I often write songs around drum loops or midi drum beats that I create on Ableton live. These are convenient when you don’t have a place or the budget to record a live drummer. In my creative process, I am usually eager to get to the lyrics, verses, choruses or anything that helps me get the song going. The only problem is that after I am done with the song, I take a break from it and don’t listen to it for a while. Once I come back to it I find myself feeling like the midi drum or even synth parts take away from the emotion of the song. The reason is that I feel they sound stiff, unreal and static; especially if I put my track on a playlist alongside with music by other artists that I really like. This is really hard to admit when a song is yours, it is even harder to listen to after accepting the defeat. And it’s not just me. Other people I respect have noticed this stiffness in some of the instruments. My musician friends have made comments about it in the past.
I have found a good solution to this issue. I’ll start by getting to the heart of the problem: I always pencil in midi notes and performances with the pencil tool on either Ableton Live or Pro Tools. I lay them down right on the grid, I get into this rigid mentality that things have to be perfect. My ears start to adapt to this mentality, as you may already know, our ears have an amazing capability of adapting to sounds and things we don’t even really like; think of many Pop songs that get suck in our heads 😉
Anyway, I know some people nudge things around to make them sound more human and help the groove. But I have tried this and what ends up happening is that it sounds like random timing with no real “human” groove. Let me define a good groove. First of all, Listen to anything by J Dilla, Flying Lotus, or Burial (And sure I could talk about live drummers but I want to focus on electronic or hip hop driven material on this post). These guys have an understanding of rhythmic patterns with ebb and flow, push and pull, a feel that is so complex that it is hard to break down and explain. But here’s the good news, I think a good groove simply happens when you as an imperfect human work on something, practice it over and over, and finally perform it the best you can. That’s it. And when you combine that with someone else’s groove or simply another loop, then there’s a nice rub that creates tension and makes things sound big.
And finally, don’t forget to play with midi velocities. Make sure velocities do something other than just changing the volume of things. Velocities can affect filters, LFO’s, or even trigger new sample layers.
Let me show you what I’m talking about in the video below, enjoy!
*** Secondary drum loop courtesy of Goldbaby Samples, awesome product!
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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