Beyond The Beat: Using Rhythmic Drones


Drones: they’re only good for that Ambient stuff, right? Well, not exactly!

Don’t get me wrong, drones and Ambient music go together like butter and toast but today, I want to share another use for those long, hovering slices of sonic atmosphere with you - to spice up your drum sounds.

‘Wait a minute, how could this possibly work?’, I hear you cry; ‘they’ll only end up muddying the mix and getting in the way of my precious transients!’

Maybe you’re right, maybe we’ll leave this one alone…or, perhaps a short demonstration is in order? Let’s tuck in!

1. Boom and Bap

Let’s begin with some drums then, shall we? When you working with samples, it’s easy to fall into the Robo-step trap of simply triggering the same sample multiple times, which more often than not can sound a bit stale, stilted and boring.

You often get away with it in relation to kick and snare sounds but for hi hats that typically repeat many times in 1/16th notes, this static character and lifelessness frequently just doesn’t sound good, unless of course that’s the effect you’re going for.

Here’s a drum pattern made using one of the kits from our Vapour - Drum Samples pack:

I think you’ll agree that the kicks and snares sound punchy and inviting, but the hats let the beat down a bit by their sheer consistency. We need movement people!

Now, there are a number of ways we could go about combating this - we could dive deeper into our sampler and set LFOs in motion to modify the hi hats over time, or scrap the sound entirely and work with a multi-sampled drum kit.

These are all solid options - however, I want to explore a third, which is where the drones come flying in, right on time.

I’m going to have a dig through another recent pack of ours, Artifact - SFX & Texture Loops, which is packed full of drones, processed field recordings and other bits of useful sound design paraphernalia.

I want to track down something that will mix well with the hi hat sound, but that will also embellish it and add some movement - here’s a noisy texture called ‘Artifact_NoiseSwell04’:

This sound has some nice high frequency energy and atmosphere, as well as momentum and movement over its duration - in other words, it’s a great fit for my purpose here.

Time to setup a noise gate - if I send the hi hat signal out to a bus and use this as the sidechain signal for a noise gate placed on the noise texture’s track, I can use the hi hat pattern to envelope the noise. Here’s how this sounds:

The sound is still too full in terms of its spectrum to really mix well with the hi hat - it’ll sound too obviously like two separate sonic entities playing at the same time as things stand currently.

If I scoop out lots of the low end from the noise texture however, it will go a long way to alleviating this - here’s how this sounds mixed back in with the hi hat:

This is a much subtler effect, adding some nice movement to the original hat part. Of course we could go subtler still and pull the texture back further in the mix, it’s all a question of how apparent you want the effect to sound.

2. Kick Down The Hatch

Let’s try something similar with the kick sound - this time however, I want to pair a much more bass-focused sound with my original drum part, so I’m going to root through the ‘Bass Drones’ folder of Artifact.

I like this sound:

Copying the procedure for gating the hi hat, I have a new noise gate setup to envelope the bass drone which sounds like this when mixed back in with the kick:

It’s a little more obvious than in the hi hat example but I still like the effect - it adds some tonal character to a part of the drum kit that is typically left fairly dry and unchanging.

Here’s how the kick sounds plus the hi hat pattern:

Punchy, yet moving in a certain direction - I like where this is going!

3. Layering The Snare

Now for the snare - this time, I want to try to find something that’s deliberately more ‘musical’ than your typical drum sound, to really add a different, unusual quality to the initial percussive vibe.

Back within Artifact, I’ve found an ethereal ambiance with a deep, orchestral quality to it that I like the sound of:

Once more, let’s setup a fresh bus channel and noise gate to envelope the ambience via the snare pattern. As with the texture I used on the hi hat, I’ll need to do a bit of EQing to get the sound to blend a little better with its drum sample partner, though as I said above I’m happy for this sound to stand out a little more than the others.

Having scooped out some lows and emphasised the high frequency band, here’s how the ambiance sound works with the snare part:

Now, here’s our full, embellished beat:

I think we’ve definitely improved our initial drum groove, turning it into something far more characterful and teeming with internal movement and energy. Not bad for 10 minutes of work!

Just for fun, here’s how the beat sounds with the drum parts removed:

I wonder if this could be used for anything? Maybe we’ll save this for next time…


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