Fig. 1. Try reversing a waveform to change up your groove. (Note green reverse-kick waveform here.)
It can sometimes be frustrating to work with the same old drum loops over and over again. They have served you well in the past, but sometimes you wish you could just find a way to milk some more life out of them. The following tricks will help you revitalize older drum loops in your mix and discover new sounds without a major overhaul of the groove.
Re-Imagine a Part’s Potential
Try flipping the kick and snare. Reverse the actual waveform and see how it affects the groove. A kick drum with a soft attack will have a much different flavor and “groove sense” then one with a sharp attack. (See Figure 1.)
Vary Your “Acoustic” Space
There are times when I like to place the drums in a different acoustic space from the rest of the instruments; sometimes this can sound disconcerting, and sometimes this can be a stroke of brilliance. Try running a very large reverb on the drums—maybe a large concert hall with a short attack and no predelay. Bring it back on a separate aux track, then move the drums back and forth in space by simply changing the wet/dry relationship until you can get the perfect blend between the two.
Change the reverb to a chorus or a flange and see what the blend of the two tracks does for your mix. You can achieve a very industrial tone in this manner. Other ideas: Distort the drums, run them through a guitar amplifier, over-compress them, limit them to the point of distortion, and then beat them up with a compressor! (We’re talking 5:1 at –15dB after distortion— go big!) Drums can be dirty, nasty, busy, anything they need to be, as long as you retain the groove.
Remix Loops “Live”
I get sick of loops quickly; to me, they become devoid of soul, spontaneity, and band-groove feel. My cure for that is to mix the loops “live,” aka on the fly. Here’s how I set it up:
First, I record the main drum loop—a loop containing a whole kit, or whatever is being used for a kit— and record all of the instruments over it. All the while, I explore the groove by combining loops to see how they sound in the mix. This is an ongoing process throughout the tracking of the song. When I have, say, six or seven loops that I think sound good, I add a separate kick and snare that work with the individual loops as well as the cluster. This assures that I will have predominant back beat without extraneous instruments or noise artifacts.
When my mix is basically set up, before any automation takes place, I bring up all of my loops up on my faders and begin to play them live in the mix via the Mute button. I am always in Write (automation) mode, so if I like something, I can remember what I have done.
I love this technique because it makes the drums feel like they’re alive. You can create unexpected combinations and subtle mistakes that don’t alter the groove, yet give the mix a human feel. If I’m really good, I’ll create passes that are never repeated exactly the same way, which gives the mix a sense of urgency that a band has but a machine lacks.
It all comes down to breaking down barriers in your mind about how drums are “supposed” to sound. With a bit of resourcefulness and time, you will be able to milk brand-new drum-loop sounds for CDs to come.