Sunday, January 24, 2010
offbeat eighths and all that jazz
Ever since El-B inspired me to learn to produce, I’ve been obsessed with garage drum programming. I soon found though that 2step and 4x4 garage drums are deceptively complex to produce. In essence 2step drums aren't really about the snares on the 2 and 4, they're about the hats on the offbeat 8th notes (2,4,6,8 and their interaction with the kicks on the 1, 5 and where ever else you put them).
With all the talk of Future Garage late last year, I wanted to pool and then share all the knowledge out there on garage hi hat programming, so posted a thread on the Future Garage forum. Here is a summary of the best tricks of this amazing dark art, posted by different producers. If you know of any more, leave a comment and share the knowledge!
This is the core trick of garage hi hat programming, one that separates garage from much of house, trance, electro and many genres that share its tempo. In essence shuffle or swing, is the placing of key hi hats so that some of them are off the grid positions so that they interact with those on the grid. This is done with a “shuffle” function in your sequencer, which moves them, or with specific groove templates you can apply.
An extreme amount of shuffle- or rather simulating an extreme amount of shuffle - manually - with where you place the beats can sound best. shuffle/swing is best when it's just a bit too much, or too little - just right sounds too correct.
You can swing by hand, you can do your drums as audio rather than midi. Turn the snap to grid off and zoom out so have less precision with where you drag and drop hats. You can also use old breaks, they have good natural swing.
If you use Ableton 7 the global swing amount can be automated on the master channel, affecting anything you have running as midi (ie sampler/simpler, synths etc). Using this you can set the swing amount to change subtly or drastically in a bar then copy and paste it across the length of your tune for a heavy non-standard swing. Also you can use the global swing amount to make the start and end of your tune a bit easier to mix if you get carried away with this trick.
MPC grooves for Logic are easy to find on the net. “I use them for everything,” says Grievous Angel.
Use an arpeggiator on hats to generate ideas quickly. Put four percussion sounds that are unique – i.e. open hat, closed hat, maraca and a rim shot, hold the notes down and set the arp to swing 16 or whatever you prefer. If you have a straight kick and snare going to you can hear the contrast easily. This might be Live specific, but if you swap the order of the sounds you'll get different effects. Also, leave a spot blank to skip a beat etc.
Another trick would be using the Track Delay to offset sounds by a few milliseconds, nice for giving a vocal or synth a charge ahead of the rest of the track etc. Make my kicks drops -3ms to avoid the bass a little more.
Try triplet hat shuffles. Or a good way to get a smooth groove is to create your own swing, by putting second and fourth 1/16 note hit late (or ahead of time) differently to each other. Meaning:
Normal swing: x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late)
Complex swing: x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2)
You could put the idea even further by making different delays to every twin hit.
"I only swing the percussion BETWEEN the kick, snare & main hats. It’s your choice how to swing them, via groove quantize, 16T or just by hand. I personally do it by hand to keep a natural/live feel to the drums."
Pitch your hats so that they have a flex to them. Where “swing” is generally referred to when talking about garage drums, technically swing means moving your hats forward or back in time, off the set grid times. But garage hats also use pitch, to make the sounds flick against each other.
An important part of the 'bump' in garage is the fact that the beats are higher pitched and the release on snares, Ghost snares and claps are punchier and tighter than other genres with increased compression.
“If I make house my kick will probably sit around 100hz for the thump but if I make garage it will probably be at around 200hz. I dunno if this was purposeful with the original garage boys or a result of the 16+ cut dubplates of US garage”
-- Sentinels, Future Garage Forum
Gates are take the sound event in one sound module and use it as an event to apply an effect to another sound. Sending all the drums through a bus with a gate on gives that clipped sound. A little automation on the threshold can provide some interesting results too.
Here's how to make that hi hat mess ala Tuff Jam / Todd Edwards: Take a 909 Open Hat, duplicate it like 4 times, pitch it to several different varieties, shorten the longer ones so they are all the same length, preferably resample the pitched ones into an Akai sampler at low volume and gain up (for that CCRRHH bit crushed effect).
Sample envelopes can play a large part in swing, messing around with sampler settings Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release [ADSR] times yields interesting results.
Source of hats
You can sample hats: 70's dub reggae's hats are the king of grit. Funk/soul are of course classic sample sources too. Then it's good to complement sampled hats with classic drum machine-hats, 808's for example, to get a bit sharpness/strongness into them. But then it's good to compress/distort them to not sound too separated.
And to get that classic garage feel, it's good to gate them in little snippets, and flatten them with compressor/distortion. Cutting hi ends to some extend are a good idea, to make them sound not too harsh, and then mix them loud!
“So many things which can influence a groove. To start with inaccurate sample chopping - i.e. not getting the start point quite right on hi hats can introduce a swing all of its own, so it's not necessarily all about the groove and the grid."
"Having said that I have used many different grooves - 16T on Cubase is where the Garage started for me. Now, being a Logic User, I go for the swing %age - 66% being triplets (16t's)."
"I also use the MPC groove templates now - I'd recommend them highly. I always play in my drum patterns at about 80bpm and then quantize them. Velocities make a big difference. I quite often use a lo-fi plugin or bitcrusher to nasty things up a bit. Having said all that it's all still about listening and tweaking. Happy swinging...”
-- MJ Cole
Another other factor is tempo. The faster you go the less room there is for hats to be swung i.e. moved between set grid positions. 140 bpm is quite hard to get swing at 134bpm is much easier. part of why Kowton's Stasis g mix sounds SO swung is because it's 127ish. i.e. there's crazy space between respective 16th notes.
Velocity is a variable that determines how hard otherwise similar drums hit. Varying the weight of snare from the 2nd to the 4th often helps. Applying a similar method to the kick can work, too, with the heavier kick on the 1st beat of the bar (or on whatever part of the bar needs emphasis), and the lighter kick used in 'skippier' places (offbeats etc.).
“One thing I’ve noticed it that beats with a lot of bump have an inverse gravity where the bigger elements have more space around them than the lighter ones. Space is important as that is what creates the anticipation.”
Include straight elements
You have to have a couple of elements played straight otherwise your drum pattern won't make any sense and won't be funky. Rhythms can only be swung if you have something that isn't swung to compare it to.