When whipping up a groove for a new track, it’s all too easy to just grab a few percussion loops from your favorite library, lay them into
your mix, and grab a latté. But what if you went to a four-star restaurant and the alfredo sauce came from a box? Eew. This month, we’ll
tackle putting your own stamp on your electronic percussion elements. Even if you’re not a veteran sound designer, rhythmic loops that are
entirely your own will ensure that you sound like no one else—a sure-fire way to stand out from the pack.
Step 1. Make a small array of short sound effects using
whatever synths you like. The only criteria is that you don’t use any
presets. While we normally frown upon simply turning random
knobs until it sounds cool, this is one situation where you can get
away with it. Start with four to six unique sounds and make sure
they’re complimentary, but don’t sound too much alike.
For best results, use short envelopes: immediate attack, short
decay, no sustain, quick release. Another approach would be to
take extremely small slices of any sort of sampled material:
voices, Foley effects, or audio you grabbed with your iPhone or handheld field recorder. Just make sure the samples are short and percussive.
Step 2. Once you have your
sounds ready, render each one as a single
hit and collect all of these in one folder so
you can find them easily. Audio example: Step 2 - Found Sounds
Step 3. Depending on your DAW, you have a few options. The first is to dedicate each of four to six tracks in your arrange window to
a different sound. Alternately, in Ableton Live, you can place each of these sounds on a different Drum Rack “pad” and create a pattern. This
same technique works with Ultrabeat in Apple Logic. On an Akai MPC, you can load the sounds onto different pads and work from there.
Step 4. You’re ready to sequence. If you’ve chosen to use multiple tracks
in a DAW, create a one-bar loop, and while it cycles, arrange the samples to create
a unique rhythm, adding effects on a track-by-track basis. If you’re using an
Ableton Drum Rack or Akai MPC, it’s even easier: Just create a sequence using
the samples and leave room for each event to “pop.” Audio example: Step 4 - Sequenced and Chopped