Welcome to the second part of my Massive drum sound design series! In Part 1, I showed you how to put together a phat 909 kick sound. This time, it's snares - and here there are even more possibilities for creating textural, timbral and dynamic variations to keep your beats fresh, with a cool live feel.
Anatomy of a Snare Drum
The snare circuit in a 909 drum machine presents itself to us with four rotary controls: Tune, Level, Tone and Snappy. These affect both the timbre of the sound (things like the amount of noise vs. pitch) and the envelope (how sharp the attack is, or how long the decay is). The Level control is fairly self-explanatory - it's a simple overall volume control for the snare. The other controls are more interesting and tell us what's going on behind the scenes!
The fact that there is a Tune control tells us that there is an oscillator - two, in fact. These are sine wave oscillators which are used to represent the modes of the drum shell. The modes are resonant frequencies which become activated when the snare drum is hit, and the frequencies are dependent on the size of the shell (the diameter and the depth, to be precise), getting lower the bigger we get.
The Tone control is basically the cut-off frequency of a low-pass filter, which is filtering the noise component of the signal. A snare hit is mostly broadband noise - that's why it cuts so well through a mix. So we also have a noise generator in there, and it's running through a filter.
Finally, the Snappy control affects how fast the attack of the snare's envelope is. A faster attack represents a tighter snare, being hit with a stick rather than a felt beater, say. This would also set off the snares more, so it also alters the balance between the noise and the pitched (resonant mode) components.
Programming a Basic 909 Snare in Massive
I'm going to set up the pitched aspects of the snare hit first. This involves switching on one of the oscillators (we don't need two, as per the original 909, as we have a wealth of wavetables and tweaks we can make in software). Using a triangle wave (by selecting 'Sin-Tri' from the 'Basic' wavetable list and moving the Wt-Position control all the way up) gives us a bunch of overtones, as would occur naturally in a drum skin, over a shell, being struck. They are a lot quieter than they would be with a saw wave, however. Turn the oscillator's Amp all the way down, and assign Env 1 to it, giving it full travel in the mod amount. Turn the Decay level all the way down in the envelope, so that it dies away even if you hold the note down. Move the oscillator's slider so that it's routed through Filter 1 - you'll see why shortly. I also like to modulate the oscillator with some Ring Modulation here, as it smoothes the tones out without losing the pitched quality that they bring to our snare.
Of course, we need the Noise module switched on. You can experiment with the other noise wavetables here for some awesome snare variations, but for the sake of simplicity let's stick with White noise. Assign Env 2 to it (so we can control its level separately from the pitched component), and give the envelope a longer decay time than the pitched component - this simulates the reverb that the noisy snares would set off in a room. I also like to adjust the Vel slider in this envelope, so that I can change vary the balance of the 'snares' relative to the 'resonance' by hitting the note harder. Move the Noise module's slider all the way to Filter 2, and then switch Filter 2 to the Lowpass 2 setting. Add a hint of the Resonance control, and voila! A 909 snare.
You can assign Macros to the Low-pass cut-off frequency for the Tone control, to the oscillator pitch for the Tune control, and to the noise envelope's attack time and the Mix slider for the Snappy control. There are so many parameters that you can play with now that you've got the power of Massive poised to take this humble snare to new worlds - whack up the resonance on the filter, give the resonant mode oscillator some filter feedback or comb filtering, modulate the Noise module's Colour with an LFO set to the Noise 1 curve setting' The heaviest, craziest and most original snares are yours to imagine!