In this post, our guest contributor Eric Dubois shares two awesome techniques to add movement and diversity to your drums without the use of envelopes.
Drum programming sometimes lacks of life… It is easy to notice the difference between recording a live drummer in studio and someone who just typed in some midi notes. With a live drummer you can really feel the groove. Some notes are hit harder than others, some are out of sync, the echo of the cymbal bounces with the rest of the drums…
Ableton offers the “Groove” parameter to create a little more life, but this won’t help you capture the environment and atmosphere of a recording.
Here are two very simple tricks to add movement and diversity to your drums! We are going to shake things up with shakers and create an evolving echo for our finger snaps. Here you can listen to the drum sequence with and without our new effects:
“Shaking” things up
I have set up a very simple Shaker pattern using Ableton’s Arpeggiator set to quarter notes.
Just a shaker sample, an Arpeggiator and a small Reverb.
I drew in one long note that will trigger the Arpeggiator.
But it sounds to simple and boring after a while… So I would like to create diversity and make the shaker pattern evolve according to my Kick drum! Whenever my Kick hits I want the shaker to “shake” faster! To rattle like a snake if you want!
Sure I can spend time and automate the rate of the Arpeggiator to switch every time the kick hits… But it takes too much time and still sounds too robotic.
This is where Layering sounds in Ableton comes into play!
Layering a second Shaker
Select the Arpeggiator and Shaker Simpler and right click to create a new group (“command + G” on a mac and “ctrl+G” on PC, learn your shortcuts!).
Don’t group the Reverb.
Click on the “Show/Hide Chain list” icon:
Now duplicate your shaker by right clicking on the first layer and selecting Duplicate (“command + D” on a mac and “ctrl + D” on PC):
I renamed the Layer to stay organized
We want this shaker to play faster, so set the rate of the arpeggiator to 1/16. Here is how the shaker sounds now in the beat:
Nothing impressive yet… We just created an extra layer that plays the shaker at a faster rhythm. Now we want to control that layer to turn on and off when the kick hits.
Automating the new Layer
The theory is to sidechain Ableton’s Gate effect to your kick drum. The sidechained Gate will let the audio of our rattling shaker through only when the kick hits.
Add a gate on the Layer you have just created.
Click on the Sidechain icon and set your Audio From to the Kick in your Drum Rack.
Tip: Be sure to rename all the cells in your drum rack correctly to be able to quickly find the cell you need (kick, shaker, snare, crash…)
Now listen to your track and lower the threshold to obtain the desired effect. Mine looks and sounds like this:
You can also play with the release for a longer lasting shake.
Here is how it sounds with a longer release time on your gate:
Sounds pretty cool! And you can do this to hats, snares, bass sounds, vocals… and sidechain the gate to whatever sound you want! And you can also do this live! Play your new drum rack on a midi controller and see the diversity just by playing the same pattern!
Now let’s give some movement to our “finger snap” that is sounding pretty sad next to our shaker!
Finger snap Madness
For this trick we are going to use the same technique of layering sounds and controlling each layer differently. What I want is a long reverb to move around our main sound. Here is my Snap so far:
Very simple, no processing.
Drag and Drop Ableton’s Reverb effect behind our Snap Sample.
Raise the Decay time to about 5s to create a long reverb tail. Tweak the reverb as you wish to create something you like. Here are my settings and how it sounds:
Setting the quality of Ableton’s Reverb to high creates such a smoother sound.
So it sounds a little muddy and there is no movement so far. Let´s create that movement!
This time we are going to group effects and not sounds… Select your reverb and create a new Group.
We only want to affect the reverb signal and not our original snap. So, same way as before, open up the “Show/Hide Chain list” icon.
Right click and “Create a new Chain”:
I renamed my original chain with the reverb to “Reverb”.
This chain will remain empty. This is the same principal as a send and receive channel or a Dry/wet signal. One Layer (or Chain) will be the pure clean signal and the other will be only the effected signal.
Go back to your reverb and raise the Dry/Wet to 100% (because we only want this Layer to be pure reverb…).
Drag and Drop an Auto-Pan on to the Reverb channel. This is what will create the movement.
Auto-pan can be used to do so many things! Most people use Auto-pan to create a stereo image of a sound and have it pan from right to left at a certain speed.
But nowadays, producers use auto-pan as a “Sidechain compressor”. Especially Future Bass producers. Making your sound bounce as a sidechain compressor would. Let me show you how it´s done.
Setting up your Auto-Pan
First, raise the amount to 100% and lower the phase to 0. This will totally cut the “panning” part of the Auto-Pan.
Here is how it sounds with the whole effect rack off and on:
We can already hear some movement going on with the reverb tail which is pretty cool! And we didn’t even set up the speed or the shape of our Auto-Pan!
So let’s tweak it a little more! And you can use these same settings for any Future Bass type synth! This will create a nice “Bounce” as The Chainsmokers would say…
Let’s sync the speed by clicking on the note icon and setting the rate to 1/4.
Here is how it sounds on and off.
We can now hear the reverb tail coming in and out pretty nicely. But it still sounds to “wavey” for me… I really want the echo to rise in and disappear instantly: like a “woosh” kind of sound. Hard to explain!
So let´s play with the signal.
Select the downward Saw waveform.
But remember, I am looking for a “woosh” type of sound. Kind of like a sweep, where the volume of the sound goes from 0db and rises up to its full volume. Here we have the exact opposite, the sound is fading out.
Here is how it sounds:
We need to “Invert” the signal, you can do this by clicking on icon. Tweak the Shape knob to modify the shape of the waveform to obtain a stronger rise.
Here’s how it sounds:
And there you go! A nice moving snap that definitely fills up your drum pattern without any automation!
Hope you Enjoyed!
If you want to practice your skills with our skilled producers, join our team! Participate in our weekly challenges! Just download the sample of this week’s challenge here!
I respond and give feedback to all the participating producers!