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Journey of a drum & bass track: part 3

Special features Tutorials  2nd July 2011 | 3,864 views    No comments
In this series Ben Kama takes us on the journey of a drum and bass track from start to finish. Throughout the process he will explain everything he does, the instruments and VSTs he uses, and share with us the various highs and lows of putting a piece of music together.

Follow the entire series here:


By the end of the last entry Ben had finalized a rough outline of the beats and bass. In this section he adds flesh to the bones and cosmetically enhances those core ideas into the beginnings of a real dancefloor banger.

Entry #3: Makoever

It's Friday (and a big midsummer fest in Finland) but I'm totally broke so I'm staying home and making some tunes. I closed the curtains to prevent the sun from entering my lair and opened the project. Last time I managed to craft some beats on top of a good sounding bassline. Having listened to the clip a few times I couldn't help but think it was a little too aggressive, and might stand out better if it was turned "smaller". So I went ahead and duplicated the project and started making some serious changes. First I turned the highpassed bass hits into something a bit more obscure. I simply added Ohm Force Mobilohm to the channel and flipped over the presets. Once I found one I liked, I dropped the resonance a little, here's the result:


       
Second phase was to make the beats roll more and to do that I stripped the whole beat to it's basics and turned it into a basic 2-step pattern. That was a little mild though, so I added a few kick hits to the beat. All was done with the same samples as before.


       
I also had the vision of making the whole tune grow little by little into a big, huge monster. It would start small and intimidating, and I would open up the elements and add stuff on the way. One big part in this would be to tone down the harshness of the bass. A simple way to do this would be to just lowpass it. I used Yamaha MS20 FX version because I like the sound of the filters on it. As I planned on opening up the filter every now and then for fills etc. I added a big reverb on the bass highs so it would stand out more when open. A few filter automations later the bass sounded like this:


       
As you might notice a few other bass sounds have been added as well. They're just samples from my library that I sent to the same FX channel as the original bass. I did it like this because I wanted to give them the same characteristics as the main bass - this will glue the sounds together better.

I assigned a midi knob to the filter cutoff, continued to play with the bass and found a spot on the filter that emphasized the original filtering on the bass. Sounded pretty cool. I think the cutoff sweet spot was in tune with the key of the bass and it sort of has that power chord -kind of quality from the resonance:


       


After spending a hefty amount of time to perfect the automations on the bass I had no idea on what to do, so I made a little technical adjustment to the beats: I routed all the beats and percussions into 1 buss and compressed that lightly, paired with a limiter shaving 2 db off the peaks. In this clip you can hear the difference as I switch on the plugins halfway. Not sure yet about the effect, but I'll leave the decision whether to use it or not to the end mixing stage. For now I'll leave it on.


       
Getting bogged down on the techincals at this point was clearly asking for a break. Up to this point, in all the 3 sessions I've worked on the tune, I've spent about 10 hours on it. It might not seem that much when you read the journals, but there's a lot of corners that I've cut short to keep things interesting and not mention every twist of a knob or fader adjustment.

The tea was good, a cigarette hit the right spot, so after the break I got some ideas. I was thinking to change the snare on the beat as it sounded too machine-like to my taste, but that would have to wait as I was keen to come up with some ambience. Something like ghostly pads, weird synths or just some other background noise. I usually start that by browsing my sample library for something interesting.

After a little searching I found a cool twisted vocal-kind of like loop from a sample pack, and threw some effects on it (PSP Nitro is cool when you don't know what you want, some serious mangling possibilites there), timestretching  and pitch automation on it. While it sounded nice, it didn't suit the theme of the tune at all and interfered with the blippy sound I had made earlier. You never know though, and I did keep it in the project for possible later use.


       
After about an hour of testing out different atonal drone sounds etc. I ditched that idea and went for my trusty padsynth, Albino. Again I went directly after a preset that would suit the tune since I don't want to spend too much time on creating something from scratch as it will quickly kill the mood for crafting a tune. I tweaked the filter envelopes to open up during 1 bar and followed the key of the bass with it. A little treble boost again to make it stand out and not just blend into the background.


       
To make room for it, I removed the blippy stuff when the synth was playing (apart from the intro). I also extended the intro to 32 bars from last time's 16 bars. I usually just lay down an idea for a tune with some fills and change-ups and when I think that's done I start to think about intros, transitions, breakdowns etc. The pad synth just gave me a good reason to extend the intro at this point and it sounded alright so there you have it. Here's the new intro, with a simple vinyl crackle sample to "fill the void" and the pad (notice the clashing key between the pad and the stab - I changed that in the final clip):


       
After exporting the intro FL Studio crashed. Nice. Lucky for me the auto-save function works nicely. So after reopening the file and another break it was time to get back to the snare that had been haunting in the back of my head for the last hour or so. I started by removing the hissy white noise snare from the beat and started again with the bare clap sound. I had no idea what I wanted it to sound like, apart from making it a little more organic. To be perfectly honest I think it sounded much better with the noise snare just removed, but I still went on and tried to find something to fill the void. In the end I went with 2 different alternating samples that would just bring more low presence to the clap but mainly stay in the background. Here's a clip first without the samples and then with them. This also reminds me of how hard claps are to layer as they are not very accurate in the transients:


       
There was still many minor things I wanted to change: the intro, add a funky drum fill, use the vocal thing from above in the intro, changing the notes of the stab to suit the pad etc... In my personal opinion this version is much better than last time. It has more potential and originality, and the change to the snare made it a little more 'experimental' if you allow the cheesy expression.

Although I didn't get much further with the structure of the track, I didn't feel like I wasn't making progress. I was again very happy with the results of the day, since it turned out to be quite a roller!


       




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