5 Tips for Working With Drums

Photo Credit: my4otos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: my4otos via Compfight cc

There’s no denying the importance of drums in electronic dance music. Along with bass, they play the vital role of creating groove. In The Ultimate Guide to Creating Better and More Memorable Melodies I stated that melody was less important than groove in EDM. I say this because melodies do not make people dance, groove does.

In this post I’m going to share 5 tips that will help you create better sounding drums.

1. Pick the right samples

You wouldn’t make a coffee with bad milk, so why would you start a song with bad samples and sounds?

Taking time to pick the right samples from the start seems like a boring task, some may say it’s uncreative, that it slows down workflow. I highly disagree. The more effort you put in at the start when picking sounds translates to less time spent mixing down near the end.

A few things to remember when picking samples:

  • You’ll never find the perfect sample. You shouldn’t need to spend more than an hour picking your drum samples.
  • Think about how you can edit a sample when scrolling through them. If a sample is too long then you can reduce the decay time.
  • Samples can be layered. If something you’re previewing sounds like it could do with some extra, then find something that compliments it.
  • Practice makes perfect. As a new producer you probably won’t know the difference between a sample that fits and one that doesn’t, the only way to get better is to practice and analyse similar music.

Don’t have any decent samples?

If you’re still stuck on FL or Ableton’s default drums, then you may want to drop some money on a sample pack or look for a free one. Here are some places I recommend:

2. Compliment the groove

Unless you’re making neuro-hop or some deep house with crazy swing, there are really only 4 different areas you can place samples: on the beat, just after the beat, on the off beat, and before the next beat.

areas

You may be tempted to place a sample in every single gap, but that isn’t always a great idea. Use silence to your advantage and cultivate groove.

For example, if I had a moombahton-like groove (before beat then off beat) with a kick and a tom, then adding heavy percussion in the other areas will detract from the groove. It will remove energy and power. Always compliment the groove where you can.

3. Create variation

You know you have a good drum track when you can play it on repeat for more than a minute and not get bored.

One of the most difficult things about creating drum loops is avoiding repetition.

There needs to be repetition of course, it’s a staple in the EDM diet. BUT having no variation, no change, and repeating a one bar loop? That’s not fun.

There are a few ways to add variation to a drum track:

  • Placement: instead of repeating a sample every bar/beat, repeat it every second or fourth bar/beat. Alternatively, adjust the placement in a different bar or beat.
  • Layering: adding an extra layered clap on the fourth beat, for example. Use layering in a dynamic fashion.
  • Different sounds: using different sounds can be a great way to add variation. Where in the rule book does it say that the clap on the second beat and the clap on the fourth beat have to be the same sample? Disclosure’s “Latch” is a good example of this.

4. Adjust decay times

I’ve recorded a video on this and I still stand by the fact that it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to clean up your mix. Take a look.

Note: this video is recorded in FL Studio but the concept can be applied to practically any DAW.

5. Add swing

Sometimes you just need that extra little bit. Swing is a great way to add spice to your drums and keep the listener interested. Most DAWs have a quantize feature that allows you to add swing to a MIDI or audio clip.

Tips for working with swing:

  • Be subtle with it OR add it over your whole track (including all instruments), otherwise you’ll run into timing issues.
  • Make sure it fits the style of the track you’re making
  • Add/remove drum samples and sounds to make it flow better

Conclusion

Now that you’ve read the article, I expect you to go away and spend some time working on your drums!

But seriously. Make an 8-bar loop using at least one of these tips and post it in the comments section below. I want to hear what you come up with.

Have any questions? Leave a comment below.