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How to Modernize an Old School Hip-Hop Drum Loop


Hey guys, Matthew Weiss here., Coming to you straight from the shadows I swear it’s gonna be like 3 weeks before I ever actually change this light bulb. Not important. What is important is that we’re going to discuss some techniques to liven up a drum loop and also a little bit of a philosophical concept to go along with it.

So let’s check out the loop.

[drum loop]

It’s just basically a chop from some seventies vinyl then resequenced through an MPC. Alright. So it sounds good but we need bring into the 21st century.

So the first thing I’m gonna be doing here is using this BX Digital plugin. And what I’m gonna do with it is it has this little section here called the mono maker. the mono maker, what it does is it takes all the frequency content below a certain cutoff frequency — in this case about 100 Hz — and it moves it all into the center. So you’re gonna get a more focused low end. Here’s the before and after.

[drum loop with and without brainworx mono maker]

I think that’s a pretty dramatic difference but just to emphasize it I’m gonna loop up the first kick here.

[drum loop with and without brainworx mono maker]

I think it sounds a lot more focused. Anyway I’m also gonna do a little touch of EQ, a little bit of that 100 Hz punch, and a little bit of that 2.8-ish 3k kind of, you know, snare tone basically. Just in the mid channel.


[drum loop without EQ boost]


[drum loop with EQ boost]

So already it’s a lot more alive, it’s a lot more focused. Now, I think that the kick is little bit light in terms of it’s sub content, and so what I’ve done is I’ve copied the entire track onto a new channel and I went in and I cut out everything that isn’t the kick drum. So I have just the kick chopped on it’s own little channel here. And I’m using this plugin called low ender. What this is is it’s a sub harmonic synthesizer. It creates sub tones based on the fundamental tones that are present in the actual sound.

And here’s the before and after.

[drum loop + mono maker + EQ + sub harmonic boost]

So, clearly there’s a big difference. Way more sub. I’m turning that down quite a bit actually, about 18 decibels and I’m blending that in in parallel and it sounds like this.

[drum loop + mono maker + EQ + parallel sub boost]

So here’s a quick with and without. Without. And with. Subtle difference because I have it tucked down so low, but if I turn it up a bit [drum loop] you can start to really notice it. Anyway it’s just adding that depth and weight that wasn’t really there to begin with.

Alright, and then I’m bringing in the programmed snare that’s part of this loop.

[drum loop with snare drum]

I’ve just some basic EQ to that. I added a little bit of 1k. Alright, so now I’m gonna spring it to life a little bit more by creating basically a frequency dependent transient enhancer. What it’s doing is every time — it’s a fraction ratio: .63 to 1 — so every time the level exceeds the threshold, it boosts the level even more, and I’ve got the detector set to all frequency content that’s above 900 Hz. So basically the attack of the kick, the attack of the snare, it’s gonna boost that up a bit. Before and after.

[drum loop + mono maker + EQ + parallel sub boost + frequency dependent transient enhancer]

So it’s just adding a little bit of extra tick to it. Not really a huge difference. [drum loop]. You really notice it on that one snare hit because that’s way above the threshold. And then outside of that I’m just doing a little bit of EQ adding some, another basically 3k boost and 20k to really sharpen it up. So here’s before and after.

[drum loop + mono maker + EQ + parallel sub boost + frequency dependent transient enhancer + Manny Marroquin EQ]

So now we’ve got this much more modern sound. And the basic idea of the modern sound is very focused, very hi-fi, very full frequency range. It’s basically how I would describe modern. You know, it’s not band-limited in any regard. So, you have content down at 30 Hz, you have a content up at 20k, and it’s balanced and it’s not in abrasive way. But it’s there. As opposed to maybe older records where it’s a little bit more, you know, 60 Hz is where the attenuation is really happening, and you know, 16k is really the top end of the spectrum. You know, not hard and fast, but anyway.

The philosophical issue here though is the work that went to actually doing it. In order to get that parallel weight into the kick, I had to actually copy the track and chop out everything that wasn’t the kick. And because the sequencing isn’t as looped as the section that I’m showing you right here — it varies throughout the track — I actually had to go through the entire song and do it like that. Where I was going in, highlighting regions, hitting delete, and moving onto the next, highlight the region, move on. And it was a little tedious. However, I had to do it because I wanted to get it done. And we’re sort of in this phase of software plugins showing up where everything is very accessible and we have these things like the one knob plugins where it’s, you know, turn it to the right and that makes it better or whatever. Or we have these artist signature series plugins which I use all the time, they’re great, you know like the Chris Lord-Alge guitar plugin where you pop it on a guitar, you hit the kind of sound you want, and it makes that sound for you. And that’s all well and good. I’m not dissing those plugins, but the reality is really good engineering, sometimes you use one of those plugins because it creates exactly the effect that you’re going for. Other times you have to do it the hard way, you have to go in there and you have to chop every kick out, put it on it’s own channel, and then EQ that in parallel and blend it back in because that’s how you’re gonna get the desired result. You know, sometimes you have to go on a vocal track and you have to automate inside every word and draw up the attack of certain phrases and things like that. It’s not magic, it’s work. And, that often times is what separates people who are making a decent rough versus people who are making a really solid mix.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:

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