>Step by step
Building a bespoke drum groove from a classic breakbeat
1 My project tempo is 174bpm. After loading a Sandy break into Stylus RMX, I drag the MIDI onto my arrangement window, and rearrange the notes to form a two-step DnB groove. This is duplicated over four bars. I now have the freedom to create a unique loop, but retain the break’s personality.
2 Now to remove unwanted frequencies. Using a high-pass (ie, lowcut) filter, I sweep away the break’s muddy 150-200Hz area; and a gentle dip at 600Hz eradicates boxiness. I’m careful not to overprocess the break, to keep it’s original character. I then subtly add attack and pull back sustain with SPL’s Transient Designer plugin.
3 I’m going to layer sampled drum hits for modern punch and definition, using Cubase’s speedy Sampler Track. After choosing a suitable kick and snare, I’ve mirrored the break’s hits with these new samples, and added an offbeat kick at the end of every four bars. Carefully tweaking placement, pitch, length and velocity helps merge the break and hits.
4 With the hits tuned and in place alongside the break, it’s time to beef them up with a bit of processing. On both the kick and snare, I’m compressing with a gentle 1.3:1 Ratio, Threshold at -18dB, slow Attack and moderate Release. I also high-pass the kick and slightly boost at 100Hz for punch. A 600Hz dip and 5kHz lift adds clarity.
5 To bring out the snare’s aggression, I’ve employed SPL’s Transient Designer again; and a short reverb from ValhallaPlate gives it width. Next, I low-cut at 100Hz to remove extraneous sub. Slight EQ boosts at 200Hz and 5kHz highlight this snare’s ‘crack’ regions. For brightness, I send the snare to a return containing a steep high-pass-filter.
6 To add excitement and fill in gaps between my break and hits, I’ll add accompanying percussive elements. I’ve chosen three pre-made loops: the first is a midrangey sliced break; the second is a sharp hi-hat loop that strengthens the groove’s transients; and the third is a percussive stab that sits back in the mix.
7 I’m happy with the beat, so it’s time to glue the individual elements together with processing. To set this up in Cubase, I add a Group Channel track, then route the output of all drum tracks to this Group via the MixConsole. I now have complete control over all of my drums with a single fader, and can process them as one.
8 For tone-shaping warmth and detail, I insert Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack on the drum bus. First, I drag in a CS-Lift and apply small touches of Present high lift and Punchy low lift. Next, I call up two FG-N EQs, with slight boosts at 115Hz, 500kHz, 1.6kHz, 3.2kHz and 5.3kHz.
9 Second in the drum bus chain, I’ve used iZotope’s Alloy 2’s Multiband Transient Shaper to emphasise the snap of the drums. I increase the Attack of the high and mid areas up to 2.5, and low’s attack to 1.5. For sharpness, I’ll decrease all three bands’ Sustain just a touch. Over in the EQ section, I apply a +1dB high-shelf boost for a gentle touch of brightness.
10 After Alloy 2, I’ve inserted a compressor to meld the groove together. I’ve chosen Native Instruments’ VC 160 for its classic, punchy VCA sound. Its automatic attack and release times also give you two fewer things to worry about when working quickly. Here, I’ve carefully adjusted Threshold and Compression to dial in just the right amount of punch.
11 Brainworx bx_digital is my go-to plugin for drum bus width and separation. I set Mono Maker to around 120Hz, which removes any width below that frequency – this improves translation on large club systems. To spread out tops, I adjust the Stereo section for a wide cymbal sound, being careful to keep the low-mid regions fairly centred.
12 Lastly, I’ll maximise the fatness of the drums. Using CamelPhat, I’ll turn on the Distortion, MM Filter, Magic EQ, Compressor and Master sections, applying very small amounts of each processor, which this allows me to push the drums without losing all-important transients and warmth.