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Use Your Drum Sounds to Improve Your Compositional Workflow

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Knowing Your Drum Sounds Makes for a More Efficient Compositional Workflow

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Compositional workflow, the collective processes, methods, and time it takes a beatmaker to create a beat, can be improved in a number of different ways. Depending on the individual EMPI (Electronic Music Production Instrument), the steps within most beatmaking processes can be condensed. Likewise, the various methods of achieving particular production goals can be realized, retooled, and/or retranslated in ways that bring about desired results faster and more efficiently. Even the reshuffling of one’s production environment can improve workflow. (Do not under estimate the power of a comfortable chair and/or a good view.) But among the countless ways to improve compositional workflow, often the most overlooked way can be found in the area of drum sounds and drum sound modification.

Most beatmakers—myself included—take pride in crafting their drum sounds, despite the fact that there are also lots of beatmakers who depend (heavily) on pre-set drum sounds with little to no customization at all. For those beatmakers who see their drums as a major component of their overall production identity, individualized drum sound customization is key. But that being said, the processes of drum sound customization can impede workflow whenever they are overly applied during the making of a beat. This is why simply knowing your drum sounds is a great way to improve compositional workflow.

Check it out… Whenever I’m making a beat, I choose my drum sounds quickly because I know them. I know their texture; I know their color; I know what types of sounds they’ll go well with; I know how they’ll sit and sound in the final mix. So for me, selecting the right drums for the right style and sound of beat that I’m working on at the moment doesn’t involve a prolonged scroll through my drum library.

And although I may make a couple of modifications to a drum sound during the process of making a beat, those tweaks are minimum and on the fly, nothing too tedious or vibe busting. Again: I know my sounds, so I reach for the sounds that I think may fit with the current arrangement that I’m working on. I do not, however, embark upon some sort of drum-tweaking journey that can shift my focus from the beat—the entire arrangement—to just drum sounds. Moreover, I do not allow my workflow to be disrupted by a prolonged search of a drum sound folder. This is yet another reason why I like to keep my drum sound library tight with a reasonable number of sounds. In other words, when I’m composing a beat, I’m leery of shifting too far away from composer to drum sound technician, or anything else for that matter.

Compositional workflow determines your ability to harness your creative moments in real time. Therefore, the longer your compositional workflow is disrupted, that is to say, the longer the act of composing is left on hold—in this case, by drum craft or “tech” work—the more you defeat your ability to harness your creative moments. This is why it’s just as important to look for ways that improve your compositional workflow as it is to guard against anything that can inhibit it.

Now, technically speaking, any tweak of a drum sound during the creation of a beat makes you a “drum sound technician,” which, in effect, disrupts your compositional workflow. But to what degree? During the “live vibe/feel” of making a beat, should the arrangement and scope of the beat be placed on hold until you tweak drum sounds to perfection? Or should drum sounds defer to the overall arrangement, with little to no consideration of their fit within the arrangement? What I mean here is, is easier to find what fits from a well-known personal arsenal of drum sounds than it is from a big box of endless unknown sounds? Further, isn’t it better to spend time making major tweaks to a drum sound, in a stand-alone context outside of the beat arrangement at hand? I certainly believe there is a time for major tweaks—customization—of drum sounds, in a stand-alone context. This is why I strongly believe that it’s important to set aside time for beatmaking sessions that are solely for the purpose of going through new drum sounds, modifying them to specific taste, and creating a trusted core set of drum sounds.

But implementing extensive drum sound modifications and/or a prolonged drum sound selection process during the composition phase of making a beat can disrupt your flow of ideas, and severely limit your ability to bring about the beat you envisioned. Simply knowing your drum sounds, particularly a core set of sounds, can improve your compositional workflow and cut down considerably the amount of time it takes you to complete a beat from start to finish.


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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • I believe in taking the time before any project to accustom yourself with the sounds you plan to use, or create for the track. This time spent in the beginning will save you time further down the line.
    As you said it is very important to get accustomed to these sounds.
    We’ve written an article that might compliment this post on Rhythm and Tempo and how they define genre. Maybe you would be interested 🙂http://phatmastering.com/the-backbeat-combining-rhythm-and-tempo/
    Well done Amir!

  • I somehow like the different approach. I love listening to new sounds, and more sounds you hear more ideas about making something different will emerge. But Nice post Amir!!.