Our latest beat programming and sound design tutorial focuses on the classic sound of early Detroit techno with a 909-based pattern which demonstrates a range of techniques for creating raw, vintage-style drum sounds.

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-909 samples

Step 1

Staying true to one of the most iconic pieces of gear used to create so many early Detroit productions, the sounds in this beat all come from the Roland TR-909. We’ve run our 909 samples through an Akai MPC60 for the slightly gritty crunch the 12-bit sampling engine adds. If you don’t have access to any 12-bit hardware you could achieve similar results with a bitcrusher such as D16 Decimort.

We start with the kick, which is as simple as it gets: a four-to-the-floor pattern with no variation. You could add ghost hits if you really wanted, but this isn’t really the time or place to get too complex with the kick pattern. This beat is all about a straightforward, functional groove.

We’ve run the kick sample through SoundToys Decapitator to add subtle distortion, then squashed it with the compressor on SSL’s Duende Native Channel. The aim here is to add punch and introduce just a hint of distortion to make the kick more aggressive. You can see the Decapitator setting we’ve used in the screenshot below. (Click images to enlarge.)



Step 2

For the snare we’ve used Decapitator again, this time on a more extreme setting (below). One of the classic Detroit techniques is to overdrive the inputs of an analogue mixing desk until they begin to break up. Using an analogue-style saturation effect is a good way to achieve similar results in the box.

If you’re using a real 909 you can adjust the tuning of the kick and snare in real time, but since we’re using samples we don’t have control over the original sound. Instead, we’ve pitched the sample down a couple of semitones. This gives a darker, grainier sound than adjusting it on the 909 itself. Rolling off the high end of the snare sound also helps to give a less hi-fi sound.



Step 3

The rimshot helps to fill out the beat. Again, in sound design terms it’s a simple case of taking a 909 sample, running it through the MPC then pitching it down a semitone or two for that slightly grainy texture. We’ve also used a touch of reverb, mixed in at a very low level and resampled so that it becomes part of the decay of the sample itself, filling in the background of the beat with a subtle ambience.

Note that we haven’t used any velocity variations in this beat so far. Instead it’s the interplay of the parts which is going to provide most of the dynamic movement. The way the rimshot and snare patterns work against each other helps to fill in the gaps between kicks (note that the rimshot doesn’t ever hit on the same beat as a kick – it’s being used as a counterpoint rather than reinforcing the rhythm of the kick itself).


Step 4

We’re using two different closed hi-hat sounds, both based on 909 samples with a little reverb and chorus added. The main difference is in the shape of the envelopes and the way they’ve been EQd. Hat 1 has a very sharp attack with lots of high end to cut through the mix, while Hat 2 is a much softer sound with a slower attack and a slightly longer decay.

Although there is a very subtle use of velocity on Hat 2, again it’s the interplay of the hi-hats that helps to create dynamic movement. Adjusting the relative levels of these sounds can give the beat a very different feel.


Step 5

Finally, we add a third hi-hat: a simple open hat sound, again resampled with a touch of chorus and reverb. This is triggered on every off beat. The three hat sounds can be muted individually to provide variations of the beat during different parts of the arrangement. Different effects can also be created by assigning the hi-hats to different mute groups. The standard approach is to assign all three to the same group so that the closed hats cut off the decay of the open hats, but a looser, rougher effect can be created by allowing the tails of the open hats to ring on through the closed hats.

We haven’t used any bus processing here, preferring to stick with a raw, unprocessed sound. A tape emulation plugin such as U-He Satin could be employed to give a subtle gluing effect and a little more saturation if necessary.



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.

15th November, 2013

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