Our step-by-step drum programming series focuses on an upbeat chillwave beat inspired by the likes of Toro Y Moi, Washed Out and Com Truise.
Beat Dissected is a regular series which deconstructs drum patterns, showing you how to program them in any DAW. Just copy the grids in your own software to recreate the loop.
Here’s the complete beat we’ll be making this week:
Mixed digital, analogue and acoustic hits
Lay down the kicks with a basic four-to-the-floor pattern, then add ghost hits as shown below (click the images to enlarge). You can start adding some swing at this point as well, to generate the kind of flavour you want.
Next in is a snappy clap with a halo of subtle reverb that hits on the second and fourth beat of the bar. In this example we used a cheap mic to record our own handclap in the studio, experimenting with the distance from the mic to balance room ambience with the direct sound and find a result that compliments our kick.
We’ve also nudged the clap very slightly to the left on the grid to give more prominence to the attack transient of the clap and create a rushed, urgent feel. Pushing the clap back in time (to the right on the grid) has the effect of lessening the impact of the transient, resulting in a slightly lazier groove.
The hi-hat line is what brings this simple beat to life. Choose a tight sound – either from one of the aforementioned drum machines, or a live sample – then program the disco-influenced line shown below. Note the variations in velocity; these, alongside the swing, are fundamental to generating the beat’s ‘live’ feel, and it’s worth spending a little time experimenting with them – different values can bestow a very different feel to the line. To refine the hi-hat line still further you can experiment with nudging the hits slightly off-grid and amending the sample’s attack and release envelopes to sculpt the sound.
Step 4 is about refining the hi-hat parts. Another two sounds are introduced; a middle ‘pedal’-style hit and an open hat. Choice of sounds is, once again, key, with the major consideration being sounds that work with the hat you’ve already got in place (alongside the kick and clap, of course).
The mid sound mirrors the kick drum, adding definition to it on beats 1, 3 and 4 in the first measure and every beat in the second. The volume of this part can be fairly low – it’s only meant to fill out the upper part of the frequency spectrum to give the hi-hat parts a consistent flow.
The ‘missing’ second pedal hat is supplied by a subtle open hat sample in the first bar. Elsewhere the open hat line provides a counterpoint interplay with the two other hat parts. As far as sounds go, you can start getting creative here. We’ve used a very light white noise-style sound. You may also get good results from dirtier, more characterful samples.
To complete the beat, add a snare drum part. We’ve opted for an artificial ‘hollow’ sound for this snare – it’s meant to play second fiddle to the clap (and the hats too), so pull its volume back and tweak its attack envelope settings so that it doesn’t interfere with the already programmed beat. In fact, the snare’s main contribution to the groove is the tasty little skip at the end of each bar, gently easing the groove forward. Obviously this part can be muted, only playing at fills or transitions (perhaps at a higher volume).
At this point in the beat – if you haven’t done so before – it’s worth strapping a compressor across the drum bus and getting pretty heavy with it. Although we’ve avoided over-compressing this beat so that you can hear what’s going on, chillwave beats are frequently heavily compressed, often with a sidechain compressor triggered by the kick.
When your beat is complete, further refine any compression settings. If your characterful sidechain pump across the whole beat is lessening the impact of the kick (and/or snare), then try routing an aux send from the kick to a second bus to treat it on its own and then introduce this second bus back into the mix to supply bite, definition or bottom end as necessary.
If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.