In this series we are following Ben Kama as he takes us on the journey of a drum and bass track from sketching out initial ideas all the way through to the final production. Along the way we will learn about his techniques, listen to the various stages of the track as it progresses, and follow through all the highs and frustrations of putting a piece of music together.
In the first section we laid down the basics of a bassline for our track. In this part we will be starting to put together the drums to really pat down the foundations.
Entry #2: The beat generation
I was keen to continue from the simple bassline I made earlier but haven't really had time to open FL Studio after the last time. So now when I had the whole day to myself I started early (after noon which is early for me on saturday), while suffering from a mild hangover. First I listened to the clip I had done and spotted a nice zippy sound which came from the rising bass copy carrying over just a moment into the drop. I copied that and put it aside for later use.
Then I started searching for drums. I also had the smallest thought of doing something else with the bass still, but for now I had to push that thought aside and concentrate on moving forward. I'll likely return to the bass at a later stage.
I dropped 2 kicks into the track, first I thought of layering them together (both are from Goldbaby MPC60 Vol 3 that I won from a competition on dnbforum.com) but they sounded good separately so I started to build on those. Here you can hear how the beat progressed, I just kept on dropping some percussion samples on it and trying to find good spots for them. When I was content with that I felt it needed more so I just pulled up a breakbeat loop and sliced that to give more character to the beats. There's no processing on the drums rest from a highpass filter on the break.
After a short break again, the break didn't fit with the Subwave'sque feel of the rest of the drums so I toned it down a bit and went for more of weird percussions, and went crazy with the ones already there. I added delays and reverbs, distortions, little bleeps, reversed some hits etc. I also found a use for the little clip I cut in the beginning, it worked nicely as a percussive addition. I boosted the sub on the bass just a notch too. Here's the full loop so far:
Once the I was happy with the beats I went back to the bass sound. I opened the sampler and for some reason the whole line sounded really different, with a ravey kind of basement reverb - maybe it was due to mixer settings or I had changed the modulations... I really can't remember why, but it sounded really cool (with the same sequence as before) so I just had to record that too! I made a few changes to keep things interesting.
A happy accident again, if ever there was one. I thought I could use both the original and this new bit, maybe bring it in later in the tune. At this point the base of the track was pretty much laid down already, but now it was time for something much more difficult - to come up with something to make it stand out, something to remember it by. While vocals are always cool, the theme here wasn't really asking for something like that. I wanted to come up with something of my own, and the phrase "I am not a machine, I am a man" has been going through my head every time I produce for a few weeks now. So I recorded my voice and tried to modulate it to bits.
If you want to know the details - it's been tripled, pitchshifted to different pitches, compressed, bitcrushed, has a very fast LFO notch filter, a few comb filters and a reverb. I'm not sure yet if I'll be using it. Time will tell.
As I said, the bass and beats were good up to a point where I was thinking either to call it a day or continue with adding something to the skeleton. I felt it needed some kind of melodic synth so I popped out the same Predator VSTI that I had used earlier and checked if the old preset sounded any good. I use it a lot and for example the bass on Backbone was done with it. I simply browsed the presets until I found a stab that felt nice. Added a big church impulse reverb to it, compressed to make the verb tail stand out more, and it was done.
It worked so painlessly that I felt like adding 1 more thing before finishing, and I thought that a shaker might work. I remembered a package of percussion loops and found a cabasa that might do the trick. I sliced it and broke the flow of it to suit the beats better. It only needed some EQ boosting on the treble to make it slice through. Add to that some work with a drop-in - the basics, some automations to the synth (playing with the 2nd oscillator FM mod), stripped down beats and the robotic voice. I also extended the track with the bass sound I recorded for this session to 2 times, and to go the second time without any FX modulation apart from a little sub boost, sounded pretty hard that way and I liked it. I added the cloned bass sound from the intro on top of that to change it a bit more.
All in all, quite pleased with the results of the day. It didn't come out quite as I planned, as I'm used to trying to make beats always sound big, and use a lot of funk breaks and rolling drums. But if it sounds good, don't fix it I always say. For now I have no idea what I will do on the next session but I guess it'll come to me in time. Until next time!