An introduction to Music Production [Part One] – Grooves, Drums, Percussion
You want to start making your own music, and you’re drawn toward the calling of the producer. Programmer, Sound Designer, Mad Scientist, Beat-maker – whatever you want to call it, I’m here to start you off. There is no “set in stone” method, no perfect way to approach music production for the first time. I feel that this chronology has worked as a solid education tool when I’ve implemented it, but feel free to take your time, ask questions, and always be experimenting.
First . . . Music Production is all about the groove, start out by exploring those loops!
Pre-made, royalty-free loops are a gold mine of inspiration and a great place to start! Within the content of popular softsynth programs and top hybrid DAWs like Propellerhead Reason, Native Instruments Komplete, and Ableton Live, you’ll find thousands of different varieties to listen to, manipulate, and use in your own music. The key to developing and designing your own beats is to catalog as many sounds and styles as you can.
At first, there might be a tendency to overuse the same styles and specific loops over and over again. This ‘copy-paste’ style of production you’ll begin to notice how repetitive, unoriginal, and ‘clunky’ things start to sound. Sure, there are exceptions where a repetitive percussive groove for minutes on end is perfectly suitable. Certain genres of house and trance EDM fit the mold with steady patterns and trademark ‘four-on-the floor’ kick drums. But you shouldn’t be afraid to look into some variety.
Feel the tempo and explore these patterns by rearranging the loop, slicing it up, or adding other drum sounds to the hook. One often-overlooked piece of advice would be to vocalize any of your own grooves by recording yourself on a portable digital recorder. Michael Jackson often recorded himself singing and vocalizing all of the drum, instrument, and voice layers in his songs! If it helped the “King of Pop” create legendary tracks, it sure sounds like a good strategy to emulate.
Next . . . Create your Own Patterns
Now that you’ve got grooves running through your head, you’re ready to face a blank audio canvas. Much like loops, there are thousands of short individual samples included with software that contain single drum hits, cymbal sounds, and percussion of all types. Building with these types of samples is the first step to creating your own personalized beats. When programming a groove, many softsynths and drum samplers are laid out with a linear row of ‘step’ positions. These ‘steps’ represent varying fractions of a beat, ranging from a full beat to slices as small as 1/64th of a beat.
Simply choose a sample, an 808 kick drum for example, and place it in the appropriate step position. Choose a new sample and repeat the process until you’ve fleshed out a beat to your liking. Toggle it on and you’ll hear the collective groove run in its entirely at a steady tempo. While it’s possible to program drums with your mouse and keyboard, you’ll find that hardware Production/Groove boxes and drum triggers from top brands like Native Instruments, Novation, Roland, Ableton, Akai, Korg, and others make the process quicker, more streamlined, and even more hands-on.
Actively listen to new musicians and really dive into the details when it comes to your favorites!
See how they put a song together from a music production standpoint and take it in your own direction.
Every musician draws inspiration from those who are currently performing, as well as those who came before. Singers are drawn toward the vocal styling’s of popular figures. Jazz musicians have constantly been listening to the improvisations of their predecessors. EDM producers study the newest, most groundbreaking sound design. We’re in a golden age of incredible creative content, with music available to us from every country on earth!
Don’t limit yourself to rehashing the same types of songs over and over again, try listening to something new! Sure, you might find out later it isn’t for you, but you could also totally surprise yourself. In my experience, the biggest steps forward for aspiring musicians and producers have come after being exposed to something completely unexpected. Listen to new records, make some time to see live music – and buy their album if you really enjoy it! You’ll be surprised at how fresh your approach will be the next time you sit down to produce.
Sample, Sample, Sample
When you hear the word “sample” in the connotation of music production, the first thing comes to mind is one song using a popular, recognizable fragment of another song or audio source in a re-purposed manner. This dates back to the earliest hip-hop, where turntablist DJs and producers incorporated snippets from various vinyl records. These samples were cued up and manipulated by scratching, cutting, and jumping between two turntables using an audio mixer. Over time, samples have been incorporated in every walk of music production. The practice extends outward in every direction from disco, jazz, and funk to pop, numerous genres of EDM, and beyond.
Here are a couple of noteworthy examples:
2Pac’s seminal West Coast shout-out track ‘California Love’ (1995) samples the beat of Joe Cocker’s ‘Woman to Woman’ (1970). The latter’s catchy keyboard lick and punchy horn stabs also make up nearly the entire foundation of the former.
The trademark string phrase in Brittney Spears’ 2003 track ‘Toxic’? That’s from “Tere Mere Beech Mein,’ a piece from the soundtrack of a 1981 Hindi film Ek Duuje Ke Liye. The kicker? The sample was actually two separate fragments of the song that were mixed together.
Modern pop musicians like Ed Sheeran, Nicki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, and Kendrick Lamar are just a few of the many artists that incorporate samples into their work.
Get those tones on record, create your own samples!
So you see, samples don’t need to be vocals. Famous tracks are not the only source from which you can sample. Go ahead and sample yourself! Record guitar chords, melody lines at the piano, or some of your own grooves at the drum kit. Capture the audio with a portable digital recorder or record with a microphone directly into the DAW or applicable softsynth of your choice. Have a friend who plays an unorthodox instrument? Record some of those distinct sounds, get creative, and join forces as co-writers!
Thanks for checking in. Join me next time for an introduction to melody and harmony in your music production!
by Kyle Novak
Click Here to learn about the PreSonus FaderPort 8