How to give your beats personality with lo-fi and distortion effects

MusicRadar's best of 2018: Drum tracks almost always sound better and more characterful with a bit of saturation, whether it's just a touch of subtle warming and harmonic enhancement or distortion of the overt, decimating kind.

Here, we'll show you how to slice and 'reprogram' a drum loop to give it an old-school sampled feel, then mess toughen it up with plugins for an edgy final product. For the complete Create Unique Beats feature, pick up the August edition of Computer Music.

Step 1: There’s nothing like taking a shiny modern drum break and turning it into something fit for a lo-fi-sounding, sample-based track. After loading the files beginning ‘HipHop…’ into a 90bpm project (click here to download), start by making the break sound more suited to the music surrounding it using repitching.

Step 2: Here in Live 10, we double-click the HipHopBreak region, then select Repitch from the clip’s Warp mode menu - this will make the break fit the tempo by adjusting the speed in a similar way to the pitch control on a turntable, giving a lower pitched sound overall. After this, slice the region to a new MIDI track.

Step 3: Open the new MIDI clip, select all the notes, then bring the velocity up to 127 to boost the volume of the drums. Select the first and second kick note in each bar, and move them onto Slice 1 so that the main kick consistently triggers the same audio slice.

Step 4: Make all the snare notes on beats 2 and 4 trigger Slice 6 for a more consistent snare sound. Next, it’s processing time! We add Kush Audio’s UBK-1 to the main kick (Slice 1) with the Density and Saturation at 12 o’clock, and Compression at 2 o’clock - this fattens the kick up. Next, we’ll process the snare…

Step 5: Cableguys WaveShaper CM is ace for adding grit to any sound - add it to the main snare (Slice 6) and choose the Hard Distortion preset. The snare pops out and sounds more ‘rugged’. Pull the Output level down to around -2dB to relevel, then duplicate the drum break’s MIDI clip across the arrangement.

Step 6: We’ll finish by grunging up the entire break. Add iZotope Trash 2, then set distortion Stage 1 to Tape Saturation with the Drive at 5 and Output gain set to -10dB. This gives the drum break a slamming, NWA-esque tone. Adding D16’s Decimort 2 (set to the 16-bit 16kHz preset) adds a touch of 90s sampler flavour.