How to Make Devastating Layered Drums

Protip 1

Okay, until I can do a full tutorial on advanced percussion snare design, I’m going to post a few tips here. Percussion pro tip #1: Choose the best percussion samples as possible as your starting points. Garbage in = garbage out and no amount of processing can make a bad sample sound good. My favorite sample pack at the moment is the Vengeance Essential Dubstep Volume 2 (for anything that needs a neck-snapping huge snare). The snares are absolutely devastating and make great source sounds.

Protip 2

Percussion protip #2. If you’re using audio for your drums, it’s very important that you do 2 things. 1) Open up your Preferences, go to the Record/Warp/Launch tab, and de-select “Create Fades on Clip Edges”. This is on by default, and you need to turn it off. When clip fades are on they put a 4 ms crossfade at the beginning and end of each clip. This makes your drum less punchy and takes away transient attack. Fades are useful when chopping samples to prevent clicking, however they are not good for percussion that is meant to have a sharp attack. 2) Disable Warping. When you load a percussion sample in, double click it to go to the Sample Display, and de-select “Warp”. It will be on by default and is only necessary for altering the timing of a sample. In the case of percussion “one shots”, timing alterations are not necessary and Warping will only degrade your audio quality and consume unnecessary CPU.

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Protip 3

Percussion pro tip #3: Tune your drums. Each drum has a distinct pitch and it’ll sound much better if it’s in key with your tune. First you must find out the tuning of your current drum sample. Use the Spectrum Device and look for the highest amplitude peak in the frequency spectrum. If you hover your cursor over it, it’ll show you the pitch and Hz in the lower left corner. Then, you can use the transpose function for your Audio Clip or Simpler/Sampler to re-pitch the drum to a new pitch. Repitch the drum to a chromatic increment of the key of the song. For example, if my song is in G minor, then I’ll try tuning the drum to the root of G, or if that doesn’t sound good, then I’ll try moving up the scale of G minor: G, A, B♭, C, D, E♭, and F. While you’re doing this, it’s important that you’re playing the drum with the song rather than soloing it. If you are layering multiple samples for your drum (as I do), then make sure you do this for each sample. When layering I often tune different samples to different pitches. One snare layer may be tuned to G, and one to C for example. This can create some very interesting effects as you’re more or less making a “chord” out of your drum.

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Protip 4

Percussion protip #4: Top and tail. Topping and tailing is when you use only a portion of a sample for each layer of your drum. For example, I may find one sample that I really like the attack of, and another sample that I really like the body of. Rather than have both of them run for the entire length of the drum, cut out the un-needed bits. You’ll need to be working in audio to do this correctly because you need to be able to see the waveforms. Also enable Clip Fades by right clicking on the sampes, as you’ll need them to avoid clicking when slicing mid-way through a waveform. This technique can be useful for making very clean sounding drums and can also avoid phase issues when layering kick drums. I use this technique on both kicks and snares.

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Protip 5

Percussion protip #5: How to pick samples and layer your snares. [Caveat: Keep in mind, I write broken beat bass music, so I tend to go for really heavy snares. This is not the only technique for snares, it’s just one of many you could use.] I usually use 3-4 layers for snares. First I select the “body snare”. This is the main sample that will comprise the core of the sound. The other layers are supporting elements to help fill out the body. Then I’ll find hits that add punch, such as a sample with a nice attack (cutting off the body, and just using the front of the hit). I like a lot of top end in most of my snares, so I’ll typically also layer in a clap or white noise. As Tarekith mentioned in the comments of the last tip, you can use Utility devices to put the body layer in mono, and leave the other layers stereo. If I want to create a really wide sounding snare, I’ll sometimes experiment with a Filter Delay device on the clap, using only the left and right channels, with the left set at 3 ms and the right set at 10 ms, and filtered slightly differently, to create an inter-aural time/timbre difference. Use your ears to adjust the delay times and filters to your liking. As a final stage, if you want to add some low-end meat to your snare, layer in a kick drum (perhaps even the same sample you are using for your main kick), but pitch it up by 12 semitones and mix it in relatively low to start. If you want more of a KOAN Sound, neuro-hop style snare, then try using a tom as your main body snare, but pitch it up by around 3-7 semitones to get the right timbre.

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