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Tweaking Hip Hop
Drum Sounds

--page 3

Hip Hop series page 1   2   3

The Basics of the Hip Hop Drum Kit 


Drum sounds used in hip hop cover a huge spectrum.  Hip Hop has a wider universe of drum sounds than any other genre of music, from squeaky clean studio quality kits to total train wrecks of effects.  Drum sounds may be lifted from records, may be from your sample collection or may be synthesized.  You can even record a real drum kit!  Or any combination.



Waveform of a typical HH kik

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) BPM Beat Production Software
BPM unites drum machine-style operation with advanced virtual instrument technology to give you the ultimate rhythm programming experience. Combine drum kits, sequenced patterns, sliced loops and instrument sounds to realize your rhythmic vision, mixing and matching any playing style with any drum kit. Or plug in your pad controller or MIDI keyboard to capture your live, groove-quantized performance directly in BPM.

Sony SoundForge Stereo Editing Software (Windows)
The industry standard in digital audio editing is Sony's full-featured Sound Forge audio editor -- designed with the audio professional in mind.

Steinberg WaveLab Audio Editing and Mastering Software (Windows)
WaveLab 6 is the all-in-one solution for professional mastering, high resolution multi-channel audio editing, audio restoration, sample design and radio broadcast work right through to complete CD/DVD-A production. Already a standard application for digital audio editing and processing due to its outstanding flexibility and pristine audio quality, Wavelab is used worldwide by top professionals and audio enthusiasts alike.

Propellerhead ReCycle (Macintosh and Windows)
Loopists, groovists, samplists! A new world is about to open up before your very ears! New and improved ReCycle 2.0 solves all your groove related problems and lets you get truly creative in the process.

Kick drum sounds.  Probably most characteristic of Hip hop is a kick drum with strong sub bass qualities.  There are many ways to create these, but perhaps the best way is through synthesis.  Many classic hip hop "kits" are derived from the Roland 808 sand 909 drum machines, which used analog waveforms coupled with lo bit samples through filters to make most of the sounds. 

The typical sub kick is constructed from scratch as follows:  A low, short sine wave is put through a fast pitch envelope that rapidly drops the note of the sine wave by an octave or two.  This happens so fast you don't really hear the pitch dropping, but an attack followed by a thud.  Processing that helps get more lowness is to put a high pass filter (the opposite of what you might think) and set it to around 50-100 HZ and turn the resonance up high.  This gives a massive boost right at the cutoff, but leaves enough definition in the upper frequencies to give a sense of a clean attack.  It also helps remove some of the sub bass that is not musically useful under 50 Hz, but keeps the sub bass you feel and hear.  If its too peaky, cut the resonance, but if it get wimpy when you do that, consider adding compression or limiting. 

To get the kind of low sustained kicks that sound like a musical bass note you can put a long release time on the compressor or limiter and push the threshold way down, to the point of abuse. The Waves L1 is perfect for this task.  This essentially squashes the volume against the ceiling.  The release on the compressor or limiter can make the kick tight or flabby.  Your artistic vision decides.


Digidesign Mbox 2 Pro FireWire Audio/MIDI Interface
The Mbox 2 Pro is a portable, high-definition audio/MIDI production system that delivers truly professional sound quality. Packing an impressive variety of connection options into a compact interface, Mbox 2 Pro puts powerful multitrack recording and mixing capabilities into your hands, so you can create wherever inspiration strikes. Mbox 2 Pro also includes award-winning, industry-standard Pro Tools LE software and a huge collection of pro effects and instrument plug-ins to get you started creating right away.

Tweak: The MBox2 Pro is well equipped for developing samples.  It has phono inputs for an analog turntable, digital i/o and BNC word clock connectors which will allow it to sync word clocks with other digital gear.  Firewire is a big step up from the USB 1.1 Mbox 2.  All Mboxs come with Pro Tools LE software. 


Snare sounds.  Choosing the snare is typically based on the metaphor of orchestration.  Clean, distorted, full, or heavily filtered and compressed, all are fair game.  Often enough, mid range frequencies are enhanced though and the "bright" frequencies around 4kHz are left alone.  The high frequencies may be boosted to make the snare "fizzy".  Electronic 808/909 snares are often modified with eq, or real snare drum hits are compressed to bring out more grit and nastiness then downsampled, eq'd and recompressed for a classic low-fi snare. The snare is often understated, though there are no real rules here, other than staying out of the way of the vocals.  Unlike in pop music, the snare does not have to be centered.  Nor does it have to be dominant. 

Hats.  Again the metaphor may determine the hats.  From full bodied heavy sticked hits, to tinny electronic noise bursts with the high frequencies boosted and the lower frequencies rolled off.  Hats are usually grooved on 16th notes, but not every 16th note, which would give it an electronica flavor

Claps.  The original 808/909 handclaps never sounded like real handclaps and in most hip hop productions the handclaps are deliberately artificial.  Samplists who make kits for electronica and club music have long been tweaking the claps and the Hip Hop artists were quick to steal their methods. You will often hear 3 or 4 handclap samples together.  These make be compressed, equalized, reversed, use time stretching, raised or lowered in pitch and often have reverb and delay added in generous amounts.   In Hip Hop the claps are staged much like a snare is in rock and pop music.  It usually comes down on a quarter note and may flam up at the end of a 16 or 8 bar pattern.

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) BPM Beat Production Software
BPM unites drum machine-style operation with advanced virtual instrument technology to give you the ultimate rhythm programming experience. Combine drum kits, sequenced patterns, sliced loops and instrument sounds to realize your rhythmic vision, mixing and matching any playing style with any drum kit. Or plug in your pad controller or MIDI keyboard to capture your live, groove-quantized performance directly in BPM.

Tweak:  BPM is fantastic for hip hop beatmaking.  Build your own drum kits with any sample material you can find.  Write your own patterns, tweak with onboard FX.  By putting audio loops on the pads you can actually make the whole beat inside of BPM.  If you want those Low kicks, they are here.  You can also tweak up your own from raw waveforms inside this software. 

Tweaking Tools of the Trade: audio editors

Slicers: Intakt by Native Instruments also can do wild things with audio loops, though it is now discontinued.  It will quickly slice and map a loop and allows you to edit each slice.   Recycle is also for dissecting audio loops into slices which can be mapped to a soft sampler's keyboard and effected as an individual sample.  However, unless you have a specific reason for using Recycle,  like importing samples Stylus RMX, etc., I suggest you try a newer solution.   BPM, Guru, Kontakt, Logic will all slice beats. 

Editors: Sony's Sound Forge and Steinberg's Wavelab works well with editing audio on PCs.  On the Mac there is Bias Peak and Apple's Soundtrack pro. 

Concluding for now

I hope I have given you some worthwhile information and insight into creating hip hop beats.  I wish you the best in your artistic endeavors.

I am, Tweaked
Feb 2008 Revised

Hip Hop series page 1   2   3


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Recording and Composition

Recording and Composition INDEX
Recording Process Made Simple
Inspiration and Style
Step-by-Step: How to write a Song
Write Drum tracks without a Drummer
Hip Hop Beat Construction Made Simple
Hip Hop Production and Mixing
Hip Hop Drum Tweaks
Using Electronic Drum Kits
How to Record Vocals
Preparing for a Vocal Session
Vocal Processing
Recording Guitars
Using Compressors
Using Effects Processors
Buying a MultiTrack: Watch Out!
Using an AW1600 Recorder
Podcasting from your Home Studio
MultiTrack Recorder Price List
Outboard FX Price List
Studio Racks List




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