In this post I’ll share 5 tips that will hopefully help you sequencing your minimal house drums and building original grooves.
Drums (and bassline) are the element where I spend most of the time, when making a new track. They form the core of a house track and so they need to work. With that I mean that they need to feel natural, groovy, not too simple, not too complex.
There are a lot of things I could talk about, when speaking of drums. I already addressed some of these things on my You Tube channel, where you can find videos on how to use grooves and swings, how to make an organic micro house drum loop, how to build a minimal house drum loop from scratch. I highly recommend you to watch those videos.
Here on this blog post I will add some more tips to complement those already discussed on the channel.
1 – Learn from the bests
One pivotal moment for me was when I started doing analytical listening of my favorite artist’s tracks and of the best loops from sample packs I bought. I already talked about the educational value of analyzing and “copying” your favorite tracks in my post about how to overcome writer’s block.
Have you ever wondered why your drums look so empty compared to those you hear on a Sunrise Hub podcast for example? Or compared to the loops you find in some sample packs?
Next time, instead of simply importing those loops in your track, try to reproduce them. You will realize how many elements you need to achieve the same sound and you will progressively refine your ears, so that you will be able to recognize and break down all the elements those loops are made of. This may take time but, in return, you will learn how to make loops and also have your own original ones.
The way I do this kind of analysis is scanning through the frequency spectrum, from higher frequencies towards the lower ones and identifying all the different sounds and drums pieces. I also scan the stereo field. This means I start to listen what is right in the center and then move my attention on the sides. It really works for me.
Try this technique yourself and let me know your thoughts.
2 – Sampling
Another technique that I use for my drums is sampling loops from old records, both acoustic drums from jazz, blues, soft rock tracks or drum machines loops from 90’s house records. This is a great way of glueing together the other elements of your drums for many reasons:
- they carry a groove/swing that make everything sound more organic. Especially acoustic drums, since they are played by human beings.
- they often carry background noises and imperfections that give extra texture to your track. Instant groove.
- they sound a little bit lo-fi, especially if sampled from a vinyl record. This add warmth to your drums.
I usually keep those kind of loops at a pretty low level in the mix, so you can feel them but they are not too upfront. But try different levels and see what you like most.
The only drawback of working with sampled stuff (but the same applied to loops) is that you can’t break them up in the different elements they are made of. Sometimes they have elements you don’t want, or that you’d like to take away in some sections of the track. You can work with EQ’s trying to get rid of specific sound in specific frequency ranges, but this doesn’t always work.
Just dig a little bit more and you’ll find the right loop to sample.
3 – Tools that help
As you already know, there is not just one way of making drum grooves in your minimal house tracks. You can put together different techniques, sample packs and loops are just one way. Another way I love to experiment with is using different software instruments made to create drum loops. I’ll share with you 4 of my favorites that you absolutely have to try.
Reaktor 6 is a super powerful and versatile plug-in by Native Instrument. In this plug-in you find 3 sections: Player, Patch and Builder. Patch is a sort of modular synthesizer, Builder is for building your own synthesizer. Player is the section I want to focus on in this post. Once you are inside Reaktor 6 player, you’ll notice there is a folder named Reaktor Factory Library. Inside there, you will find the Grooveboxes folder.
What are grooveboxes? They are all drum machines and sequencers, some of them are based on drum synthesis, some on samples. All of them are worth trying, but my two favorites are Aerobic and Krypt.
Aerobic is based on drum synthesis, so every sound is made out of an oscillator generating a waveform and a noise generator. Krypt is a granular sampler and a six-channel sequencer featuring an intelligent pattern generation algorithm. The cool feature of both devices is that they use snapshots (presets), both for sequences and samples. You can change samples and keep the sequence or vice versa, or you can change both. You can also create your own samples, using the drum synth on Aerobic, or loading your samples on Krypt, and then create random sequences.
Both of them are sync’ed to your DAW, you just need to press play.
If you want to go deeper on how they work, here are some resources you may take a look at:
I personally use them to add some more element to my drums. I rarely use all of the sounds from the sequence, I sample loops of a couple of sounds or just sample one shots sounds that I like.
Beatshaker by Alex Kid
This is another very useful tool to come up with nice combinations just switching between different samples. It’s a Max for Live device designed by Alex Kid and it works together with Ableton Drum Rack.
It’s made of four sections: kick, snare, hats and percs. You can write a drum sequence in a midi clip and then randomly switch between different samples with the press of a button, until you find a combination of sounds you like. You don’t have to use everything, maybe you just want to try it to find a nice hi-hats groove.
Together with Beatshaker, Alex Kid released sample collections for different styles of house music: 808 & 909 flavor, UK Garage, Analog drum machines and last but not least a Micro House package.
If you want to see Beatshaker in action, you can watch this video on my channel.
Another tool by Native Instruments. This drum rack wouldn’t be any better that Ableton Drum Rack (which is probably more practical for treating sounds with effects) if it wasn’t for the quality of its drum kits. Every factory kit is made of very good sounding samples.
I use it mainly to create percussion loops or background drum grooves. I don’t use it for my main drums like kick, snare and main hats, cause treating sounds individually can be done only with internal effects of the vst. Unless you don’t use a different instance of Battery for every piece of drums. So that’s why I use it for sequencing similar sounds together. If you want though, you can locate Battery samples in your finder and then use them in your project.
Try for example the Afro Shop Kit, i found amazing percussions samples on it.
4 – Percussive background loops
This is a technique that I use to create a low frequency rhythmic background. So not just a background noise or texture but something that must fit together with the kick and helps creating a moving percussive background. To do that I use percussion loops.
Lately I have been finding nice percussion loops on Samplesound website. If you want to check my favorites, I collaborated with them and created a chart of 10 packs that you find here.
Here is how you can treat those loops to make them sound like i said:
- Select a percussion loop made of bongos and congas, preferably with low tuning;
- Eventually take the pitch down up to -12st to make it feel more bassy (put Warp in Complex mode on Ableton if you change the pitch);
- Place an autofilter in bandpass or lowpass mode and set the frequency around 250-300 Hz;
- Increase the amount of the filter LFO and sync it to the BPM of the track so you will create more movement;
- Control the amount of low frequencies with an EQ;
- Last, you can add even more movement with a phaser or other creative effects.
5 – The power of mixing
When we make drum loops for the first times we tend to think of drums only as kick, snare and hi hats. Then maybe we start adding percussions like toms, cowbells and other classic analog drums sounds. That’s totally right and can lead to a decent drum groove, but I think that there is way more we can add. And so I go into my library and start looking for more particular sounds to cut from loops and put them in the drum groove. And this is where I start mixing a lot of different sounds with different tonal characteristics, enriching the loop.
Another aspect where the word “mixing” is when it comes to setting the levels of these sounds. In order to build an organic drum loop you don’t need every sound to be loud and upfront. The opposite! Most of the sounds that I use are so subtle that you really need to focus to be able to isolate them when listening to the loop. But they are there, and they concur to the whole thing. Probably those quieter sounds are actually what make that loop organic.
In this video I show how i do.
So these are my five tips for improving your drums. I will add many more in the future.
Always analyze how the pros do. Always experiment and try new things…and don’t forget to watch my videos (LOL).
Hope it helped a bit.