In the latest Beat Dissected, we focus on retro-influenced sound design to create a synthwave groove.
Beat Dissected is a regular series in which we deconstruct drum patterns, showing you how to program them in any DAW. Just copy our grid in your own software to recreate the loop.
Here’s the beat we’re building today:
Sounds80s/90s drum machines
For the kick, we’ve started with a sample taken from the Akai XR10, a cheap digital drum machine from the early 90s. We’ve added Valhalla’s VintageVerb set to a non-linear patch for a gated 80s style and added just a small amount of the reverb to the mix.
After the reverb, we’ve also used an EQ – in this case, FabFilter’s Pro Q 2 – to cut off some of the honkiness of the kick as well as some of the transient grit.
The pattern is straightforward, triggering on the first and third beat of each bar. We’ve added a hit on the final 16th of the last bar to provide a turnaround variation.
For the snare, we’ve used a sample from the Sequential Circuits DrumTraks which we’ve pitched down for a fatter tone. Again we’ve used the Valhalla VintageVerb to give the snare some depth and space.
We’ve also used FabFilter’s Saturn plugin as an EQ/saturation processor, with small cuts of certain frequencies to help focus the snare. The wet/dry mix is set to 80% in this case.
The pattern is once again very simple. At this point we’re building the backbone of the beat, with the bulk of the groove’s character to be provided by the hi-hats in the next step.
The open and closed hi-hats are also based on DrumTraks samples. We’ve used an EQ to cut off anything below 100 Hz, and a small cut of about 2dB at 3.5 kHz just to tame the higher frequencies.
The hi-hat pattern provides the main rhythmic interest throughout the groove, with the steady 16th-note closed hi-hat pattern modulated slightly through velocity variations. The open hat is used sparingly, cropping up only once per bar to provide impetus into the next.
The 32nd-note hit towards the end of the second bar keeps the listener on their toes, and will play nicely with the claps we add in the final step.
The claps are based on DrumTraks samples once again. We’ve used an EQ to cut off anything below 100 Hz, providing plenty of space for the lower frequency elements. We’ve also added a Valhalla reverb with a similar setting to the one we used on the kick, emulating a gated reverb. Finally, another instance of Saturn helps to add some saturation and shaping of the clap.
On the drum bus, we’ve added a limiter to provide a tiny hint of extra loudness but mainly just to avoid clipping. In this case we’ve gone for very simple bus processing, but you could take this beat in a few different directions, from warm and fuzzy analogue saturation at one end of the scale, through to heavy compression and bright, in-your-face EQing at the other.