Renowned drum 'n' bass producer and DJ Paul "InsideInfo" Bondy has released tracks on some of the scene's biggest labels, including Renegade Hardware, Viper, Virus and Hospital, and is the writer of Computer Music's Designer Sounds tutorial series. Here, he shares his top ten tips for knockout DnB productions.
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1. Starting point
Sitting down at a completely blank DAW project page with a view to creating something new, fresh and exciting can be incredibly daunting, so it's always good to have a starting point, even if you end up in a completely different place. Make a folder and stuff it with samples relevant to the idea you intend to roll with. For a typical DnB track, start with a selection of breakbeats, 100Hz-ish kicks and fat snares; cool percussion loops and hits; drum rolls and weird percussion edits. Then add some more creative sounds from your sample library, full tracks of a similar vibe, and even some pictures or quotes that inspire you. When you feel you have enough fuel to stoke the creative fire, load up your project and start throwing it all around.
2. Fascinating rhythm
A drum 'n' bass drum track can follow pretty much any rhythmic pattern imaginable - the main thing that defines it as drum 'n' bass is the tempo (which should be around 168-175bpm, generally speaking). Getting a good drum pattern going is a great way to begin making a track, and a tried-and-tested method is to bring in a few of your favourite old funk breaks and add your own flavour to them using compression, saturation, layering and other processes.
3. Bass intentions
Don't just limit yourself to using synths for your basslines. Try pitching down vocals, bass drums, horns, didgeridoos - whatever you like! - to find interesting textures. Record yourself messing about with the sounds you find, then go back and pick out the best bits for use as the bassline in your track, or just as cool edits.
4. Leading edge
When writing lead lines, you can use the same principle as I've just described for the bass, resampling and processing sounds that don't obviously fit the bill to make them work as interesting lead tones. Or, if you find your existing lead line is sounding a little stale, bring it back to life by chopping it up, reversing it, distorting it and glitching it out.
5. Frequency shaping
Don't let your kick drum interfere with your bassline. Set the main energy of the kick to around 80-100Hz if your bass is booming down at 40Hz, for example, or use sidechaining to chop out the bass frequencies when the kick hits.
If you're layering lots of snares up and they don't sound right, check that the 'punch' of each layer is hitting at around the same frequency, and if it isn't, pitch it up or down accordingly by ear to make it sit better.
6. Defining your Sound
There are many different styles and flavours within drum 'n' bass, and to stand out from the crowd you need to imprint your own stamp on every track you make. It may take some time to find your particular sound, but with time, perseverance and learning your tools inside out, it will come. Bring in influences from other genres and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, Some of the biggest tracks in DnB have been written this way - for example, LK by Marky, using samba-style guitars; Pendulum's big rock style riffs; and the techier side of DnB, which often brings in influences from techno. Innovation usually stems from experimentation.
7. Testing environment
It's helpful to have access to multiple systems on which to test out your tracks. If you're making the kind of tracks you hear while you're out clubbing or at a festival, try and listen to them on the biggest rig you can, even if that just means your mate's PA speakers in the garage! Compare your track to others that sound great on the same system.
Also, all that impressive panning and stereo trickery is probably going to get completely lost on a big PA, so make sure your track works just as well in mono as it does in stereo.
8. Go compare
A great way to compare your track to others that you want it to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with is to mix them together on decks or in DJ software. As well as showing up where your track is lacking, you might notice ideas in the tracks you mix it with that complement yours, which you can then perhaps go back and recreate in your own unique way.
9. Just for laughs
It can be fun to take one of your favourite non-DnB songs and turn it into drum 'n' bass. I'm not talking about making cheesy remixes or sticking a DnB drum loop on top of an MP3, but actually remaking the song from scratch in a DnB style. Look closely at the chord structures and learn what works, what doesn't and how other genres are put together - just by doing this, you'll learn loads about how music and sound work.
10. Breathing space
As with so many things in life, sometimes less is more in drum 'n' bass, so use space and silence to increase the impact and funk. If your drums are too cluttered, try chopping them down to just the bare essentials - for example, sprinkle hi-hats and shakers over the track sparingly, and use tiny chops of drum rolls at the end of every few bars for transitions.
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