Break beats, for those unfamiliar with the term, are the parts of old records where the drums would play by themselves. These would become a crucial part of hip hop. These provided the backbone to many songs, if not albums in the early years. This was before producers started chopping up the individual drum sounds in the breaks to re-arrange them into their own patterns.
These days, break beats are still a large factor in music. Less in hip hop, however they are used in Industrial music, Drum and Bass, even Dubstep. Don’t believe me? Here’s the classic break “Amen Brother” by The Winstons. First at normal speed, and then sped up:
Sounds a little familiar, right? One of the things a lot of techno producers use are really fast drum loops. Some of these drum loops, at least to me, sound very much like sped-up break beats. This is a drum loop that comes standard in FL Studio.
Sounds a lot like a sped-up version of the break example I played, doesn’t it?
Since my background is mainly hip hop, I’m going to focus this tutorial mainly on how to get your regular, out of the box drums sound like a dusty break off an old record. I’ll also show you how to get the same effect with a virtual drumming plugin, as well as show you how to save your loops for further re-use, how to slice and save the breaks for creating your own patterns, and how to save the effects chain as a mixer preset to re-use at the click of a button.
Here’s an example of what we’ll be creating. The first part is a standard drum loop, comprised of three standard FL Studio drum sounds with no effects, and then the second half with this method implemented.
Pretty sweet, right? Okay, let’s get started.
Part 1: Regular Drums
First, you’re going to need to get these plug-ins. They’re all VSTs, and they’re all FREE. We are going to need:
So download all of these, and put them in your VST Plugins folder. The usual location is something around the lines of: Computer > C > Program Files > Vstplugins.
Once you have all of those installed, it’s time to open up FL Studio. We have to get the program to recognize the newly installed VSTs. To do so, got to: Channel > Add One > More.
This will bring up a dialogue box. At the bottom, click “Refresh,” then “Fast Scan.”
This will show you your new VST plugins in red. Use them in good health. Moving on.
Now comes the really fun part. Program your drums in the sequencer.
My version of FL Studio is defaulted to have just the four tracks. Yours may vary. I’ve left up the Browser up to show you that the drums I’m using in my example are nothing special.
This is how the drums sound right now:
These are basic, day one drums. The first ones some of you probably ever used. Since developing this technique, I have revitalized my drum collection, being able to breathe new life into old and boring sounds.
The drums you see above have a 53% Swing added to them. Here is what the drums sound like with no added Swing, and then Swing added in:
Also, don’t forget about customizing the velocity of your hits. Again, we’re going for that human feel. I know this program has several humanizing presets, but as I don’t use them, and prefer to do any of that myself, I’ll leave that up to you.
In the individual channels for each drum sound, make sure each is being sent to a mixer track. It’s important, trust me. It also wouldn’t hurt to label them as well.
Now, what you’re going to want to do, is route all of your drums in the loop to a Send channel. This is achieved by going through each drum track in the mixer, and right-clicking the little yellow arrow on Send 1.
Like the name would suggest, we are sending the sound from the original channel to another one. The reason we’re not going to just add all the effects to each channel is because:
- tt would take up way too much CPU, slowing the program down, and
- this way, it will effect the entire kit, and we can tweak each sound individually if need be.
A quick side note would be to label your Send channel. Minor detail, I know, but trust me, labeling tracks will be a godsend for when you start doing this more and more. It’ll just be a good habit to use if you want to avoid a major headache.
This is where experimentation really comes into play, the effects chain. The example I provide is what I found to work for me personally. However, you are more than free to try your own settings, and try to find the sound you’re looking for. The best part is, there’s no wrong way for how to do this, even with the order of the plugins. Just shifting the order of the same plugins can generate a completely different effect.
I’ll explain these as we go along.
The first is TB TimeMachine.
It is, in essence, a bitcrusher. This automatically gives drums a more diminished sound, as the title suggests. However the results can be harder to hear on cleaner drums. So, like I said earlier, it’s good to experiment.
The setting I’m using for this one is the 12-bit preset. It degrades the sound subtly, while leaving us with a still cleanish signal.
How our loop sounds:
Next is Fruity Reeverb.
We want this to give the drums a space, much like a real kit has. We want a subtle effect here however. If it overpowers, it kind of makes it too obvious. The key here is subtly. While many of the original breaks may have been recorded in a live setting, very few of them sound echoey. The setting we’ll use here is just going to be the default.
How our loop sounds:
Then, we’re going to use the Fruity Compressor. I put it after the reverb so that it would harness the sound, and affect everything in the mix. Like I said before, some breaks may have been recorded in live settings. The reverb gives the break a live feel, but the compressor will be used to sort of control how much echo we hear.
You can use the image to match the settings. If you have trouble getting the precise number you’re going after, you can hold down the Ctrl button for the best results. This should work with everything, by the way.
Here’s how our loop sounds:
It may sound harsh by itself, but trust me, it’ll sound great in context. We want the compressor here to act more like a safety net, and make sure all the sounds are even, and it sounds a bit more uniform. You can definitely hear the reverb being compressed, and the dynamic is being squashed. That’s being done intentionally here. Again, it’ll sound better with more effects.
Next is RIAA.
This thing is simple, and crazy at the same time. It has two functions with the Mode knob, and it can be tricky. The knob easily jitters to either setting, and it can be a bit annoying.
What this plugin does is make any sound you have sound like a record. It seems to give everything a muddy sound, but in a good way. I tend to keep it in Regular RIAA mode. No need to add any gain. In fact, I’ve actually had to turn my kick down because of how much this thing added to them. I didn’t think that was possible.
Here’s how our loop sounds:
Now, because of the bass frequencies this plugin adds, I had to lower the kick down to only 45%. (Seriously, it packs a punch.) I also had to lower the level of the plugin on the mixer channel to 45%.
Then, it’s Imperfection.
I leave it on the Imperfection preset, but definitely give the others a whirl.
Here’s how our loop sounds:
Next, time for Classic Delay.
Admittedly, you don’t really need this. I had it on here, but thought the effect was overpowering the original sound. A Delay plugin creates a thicker, layered sound. You may want to use it, and that’s fine. I used the Clean Digital preset in this instance. I decided to keep the plugin in the chain just in case.
How our loop sounds with the Delay added:
And finally, it’s time for iZotope Vinyl.
I can’t tell you just how much use I’ve gotten out of this one since I’ve gotten my hands on it. This was always my go-to tool when something had to sound vintage. The only difference between this and the other plugins is that in order to get it, you have to give them your email address, and I know some people don’t like that. I guarantee this to be one of the most useful plugins you’ll have in your arsenal if you dig that vintage sound.
Anyway, for this plugin, I start with the 70s Single preset. Then I start to tweak the settings. I start by turning the year up to 1980 for more bass presence. Turn down the Mechanical Noise, as well as the Electrical Noise. Then turn the Wear to 50%. This is what really degrades the sound the more you turn it up. Adjust the Dust and Scratch settings to your liking. I generally leave the Scratch at 0.2 dB, and put the Dust at 6.7 dB.
So there you have it, kids! How our loop sounds:
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Like I said, by all means, experiment with the sounds and presets for every plugin here. You never know what you’re going to come up with. And hey, the sounds you create may just become your signature production trick.
Part 2: Mixer Presets
If you’re happy with the sound you have created, you may like to save it as a Mixer preset. This way, you can simply drag it over to the Mixer channel and all the same effects in the chain will show up exactly as before with the same exact presets. This is very simple.
When you’re satisfied with your overall effect, go to the upper left corner of the mixer to a drop down arrow. Then go to: File > Save mixer track as.
A new dialogue box will pop up. Notice where it says it’s saving to.
The preset we will create is going to be stored by default in the Mixer presets folder. This is located on the Browser right above Packs.
Name your preset as something you’re likely to remember it by. For this project, I’m going to call mine “Dusty Break.” Then hit Save.
Once this is done, open the Mixer Presets folder. See, our preset is right there.
It’ll be a good idea to test it. Go into an unused channel and drag the preset over to it. Toggle between that new channel and our break channel. The FX should look identical.
And there you have it, how to preserve your FX chain for later use.
Part 3: Virtual Drummers
These can be quite effective tools. They are just what the name suggests, a virtual drumming machine. These can be used to create realistic drum patterns that sound like someone is actually playing them live. They also have the capability of having each channel be routed to its own Mixer channel, whereupon individual effects can be added.
If you don’t have this software, don’t worry about it. I just intend to show that the same effect can be also utilized here.
For this example, I’m going to use EZdrummer.
Open the software, and let it load.
Then delete all the other Sequencer tracks, and assign EZdrummer to Channel 1.
Hit the Open Mixer button in the EZdrummer interface.
Go to the first channel in the mixer. It should be labeled as “Kick.” Right click where it says “Trk 1” and a list of routing options should pop up. At the bottom of that list is the option for “Multichannel.” Select it.
Because we assigned EZdrummer to Channel 1, this routing option will put each of these drum sounds on their own channels in the Mixer. Go ahead and label each Mixer Channel with the names of the drums being routed. The names for each channel can be found in the Drummer Mixer.
Sequence your drum pattern in the Piano Roll for EZdrummer.
Now that you have the drum sequence that you’re happy with, it’s time to tweak the routing. Since you labeled your Mixer tracks, the Room channel should be on Insert 7. This is essentially what we did in Part One, where we put all the drum sounds to a Send. We’re going to solo this channel.
The reason behind this method of only affecting the room sound, is that on those old records that had the break beats, most of those songs were recorded almost live. So all the elements of the song were in a room together and recorded that way. What we hear on those breaks were basically the room sounds. And that’s why we’re just utilizing the room sound of our break beat here.
So now, on this channel, we’re going to add the same FX chain to this channel. Remember the Mixer preset we created in Part 2? Well all we have to do is drag it over to the Mixer channel.
And there you have it. It couldn’t be simpler. Now, I will say, the preset may not sound as great on these drums as they did on the other ones. That’s normal. Presets are merely a starting point. There is no magic button. This is where you experiment to find the best sound.
One thing I want to point out is that with EZdrummer, I’m using the default kit here. There are different kits you can use. I am a big fan of the Vintage Rock kit. These sound like the old records even more. The examples I’ve shown are done without any FX added, so you can hear the difference in sound kits. Check them out:
Here’s the drum pattern played with the default kit:
Here’s the drum pattern played with the vintage kit:
Pretty cool, huh?
Part 4: Loops for Posterity
Now that you know how to create custom loops, it’s time to save them so you can customize them and use them over and over again in the future. You get a great sound that has that vibe you were going for, and you won’t need to worry about any legal issues.
Once you’re happy with the way your loop sounds, it’s time now to save it for future use. Basically, you can save it anywhere, but let’s say we want to have a folder in FL Studio where we’ll store this and many others in the future. Go to: File > Export > Wave file. (Ctrl + R shortcut) This brings up this dialogue box:
For most people, I think it defaults to save to Projects. We want to create a folder that shows up in FL Studio when we open it. So we have to create that. Click on the Up One Level button on the dialogue box.
Clicking it will bring you to the Data folder. Click onto the Patches folder.
The Patches folder has several sub-folders in it. These are what appear in the Sequencer. You could create your loop folder here if you wanted. I like staying organized, so I’ll put mine in Packs. This is where I browse for sounds anyway, so it’ll be easy for me to find. Like I say, it’s all entirely up to you about the particulars. This is just how I do it.
Click on the New Folder button, and then name it as you will. I’ll call mine “Sas’ Break Loops.”
This way, they’ll all be there for when I want to dissect each loop for individual sounds. But more on that later.
Name your loop as something you’ll remember. You might use the date. Again, all entirely up to you. After you’ve named it, click OK.
See. There’s a new folder in the Packs folder. Open it. And voila! Our loop is there.
So that’s how you save all the loops you made into a custom new folder. Moving right along…
Part 5: Kits from Loops
Now that we have some saved loops, what do we do with them? Well, we could just use them as straight-up loops. But what I enjoyed doing is cutting up the breaks and using each drum hit to create my own patterns, so that’s what we’re going to do here. We’re going to create our own kit.
There are many ways to do it, but we’re going to be really quick and dirty today. We’re gonna do it all inside FL Studio. And in here, there’s a couple ways to do it. However, we’re just going to look at Edison today.
In a Mixer Channel, insert Edison. The channel isn’t important. It can be the Master Channel. To insert Edison, go to any channel on the Mixer. In an available FX slot, insert Edison.
With the Edison interface up on the screen, open up the folder you saved your loops in. Find the loop you want to dissect, and drag it into Edison.
With your sample loaded, figure out which specific drum hits you want for your kit, and highlight them with the cursor. I’ll use a kick for my example.
Now, what I like to do, is edit the hit before I trim it down to size. You might trim it down and then export it. Again, all up to you. So what I’m going to do here, is Highlight the kick and then I want to make the selection Fade Out so it sounds smooth and natural, versus a very abrupt end. It can be done in the individual channels, but I’d rather spend the time crafting the music while the idea is still fresh.
So now, with the kick hit highlighted, I’m going to make the sound Fade Out. I’m going to accomplish this by hitting the Fade Out button. Very technical, I know. With that done, the kick hit should look something like this:
You can do further editing here if you’d like. I.e. using a Gate, compressing, EQing, etc. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to do a quick fade out for my example.
Now that that’s done, we have to separate this sound from the sample so that that the entire loop doesn’t export. To do this, we keep the kick highlighted and we go to: Edit > Trim. (Shortcut: Ctrl + Del)
Now we have our hit all by itself. Time to export it. To do this, we’re going to hit the Save As… button. Located here:
When the dialogue box comes up, we have to decide where we’re going to save the sounds in our kit. Much like the last section, we’re going to want to create a folder for our kit. Click the Up One Level button until you come to the FL Studio # folder. It will have these folders in it:
We should probably create a folder in a similar place as we did in the last section for simplicity’s sake. So, as I’m sure you all remember, the route from this point is: FL Studio # > Data > Patches > Packs.
Create a folder for the kit you’re going to assemble. Name it as something you’ll remember. Since this hit is a kick, I can call this “Dusty_Kick_001.” This tells me that this is a dusty kit I’m working with. As for why I have three spaces for additional sounds, I like the possibility of adding hundreds of sounds to a kit.
So now, when we go to open our drum kit folder, we see our sound we made in it.
You can also create sub-folders for each drum sound so you’re not going through a long list for everything.
So now, you can go back to the original loop in Edison and get to work on the rest of the drum hits. To do this, it’s very simple. In Edison, go to: Edit > Undo History > Load ___.
Your loop is most likely named something different than mine, but that’s how you get Edison back to that stage. Now, you just edit and export.
Part 6: Experimentation
This is the best part. You can take unlimited sounds, and combine them for your custom sounds. I’ve been wanting to do this since the days of Kanye’s first record when I first heard that insane Snare/Clap he used to use on a bunch of tracks. That was one of his little signatures that told you he did the beat.
This is easy. Take a few kicks at a time, and layer them on the same hit on the Sequencer. Mute some of them to see which ones sound really good together. Tweak the velocities and panning to create a real unique sound. Then, simply adjust the amounts of beats per bar on the Sequencer, add effects if you wish now, or hold on until editing.
Export the sound to a folder of your choosing, then edit it like before. Add effects until your heart’s content. Go crazy.
This is something I’ve been dying to work out for years and years of just loving the hell out of those gritty New York beats from the Nineties. Like I’ve said throughout this tutorial, nothing here is set in stone. The great thing about music is that some of the best achievements have happened from experimenting, or simply by pure accident.
I’m glad that producers in other genres love these breaks as much as I do. Some people might be hesitant to use samples because of copyright reasons. But with this method, you’re making your own sounds, and you get to make them (hopefully) sound similar to the breaks you would normally use.
I hope you learned something from this tutorial. I really had a fun time figuring this method out for myself over the years of trying. I’m very happy with the results. And hey, if you make a kick-ass track that incorporates a break you created, share a link to it below! It’s always welcome! Happy creating!