Our latest beat programming and sound design tutorial offers a retro house beat inspired by some of the sounds and techniques of late-80s Chicago.

Beat Dissected is a regular series in which we deconstruct drum patterns, showing you how to recreate them in any DAW. Just copy our grid in your own software to recreate the loop.

Here’s the beat we’re building today:

To download the samples for this beat, click here. The samples are provided on a completely royalty-free basis. They may not be sold or given away, either in whole or in part.

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Roland TR-707 and TR-606 samples

Step 1

Before putting this beat together, we’ve processed our drum samples. Back in the 80s, most Chicago house producers recorded their rhythm tracks straight out of hardware drum machines, but since we’re using samples we have the option to mix and match sounds from different machines and process them to get a grittier, dirtier tone.

We tuned our collection of Roland TR-707 and TR-606 drum hits up six steps in Pro Tools, sampled them into an Akai MPC60, tuned them back down to their original pitch, then brought them back into Pro Tools to trim and edit them. All the hits were then compressed very slightly (mostly less than 3dB gain reduction). Is this convoluted process absolutely essential? No, but it adds the right kind of slightly lo-fi feel to the samples. The samples in our downloadable zip file are already processed but if you want to make your own sounds you could achieve similar results with a combination of a good bitcrusher like D16 Decimort and a tape emulator such as U-he Satin.

We start the beat with a four-to-the-floor kick pattern with an added hit on the last offbeat of the first bar and a ghost hit mid-way through the second bar.

We’ve also added a Lexicon room reverb to the drum bus. Note from the settings below that this is set to just 9% wet signal: it’s a very subtle ambience which will help to tie the drum sounds together as we build the rest of the beat. The level of reverb and the length of the decay can be adjusted later. (Click the images to enlarge.)


Lexicon Reverb

Step 2

Next we add a very simple snare pattern, hitting on the second and fourth beats of each bar.


Step 3

The clap is layered over the top of the snare hits to create a hybrid clap/snare effect. You can adjust the relative volumes of these two samples to taste. The clap also plays on the last division of each bar to help keep the groove rolling along. The interplay with the kick is important; the clap falls nicely in between the offbeat kick at the end of the bar and the kick at the start of the next.

A classic Chicago trick is to mute different drum sounds in different sections of the track to provide rhythmic variation. Cutting out the clap or snare would work well in this case, offering a slightly different groove and tone for a few bars before dropping them both back in and returning to the full beat. This is easily achieved in software by automating channel mutes or track volumes, or just by deleting MIDI notes in your arrangement.


Step 4

The closed hats play 16th notes throughout the beat. It’s important here to include some variation in the velocity of the hats otherwise the groove can easily sound too robotic. Triggering every other closed hat at a slightly lower velocity should be enough to make things sound a bit less rigid, or you could go further like we have in this case and use a few different velocity settings over the course of the bar.

We’ve gone for straight timing, but you could also choose at this stage to add a little swing to emphasise the groove of the closed hats.


Step 5

The open hat is a simple pattern, triggered at full velocity on every offbeat.

Note that we’ve chosen not to use mute groups on this beat, so the closed hat and the open hat both trigger together. To change the groove slightly you could choose to omit the closed hat whenever the open hat is triggered or you could set up a mute group so that the decay of the open hat is cut off when the next closed hat plays.


Step 6

Finally, we add the classic Chicago house rimshot using a TR-707 sample. With the basic groove already in place, you can trigger the rimshot pretty much anywhere in the bar and it’ll sound good, but triggering it on even-numbered 16th note divisions helps to create a syncopated rhythm and adds a jacking feel to the beat.

We’re going for a very raw sound so further bus processing isn’t strictly necessary, but you could use a little light compression to glue the sounds together. At this stage you can also adjust the reverb setting to taste. For an even more dirty sound, run the entire drum bus through a tape emulator on a lo-fi setting to knock off some high frequencies, add a small amount of saturation and maybe even introduce some tape hiss.



To download the samples for this beat, click here.

If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.

7th February, 2014

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