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