Crafting a custom kick from separate envelope sections

Using layering to give you more powerful drums

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PRODUCTION EXPO 2014: Today's radio and club tunes are punchy and powerful, and this perception usually begins with clinical drum elements. Whether you prefer to use single one-shots, sampled breakbeats or recorded drums, a fully-rounded beat will give you that solid backbone to build everything else around. You may want to create a completely new hard-hitting sound from scratch, or just beef up an existing sound in a subtle way – both are achievable by clever layering techniques.

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So how exactly does layering give you more powerful drums? Using your DAW (or sampler)'s basic editing functions, you can isolate an acoustic hit's splash, a synthetic hit's initial transient punch, and another's weighty sustain. Relate these layers to the ADSR envelope of a sound – place your 'attack' transient sample first, fade it quickly into a 'sustain' sample, then layer the acoustic hit over the top for a realistic 'release'.

You can also just simply layer sounds that complement each other from the off. A dull, bass-heavy kick drum will often layer well with a kick that contains plenty of top-end click and splash; high- and/or low-pass filtering will help carve out room for each layer in the mix, ensuring frequency clashing is minimised; envelope shapers or samplers can be used to shape the volume response of each hit and help them to work well together.

The blending of acoustic and electronic textures can be effective in creating that powerful yet 'realistic' tone that many single one-shots lack. A recorded kick from a live kit, recorded noise or a vinyl crackle can all be blended in to give synthesised drums some life and realism. You can also add a wide, high-passed stereo layer over a solid mono sound to provide '3D' depth whilst maintaining a core mono foundation for the club.

While many producers prefer to find a single hit that embodies all the sought-after characteristics, that sample might well have been created through layering. Layering lets you craft a bespoke drum hit that's unique to you – a 'signature sound' that no one else has.

For more videos like this check out Computer Music issue 199.