Sampling is such a given in modern music that we probably don’t give it much thought these days – lifting a musical loop, breakbeat or even spoken word sample from someone else’s record is almost second nature to producers and has been commonplace since the explosion of sampling in the early 1980s.
However, these samples are available to anyone else who has that record, sample pack or library. There’s something nice about creating your own, but the often clinical recordings that are so easy to make these days can lack a bit character that we’re so used to hearing on our favourite soul, jazz, funk and Motown records.
In this article, I’ll try to assimilate the sound of the 60s/70s drum recordings that we often reach for, starting out with a modern multi-track recording. A lot of what I’m discussing here has been picked up from Hal Ritson of Replay Heaven/The Young Punx, who is a dab-hand at this sort of processing. You can hear him at work in this great Computer Music video or a more specific Music Tech Magazine one focusing on drums, both of which were a great inspiration in writing this.
I’m going to try and turn a modern, sterile recording into something with a bit more character using only plugins, most of them native to Live. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this recording at all but I want it to sound like it was recorded in the 60s or 70s in a non-optimum environment, like many funk, soul, funk, jazz and Motown records were.
I’m starting off with some stems from a recording done a few years back. The kit was recorded without any processing and, as they are at the moment, sound quite bland. I’m just using the kick, snare and overheads tracks for simplicity, but if you have hi-hats, toms and other percussion, you can apply this technique to it, too. Close-miking techniques were not standard practice until the mid-80s. So although I’m going to use the kick drum stem, the overhead microphones will be the dominant sound.
To start off, I’m going to solo add an instance of PSP Vintage Warmer to each track using the Mix semiDriven Tape setting. This is a subtle yet effective plugin, simulating the sound of light tape saturation.
Now I’m going to group the tracks (using cmd + g while they’re shift-selected) and apply another instance of Vintage Warmer to the group, this time using the Track Tape Normal preset. I’ve added Live’s Glue Compressor, adjusting the threshold to match my material. I’ve left the Attack, Release and Ratio values as they are and have enabled the Soft Clip.
Next I’m going to add the Max4Live Convolution Reverb on a send/return channel. I’ve loaded the Old Plate preset, turning the wet value to 100%. I’m sending the Drum Group to this Return and using the Utility plugin afterwards to reduce the result down to mono. Although my overheads are recorded in stereo, often plate reverbs used in the recordings we are aiming to simulate were a mono send/return channel.
I’m going to use Live’s EQ8 to roll off some bottom and top end. Older recordings don’t have the same sonic profile as modern ones, so shaving off some sub and higher frequencies can get us a bit closer to that. I’m using the 12 db/oct low and high cut filters so as to not be too drastic. You can also use this opportunity to boost/attenuate certain frequencies if you like. If you have any other EQs you prefer to use then that’s fine, particularly channel-strip emulations.
Our break is sounding good, but not quite convincing yet. I’ve added some Waves plugins: firstly the CLA-76 Compressor, using the Rock My Snare preset, and the SSL G-Channel using a tweaked version of the Snare Drum preset, importantly disabling the gate.
Create a blank audio track and select the input in the I/O section to Resample and record the results to it. In other DAWs you can Bounce In Place (Logic) or simply export the results as an audio file and re-import it.
It’s beginning to sound there or thereabouts. A few more of Live’s plugins: I’m going to use the A Bit Warmer and Hot Tubes presets on the Saturator device, adjusting the Dry/Wet values to taste.
Next I’m going to add some convincing loops of vinyl crackle and tape hiss on new audio tracks. Group the tracks together (drums, vinyl crackle and tape hiss) by shift selecting them and pressing cmd + g, now we can process this group together. I’m going to use iZotope’s free vinyl plugin to age our recording a bit (sadly this is 32-bit only).
Set the year to 1970 and add a tiny bit of mechanical and electrical noise to roughen up our sample a bit – be conservative though, as they you can easily ruin the sound by adding too much. I’ve added Waves Kramer PIE Compressor directly after that, using the Norm Close Room Comp preset, slowing the decay time down.
Record this on to another blank audio track.
Now we have a convincing sample, as if it were lifted from a record found crate digging in a charity shop: a fairly rough recording, but workable. The best samples are often second or third generation, by that I mean they might have been recorded in the 60s or 70s, then sampled by Hip Hop artists in the 80s only to be resampled by some Jungle/DnB producers in the 90s.
At each stage the signal path is processed with different channel strips, compressors, EQs and sampled using different technology, degrading its quality slightly. It may have been undesirable at the time, but this distorted lo-fi sound is what makes a lot of classic samples sound good to us.
Samplers in the 80s had much smaller memory allocations than modern ones, sometimes as little as 2 seconds. One way to get around this was to record something in a higher speed then pitch it down manually. I’m going to switch the clip’s warping algorithm to Re-pitch. This is going to adjust the pitch of the audio when the tempo is increased or decreased, as vinyl or tape would. Now, moving from tempo from 90bpm up to 94 is pitching the drums up slightly.
If you’re working with harmonic or melodic content, consider turning the clip’s warp off and using the transpose function. Although re-pitch sounds great on drums, it makes more musical content’s pitch inaccurate, so be wary.
Next, I’m going to use an Audio Effects Rack by Ableton user Illum which emulates the classic E-mu SP-1200 sampler really nicely. The SP-1200 was used extensively by early Hip Hop and house producers, and has a renowned sound. You can see a video of it in action here and download the .adg here.
The only changes I’ve made to it are removing the Frequency Shifter (which I wont be using) and setting the Sample Rate Macro to around 2. Now add Live’s Dynamic Tube with the Warm Tube preset and we’re ready to move on. Two key factors in emulating older samplers is having a reduced Sample Rate (number of samples per second) and Bit Depth (resolution of amplitude).
If your kit is becoming too boomy consider EQ or multi-band compression to isolate the problematic areas (often low toms). De-essing can also work great on attenuating cymbals that have become too raspy from all the overdrive added.
To develop the sound further you could turn the clip’s warp off, isolate hits and portions, add them to a sampler and program something new, record it, EQ, compress, resample and re-pitch it. A really great way to layer breaks is with tambourines, so have a go at recording one (doesn’t matter if the timing is off, you can warp it). Layering your beats will get the most convincing sound out of them.
That’s it! To further emulate the sounds of Hip Hop, House Jungle/DnB records, try taking your resulting audio files and processing them within Drum Racks/EXS24/Kontakt or similar. Having the ability to use amplitude envelopes and further transpose the hits will introduce all sorts of artefacts that will sound great.
Here’s the original loop we started with and the finished audio. You can download the Ableton project here.
Hal Replay Heaven/The Young Punx kindly offered to develop the sound a little further. Here’s a further level of abstraction, taking the resulting audio from the above example, pitched it up and retriggered in a sampler at 125 bpm.
Then, dividing the output into 3 parallel send/returns we have Camel Audio’s CamelPhat (which I want to note will be sorely missed) adding some saturation and a pumping ‘sidechain’ effect to the mid-range of the sound. The fake sidechain compression is achieved by adding a 1/4 beat tempo-synced Ramp Up LFO to the volume of the output.
On the next return, we have the Waves Trans-X Transient Shaper adding some bite to the snare and upper mids. Ableton sadly doesn’t come with a transient shaper, but Logic has the Enveloper, which would return a similar result. On the final return there’s the Waves Renaissance Bass adding some boom to the bottom end. Again, Live doesn’t cater for this sort of effect, where-as Logic’s Sub Bass would suffice. Now we have a Chemical Brothers/The Prodigy-style break.
Hal provides a further alternative approach to resampling the loop. It has been cut up again, added to a new sampler instrument and pitched up further still. Now, programming a more 2-step DnB loop with the MIDI at around 168 bpm, we have a convincing Alex Reece Pulp Fiction break. A small room reverb has been added to fill out where the amplitude envelope has tightened up each hit.
It’s taken all these layers of ‘virtual history’ to make it sound authentic, and is pretty far removed from our original loop and would not had we just programmed the drums straight out of a drum machine.
Check out Hal’s work on recreating classic sounding breaks in these Sample Magic packs.