This month, we’ll focus on a key element of groove: percussion. As we collected answers from our expert panel, we discovered a unifying theme: Even if you’re a seasoned vet with your own sample libraries like Boom Jinx, it’s now culturally credible in the dance music world to use pre-made loops.
(Recoil, Depeche Mode | recoil.co.uk)
Sample libraries are often a good starting point, and as I’ve said before in this column, electronic-style percussion on top of human-feel grooves works well for me. Percussion samples often rely on time-stretching for optimization of the feel and creation of otherworldly effects. I also like the digital grit of pitch-shifting percussion sounds a long way from their original pitch—very slow tambourines, for example.
(Dragonette | dragonette.com)
The hallway of our house makes for great live percussion recording. I learned from my friend Dan Grech that closemiking percussion generally sucks in comparison to getting some live room feel into tracks that almost never have “real” room sounds in them anymore. We use our Telefunken U47 mic and compress it hard through our [Empirical Labs] Distressor. Most of the time, percussion is more about vibe and feel than sound, anyway. Beyond getting a good performance—whether from real instruments or playing samples—I think that quantizing percussion too tightly is the wrong way to go. Slightly out-of-time tambourines and shakers add great vibe.
(Jaytech | jaytechmusic.com)
My usual trick is to sequence my own drum track from scratch using one-shot hits—Zenhiser samples [zenhiser .com] are usually pretty good—then layer my own creation with a pre-made drum loop to create a more authentic feel and fill things out. Done in this way, sufficient edits can usually be performed just on the pre-made loop to change things up. This saves having to screw around too much with my own “drum kit.”
Recently, I’ve been using Native Instruments Maschine for a lot of my drum programming. It’s a bit faster for me than using my Akai MPC, and I feel able to get my ideas down in a more seamless fashion. I usually wait to apply any heavy effects until I’ve printed my drums in Logic or Pro Tools, but once in awhile, I’ll use effects in Maschine for something specific, then just print it.
Pick your own kicks, snares, claps, hi-hats, and key percussion sounds, and never be afraid to layer these ingredients with pre-made loops. To assault the loop’s identity without taking away its function, have the kick sidechain the heck out of it, or give two layered, compatible loops the same sidechain treatment. Always kill the low end in loops, probably as far up as 200 to 400Hz depending on content. There was a time when using drum loops was considered lowclass, but most experienced producers do use loops even though they have the ability to make the loops they’re using themselves. I don’t see the point of being an elitist snob about making my own loops. I’ve done two drum loop libraries and it took me a very long time to get them done. So, why should an experienced producer look down on a beginner who uses loops? The only caveat is that it’s counter-productive to let a loop determine your entire groove, hence my advice to play in key elements such as kick and snare.