Tips for Adding Life to a Static Drum Loop

Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com/members, and mixthru.co.

We are going to be talking about bringing some life to a static drum loop.

So first things first, let’s play the loop, then let’s break it down.

[loop playback]

So sonically speaking, these drums are pretty good. They’re balanced well, frequency wise. I think they’re fine.

They don’t really need anything in terms of dynamic manipulation. They’re very fat sounding drums and everything like that.

The problem is, they’re very lifeless. This really comes back to the production stage. Everything is just hitting at the exact same velocity, right on the grid. There’s no internal kind of rhythm or syncopation, and so what happens is this just sounds flat. It sounds sequenced. It sounds lifeless. It sounds two-dimensional.

So we are going to change that. Now, I’ve upgraded my system. I’m on AAX, which means I don’t have one of my favorite plug-ins, which is Cable Guys Volume Shaper. AAX guys, come on, please!

But, I do have FabFilter Saturn, which has some incredible modulation effects in it, and by modulation, I mean things that control different settings like LFOs.

So basically, it’s very easy to automate, and it’s very easy to automate in a way where you don’t have to go in and draw in automation and copy and paste and set what’s being changed. Everything like that.

It’s very intuitive and easy once you get past the little bit of a confusing GUI, and if you’re looking at this, you can see how it’s confusing, but what I have here, this number 2 is the number of bars, and this is breaking those down into segments.

So these are different things that are happening at different segments. This specifically is controlling level automation, so anything that is right on this median line is not changing the output level at all. Anything below it is attenuating the output by a very slight amount, and anything above it is pushing the output louder.

So what I’m going to do here is solo this hat.

[hat plays]

And now, I’m going to bring in my level automation.

[hat plays with automation]

So you hear a new dynamic show up. That, “tah, tah tah TAH, tah, tah, tah tah TAH.”

That kind of a thing going on. So that’s going to add a lot of groove right off the bat, and that’s just level automation. The other thing is that this plug-in can do a lot of stuff.

So, I’m actually EQing the low end of the hat down a bit, because I don’t really need it, and then within the top section of this hat, I’m automating some of the drive of the hat so that the tone will change, in addition to the level changing, and I’ve also done a little bit of EQ in here where it kind of makes the hat feel like it’s a little bit more centered on the stickiness of it, as opposed to the brassiness of it.

A little confusing there, but I’m doing the same things with the kick and the snare.

So with the snare, for example, we have a much simpler window. This is just one bar, and what’s happening here on this XLFO, which is chained to the high-frequency drive — this here — what’s going on is on the second snare hit, the drive on the top end is being turned up, effectively, whereas on the first hit, I have this XLFO where the second — or the two beat, the first snare that hits, is getting a little bit more low end drive.

So it’s going low to high, low to high, and it sounds like this. Before…

[snare playback]

So we get a little bit of a timbral change between each snare hit.

Now, that’s subtler than the hi-hat, but it’s part of the equation. It all comes together.

And the kick I’m doing something very similar. I’ve got different kick hits that are being exaggerated in terms of level and changed in terms of drive so that there’s variation between every hit.

[kick and snare plays]

Right? And so when it all comes together, we go from this…

[loop playback]

To this.

[loop playback with automation]

And now suddenly, there’s an inside groove. There’s something happening. Everything sounds a little bit more organic.

Yes, the timing is exactly quantized. I’m kind of okay with that. You know, I could do things to go in there and sort of shift the timing around to make it feel like it’s a little bit more of an actual drum groove, but I don’t think that we need to really create that illusion to get what we’re trying to accomplish going.

Anyway, doing a little bit of EQ. Nothing crazy going on here. I’m taking a little bit of the woodiness out of the kick, taking a little bit of the sub frequency out of the snare, and taking a couple of ring tones out of the hat.

So here’s the before and after on that.

[loop mix plays, before and after]

There’s nothing crazy there, that’s basically just mixing 101 type of stuff.

Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to compress everything. So I have all of my drums routed together, and I am going to send them out to this compressor, and we’re going to do this in real time and figure out our settings here.

[drums play]

Cool. So let’s A/B that real quick. Without it…

[drum mix plays, before and after]

That glues it together very nicely here. I think now that I’ve done that, the top end could come out a little bit more, so I’m going to patch into an EQ real quick.

Alright.

[drum mix playback]

Alright, before…

[drums play]

After.

[drums play]

Maybe a little too much top end. Let me back that off just a bit.

Alright, and the very last thing that I’m going to need to do is add a little bit of the low end back in.

[drum loop playback]

Cool! So let’s go from where we started here…

[drum playback, original and polished]

And just for fun, let’s add a little reverb.

[drums play, with reverb]

We can just back off the level a little bit.

[drum mix playback]

Much more interesting, much more exciting.

Alright guys, until next time.

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: Weiss-Sound.com.
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