5dB and set the Release time to 12ms. Duplicate the effect and set
the new instances Source to the snare track. Set the Threshold to -1dB
and the Ratio to inf:1. (Audio: DnB beat)

Making the most of mid/side technique


In this walkthrough, weve used the
technique of placing the kick and snare dead
centre in the mix by reducing their stereo
width, and having the ride sit out on the
edges of the stereo panorama by running it
through a flanger. We call this kind of trickery
mid/side processing, and understanding it is
pretty much essential for getting
contemporary-sounding drum mixes.
How does mid/side work? Usually, we think
about a stereo signal in terms of left and right
channels. We can encode both channels into
a mid signal (the information thats present in
both the left and right channels, and thus
what you hear at the centre of the mix) and a
sides signal (the difference between the left
and right channels, and what you hear at the
very edges of the stereo panorama). In
mathematical terms, we can express this as

Mid=Left+Right, and Side=Left-Right, but a


more practical way to get your head round it
is to download Voxengos excellent freeware
mid/side encoder MSED (www.voxengo.
com). Create an audio track in your DAW, put
a piece of music that you think has a good
mixdown on it, add MSED as an insert effect,
and try muting the sides signal. The sound
will go into mono. Then unmute the sides
signal and mute the mid signal youll hear
that the mono signal disappears, leaving just
the sides.
The advantage of dividing drum sounds
between the mid and sides signals is that it
gives us more headroom to work with. When
we use flanging to make the ride stereo, it
reduces its presence in the mid signal,
making our kick and snare both sound
clearer and thus allowing us to turn them up.

Voxengo MSED is a fantastic freeware plugin for


exploring the mid/side technique

By studying the mid/side profiles of greatsounding mixes with MSED (or other width
control effects such as Lives Utility), you can
get clues as to how to use the mid/side
technique in your own tracks which should
help you to produce bigger and bettersounding drum tracks and mixdowns.
Computer Music special / 57

> mixing beats


> Step by step 2. Mixing a chilled dubstep beat in Logic

Create a new project, set its tempo to 140bpm and put Kick.wav,
Snare.wav, Rim shot.wav and Hats.wav on audio tracks, turning
each one down to -6dB to prevent clipping. Set up a loop around them.
These sounds are pretty upfront, but with some processing we can
make them sound more chilled while still retaining their solidity.

Set one of the bell bands Q parameters to 0.10, and use it to take
out 1.5dB at 9.6kHz. This smooths the high end out a little.
Activate the low-cut filter and bring it up to 500Hz to ensure that
nothing slips through below the hi-hats fundamental frequency.

Next, add the Ensemble effect from the Modulation folder. This
chorus-style effect gives the hats a more natural sound and some
stereo width, but the effect is quite strong at the default setting, so
turn the Mix fader down to 10% to ease it off a little.

58 / Computer Music special

Lets start with the hi-hats, which are very loud and bright. Activate
the Channel EQ on the hats channel and click the Analyzer button
to see what were working with. Theres too much energy in the highs,
so activate the high-cut filter and set it to 11.2kHz to get rid of them.

After the Channel EQ, add an Enveloper effect from the Dynamics
section. Bring the Gain fader on the right-hand side of the plugin
all the way down to -100% to tidy up the hi-hats tail. This tightens up
the beat and will make it easier to add other elements when youve
finished working on the drums.

Another useful effect for giving hi-hats a natural feel is delay. Add
the Stereo Delay effect from the Delay folder. The default settings
synced delays give the hats a funkier feel, but again, the effect is a little
too intense, so turn the Left and Right Output Mix faders down to
10%. (Audio: Hat delay)

mixing beats <

11

Now turn your attention to the kick channel. The kick is good and
weighty, but its unlikely well need all that beef in our final mix. To
make it less booming, use a Channel EQ on the kick track to apply a low
cut at 65Hz. This helps makes the beat feel skippier and more flowing.
Turn the kick track down to -8dB. (Audio: EQed kick)

Conveniently, the default reverb is appropriate for the kind of


sound were after, and the reverbs Dry level is set to 0% by default.
This means we can begin to dial in the effect on the rimshot channel
without touching Space Designers interface at all. Set the Bus 1 level
on the rimshot track to -10dB. (Audio: Send reverb)

Set the send amount to 0dB, and do the same on the snare
channel. Set Aux 2s Output to No Out. This silences the channel,
but we can still use it as a sidechain input source. Now add a
Compressor effect from the Dynamics folder on Aux 1, placing it after
the Space Designer.

A big part of the dubstep sound is the big, reverbed snare. In


Logics mixer, set the Sends slot on the rimshot track to BusBus 1.
This automatically creates a bus channel called Aux 1 for us. Add the
Space Designer effect from the Reverb folder as an insert on Aux 1.

10

This sounds decent enough, but the reverb has the undesirable
side effect of clogging up the mix. We can solve this problem with
a little sidechain compression. First, set up a buss to serve as a
dedicated sidechain input channel. Set the kick channels Send routing
to BusBus 2.

12

Set the Compressors Side Chain input to Bus 2. When the beat
plays, youll see the Gain Reduction meter bounce along with the
kick and snare. Turn Auto Gain mode Off, and lower the Compressor
Threshold fader down to -32dB. (Audio: Sidechained reverb)

Computer Music special / 59

> mixing beats


> Step by step 2. Mixing a chilled dubstep beat in Logic (continued)

13

15

The rimshot is dominating the mix a little, so turn it down to -9dB.


Lets make the snare more obvious in the mix with some transient
tweaking. Add a Compressor on the snare channel. Were going to use
this effect to make the snares dynamics more pronounced. Turn the
Attack up to 170ms.

You can see that the level peaks slightly lower now. Turn the
Compressor Gain up to 1dB to get a level thats roughly on par with
the perceived volume of the sound before we compressed it. The peak
level is very slightly higher, but this doesnt matter too much as the
snares now-louder attack only peaks at this higher level for a short
amount of time, and wont be affected too negatively by a master
limiter, clipper or saturator.

14

16

This is a long Attack time, which means that the transients at the
very start of the snare will be unaffected by the compression.
However, the later part of the sound will be reduced in volume, making
the transients sound relatively louder. Set the Auto Gain mode to Off,
and turn the Compressor Threshold down to -28dB.

Solo the snare track and toggle the Compressors power button on
and off to compare the original and processed sounds. Its a matter
of personal taste as to whether the increase in peak level is worth the
trade-off in headroom to get a punchier-sounding attack. (Audio:
Snare attack.wav)

Cutting loose
As youll have noticed from these
walkthroughs, equalisation is a vital tool
when is comes to mixing drums and
anything else, for that matter! This is
especially true of low-cut/high-pass filtering:
when used on kicks and snares it can help a
beat flow smoothly and sound more open,
and applied to hi-hats and rides, it makes
everything sound cleaner and tighter.
In our examples, weve used low-cut
frequencies that sound right when the beats
are played by themselves. Its important to
bear in mind that beats have to work
alongside the other elements of a track, too,
so the frequency at which you low-cut your
kick will likely depend to some extent on the
frequency content and rhythm of the tracks
bassline. For instance, if your track has an offbeat bassline that never plays at the same
60 / Computer Music special

Equalisation is a vital
tool when is comes to
mixing drums and
anything else
time as the kick, you can probably get away
with leaving more bass in the kick indeed,
the bassline might sound too bassy if you
take too much weight out of the kick! On the
other hand, if you have a bassline that plays a
lot of higher notes, youll likely find that it
strays into the kicks frequency range, and
that a combination of low-cut EQ and
sidechain compression are necessary.

If youre having trouble balancing


elements of a track be they kick and bass,
ride and pad, or any other combination it
can often help to solo the offending elements
in order to get a clearer idea of whats
happening. A spectral analyser such as
Voxengos freeware SPAN can come in handy
as well, giving you a better idea of which
frequencies are overlapping.
When using low-cut filters, try to exercise
restraint and only cut when a sound really
benefits from it. Overused, this kind of
processing can take too much weight out of
your drums and leave your beats sounding
brittle and tinny. If you find that youre having
a problem mixing your drums, try bypassing
the EQs, filters and dynamics processors
youve applied to ensure that you havent
over-cooked any of them.

mixing beats <


> Step by step 3. Mixing a minimal house beat in Cubase

video

Drag 909 kick.wav, 626 clap.wav, 808 clave.wav, 808 open hat.
wav, 606 open hat.wav and 808 tom.wav onto separate audio
tracks in Cubase, and set up a loop around the bar theyre in. The most
obvious problem with this material is that the 606 open hi-hat is very
long and lazy-sounding, and doesnt fit with the minimal vibe we want.

Now that weve tidied up the hats, its clear that the 808 tom needs
tightening up as well! Add an EnvelopeShaper to its channel and
turn its Release down to -20. The toms low end is interfering with the
kick a little, so add a Studio EQ from the EQ folder and use a low shelf
to take off 7dB at 100Hz. (Audio: Shaped envelopes)

With the original reverb dealt with, we can now add our own.
Create an FX Channel track and put REVerance, from the Reverb
folder, onto it. Select the Catacombe preset, then activate a send
routing to the reverb on the 626 clap channel. The character of the
sound is right, but its a bit big for our needs.

Add an EnvelopeShaper from the Dynamics folder as an insert


effect, and turn the Release knob down to -20. The hi-hat is too
loud, so turn the Output knob down to -4dB while youre at it. The 808
open hi-hat needs tightening up, so add an EnvelopeShaper to its track
as well set its Release to -13.0 and Output to -4dB.

The handclap sample weve used has a little bit of a reverb tail on it,
which we can get rid of using a gate. Add Cubases Gate effect from
the Dynamics folder and set the Threshold at -35dB. This completely
cuts out the reverb tail while leaving the body of the sound intact.

Turn REVerances Size parameter down to 30. The reverb also has
a heavy pre-delay on it; get rid of this by turning the Pre-delay
down to 10. This reverb can help us make the rest of the beat sound
less dry, so lets use it on some of the other tracks. Apply it to the tom
and both hi-hat channels also. (Audio: Reverb)

Computer Music special / 61

> mixing beats


> Step by step 3. Mixing a minimal house beat in Cubase (continued)

11

Our beat now has a more minimal feel, but its pretty quiet. Lets
boost its volume and enhance its character with some buss
processing. Add a Group Channel track, route all the audio tracks to it,
and put a VintageCompressor from the Dynamics folder on it as an
insert effect.

Thankfully, we can remedy this using the EnvelopeShaper. Add it


to the 909 kick track and turn the Release up to 4.0. We can also
make the transient a little bit more punchy by turning the Attack
parameter up to 2.2. Put a SoftClipper from the Distortion folder after
the EnvelopeShaper.

Add Pitch Correct from the Pitch Shift folder at the very start of
the kicks insert chain, and turn the Transpose parameter in the
Correction section down to -2.0 semitones. Turn Formant
Preservation off to avoid any extra unnecessary processing. This puts
the kick at the right pitch without messing up its transients or low end
too much. (Audio: Tuned kick)

62 / Computer Music special

Turn the Input knob up to 8 and the Release time down so that its
at about 8 oclock. This gives the beat a more upfront feel, but
without driving it too hard and pushing it into techno territory. At this
stage, though, it becomes clear that the kick drum is a little lacking its
very short and the low end is suffering as a result.

10

Set the SoftClippers input to 4.7dB. This sacrifices some of the


kicks dynamic range for loudness, but the kick was very dynamic,
so this is a worthwhile tradeoff. Lets try lowering the pitch of the kick
to get a bigger sound. If we were working on this track from scratch we
could simply adjust the pitch of the sample, synth or drum machine
instrument that its played from, but as were using bounced tracks,
well have to fix it in the mix.

12

Duplicate the bar-long beat seven times to create an eight-bar


section, then add RoomWorks from the Reverb folder as an insert
on the 808 clave track. Set the Reverb Time to 3.12s and automate the
Mix parameter to morph the clave from a wet background sound to a
dry foreground one. (Audio: Reverb automation)

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Make beats with


Its a self-contained production powerhouse, but Maschine can also
emulate some of the greatest grooveboxes in history. Recapture the
retro sound of 80s and 90s digital hardware with our guide
If the MPC invented the whole 16-pad
sampling drum machine concept, Native
Instruments can be credited with dragging it
kicking and screaming into the virtual studio.
Years before Akai finally got into the hybrid
groovebox game, NI spotted a huge gap in
the market and exploited it skilfully with a
combination of excellent production
software and a powerful dedicated hardware
controller. Now, at version 2, Maschine is an
all-singing, all-dancing behemoth with a
huge range of onboard effects and sound
generators, as well as loop slicing, mixing and
arranging capabilities and a vast sound
library catering to every kind of electronic
64 / Computer Music special

music under the sun. Whether running as a


plugin in the studio or a standalone
instrument onstage, its quite simply one of
the most versatile digital instruments of the
modern age. Of course, with all that power
and its ever-expanding feature set, it can be
easy to forget that Maschine is also one of the
best beat-making tools known to man,
encouraging a speedy, hands-on workflow
like the synthesising and sampling drum
machines of old.
In this tutorial, were going to look at using
Maschine to create vintage-style drums loops
that is, using it as a drum machine (or machines)
and sampler, rather than as the centre of a more

extensive production setup. This isnt to say that


it cant (or shouldnt) be used as the latter, of
course, but as this is a special entirely dedicated
to beats, theyre going to be our clear focus.
So, whether youre making future 2-step,
deep house, hip-hop, breaks, pop or indie R&B,
Maschine can offer a significant retro-injection
to your productions, but with the extreme
convenience of modern virtual production. Oh,
and in all of the walkthroughs, were going to be
assuming that you already know how to actually
use Maschine at a basic level if you find
yourself unclear on how to perform a particular
action, you can always head on up to the
applications Help menu.

make beats with maschine <

Make it personal
Maschine takes its inspiration from vintage
classics such as the Akai MPC60 and to a lesser
extent E-mu SP-1200, early drum machines
including Rolands TR-909 and TR-808, and
even Roger Linns classic drum machines. These
machines brought about a revolution in music
production, driven not just by their sounds but
by their workflow. By taking features and
functional concepts from these classic
machines, Maschine enables us to rediscover
the greatness of the early digital hardware age
but with all the modern advantages that
software provides.
One of the things that lent such distinctive
character to early sample-driven productions is
that sampling drum machines required their
samples to be recorded manually. There were
sample CDs available, but these were minuscule
compared to the enormous libraries we have

Maschine enables us
to rediscover the
greatness of the early
digital hardware age
access to now, so most samples were recorded
rather than pre-produced. Today, people tend to
gravitate towards the same core sounds the
best ones in any given library. Listen to much of
the electronic music out there: the repetition of
samples is readily apparent, and in many cases
its easy to tell exactly which sample library has
been used on a given track (or tracks).

So how can you avoid sounding like


everybody else? Put yourself in a vintage
mindset! Combine key classic drum machine
samples with your own recorded percussion
sounds, just as the early samplists used to.
These can be recorded off vinyl or tape, lifted
from MP3 or CDs, or, of course, entirely
generated from scratch. Indeed, making your
own samples not only avoids any risk of
copyright infringement but also guarantees a
distinctive and unique sound.
Such sounds could be vocals, finger-clicks,
saucepans, bottle tops anything you like. You
dont even need a great microphone, as the
samples dont have to be beautifully recorded
for our beat production purposes. Mobile
phones, large ear-cup headphones plugged into
a microphone jack socket, your laptops built-in
mic any of these will do the job.

> Step by step 1. Creating your own percussion sounds

Tutorial

Files

Were using our Macbook Pros built-in mic, so first we plug in some
headphones, select internal inputs and outputs, open a new group,
hit Sample, choose Detect mode and set the Threshold to -14dB so
that sampling will happen automatically when we make a loud enough
noise (this level will vary depending on your mic sensitivity).

We engage the metronome, select a tempo of 122bpm, don our


headphones, hit Record, then tap in a funky and syncopated beat
over four bars. We auto-slice our recorded loop with Detect set to full
sensitivity and Quantise set to 1/16. We then record in two finger clicks
on each second and fourth beat.

We start by recording a few finger clicks. Its important to capture


at least two, as they always sound better when you layer more
than one. We assign these to a couple of drum pads and set the
Trigger modes to ADR rather than One-Shot, enabling us to control
how much of the natural room ambience is present.

Sampled vocal stabs can almost have the same impact as drums
when building a classic-style electronic drum groove, so we plug in
a microphone (phone/laptop mics arent great for capturing bass, and
this vocal stab needs solid low end for maximum effect), record the
word bounce and place it on the first beat of each bar. We tune it
down five semitones for effect. (Audio: Keys, fingers, vox)

Computer Music special / 65

> make beats with maschine


> Step by step 2. Bring on the drums

Its time to introduce a classic drum machine vibe. We start with


Maschines 909 kit and play in a straight four-to-the-floor kick
pattern, some claps, and some snares on the fourth 16th-note of
alternate bars. We then load another 909 and play some offbeat closed
hi-hats and skippy rimshots. Using two 909 groups emulates the effect
of sub-grouping different outputs on a hardware unit.

Next, we need to thin out our pattern and check for clashing hits.
This is best done before any major processing and EQ, as if it works
raw, itll certainly work when processed. We remove a few small hits
here and there in particular, a cowbell sound from our 808 preset
pattern that doesnt fit. Its a good idea to mute different parts here to
hear how individual groups work together.

We load up an 808 kit and leave the initial preset pattern in place,
as it fits nicely over our existing groove. This was sort of the late
80s equivalent of trying out sampled loops from a sample collection
over your basic groove. This layering of recorded samples and preset
patterns features on countless early dance classics.

Now to tune our percussion, which means getting the 909 kick,
bounce sample and 808 congas playing nicely together. Its
important not to ruin the vibe, so we pick the most important parts
the kick and vocal. We shift the kick half a semitone up to fit the vocal
pitch better, then we simply tune up the remaining clashing 808 conga
until it fits.

Drum and percussion tuning


One of the most neglected aspects of music
production is the tuning of percussion, and
one of the main reasons its so easy to
overlook is that the effects of it can be very
subtle, often manifesting themselves only at
the mixdown stage. Weve known producers
who have struggled with a mixdown for
hours or even days only for a skilled mix
engineer to take a listen and immediately
point out the obvious: that the kick drum is
clashing with the bassline, or that the hi-hats
and claps are interfering with the synths or
vocals. And although tuning is easy to miss
(even for seasoned professionals), it can have
a profound effect on the overall mix for
example, even if your kick and bass arent
clashing noticeably on their own, the
cumulative effect of all those slight tuning
mismatches can be significant.
66 / Computer Music special

So how do we go about tuning drums and


percussion? Some drum synths (several of
Maschines included) actually tell you the
note name of the pitch being generated,
making tuning easy to check, and theres
always the option of using a tuning plugin.
But we find that drums particularly with
reverb and other additive processing applied
can throw out some tricky harmonics, so
often the strict tuning of a drum sample isnt
actually the thing to focus on. And of course,
sometimes the effect of one drum sound can
be ruined by over-tweaking.
Generally speaking, though, if you get the
tuning right at the start and keep tweaking it
as your go along, itll pay dividends as the
track progresses. This is preferable also
because its human nature that once we hear
something enough times, it can sound

wrong to our ears when its changed, even if


it sounds better to everybody else. In drum
tuning terms, this means that while we might
need to tune, say, a clave or conga to match
our kick drum, if we hear it too many times at
the wrong tuning, we could get so used to it
that we dont realise it needs tuning the
right tuning will actually sound less effective
to us. If you do find that this has happened,
youll need to grit your teeth and go with the
properly tuned version, but dont worry we
promise that after an hour you wont
remember what it sounded like before!
Its also worth noting that while one or two
of the greatest house tracks of all time didnt
feature rigidly tuned drums, youll not find
many classics with obviously out-of-tune
percussion the best practitioners of the art
naturally tend to tune their drums.

make beats with maschine <

On a roll
Few functions in music production are as
revered as note repeat. Though primarily
associated with the MPC range of sampling
drum machines, the feature was originally
implemented by Roger Linn for his Linn 9000
drum machine (the successor to the classic
LinnDrum) and was included on every machine
he built subsequently. It was designed as a way
to add dynamic rolls to beats (as opposed to
playing them at fixed velocity) with far greater
timing accuracy than most live players could
hope to achieve.
The idea is simple: with note repeat engaged,
pressing a pad will generate a string of note
events on every grid line of the current
quantise setting (every 32nd-note, every
16th-note, every eighth-note and so on) and,
critically, these events will be at a velocity level
determined by how much pressure is applied to

Maschine facilitates
up to four manaully
assigned quantise
value buttons
the pad at the time. With note repeat, dynamic
and evolving rolls can be played so easily that
they can even be performed live on stage with
total confidence. Classic house tracks used
these fills extensively, usually with claps or
snares, but also with hats and even kick drums.
Theres much more to note repeat than just
drum rolls, though. As weve previously

mentioned, it can be very effective for live


groove-building or even total live play if youre
confident and dextrous enough. Maschine
facilitates up to four manually assigned quantise
value buttons, so you can, for example, jump
between quarter-, eighth-, 16th- and 32nd-note
values to enhance your rolls, or vary the
quantise according to the part being played. You
can even set triplet values.
Maschine isnt perfect, however: one
downside to its note repeat function is that,
rather inexplicably, its swing function is not
applied to repeated notes. With swing a key part
of so much electronic music, this is a baffling
oversight that we hope to see rectified at some
point. The only solution right now is to record
rolls in and then add swing afterwards, but thats
far from ideal. Still, note repeat remains a
glorious feature, so lets take a closer look

> Step by step 3. Using note repeat

We start by calling up Maschine 2s fantastic new Snare Drumsynth


and tweaking the sound for a vintage drum machine vibe. Using
16th-note quantise, we play our main groove and jam away over the
top, firing off little bursts of snare roll. Velocity variations are key, and
leaving the first 16th-note of each beat free really adds funk.

The kick drum needs a little more excitement on each fourth bar,
so we select the 16th-note setting and add four fast kicks at the
end, starting from beat 4 of bar 4. The key as is often the case with
note repeat is to vary the amount of pressure on the pad to alter the
velocity. This imparts a nice groove to the otherwise rigid kick.

Next, the vocal, and we use the 32nd-note quantise value to add a
fast roll at the end of every fourth bar. Solod, the effect is quite
pronounced, but with our other loops in the mix it provides a subtle
feed into the next four-bar loop. We manually draw in the maximum
velocity value for the first 32nd-note (on beat 4 of bar 4), as this makes
the roll more effective.

While Maschine doesnt allow live auditioning of Swing values


when playing note repeats, it does allow it once theyre recorded
as note events, so now we can try applying swing to our project. This
can be modulated over the course of the track, or your might simply
pick a value you like and stick with it. We find that an extreme value of
41% works a treat on our groove. (Audio: Full beat (pre-processing)
41% swing)

Computer Music special / 67

> make beats with maschine

All part of the process


Our overall approach so far has been to recreate
the effect of using multiple drum machines and
a sampler, so its important to stick with this
theme as we get into the processing stage. Our
selection of sound sets should sound different,
just as a set of separate instruments would
when routed individually into a mixer.
One of the easiest ways to keep things
sounding distinct is to use Maschines built-in
vintage sampler emulation algorithms its
always worth trying different sampler modes for
each sound. MPC60 engine mode is excellent
for adding character and leaving space in the
mix, but dont use it for all your sounds or
groups. Ideally, you should use a different mode
for each of the main groups.
Another effective mix separator is the use of
subtle chorus, reverb and saturation effects on
individual groups, again so that just like a set of

Its always worth


trying different
sampler modes for
each sound
hardware instruments, they each have their own
distinct sound. Or you can try applying
compression to each group.
In the next walkthrough were going to look
at some key selected processes, but in fact
weve applied a fair amount of subtle processing
both to individual sounds and more
importantly to groups, so be sure to open up

the full project in the Tutorial Files folder and


have a look at what weve added and where.
Also, note that weve panned a number of our
sounds. Most classic drum machines and
samplers had panning facilities for individual
drum sounds (indeed, many drum machines
and sampled libraries of classic drum machines
have some sounds panned by default). The
usual panning rules apply: you generally want
bass-heavy sounds reasonably central, with the
kick absolutely central, and when sitting
between your monitors, neither side should feel
louder than the other over the course of a loop.
Finally, you can consider using sidechaining,
but we havent bothered here as we find that the
effect of the various parts triggering the group
and master compressors generates its own
ducking effect, particularly with a Maximizer
applied last in the master effects chain.

> Step by step 4. Processing beats

Drum sounds almost always benefit from some compression, and


Maschine 2 comes with an excellent emulation of the classic SSL
buss compressor. We use slow Attack and fast Release times on the
majority of our samples and groups to really get them punching
through. In each case we lower the Threshold until just before the
punchiness becomes clicking or, with groups, muddiness.

We use EQ to add a touch of brightness to our claps, hi-hats, 808


and rattle. A boost at around 11-12kHz does the trick, but we also
roll off the highs from 20kHz so as to avoid harshness and keep some
space. Some low roll-off on all channels also helps to make space we
even roll off the kick a little at around 20Hz.

68 / Computer Music special

Additive effects next, and one of our favourite Maschine tools here
is Chorus on any unnaturally dry sounds, such as our hi-hats,
finger clicks and vocal stabs. Reverb follows on a few sounds (finger
clicks, claps and snares), and in some cases we add a little gating to
leave space for the next sound. Finally, lo-fi and saturator effects add
character and soften the brightening effect of additive plugs.

We turn to filtering last, and we want to add high- and low-pass


filtering to many of the samples, as the combination of subtle
resonance around the cutoff points and sharper topping and tailing
will really help them pop out of the mix even more than we could
achieve with EQ. Our 808 part in particular benefits from this. And
thats our beat! (Audio: Full beat.wav)

make beats with maschine <

Resampling
Veteran electronic producers love to talk about
why vintage samplers sounded so great. Theres
an almost mythical quality to them they
boasted better timing, had unmatched grooves,
were unfailingly loyal and would never leave
you for a younger, more attractive producer. But
beyond all this hero-worship, its easy to
overlook one of the most obvious advantages of
vintage samplers: they were used to sample
sounds from the outside world, rather than just
playing back prefab sounds.
There are a couple of contributing factors to
this vintage sound, and thus a couple of
techniques you can use to replicate it. The more
technical one relies on the fact that early
samplers not only operated at lower sample
rates and bit depths, but also had very limited
sampling time. One of the tricks hip-hop
producers would use to increase the available

Its not just about


the virtual recreation
of the original
hardware sound
sampling time would be to record their samples
which were almost invariably lifted from
33rpm vinyl records at 45rpm. The higher
speed meant that more of the music could be
sampled into less sample memory. It could then
be slowed back down in the sampler, which, at
those lower sample rates and bit depths,
generated a characteristic colouration.

You can recreate this by making and


processing a drum loop, bouncing it to audio,
playing it back in a sampler at high speed (play it
seven semitones higher than the root note to
replicate the speeding up of 33rpm to 45rpm),
recording that at a lower sample rate and bit
depth, then mapping the resulting loop to C4,
playing it back the same number of semitones
down. Bear in mind, though, that vintage loops
are lifted from completed and processed tracks,
and when you slice and resequence them you
hear the sounds of ambience being cut short,
snare reverb tails overlapping hi-hats and so on.
So its not just about the virtual recreation of the
original hardware sound those chopped loops
are a big part of the overall effect.
Sometimes, though, its just about treating
your loop like well, a loop. And that brings us to
our second technique

> Step by step 5. Resampling, slicing and rearranging loops

First we start a new project and load the audio file from the
previous walkthrough: Full beat.wav. We then use the auto-slicing
function set to eighth-notes, remembering to set the tempo to
122bpm, just like the original. We then apply this slicing and set a loop
length of 4 bars so that our part is sliced but playing back exactly the
same as our original. We also set the sampler mode to MPC60.

With Note Repeat engaged, we play the main loop and add
stuttering hits over the top of it, creating more fills and energy and
thanks to the looser slices (those containing more than one hit,
layered hits and reverb harmonics) a fuller, richer overall quality. With
these parts recorded, we dial in some shuffle (about 40%) and tweak
the envelope for a more gated and subtly stuttering feel.

We audition the slices to ascertain which ones have good, clear


attacks. Were also on the lookout for those that feature parts of
other beats from the original loops, as these will give an interesting
effect to the pattern when played on top of the main loop. One-shot
trigger mode should also be switched to ADR (or ADSR) for more
gated, punchier playback.

Finally, we open the sample editor and select the Zone tab from
here, we can tweak individual slices. We apply a very subtle
amount of panning to the repeated vocal stab and manually shorten
the playback length until its a little clearer without a noticeable gap.
Now we have a much more dynamic and energetic backbeat. (Audio:
Re-sliced loop.wav)

Computer Music special / 69

Make
beats
with MPC
Software
Akais MPC hardware has been shaping beats for a quarter of a century,
and now its Software version promises to do the same for years to
come. Welcome to the new old school
Way back in 1988, Akai released the
MPC60. Modest by todays audio
standards, it offered 12-bit sampling at
40KHz, but its interface and design were to
transform beat-making forever, introducing
the world to the concept of a 4x4 grid of drum
pads and sample-based grooveboxes.
Designed by music tech legend Roger Linn
after the folding of his own company, the
MPC60 not only ushered in an entirely new era
in hip-hop but also created the template for
many of todays self-contained production
platforms. NIs Maschine, for example, would
simply not have come into existence without it.
Fast forward 26 years and Akai are still very
much in the game, with a new generation of
70 / Computer Music special

MPCs. Now a range of software/hardware


hybrids, theyre all based on the same core
setup of 16 assignable pads, automatic
quantisation, note repeat and swing quantise
features as their forebears. And it really works
at least half of all classic hip-hop records owe
their chopped, syncopated grooves to this most
elegant and simple of interfaces. The design
makes it very hard not to be funky, while at the
same time encouraging spontaneous creation,
humanised interaction and crucially groove.
If its so easy to use, then, why bother putting
together a tutorial on it? Quite simply, because
in these days of all-singing, all-dancing DAWs, it
can sometimes be hard to take a creative step
back to a simpler time without ending up

sounding too retro. And with the rise of deep


house, the resurgence of garage and other such
modern twists on the dance styles of yesteryear,
it can be tricky to work out how best to
incorporate and combine these methods with
our modern DAW environment.
Its well worth getting to the heart of what
makes the MPC so great and why the latest
versions of it offer so much more than just that
classic swing algorithm, now replicated in so
many DAWs. In these walkthroughs, in which
were assuming a certain level of familiarity with
the operation of the MPC, well be looking at a
variety of creative approaches that will
hopefully inspire you to use yours in new and
different ways.

make beats with mpc software <

MPC Software as a creative tool


If youre using MPC Studio or MPC Renaissance,
you have the option of running multiple tracks
and processing up to 128 channels (far more
than youre likely to need for the kind of genres
youll be making with an MPC!) and so can
effectively create, arrange and process your
entire project within the MPC software. So the
obvious question is: why would you ever want to
do anything different?
One of the main advantages to producing
loops and ideas in your MPC, then mixing and
finalising them in a DAW, is that you separate
two important processes: idea creation and
track completion. As long as you have the option
of endlessly tweaking an idea, the urge will be
there to do so and in our experience, endless
tweaking is invariably to the detriment of the
core idea. So creating your beats and grooves in
MPC Software and then mixing and arranging

Be open to different
methods try them
and figure out which
best suit you
them in your DAW as bounced loops helps you
focus on the pure grooves and treat the MPC as
what it is a musical instrument and an
inspirational creative tool.
Another good reason for using your MPC as a
plugin, rather than making your entire track with
it, is that dealing with longer live recordings
(vocals, guitar parts, etc) is far easier when

youre using the more advanced audio editing


facilities of a DAW.
MPC Elements users have no such decisions
to make, however, as the software only supports
one channel, so in order to use multiple pad
banks, as well as VST plugins across multiple
groups and on the main output, you have to run
multiple instances of it as plugins in your DAW.
Fortunately, you can mute and solo multiple
instances within a project using buttons on the
hardware, which is an immense help when it
comes to keeping track of things.
Remember, theres no right or wrong way to
do anything in music production, but there are
more or less productive and creative ways to
work, and these will vary depending on your
style and process. Just be open to different
methods try them and figure out which best
suit you. Right, lets get started!

> Step by step 1. Building a groove

Tutorial

Files

The first step is to launch your DAW (were using Ableton Live, but
any will do), create nine or ten channels and add an instance of
MPC Elements to each. Layering percussion tracks is addictive with
any MPC, but if you find yourself using more than nine or ten individual
percussive parts in a single loop, youre almost certainly overdoing it.

Add a four-to-the-floor kick next, on another channel and using a


different kit (using just one kit for an entire groove often causes it
to sound like a preset pattern). Select Kick 9 from Elements of
House/All Kicks and play the kicks in live with the default autoquantise and Full Level engaged (to ensure that the velocities are all at
127). Playing rather than drawing keeps the vibe.

With an MPC it can be more interesting to start with a strong snare


or percussion pattern rather than a kick. Load the Bloody House
Kit (found in the Elements of House sound bank), leave the quantise
set to the default 16th-note 50% Swing, engage Record on the MPC
hardware, hit Play in Live and tap out the part shown above on Snare 6
and FX 30. Weve called ours Crash Perks. (Audio: Crash_perks)

MPCs are justly famed for their awesome groove quantise, but
theres more to making a funky groove than applying identical
swing to all elements; at faster tempos and with busier patterns, this
will make for a cool but noticeably unnatural vibe. For a more natural
feel, use a combination of swing values, no swing or even no autoquantisation at all. Just remember that some parts (4/4 kicks, for
example) generally need to be bang on the beat.

Computer Music special / 71

> make beats with mpc software

The sound of the MPC


In this tutorial were dealing with the patterns
and general vibe that the MPC encourages,
but one of the defining characteristics of old
gear is the sound imparted by the hardware
itself, which can have a noticeable impact on
the resulting groove. If all your sounds are
big, bright and brash, much of the vintage grit
will be lost. Its a bit like over-limiting a drum
loop: harsher and louder sounds tend to
overload the ear (or mixer channel!), which
can squash the life out of the groove.
These days we tend to differentiate
between the sound of digital and the sound
of analogue, but in fact, vintage digital
equipment should also be included in the
latter category. In the case of vintage
samplers, this quality is a function of the type
of sampling chip and its sample rate, the

digital-to-analogue converters and the


physical outputs being used. So, if youre
keen to emulate not just the style but also the
sonic character of those original MPC
grooves (which subtly affects the overall
feel), you need to appreciate what the
original hardware did to the sound.
The first thing to do is note the sample rate
of the hardware you want to emulate. The
original MPC60, for example, featured 16-bit
converters but only 12-bit sample storage and
playback at 40kHz, so for accurate emulation
youll need to use a plugin to reduce the bit
depth and sample rate. You could use the
built-in MPC Re-Sampler effect, but certain
third-party plugins will be more authentic
(D16s Decimort is one of the best out there
and comes complete with convincing

emulations of the MPC60 and that other


iconic hip-hop sampler, the E-MU SP1200).
The later classic MPC models (the MPC3000
and MPC2000) both operated at 16-bit
44.1kHz (CD quality), so theres no
downsampling required for those.
The other thing you need to consider is
that old analogue circuits of any type tend to
be slightly less shiny than their modern
counterparts; a high-cut roll-off around
12-14kHz will help to recreate this effect, as
will a tiny amount of analogue saturation.
Its worth noting that none of these
techniques will absolutely nail the sound of
the original hardware to achieve that youll
need to upgrade to the full MPC Renaissance,
which offers true modeling of the original
hardware sound.

> Step by step 1. Building a groove (continued)

OK, here comes the funk! Load All Kicks into a new plugin, engage
Record and fill in the gaps between the 4/4 kicks using another,
lighter kick (Kick 4). It might take a few goes, so each time you run
through it and arent happy with the result, simply hit Undo. Try
leaving these kicks on straight 16ths too. (Audio: Kicks_n_crash)

Time for a bit of natural rhythm and pace the MPCs famed Note
Repeat is just the ticket here. Start by finding a quality bank of
percussion sounds (ideally two to four good ones). Our weapon of
choice is 2stepRiddim from Elements of UK Dance, as were looking
for elements that hang together and sound like a cohesive loop.

72 / Computer Music special

Working in a rough bassline can help to shape a drum groove and


if you decide to keep it you can switch it over to a synth plugin or
export the pattern as a MIDI file. Call up AnalogueDigitalBass1.wav
from Elements of UK Dance and engage 16 Level, enabling pitched
play of the sample. Add some swing (around 59-61 is ideal) and play in
a simple riff. (Audio: Add_bass)

Engage Note Repeat, add a little swing (1-2% away from the bass
parts swing) and record in some live play using your chosen pads/
drums. Use one hit as the main focus (playing on about half of the
16th-notes) and alternate sporadically with the other chosen pads,
creating skip and groove. Do this until you have a groove you like.
(Audio: Garage_grooves)

make beats with mpc software <

11

Note Repeat works particularly well on hi-hats too, so on a new


channel, load another Bloody House Kit and use Hi Hat 9 to
create a fast 16th-note pattern. When using multiple pads you naturally
lift, tap and re-trigger, generating gaps and different velocities, so
when playing just one pad/drum be sure to get a similar groove by
tapping and holding the pad rhythmically. (Audio: Hatz)

All thats missing now are some simple offbeat hi-hats and a
backbeat snare (we use Elements of UK Dance/All Hats/Hat 7 and
Elements of UK Dance/All Snares/Snare 21). You could draw these in,
but, as with the 4/4 kicks, tapping them manually keeps the vibe and
allows more natural variation in velocity (dont engage Full Level).

10

Try muting elements as you go along the old adage, its not what
you put in but what you leave out always applies. A part might
sound great on its own, but is it helping the groove as a whole? Be
ruthless: if something sounds good on its own but isnt enhancing the
overall groove, save it as a new sequence for future reference, then
delete it from your current project.

12

Time to review the sequence in order to find parts that need


manual tweaking. This can be done using your hardwares Delete
function, but its the one thing we usually find easier using the
onscreen editor. Go through and remove notes as needed (our fast
Rattle Perks, for example) to simplify the pattern and let the groove
breathe. (Audio: Last perks)

Computer Music special / 73

> make beats with mpc software

Processing and editing


The original MPCs offered multiple audio
outputs, so many original MPC tracks involved
processing of individual pads/sounds although
by no means all of them. Where those early MPC
producers worked with recognisable sampled
loops from classic records, individual processing
would often have taken away from the desired
effect, so such sounds would all be sent to a
mixer through a single output and processed as
one. How does this translate to the modern
hardware/software situation?
One thing weve noticed is that whereas the
original MPCs were largely playing back
manually recorded samples, in these days of
endless sample libraries, the temptation to use
supplied presets or pre-made samples can be all
too strong, and these sounds often have a
degree of homogenisation theyre bright,
theyre normalised and theyve been processed

Vocal snippets
pitched down are
great for adding sonic
and musical interest
to make them sound upfront and appealing to
the browsing producer. Much of the time this is a
good thing, but sometimes it means that loops
made with them lack the character you get by
recording your own samples.
One way to mitigate the homogenisation
effect is to vary the sources of your samples (as
we have by using different banks). You can also

try recording your own samples: vocal snippets


pitched down are great for adding sonic and
musical interest, as are manually recorded
handclaps and the sounds of real-world objects
like keys or cans being shaken or tapped.
Another way create the space and separation
so crucial to good grooves is to apply small
amounts of processing to individual pads and
channels. This should be done to a few elements
that need to stand apart from the overall groove.
MPC Studio and Renaissance owners have the
luxury of doing this with external plugins across
multiple channels within the standalone
software, while MPC Elements users can only
apply this to one channel per plugin instance, or
each pad in standalone mode. Still, theres a
surprising amount of mileage to be had just
using some simple layering of sounds, parallel
processing and Akais own built-in effects.

> Step by step 2. Final touches

We want to make our bass really stand out, so we create an


identical copy, cut the low frequencies and add some chorus. We
then make two identical copies of this layer, which makes for a very
different effect than simply turning the volume up. Some samples will
phase with this technique and others wont, but its always interesting
to try. MPC Software often generates interesting results this way.

Its tempting to edit samples as you go along, but when working


with an MPC we always do this after recording our basic pattern.
The MPC is all about fast and spontaneous creation thats when it
really shines and is what sets it apart. Every time you stop to mess with
a sound, you put a barrier between yourself and the creative
momentum, so concentrate first on getting the groove down and only
then worry about tweaking and processing sounds.

74 / Computer Music special

Create one more bass layer and add Akais Small Reverb plugin set
to 100% Wet. Tweak the new layer to taste to generate a parallel
processed layer that can be brought in and out of the arrangement. Do
the same for the snare, giving it more character and therefore more
separation within the overall loop. (Audio: Layered_processed_bass,
Layered_processed_snare)

The groove complete, save the entire project and make any further
edits that might be required. With all the parts ready to go, bounce
the individual loops, making them available as audio parts in your
DAW. Likewise, when working with the standalone version, bounce the
individual channels and import them into your DAW or, of course,
simply go ahead and sequence them within the MPC software. (Audio:
Full_groove_with_crash, Full_groove_w_out_crash)

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Build a sample kit with

We show you how to build and edit a monster kit


with Vengeances awesome drum sampler plugin

Real drums and drum synthesis are both


great for providing a core palette of
sounds with which to power your beats, but
for maximum manipulation and cutting-edge
sonics, you need a sampler. Sampling enables
you to really take things to the next level,
tailoring your tones by editing, layering,
pitching and processing them in ways that
other techniques simply cant.
While there are numerous powerful software
drum samplers on the market, Vengeances VPS
(Vengeance Producer Suite) Phalanx is without
doubt one of the very best for club, electronic
76 / Computer Music special

and urban beats, offering not only an amazing


set of sample manipulation tools but also a
superb library of core sounds ready for use as is
but amenable to serious reshaping.
Obviously, a lot of what we do in this tutorial
will be very specific to Phalanx itself, but even if
youre not an owner of said instrument, some of
the core concepts presented here will be
transferable to any well-equipped sampler
simply substitute the Phalanx library sounds
for regular drum machine samples. Having said
that, there is a demo version of Phalanx, which
wed urge you to download.

Well kick off with a look at how Phalanx


works and its two top-level operating modes:
Multitrack and DrumKit. Then well show you
how to navigate its sample pads and various
visual devices, including the envelopes and
their integrated waveform display.
Two key aspects of building any sampled
drum kit are editing and processing, so well
then check out the various adjustable
parameters and effects that Phalanx has to offer.
Finally, well inject some movement using
Phalanxs many controllable effects and its
modulation matrix.

build a sample kit with phalanx <

Architecture and workflow


When it comes to raw sampling power, there are
plenty of samplers available that can run rings
around Phalanx but that doesnt concern us
here. Whatever its shortcomings in other areas,
Phalanx is of particular interest for us in this
Special because its architecture and workflow
are designed specifically for working with and
processing beats.
Phalanx is built around 16 sample pads with
hardwired channel parameters and effects. Each
pad can host two samples, A and B, which are
blended using a crossfader. Each sample gets its
own set of channel parameters, including highand low-pass filters, Lo-fi and Spike effects, and
Retrigger. There are also looping controls for
each sample, and the unusual Scratch feature,
which lets you scrub forwards and backwards
through the sample like a hip-hop DJ using an
old-school turntable.

> Step by step

Phalanx is built
around 16 sample
pads with hardwired
channel parameters
Phalanx can be operated in two modes,
Multitrack and DrumKit; for the most part, were
going to be using the latter. Multitrack is a
typical multitimbral setup, whereby each pad
has a central root note and lets you trigger its
samples pitched up and down the keyboard.
Each of Phalanxs 16 sample pads can be
assigned its own MIDI channel, or share a MIDI

channel with any number of other pads. So, in


theory you could create a 16-layer instrument
with full keyspan, all playable on one MIDI
channel; or a 16-part multitimbral patch, with
every one of its 16 sounds on a separate MIDI
channel; or a combination of both.
DrumKit mode, on the other hand, assigns
individual samples to individual notes in your
more typical drum machine fashion. You can
assign all sounds to one MIDI channel or each
sound to its own. Finally, you can use both
modes at the same time but watch out for
overlapping MIDI channels.
The Phalanx sound library includes banks of
single sounds and pre-mapped patches, and a
simple drag-and-drop system for loading them
into the instrument. There are also pad presets
which bundle sample and processing data
together under one patch.

1. Multitrack and DrumKit modes

To get started with Phalanx, load up a couple of presets. In the


green Factory Banks folder youll find a range of Phalanxbank
patches categorised Bank or DrumKit. Load a Bank preset and youll
see that it places each sample pad on its own MIDI channel. Load a
DrumKit preset and each pad gets its own note but all on the same
MIDI channel. You can mix and match modes within an overall preset.

Phalanx includes a few GUI customisation options, including


resizing the whole window. The most important one, though, is the
Full/Slim option. In Slim mode, all 16 pads fit in the plugin window and
are unfolded individually for editing. You can expand the Pad Slots to
reveal the parameter customisation panel at the bottom, and colourcode Pad Slots for added clarity.

To start from scratch, choose the Initialise Plugin option from the
Memory button. Click the MIDI tab and, on the left-hand side,
select the Kit button at the top of the list to switch all pads to DrumKit
mode. Switch all the output assignment tabs to Output 1. Now start
building by dragging samples onto the pads.

Every sample pad has its own Amp, Filter, Pitch and additional
Mod Envelope. Theyre very powerful indeed, with straight line and
curved options between breakpoints, a waveform display that updates
to reflect the effect that the envelope is having on the sound, and a
real-time playback tracer.

Computer Music special / 77

> build a sample kit with phalanx


> Step by step 2. Effects and processing

Tutorial

Files

The ability to mix pairs of samples on each pad is one of Phalanxs


key features. Here were dragging in a woodblock sound to add
click to a kick drum. You can audition each raw sample using the A and
B buttons, and set the blend with the crossfader. You can also tweak
each samples start point, Gain and Pitch weve adjusted the latter
two on the woodblock to make it work with the kick.

Lets use the sample pad parameters to mess with the clap sound.
First we add a touch of LoFi, then we curtail the highs with the lowpass filter. Next, we reduce low frequency boxiness with the high-pass
filter; and finally, we adjust the very handy Spike setting to add punch
to the attack stage. (Audio: Step 3)

Phalanx features individual looping for each A and B sample. For


the snare we leave the main snare body sample as it is, but set up
looping for the B sample. This creates a pitched effect as we adjust the
very tight loop points, enabling us to set the pitch to suit. We then
adjust the A/B balance with the crossfader. (Audio: Step 5)

78 / Computer Music special

Phalanxs sample pad waveform display incorporates a number of


tiny parameter settings, including both Phase and Sample
Reverse. Most useful, though, is the Sample Delay, which allows you
to adjust how the two samples align with each other. Here weve
combined a clap with a snare sound and are delaying the snare to
fatten up the overall hit. (Audio: Step 2)

Now lets work on the insert effects for the kick drum and clap. We
start by copying them over to two empty slots. For the clap, we
load the effects chain preset Lofi Destructor and tweak the EQ and
Bitcrusher settings. For the kick, we apply distortion and multiband
distortion, then use the Room Simulator and Impulse effect to add
tight space.

Chorder is a four-part note multiplier with Note Offset, Pan, Level


and Detune controls. We load a basic pitched blip sound and set it
to Multitrack mode on a separate MIDI channel so that we can play it
across the full keyspan. With notes offset, a touch of detune and a little
reverb, weve got a great chordal house stab. (Audio: Step 6)

build a sample kit with phalanx <


> Step by step 3. Doing it live

video

To take our beats to the next level, we can apply some real-time
control. Phalanx includes a modulation matrix for every sample
pad. Modulation sources include various MIDI controllers, three GUI
Modifier knobs and 63 DAW automation slots. Well be making use of
several of these options.

Scratcher is an interesting effect that lets you scrub backwards


and forwards through the sample as if you were using a turntable.
Rather excellently, pitchbend is hardwired to control the position of
the playhead, but it also has its own envelope. We combine both for
some classic kick drum scratching.

Lets route a GUI Modifier knob to control the ride cymbal. The ride
already has a loop point set, so any real-time control will continue
to sound as long as we hold the note down. Our target parameter is
the Pitch Modifier for sample A; we set a positive amount so that the
pitch rises with the control.

At the bottom of every sample pad slot is the Retrigger setting.


This simply sets a time at which, if youre still holding the note, the
sample will retrigger a time-based loop control, basically. To give it a
performance angle we connect the Time setting to our keyboard mod
wheel. We then use it with our kick drum. (Audio: Step 2)

Next up, the Trancegate, the Gate Time of which we assign to the
mod wheel. This doesnt do much for short sounds like our snare,
but if we also connect the Retrigger speed to the mod wheel, we get
an excellent tempo-synced effect as the Retrigger time shortens, the
pitch increases.

Finally, lets have some fun with an LFO. Using our blippy house
sound, we first set LFO 1 to the saw shape and to retrigger on all
notes. Its synced to quarter-notes with a small positive offset. In the
modulation matrix, we set the source to LFO 1 and the target to Pitch
Modifier A. For hands-on control, we also connect the mod wheel to
the LFO 1 offset. Finally, we set both amounts to -100.

Computer Music special / 79

gear guide

Theres a lot of software out there dedicated to generating


beats, but which is the best? Our round-up of drum
machines and ROMplers is packed with possibilities
Since the launch of
, weve scrutinised
dozens of virtual drum machines. A few
have elicited yawns, while others have
become standard or coveted tools for
desktop producers. Though every developer
has their own ideas about how a drum
machine should work, they fall into two basic
categories: synthesis-based and samplebased. The former traces its evolutionary
roots back to early analogue drum machines;
while they seemed somewhat limited at the
time, many of those machines such as the
Roland TR-808 and 909 are now highly
prized and fetch hundreds or even thousands
of pounds in second-hand markets.
80 / Computer Music special

Modern variants of the drum synthesiser


provide a veritable smorgasbord of timbral
control, allowing you to craft complex drum
sounds from scratch indeed, weve devoted a
lengthy tutorial to that very subject elsewhere in
this magazine.
Old-timers will remember the sense of
astonishment that accompanied the first
sample-based drum machines, which were
produced by Linn, Oberheim and Sequential
Circuits. Those machines used (8-bit) samples of
real drums and allowed users to create and save
patterns that sounded, well, reasonably
convincing at least when compared to their
analogue counterparts.

Todays sample-based software drum


machine is the logical next step on from those
old grooveboxes, adding features like velocity
sensitivity, sample import and multisampled,
layered sounds in order to deliver astonishingly
realistic results. And like their hardware
forebears, many software drum machines
include built-in sequencers that are intended to
make the process of programming beats as easy
and intuitive as possible.
Over the next seven pages, well give you the
rundown on the finest drum machines the
software industry has to offer. No matter what
sort of music you make, youll find something
here to fit your particular groove.

cm gear guide <

Audio Damage

Tattoo $59
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.audiodamage.com

Need a classic-style virtual


analogue beatbox? Audio Damage
have just the thing. Its called Tattoo
and its a vintage voltage dream
machine with no less than a dozen
independent drum synthesisers
powered by a grid-style sequencer.
Yes, you read that right. Instead
of relying on a single voicing
algorithm to produce all or most of
its sounds, Tattoo gives you 12
drum synths, each with its own set
of parameters. Sure, the three
different tom synths have the same
functions, but each one is entirely
independent and tied to that
particular drum. However, most are
unique to a specific drum voice. For
example, the kick drum offers Tune,
Saturation, Noise Freq, Pitch Mod,
Click Level and a choice of two

waveforms, along with graphical


pitch and amplitude envelopes. On
the other hand, the Snare 8 synth
provides Tune, Noise Color, Noise
Level, and Noise Decay knobs,
while Snare 9 gives you Tune, Noise
Color, Noise Level and Noise and
Tone amplitude envelopes to play
with. Some drums offer only a
couple of parameters the clap, for
example, sports only Tone and
Reverb (wed really like to see a
spread or delay function added).
No matter, though as the
preset kits suggest, there are more
than enough parameters onboard
to create a nearly infinite variety of
sounds, all of which can be rolled
into patterns using the
aforementioned sequencer. This
stunning pattern machine provides
all manner of randomisation, along
with velocity, pan and level control,
host sync and more.

Image-Line

Drumaxx $99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.image-line.com

Most drum synths are designed to


create decidedly artificial sounds
using familiar subtractive synthesis
methods, evoking the synthetic
sounds of classic analogue
machines like the Roland CR-78 and
TR-909. When it comes to
emulating realistic tubs, sampling
is the usual go-to technology, but
there is another, less-explored
option: physical modeling. This is a
synthesis method by which the
behaviour of physical objects is
recreated mathematically, and one
that weve covered in detail
elsewhere in this issue.
Drumaxx offers an intuitive
approach to modeled drums. Its
interface is divided into three
primary sections, with the top
section given over to the pads and
patch browser, the bottom section
holding the sequencer, and the
modeling in the middle. There,

youll find typical modeling


functions like an exciter (mallet)
and resonator (membrane), each
described sensibly, which helps
with navigating potentially alien
functions. For example, the
membrane section provides
adjustments for size, tension and
material, along with familiar tweaks
like cutoff frequency and phase.
These parameters are available
per drum, and there are 16 drum
slots available for building kits. The
aforementioned pattern sequencer
provides a swing function that
syncs to the host, but you can, of
course, trigger Drumaxxs sounds
from your MIDI controller or DAW.
Your kit can be further finessed
with EQ and built-in limiting, and
theres a mini-modulation matrix
with which you can assign
incoming velocity to any four of the
28 available target parameters.
All in all, Drumaxx offers a goodsounding alternative to subtractive
or sample-based drum machines.
Computer Music special / 81

> cm gear guide

gear guide
Audiorealism

ADM 95

Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)


Web www.audiorealism.se

808, 909, 606 Nine numbers that


suggest pulsing patterns of raw
energy. These classic Roland
beatboxes formed the backbone of
countless musical genres. With
ADM, Audiorealism have given us
not one but three recreations of the
most sought-after of Rolands beat
machines and wrapped them up in
a beautifully designed interface.
With 11 slots, 25 drum models
and four PCM samples, ADM offers
the ability to mix and match
different x0x drums to create
hybrids for example, you might
have a kick from a TR-606 paired
with the snare from a 909. There
are a number of tweakable
parameters akin to those on the
original machines Decay on toms,
kick, cymbals and hats, Snappy on

snares. Tuning is provided for bass


drums, snares, toms and congas,
cowbell and cymbals, and bass
drums and snares get a tone
control as well. Though this may
seem like a small number of
parameters with which to play, it is
true to the originals and gives you
everything you need to forge some
very recognisable sounds.
You can write and play patterns
using the sequencer, or trigger
each sound via MIDI. Patterns can
be triggered over MIDI, too. ADM
can be synchronised to the host or
internally, and Shuffle and Flam
options are provided to help get
you into the groove. Theres a nifty
Pattern Controlled FX section for
automating various parameters,
including the built-in filter, and a
Mangle effect adds considerable
dirt. The sound is utterly authentic
and totally inspiring.

D16 Group

Drumazon 99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.d16.pl

D16s adherence to the design of


the vaunted Roland TR-909 drum
machine borders on fanaticism
with Drumazon and with secondhand 909s trading for around two
grand, thats no bad thing.
Dont get us wrong, though D16
havent simply photocopied the
legendary original here. Theyve
added some of their own special
touches to give Drumazon a bit
more flexibility than its hardware
predecessor things like preset
management, host sync and MIDI
learn but if you want a plugin that
captures the experience of using
the real deal, youd be hard pressed
to find better than this. This is
particularly true of the influential
909 pattern sequencer, recreated
here almost note for note. Itll play
from its own internal clock, too, if
you want it to. Accent, Flam and
Shuffle are all here, and as with the

original, programming patterns is


easy and intuitive. Itll even send
MIDI out, enabling you to sequence
other sound sources from it within
your DAW.
Of course, the sequencer
wouldnt matter one bit if the
sounds themselves werent any
good, and thankfully, they are.
Drumazons authenticity
approaches the uncanny it could
fool even the most stubborn of
retro fetishists. The analogue kick
has the special poke-you-in-thesternum oomph that you know and
love, while the synthesised snares
sizzle and the sample-based metals
ring out in all of their faux 6-bit
glory. No producer of electronic or
dance music should be without a
909 in their instrumental arsenal
(the kick drum is still as essential to
house, hip-hop and other styles as
its ever been), and Drumazon is
probably the one to put at the top
of your shopping list. An
outstanding imitation.

82 / Computer Music special

cm gear guide <

D16 Group

Nepheton 99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.d16.pl

Here we go again! Developers D16


make the list once more with
Nepheton, and it takes only a few
minutes with the plugin to hear
why. As ever, the developers
reverence for all things Roland is
unflappable, and this time around
theyre bowing their heads to the
power and glory of the venerated
TR-808 Rhythm Composer. This
classic drum machine is renowned
among producers in the know for
its booming, bombastic bass drum
and whip-crack snare, not to
mention the omnipresent tin-lid
clank of its cowbell.
All these sounds and more have
been lovingly preserved in
Nepheton. Some 17 drum sounds
are spread across the board, each
with a set of basic parameters

Decay for all but the maracas and


handclap; Tone for bass, snare, clap,
hats, cymbal and maracas; Tune for
congas, toms, claves, rim shot and
cowbell. The bass drum and Laser
Gun get an additional Sweep
function, while snares, toms and
Laser Gun all get the famous
Snappy knob. The closed hi-hat,
meanwhile, gets a high-pass filter.
As with all the other D16
offerings mentioned in this roundup, you can trigger the sounds via
MIDI or sync the internal sequencer
up to the host DAW and program
them that way. As with the real
thing, whipping up patterns is easy
and fun, and you can throw in
accents, flams, shuffle and even an
intro and fills.
Whether youre a budding
Beastie Boy or a second-gen Sister
of Mercy, Nepheton is an ideal
companion for beats.

FXpansion

BFD3 99 or 299
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS/

AAX)
Web www.fxpansion.com

FXpansion have been in the plugin


game for pretty much as long as
theres been a game to play. Over
the years theyve released a
number of drum machines; some
of these have been based on
synthesis, others on sampling.
BFD3 falls into the latter
category and is intended as a
hyper-realistic acoustic drum
studio offering a selection of
professionally recorded kits
sampled in high-end studio spaces.
Be aware, though, that all of that
audio eats up a whopping 50GB of
disc space quite a hefty
download. Thankfully, theres also a
hard-format purchase option for
those with slow connections or
data caps.
If you want to bring your own
samples in, thats a go, too you
can create your own stereo

multisampled kits with velocity


layers for a sound all your own
but it has to be said that with the
wealth of quality material here, you
may never need to. Each drum can
be finely tuned to perfection: pitch,
velocity response, ambience, and
damping are only some of the
many tweaks on offer, and a wide
variety of effects is available to
sweeten your sounds, including
filtering, distortion, delay, dynamics
and EQ.
BFD3 is not intended as a drum
machine, but is more of a
specialised sample-playback
workstation with a focus firmly on
acoustic drums. Nevertheless,
there are many thousands of
included MIDI grooves to drag into
your DAW.
BFD3 achieves its aim: it can
sound utterly real, but theres
enough flexibility to create a
unique sonic signature, too.
Expansive but not particularly
expensive, BFD3 is hard to beat for
Computer Music special / 83

> cm gear guide

gear guide
D16 Group

Nithonat 99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.d16.pl

Released in 1981 as a companion


for the similarly styled TB-303,
Rolands TR-606 drum machine
was a cheap alternative to the big
guns of its day. Nitonhat is the
virtual version created by Roland
revivalists D16 Group.
Like the original, Nitonhat builds
its drum sounds on analogue
subtractive synthesis, resulting in a
sound not dissimilar to the TR-808,
but with its own distinct character.
However, although Nithonat fully
and admirably recreates the
sounds of the original, the
developers have added a wealth of
handy new features not found on
the 606. Thankfully, these include
the ability to adjust the sounds
themselves the TR-606 only
provided volume control over the

septet of synthesised drum sounds,


while Nithonat adds Pitch, Tune
and Attack to the bass drum, Tune,
Tone and Snappy to the snare, Tune
and Decay to the toms, Tone and
Decay to the cymbal, and Decay to
the hi-hats. This flexibility allows it
to edge closer to TR-808 or 909
territory, thus providing a bit more
bang for your buck.
As ever, the pattern sequencer is
a blast to program and play, with
shuffle and accent functions
included, along with a random pertrack pattern generator thats
genuinely useful. Multiple outputs,
MIDI CC assignment and MIDI learn,
host sync and a preset browser
push Nithonats 606 into the
modern era. The sound has
everything youd want from an x0x
box, even if the voice count is
rather limited, and the overall vibe
is wonderfully vintage.

LinPlug

RMV 139
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web www.linplug.com

LinPlug have been pumping out


fantastic synthesisers, samplers
and percussion synths for ages.
With RMV, theyve mined the best
of their previous successes to
produce a drum workstation
combining the best features of
synthesis, sampling and looping in
one comprehensive product.
RMV offers 48 polyphonic pads,
each of which can call upon
LinPlugs specialised drum synth or
sampler modules. You can load
your own loops and samples,
although LinPlug have included a
treasure trove of prefab loops,
samples and kits suitable for a wide
variety of musical styles.
If youve used our own CM-505,
youll have an idea of whats in
store in the synthesis department.
There are two kick modules, two
snares, open and closed hi-hat
modules, a tom tom synth, two

cymbal synths, a general purpose


drum synth module and a nifty
bare-bones FM module. Synthesis
veterans will appreciate the latter
as an ideal tool for creating
percussive timbres.
Sampling comes in the shape of
a complex Sampler module
facilitating up to 30 layered
samples with all the essential
parameters: sample start and end,
reverse, delay, volume, pitch
envelope and more. Meanwhile,
loops can be sliced, diced and
played back using six independent
Audio Loop Modules.
Pads and loop slices can be
subjected to three LFOs, distortion,
bit reduction, EQ and filtering, as
well as various insert effects.
Parameter modulation can be
assigned in a 12x12 modulation
matrix, and the Varizer adds a
touch of humanising should you
want it. All in all, RMV is a real
percussion powerhouse be sure
to check it out.

84 / Computer Music special

cm gear guide <

iZotope

BreakTweaker 165
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS/

AAX)
Web www.izotope.com
www.timespace.com

This one breaks (!) from the pack in


that it seeks neither to emulate or
imitate, but rather to thoroughly
reinvent how you view and use
percussion in your tracks. Yes, it
has many of the same elements we
see in our other contenders
theres a built-in pattern sequencer
and plenty of included content
but the focus here is on cuttingedge EDM beats and glitches.
iZotope have collaborated with
producer extraordinaire BT to
capture the magic of his lauded
micro-edit techniques, which are
combined with sample playback
and surprisingly sophisticated
synthesis to create an inspiring
rhythm production environment.

Essentially a mini-multitrack
DAW-within-your-actual-DAW,
BreakTweaker gives you six tracks,
each of which can play back
samples or synthesised sounds in
sequence. You can trigger patterns
or play individual notes on a given
sound from your MIDI controller,
and each part is independent,
playing back at its own
beatdivision of the main meter.
Once youve entered a step into
the sequencer, you can micro-edit
it, breaking it down into miniscule
parts and messing with the way
theyre played back. Various
modes are available division,
pitch, time and speed can be
manipulated and randomisation
is an option. The effect can be
startling, but is invariably
interesting and often delightfully
unusual ideal for those with an
adventurous attitude.

Sonic Charge

Microtonic $99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU)
Web http://soniccharge.com

Created by former Propellerhead


boffin Magnus Lidstrm, Microtonic
is a pattern-based drum machine
with a firm focus on synthetic drum
sounds. Microtonics pattern
sequencer was a welcome feature
upon its release, when most plugin
drum machines were intended to
be triggered from the host DAW
rather than internally. Even a
cursory play reveals why: making
beats in a simple sequencer is fun.
You can turn each of the 16 steps
on and off, add fills and adjust the
length of sequence for the
currently selected sound, or if you
prefer to use a multitrack grid,
theres a handy pop-up display to
facilitate that sort of programming
as well. Given the developers
pedigree, its not surprising that
Microtonics sequencer is quite
similar to those of Reasons
devices, and patterns can be

dragged to the host sequencers


MIDI tracks for further editing.
The synthesis engine itself is
fairly advanced, with sounds made
using a simple oscillator and a
noise generator, each including a
smattering of controls; a mixer
allows you to tweak the balance
between the two. The oscillator
offers simple frequency
modulation using a sine wave,
noise source or envelope shaper. A
multimode filter is onboard, and
envelopes are of the two-stage AD
variety, with the noise generator
offering three different envelope
types for handclaps and other
noise-heavy sounds.
Microtonics sound quality is
superb, ranging from delicate
percolations to in-your-face
aggression. The low end thumps
with some conviction, while the
highs are sharp and can easily cut
through a crowded mix. Itll do the
classics, but its even better for
modern, edgier sounds.
Computer Music special / 85

> cm gear guide

gear guide
FXpansion

Tremor 99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS)
Web www.fxpansion.com

A fully loaded drum synthesis


workstation, Tremor makes the
perfect foil to the developers other
entry in this round-up, the samplebased BFD3.With its focus on
classic beatbox sounds combined
with modern synthesis techniques
and a tricked-out pattern
sequencer, Tremor is everything
BFD3 is not.
Tremor is built on FXPansions
DCAM (Discrete Component
Analogue Modeling) technology, as
used in their lauded Synth Squad.
The idea behind DCAM is that
analogue circuits are modeled
down to the component level for a
more authentic sound, and the
results speak for themselves.
Tremor can be sharp and punchy or
warm and rounded. As you can

imagine, it excels at emulating retro


drum machines, but its also
capable of generating aggressive,
thoroughly modern sounds.
With its comprehensive
synthesis engine and a host of
excellent effects processors,
Tremor offers elements of
analogue, additive and even
physical modeling technology,
along with multimode filters, triple
envelope generators and a quartet
of LFOs, a tough-as-nails preamp,
and FXPansions excellent
TransMod modulation scheme.
Tremors grid-based pattern
sequencer allows each channel to
be set to its own pattern length for
crazy polyrhythmic action. You get
all the usual sequencer goodies as
well, including swing, plus some
nifty Drag Edit functions that can
be used for things like stutter and
roll effects.

Ron Papen

Punch 125
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS/

AAX)
Web www.robpapen.com

A genius electronic musician in his


own right, Rob Papen has earned a
reputation over the years as a firstclass sound designer, crafting
highly prized sounds for a variety
of hardware synths, including the
ubiquitous Access Virus. In recent
years hes turned his attention to
developing a series of quality
signature plugin synths and effects,
and Punch sees his gaze fixed
squarely on drums and percussion.
Like others in our round-up,
Punch combines synthesis,
sampling and effects in a
comprehensive percussion
workstation. As youd expect,
theres also a built-in pattern (or
groove) sequencer with which to
program your beats.
Though a library of excellent
samples is included, the focus is on
synthetic sounds, and Punchs

drum synth engine is, in our


assessment, the star of the show.
Here you can load various
synthesis models designed to
produce specific drum sounds (two
bass drums with four models, two
snares with two algorithms, and so
on), combine them with samples,
then route them through a set of
excellent synthesis functions
including six filter modes, as well as
distortion and effects. As with all of
Rob Papens instruments, the
sound quality is top-notch, making
it easy to knock out chestthumping kicks, whip-crack snares
and sizzling hi-hats, along with a
wide range of unusual and original
percussion effects.
Punch is a one-stop synth drum
shop capable of producing sounds
that truly live up to its name. And
though it can indeed mimic some
famous vintage instruments, its
real strength lies in its potential to
provide original, ear-catching
electronic percussive timbres.

86 / Computer Music special

cm gear guide <

XLN Audio

Addictive Drums 179.95


Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS/

AAX)
Web www.xlnaudio.com

Addictive Drums is designed to do


exactly what the session drummers
of the past always feared drum
machines would eventually do:
replace the real thing. It offers a
huge library of samples and MIDI
grooves, and can give your tracks
all of the nuance, power and
musicality of a live drummer.
In addition to standard soundshaping stuff like EQ, Addictive
Drums gives you the ability to
adjust the balance of the mics on
the kick drum beater and front
heads and top and bottom snare
heads, and even add the
sympathetic buzz that a real snare
drum generates when the nearby
kick and toms are bashed.
Moreover, theres the ability to

adjust the level and distance of the


room mics in relation to the close
mics used on the kits.
The drum kits themselves are
the stuff of legend: Sonor Designer,
Tama Starclassic, DW Collectors
Series, Sabian and Paiste cymbals,
along with a kick and some snares
from Pearl. And if you need more,
XLN Audio offer a range of
separately purchasable add-ons.
Multiple outputs and flexible
mixing are here, too a dozen
mixer channels are provided, with a
whopping 52 insert effects and a
pair of reverbs.
With its excellent prefab grooves
and superb samples, AD gives you
everything you need to craft prosounding drum tracks, whether
you trigger it yourself using a MIDI
keyboard or electronic drum kit, or
have it take care of the
performance on your behalf.

Toontrack

EZDrummer 2 99
Format PC/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS/
AAX/standalone)
Web www.toontrack.com
www.timespace.com

It hardly seems possible, but


Toontracks EZDrummer has been
around for eight years now. In that
time, its become the drum
production tool of choice for
countless desktop songwriters and
producers. The key to its
popularity? It is, in a word, easy.
Selecting kits and swapping out
drums is easy; auditioning sounds
and patterns is easy; and, in this
newest version, assembling selfcontained songs is easy as well.
New version? Yes indeed
Toontrack announced EZDrummer
2 just as we were putting this
magazine together.
Like version 1, EZdrummer 2 is
entirely sample-based, offering up
a selection of modern and vintage
kits built on a meticulously
recorded collection of quality

drums. There are 13" and 14" snares,


20", 22", 24" and 26" kicks, rack and
floor toms of varying sizes and
depths, a ton of hi-hats and
cymbals from a range of name
manufacturers theres even a
smattering of hand percussion
sounds, too, including claps,
shakers, maracas, tambourines and
a cowbell. Add to that a built-in
mixer with EQ, effects lifted from
EZmix 2 and the ability to control
kick and snare bleed, and you have
everything you need to make
realistic drum tracks.
An enormous library of prefab
grooves is included, covering a
wide variety of musical styles. The
excellent browser makes it easy to
find the patterns youre after you
can even tap in a rhythm and
EZDrummer will tell you which are
the closest matches.
Most importantly, EZDrummer 2
sounds nothing short of
magnificent big and bold, with
presence to spare.
Computer Music special / 87

the beat makers <

The
beat
makers
Seven masters of groove let us in on the
processes and techniques that go into
their drum and percussion tracks

This might seem like a silly question to ask


readers of a magazine like
, but how
important is the beat? For most people, the
answer will be straightforward: surely, if
youre making electronic dance music, you
need a beat a rhythmic backbone. Unless a
dance track can still stand up when stripped
down to just the beat and bassline, its
probably not doing its job properly.
On closer analysis, though, neither the
question nor the answer is as simple as it
appears. All keyboard players need keyboards
and all guitarists plays guitars, but beyond those
basic facts, youll find infinite and myriad
musical possibilities; the difference between
Rachmaninov and Rudimental, between Jimi
Hendrix and Django Reinhardt.
And so it is with the beat. Yes, most dance
tracks rely on a beat, but its what you do with it
that really matters. Even without the aid of notes
or chords, and often using the most basic of
equipment, a beat can convey both the subtlest
and the most powerful of emotions and
everything in between. It can drag you on to the
dancefloor at your cousins wedding and calm
the nerves of a Sunday morning hangover; it can
cause mayhem in a heavy metal mosh pit and

If youre making
electronic dance
music, you need a
beat a rhythmic
backbone
lift a hundred thousand joyous rave hands into a
laser-filled summer sky.
Take the simple 4/4 disco stomp, for example.
Compared with the complexities of, say, an
intricate EDM/DnB/footwork loop, this
traditional kick/snare combo might seem rather
limiting, but it helped Daft Punk create the
quintessential dance tune of 2013. And anyone
who saw the great Omar Hakim a drummer
whos provided rhythms for everyone from
David Bowie and Chic to Miles Davis and
Weather Report work his magic during the
French duos Grammy performance will know
that, even within a simple 4/4 beat, there are

endless possibilities. A genius like Hakim may


only be pushing or pulling the rhythm by a
matter of milliseconds, but thats all you need to
bring a beat to life.
Indeed, it could easily be argued that we are
currently living through the age of the beat
weve got dubstep in California, dirty Dutch in
Australia, moombahton in Milton Keynes. The
beat defines genres and causes irreparable fallouts between DJs. The beat is all over
mainstream radio and TV, and has fuelled an
unparalleled dance music explosion thats
stretched across every continent on the planet.
It really doesnt matter if we dont speak the
same language; as long as we can all feel that
kick drum rattling our kneecaps, well
understand each other perfectly.
With that in mind, we thought it would be
interesting to talk to a few people who make
beats for a living about the instruments (from
analogue classics to state-of-the-art plugins), the
inspirations (from hip-hop to the resurgence of
the Amen Break) and the musical ideologies (far
too many to mention) that have created this
contemporary rhythmic soundscape.
How important is the beat? Thats exactly
what were about to find out
Computer Music special / 89

I honestly dont think a lot of


modern genres would have
happened the way they did
without the help of ReCycle

Mint Royales Neil Claxton


: How important are beats to the music
you make?
NC: Not every song I do starts with a beat, but it
usually ends up as the thing that the rest of the
song hangs off of. If the beat isnt working, then
it probably means the song isnt going to work.
: Did it take you a long time to learn how to
program decent beats?
NC: I started years and years ago on a Roland
TR-505. With a machine like that, you were
working with a fairly limited palette because you
couldnt really edit the sounds. You could add a
bit of a groove and some accenting, but that was
about it, so your programming was the only way
to catch peoples attention. It was all about
trying to get the beat to sound human, which is
probably still the biggest challenge when youre
working with electronic beats.
: What are your main beat production
tools in the studio?
NC: Like a lot of people, I came up through the
Akai sampler route. And from there, it was Logic
and the EXS24 with my sampler background, it
made immediate sense. Just lately, though, Ive
moved on to [Native Instruments] Battery. Its a
neater way of working, because you can do all
90 / Computer Music special

: Do you ever use synths to create


percussion sounds?
NC: Definitely! Once Ive got the nuts and bolts
of a beat in place, I like to look around for
something a bit different. The percussion
section of any analogue emulating plugin is
usually a good place to start theres always a
little dink or a shoosh that will come in handy.
And it doesnt sound like your standard drum
machine sample.

NC: If youre producing dance music, the beat


obviously has a particular importance it
deserves close attention. The main problem
seems to be that, like a lot of digital sound,
modern drum samples can be a bit too shiny.
Thats why Im such a big fan of D16s Decimort;
essentially, it knocks it all down to 12-bit.
The Waves NLS does something very similar,
but theres a natural density to the Decimort that
I really like. It seems to be able to pull a beat
together without compressing it too much.
When it comes to compression, I prefer to add a
bit of sidechain around the drums to create
some space. If youve got really well-recorded
samples, theyll have all been compressed at
some point, so there doesnt seem much point in
adding another level on top.
You can also do a bit of filtering with the
Decimort, which allows you to wind off some of
that shiny top end. For some reason, though, I
always seem to overdo the high-end cut and get
drums that have no top end whatsoever then
when Im ready to mix down, I have to start
adding some of the top end back in!

: In terms of production, are the beats


treated separately or do you consider them
simply another element of the song?

Neil is currently working on remixes of tracks by


Tim Burgess and CutWires, and has a fourth
album due out later this year

your tweaking and editing inside Battery, then


come straight out with just a stereo pair. When I
was using the EXS, I would usually end up with a
separate output for each percussive sound.
I also have to mention [Propellerhead]
ReCycle. I dont think you can underestimate
just how important its been to the development
of dance music in fact, I honestly dont think a
lot of modern genres would have happened the
way they did without the help of ReCycle. It
stretches sound in such a musical way it was a
complete revolution in terms of what you could
do with a loop.

the beat makers <

Om Unit aka Jim Coles


: Who were your early influences in terms
of beats?
JC: The key years for me were the early 90s, so
it was a lot of the great jungle guys. Hearing
them chop up breaks for the first time really got
to me. I always liked DJ Hype because he was so
creative with his programming, pitching stuff up
and down and sending a break somewhere new.
From there, I started listening to New York hiphop like DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Thats when I
started to swing things a bit more, which led me
towards Flying Lotus. I guess I began to
appreciate the looseness of a beat.
: We remember reading an interview in
which you said that the beat conveyed the
intention of a song
JC: Well, sort of. The rhythm is born from a
songs intention, so theyre inextricably linked.
The beat tells you how a track is going to make
people feel. Whether its a simple, relaxed
rhythm or something more syncopated, the
beat conjures up a particular spirit.
: How did you first start making beats?
Drum machine, sampler, software?
JC: Actually, I played the drums from about 13. I
never had amazing chops or anything, but it

came in useful when I started programming. In


the early days, I was on Scream Tracker, Impulse
Tracker, FastTracker after that I tried Cubase,
Logic for a bit and then Cubase for the last ten
years or so, with a recent detour into Battery.
: As a drummer, do you find it easy to
translate whats in your head into beats in
your DAW?
JC: I can tap something out on a table top, work
out whats needed, program that in the
computer and it usually sounds absolutely
nothing like my original idea! Getting that
feeling out of your head and into a song is
always tricky.
: Do you use drum pads?
JC: No, I always program with a keyboard.
Unless its something really, really simple then I
put the audio straight onto the screen. I am a
total geek when it comes to drum sounds; Im
more interested in them than I am in plugins and
effects. I reckon I must have about 20 years
worth of samples and sounds, but Ill never stop
collecting Ive just bought a really great
Goldbaby collection. I like the idea that Ive got
way more than Ill ever need; that way Ill always
find what Im looking for.

: Any plugins you cant live without?


JC: Not really. I can pretty much work with
whatever Ive got. A friend put me on to the
DMG EQuality, which has a very cool sound;
UADs Cambridge EQ is handy; and I use the API
550B for boosting the top end. One thing I dont
like is valve-sounding effects; they chew the
sound up and make it cloudy.
: In terms of production, do you treat your
beats separately to everything else or just
consider them another element of the song?
JC: Theres no road map for this stuff. If you
start getting all academic about production I
must do this, I must do that then things start to
sound samey. There are certain basic things you
need to do to drums; if your kick drums a bit
flabby, you do a low-cut. But you also have to be
very careful when it comes to EQ. There are
tunes Ive put out there in the past that make me
cringe because all I can hear is that ridiculously
EQd snare. Dont try to make a drum sample
sound like something its not; youre better off
trying to get the right sample at the beginning.
Om Units debut album Threads is out now on
the Civil Music label. For tour dates, visit
www.facebook.com/omunit

I am a total geek
when it comes to
drum sounds; Im
more interested in
them than I am in
plugins and effects

Computer Music special / 91

Mr Scruff aka
Andy Carthy
: Youre a well-known lover of classic gear.
What are your main beat production tools?
AC: A bit of everything, really. Obviously, I use a
computer in my case, Im running Logic but
then I use a collection of samples, old sampling
drum machines like the MPC60, micd up drums
and weird little recordings that Ive made over
the years.
: Do you ever use synthesisers to create
percussion sounds?
AC: Because of the way I work remember, Im
a bloke who still plays vinyl! I would be more
likely to create something real. Ill start banging
and rattling things in the studio. You can create
brilliantly bonkers and unusual sounds just by
experimenting with mic placement. Often, youll
end up with something that you could never
have created with a plugin or synth.
I think its also worth asking the question:
what actually constitutes a drum sound or a
percussion sound? If youve got a single,
ringing piano note that repeats throughout a
track, it might as well be a cowbell. Is that part of
the beat? Is it percussion?
: Do you treat the beat separately,
production-wise, or do you consider it simply
another element of the song?
AC: I tend to jam rhythm ideas and get them
into the computer as audio straight away. I dont
spend ages messing around with the sound. I
think thats because I come from a sampling
background. I like the idea that certain things
are fixed you get what youre given and a
sample is a sample; thats all there is to it.
What I think is really interesting
considering Im talking to you for a beats Special
is that I very rarely listen to the beats in
isolation. The sound that Im after from a beat
will very much depend on what the rest of the
song is doing. A song is a conversation between
several people; youre creating an invisible band.
And if you do isolate the drums, you also run the
risk of focusing so intently that you start seeing
problems that arent really there. You end up
ironing out the quirks that attracted you to a
particular loop or sample in the first place.

A song is a conversation
between several people; youre
creating an invisible band

: Who were your early influences when it


came to making beats?
AC: God, there are literally thousands! Amazing
drummers like Sly Dunbar. In the studio, youve
got Juan Atkins and the Cybotron stuff, Egyptian
Lover, Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa,
anything by Kurtis Mantronik always undermentioned compared with other guys from that
time. The usual hip-hop names: DJ Premier, Pete
Rock, Kenny Dope, or Gabe Roths work with
Daptone. Then theres the drum n bass guys like
Photek and Hidden Agenda. There are far too
many to mention here.
: Give us your top beat programming tip.
AC: If really interested in a particular rhythm,
spend a bit of time investigating what came
before; investigate the roots of that sound.
Mr Scruffs new album, Friendly Bacteria, is out on
May 19 on Ninja Tune. www.mrscruff.com

92 / Computer Music special

the beat makers <

I dont actually use my computer


that much for making beats; I like
to use old-school drum machines

French Fries aka Valentino Cazani


: How important are beats to your music?
VC: I played the drums for years when I was
younger, and I still really love percussive club
tracks. If you listen to some old-school Chicago
house, youll notice that you can actually make
people dance with nothing more than one drum
machine. For my music, I try to be creative and
do something a bit more intricate but still easy
to dance to.
: What are your main rhythm tools?
VC: I was really young when I made my first
beat maybe eight years old. My father is a
producer, too, and he has a studio, so I spent all
my childhood there. I grew up playing acoustic
instruments, but a few French rappers used to
rent the studio and I was always trying to watch
their sessions; they all used the MPC2000 XL. I
didnt have any money, so I started making
beats using a computer and a MIDI keyboard.
Then I had the chance to meet Ministre X, who
now runs the ClekClekBoom label with me, and
also The Boo. He helped me discover house
music and lent me his MPC when I was 16.
Today, I use Sonar. I think that just a few
people use it, but its the first software I worked
with so I like it. I dont actually use my computer
that much for making beats; I like to use old-

school drum machines like the DrumTraks and


the Roland TRs. I also fell in love with the
Tempest from Dave Smith Instruments a few
months ago, so I use that a lot. For me, the best
gear to make beats will always be the MPC; it has
an amazing sound and such a specific groove.
: Who would you say were your early beat
production influences?
VC: When I started making beats, I was
listening to a lot of hip-hop. I really liked the
productions from rappers like Three 6 Mafia, but
I also loved the beats from Pharrell and the
Neptunes. Above all, I started listening to Prince
when I was really young. My father is a big fan,
so when I was born I was already familiar with
records like Controversy, Purple Rain and
Parade. Back then I didnt understand how they
were making these sounds, but I was still
obsessed by them. When I discovered the
LinnDrum and the DrumTraks, I just went crazy!
: Do you ever use synthesisers to create
percussion sounds?
VC: I love to use analogue synths for percussion
sounds: the Moog Voyager for weird and subby
percussion sounds; cool sounds with the Alpha
Juno 1; and especially the Waldorf Q it has a

really shiny sound, a bit metallic, but you can


make everything with it. I could build a track
only using this synth.
Its interesting to make, for example, a hi-hat
sound with a synth and push it right to the front
of the mix. Using two oscillators, you can add a
discreet synth note and play with the frequency;
you can play with the noise and the cutoff, too.
With analogue, the sound never ends.
: In production terms, do you treat the beat
separately or do you consider it simply
another element of the song?
VC: I treat and mix everything while Im
sequencing; I have to do it immediately to see if
Im going in the right direction. I work on my
productions like Im doing a live show. For
example, I would play a beat on the MPC, then
try a synth over it, then plug in a drum machine
and record everything at the same time.
: Give us your top beat-programming tip.
VC: I get bored very easily, so my only tip for
myself is: dont make the same music that you
were making two months ago.
French Fries new album, Kepler, is out now on
ClekClekBoom
Computer Music special / 93

Drums of Death aka Colin Bailey


: What are the main rhythm tools that you
use in the studio?
CB: In the early days, I had some sort of beatmaking software called HammerHead; I think it
was by Steinberg. After that, it was a cracked
copy of FruityLoops, followed by Logic 9 and a
recent switch up to Logic X. Theres some
Ableton in there, too, but Kontakt is the main
sampler man, its awesome! with a bit of
Battery thrown in for good measure.
: And where do your samples and sounds
come from? Obviously this is a big question
for a man who calls himself Drums of Death!
CB: Ha ha! The main Snare of Death is taken
from a track called Banned from the Roxy by a
brilliant punk band, Crass it sounds like a high,
rasping, distorted 808 snare. I suppose my
regular starting point for a beat is always the
808 and 909. Id love to brag that Ive got the
genuine articles, but Im afraid Im a total faker.
Yes, I use samples. Ive always been a software
producer, though, so that doesnt really bother
me too much.
Ive sampled the crap out of the Korg
Electribe, and whenever I do a remix, I always
make a full sample set of any drums. That way,

Ive got access to sounds that not many other


people can get hold of.
: Who were your early beat influences?
CB: Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, Green Velvet,
Modeselektor all the Chicago house stuff. I
dont want to keep going on about the 808 and
909, but they really have been so important to
the development of what I do. The sound isnt
natural its made by firing electricity into these
machines and yet it feels so perfect and so
organic. Thats why so many people keep going
back to it.
: Any plugins you couldnt live without?
CB: [Cytomics] The Glue multiband
compressor, Slate Digitals Virtual Tape
Machines anything by D16. I was doing a lot of
parallel compression for a while, but I found that
it was beginning to affect the actual drum
sounds a bit too much. These days I prefer to
keep the drum chain quite simple; just a bit of
Glue and some limiters.
If Im being totally honest, I find making
music on a computer a bit of a drag. By that, I
mean it can sometimes be quite timeconsuming working out how to get the idea out

from inside your head and into the speakers. I


come from a rock band background, where you
picked up a guitar and you played your song. I
guess what Id really love is a plugin with a USB
stick that I could slot into my brain. That way, I
could download the idea straight into Logic.
: Give us your best beat-programming tip.
CB: One thing I do a lot is work on a track
without any kick drum at all. When I start
writing, I get a few percussion loops going, then
add some claps; just get a basic groove with a
few hooks and a bassline. Once those basic
building blocks are in place, I start auditioning
kicks and I have a much better idea of whats
going to fit into the track EQ-wise.
I find that if you start with the kick, it tends
to lock everything down. Without it, you can be
a bit more free and funky with the bassline. And
when you finally do add the kick, its almost like
the track gets a whole new lease of life. Youve
got used to the track without it, and then, bang
the kick takes it to the next level.
For Drums of Death tour dates and the free
download of Fierce Feat Azealia Banks, visit
www.facebook.com/drumsofdeath4eva

I find that if you start


with the kick, it tends to
lock everything down.
Without it, you can be
a bit more free

94 / Computer Music special

the beat makers <

A straight 4/4 or a single loop


running for 32 bars is not enough
to keep me interested
Ital Tek aka Alan Myson
: What are your main beat production
tools in the studio?
AM: Im mainly sample-based, all going via
Battery and the Akai MPD32 pad controller. I
know this interviews supposed to be about
beats, but most of my songs actually start with a
melody or chords. After Ive put together a
rough sketch of the tune, I use the pads to tap
out something sloppy and simple. Obviously, I
add to that as Im working on the song, but I
always like to keep a flavour of that first,
un-quantised beat.
: In interviews, you often talk about not
wanting to make beats that are too obvious.
AM: A straight 4/4 or a single loop running for
32 bars is not enough to keep me interested. Im
not saying that I try and make complicated
beats just for the sake of making them
complicated there will be times when a pulsing
kick is all thats needed but I like to add little
fills and ghost hits to keep refreshing the
listeners attention. I was always a big fan of
Aphex Twins drums for that same reason they
always seemed to evolve gently over the course
of the track.

: Do you treat your beats as a separate


entity to the rest of the song or as simply
another element of it?
AM: In the early days, I wanted to throw as
much compression as I could at the drums to try
to make them sound as fat as possible. Thats
what I thought you needed to do for dance
music. What Ive got today is well, I suppose
there are more things happening to the drums,
but I use less, if that makes sense. Theres
straight compression, parallel compression,
distortion my current favourite is u-hes Satin
Tape Machine and EQ, but I try not to overdo
any single process. If youre going to extremes
when it comes to processing a certain drum
sample or loop, theres something wrong.
Every day, I listen to music, and every day, I
realise Ive still got so much to learn. Ive been
putting records out for about seven or eight
years, and Id like to think that, over time, my
beats have got better but theres still a long
way to go.
: Give us your top beat production tip.
AM: Can I have two? Number one would be:
dont get lost in your own beat. You sit there for

12 hours banging out a tune that sounds


absolutely fantastic in the studio, then you take
it round your mates house and it sounds
rubbish. Always make sure youre listening to
other tunes during the day, comparing the track
your working on with songs that have a similar
frequency range. Try different monitors, too. I
always have a cheap iPod dock sitting next to
the computer, because regardless of what I
think it sounds like, thats how a lot of people are
listening to their music in 2014.
Number two: dont always reach for the
quantise button. Dont squash everything so
tightly that it sounds cold. There was a beat that
I was working on just this morning and, for some
reason, it sounded much better when every
hi-hat was pushed away from the beat. Why not
experiment with pushing every fourth snare
back or forward? Why not cut the loop early and
leave a bit of space? Sometimes, its the wonky
beat that really catches everybodys attention.
Ital Teks Mega City Industry EP is out now on Civil
Music in vinyl (http://cvl.mu/ital-tek-mega-cityindustry) and digital (http://cvl.mu/ital-tekmega-city-industry-itunes) formats
Computer Music special / 95

> the beat makers

You cant always rely on the


beat to carry the whole song
you still need decent hooks

Reso aka Alex Melia


: How important are the beats to the music
you make?
AM:Ha ha! Ive been playing drums for most of
my life, so obviously, Im a fan of beats and loops
I guess thats why I love jungle and drum n
bass. And the availability of software today
means that, even if youre a relatively new
producer, you can create the most amazing
beats. Ive been sent stuff by 14-year-olds and its
just incredible!
But there has to be more to a song than
hours and hours of Amen programming. You
cant always rely on the beat to carry the whole
song you still need decent hooks, melodies
and chord structure. Thats the real challenge in
dance music.
: Who were some of your early beatmaking influences?
AM: The most important years for me were
around 200506, listening to a lot of dubstep
Elemental, Search and Destroy. Drum n bass,
too, plus some weird ambient stuff. And I have to
mention Photek; both the Solaris and Modus
Operandi albums.

96 / Computer Music special

: What are the main rhythm tools that you


use in the studio?
AM: It used to be the EXS24, but Im gradually
switching over to Battery. I love the way it can
timestretch a sound; sometimes I even use it for
processing basslines. Ive also got into running
things through Kontakt. I think its good to
change things around every now and then,
because its very easy to rest on your laurels and
keep churning out the same old beats.
: Youre a drummer, so have you got a
drum kit in the studio? Do you ever record
live drums for your tracks?
AM: Everybody asks me that, but my studio is
my spare room, so I doubt the neighbours would
appreciate me playing live drums at two in the
morning! On top of that, theres the actual time
involved. Recording decent, close-micd live
drums is not a quick process.
Ive got a set of V-Drums and I use XLN
Addictive Drums, which seems to work for me. If
I get an idea, I can usually get it down in an hour
or so and then have total control over the final
product. You can get a real feel for all the grace
notes and the velocities, but you can also isolate

certain sounds, change them or even go for


completely unnatural sounds. Achieving that
with real drums would be a nightmare!
: Do you treat your beats separately or as
simply another element of the song?
AM: I always mix/produce a tune as Im
working. If you get things sounding good right
from the off, you save yourself a whole lot of
bother later on. Get your kick drum and bassline
working in the right spot, and then build from
there. If I try to start messing around with a song
after its finished, I suddenly find that Ive got
250 channels and I cant remember what the f***
Ive put on there!
One of the most important things you have
to be aware of is tuning your drums. Get the
frequency analyser on there, but also get used
to listening to your drums listen to how they sit
in the track. Try pitching a snare up or down a
couple of semitones and youll often find a bit of
space that really allows it to jump out.
Resos Pulse Code EP is out on Hospital Records.
Order from Hospital (hospi.tl/pulsecode) or buy
on iTunes (hospi.tl/pulsecodeitunes)

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> cm disc & downloads

DOWNLOAD

Downloads

To get access to the samples, tutorial files


and videos accompanying this
Special,
log on to vault.computermusic.co.uk and
select Computer Music issue 66.

575 Future Loops samples


A beat-bolstering treasure trove of slamming drum loops and hits

www.futureloops.com
For this beats-centric
Special
weve teamed up with sample
producers Future Loops to
deliver one of the most awesome
gatherings of dance drum and
percussion samples that weve
ever had the pleasure of
presenting to our readers.
To bring you this collection,
Future Loops have delved deep
into their bulging soundware
locker and hand-picked the very
finest hits and beats from a
staggering 42 of their commercially
available packs. Broken down into
seven genres Breaks, Club &
Dance, Drum n Bass, Dub &
Reggae, Dubstep, Hip-hop & Vinyl,
and Trap the collection comprises
full-on loops as well as one-shot
kicks, snares, hi-hats, cymbals and
more, all lovingly produced and
guaranteed to breathe new life into
your productions. And you dont
have to keep these sounds within
their titular genres, of course if
you find that dub snare working
well in your minimal house tune,
dont hesitate to use it there.
Future Loops are also offering
exclusive discounts in their online
store for
Special readers until 15
July 2014. See the accompanying
Readme file for details.

Breaks

Antimatter Breaks
Critical Breaks
Live Breakbeat Drums
Rennie Pilgrem Godfather
of Breaks
Stickybuds Funk Breaks & Bass

Club & Dance

Complextro Evolution
Da Fresh Tech House & Techno
Deep & Minimal House Sessions
Deep In Garage Classic Sessions
Epic EDM Anthems
Essential Bass House Tools
Mainroom House & Electro
Sessions
Pro Dance Kits Tech Funk 01
The Loops of Fury Electro
Meets Rave

Drum n Bass

Consequence Experimental DNB


Future DNB Elements
Jungle Guerrilla
Jungle Intelligence
Live DNB Drums
Nuclear DNB
Techstep DNB

Dub & Reggae

Reggae Drums
Zion Train Dub Drums
Zion Train Dub Selections

98 / Computer Music special

Dubstep

Chillstep Elements
Dark & Dungeon Dubstep
Deep Dubstep Elements
Distance Dubstep
Dubstep Invasion
Dubstep Roots Ambient
Dub & Bass
Future Bass Chill
Skyline Future Ambient Works

Hip Hop & Vinyl

Beatdiggin
Boom Bap Dark Kits
Dusty Breaks & Vintage Drums 1
Dusty Breaks & Vintage Drums 2
Hip Hop Millennium
Total Chillout
Urban Symphony Orchestral
Hip Hop Kits

Trap

South of Trap
Trap Battles
Trap Invasion

Tutorial videos!

Also accompanying this


Special is a collection of tutorial
videos, bringing six of the
walkthroughs in the magazine to
life onscreen. Watch them directly
on your reading device or
download them to your Mac or PC.

PLUS
Tutorial Files
Drum sequencing
essentials
Sampled beats
Synthesised beats
Programming realistic
acoustic drums
Programming
percussion
Mixing beats
Cinematic beats
Make beats with
Maschine
Make beats with
MPC Software
Build a sample kit
with Phalanx

9000

9015