2 posts categorized "BrandonF42088"

September 16, 2013

Using the Hi-Hat Adjusted Attack Technique for Better Groove and Feeling

Conquering the Hi-Hat Stiffness Problem


One thing many beatmakers struggle with (myself formerly included) is getting their drums to sound more live and not so stiff. I specifically struggled with the most commonly repetitive element in a drum pattern: the closed hi-hat. This is a topic frequently brought up among beatmakers, and it has taken a long time for me to understand some of the more subtle techniques to add feel and groove to a drum pattern effectively and purposefully.

Here is a list of techniques I learned and used over the years in previous beats to achieve a more live and less repetitive sound with hi-hats:

• Layering hi-hats over each other.
• Using a few different hi-hats and alternating the velocity and pitch a little between hits (usually a little higher pitch on the harder velocity notice and slightly lower pitch on the softer velocity notes).
• Playing them in live no quantize.
• Quantizing them and then shifting them forward or backward.
• Sampling a breakbeat and filtering out the lows so you are left with a just the hi-hats and laying the filtered break over your programmed hi-hats.

These are all effective techniques especially when used in the right combination together. However, one of the more elusive techniques, which I discovered a few months ago, has turned out to be one of the most effective.

I started making beats on Propellerhead’s Reason 4, mostly using the Redrum virtual drum machine for my drums. Redrum is a great machine for adding feeling and dynamics to a drum beat quickly, as its user interface makes it very easy. A short while after using Reason, I transitioned away from the computer environment and moved to the Akai MPC 2000xl and then later the MPC 5000. One thing that caught my attention was how different the drums sounded, not only sonically but the feeling and groove of them, particularly with the closed hi-hats. In the MPC, my hi-hats seemed stiffer and un-alive compared to Redrum. I decided to do a comparison between the two to try and understand why Redrum was sounding more alive.

I loaded a drum kit I into Redrum, and then loaded the same kit into the MPC. The drum kit contained three drum samples: a kick, a snare, and a hi-hat. Then, I programmed into Redrum a simple drum beat (all events at the same velocity) and then used the same drum beat and programmed it into my MPC at the same tempo with quantize and no swing or shuffle (knowing this is going to sound robotic, but making any differences more obvious). As I noticed before, there was a very subtle difference, Redrum seemed a bit less stiff than my MPC in terms of the hi-hats. The hi-hats in Redrum sounded like they had more groove. I recorded the MPC’s output and Redrum output into Pro Tools and lined up the waveforms. They lined up perfectly and the waveforms looked just about identical.

I then returned to the MPC to try to figure out how to get a similar groove like the one in Redrum. I started looking around in the MPC’s Step Edit window on my hi-hat track. I reviewed all the options I could use to edit the hi-hat events. There are filters, pitch, velocity, and then attack and decay. I knew Redrum didn’t automatically adjust the pitch or filtering to give it more groove, it seemed more subtle than that. Then I contemplated the attack parameter. I started to adjust the attack on the hi-hat events inside the MPC making the attack slightly less steep on random hi-hat events. Then when I played back the MPC it suddenly had that similar kind of feel as Redrum, but it had even a bit more with some bounce. My guess is, at the standard medium velocity Redrum slightly rounds the attack, whereas the MPC leaves it up to you to adjust the attack and velocity separately. Following this comparison between Reason and the MPC, I discovered how effective it is to adjust the attack time on hi-hat events.

After discovering this attack technique, I used it on the next beat I made. I played in the hi-hats on the MPC quantized to the beat with varying velocity. Then, I went into the step edit window on the hi-hat track. I looked at the various velocities I had recorded and started adjusting the attack time. I made a steeper attack for harder velocity hits and softer attack for lower velocity hits. I then adjusted the decay to shorten the duration of the lower hits to add more variety.

This hi-hat adjusted attack technique is one of the most effective techniques for livening up programmed hi-hats. I encourage beatmakers to try this technique when encountering stiff sounding hi-hats or other drum elements; it works great on kicks and snares as well. These subtle differences may seem small but they really add up when it comes to the groove and feel of a beat. If done properly these techniques can make a drum beat much more interesting, lively, and less repetitive.

Below are two audio clips of a drum beat. The second clip has the hi-hats with adjusted attack and decay.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

January 31, 2012

When You Mix with Headphones, the Key is Translation

Why Mixing with Headphones Sounds Different, and How You Can Still Get a Good Mix Using Them


Recently, a member of The BeatTips Community (TBC) posted this question:

So when i'm workin on a beat i'm wearing the beats by dre studio headphones, but when i take em off and listen to the beat once it's done it sounds completely different i just realized with this beat i just finished. what could cause that?

Below is the thread exchange, which includes replies from TBC moderators Castro Beats and BrandonF42088 and myself.

Castro Beats:
You're going to have to explain a little more. Do you mean the beat sounds different in another pair of headphones compared to the Beats by Dre headphones or you're listening to it on speakers/monitors in comparison to the Beats by Dre headphones?

And then, what sounds different about it from one to the other, bass response, treble etc

For starters most headphones don't have a flat response, and also make sure you have no odd EQ settings on whatever it is you're playing your music back with.

I make the beats in reason on my iMac with the dre headphones on. I did the mixing with the headphones on and it sounded how i wanted it to. But when i listen 2 it just playin off of my computer the beat sounds nothing like what i was hearing before. I can barely hear the bass, the drums sound weaker, and the whole thing sounds so thin. The problem i'm having i guess is if i'm guna b playin it for people n want em 2 hear it the same way as when i had my headphones on since the sound quality is obv alot higher then the built-in mac speakers, should i just not use the headphone when
doin it.

Castro Beats
There is a philosophy that if you can get a mix to sound good on a bad pair of speakers (NS10) then it will sound good anywhere else.

If there are moves you made in your mix inside Reason that are not translating to what your bouncing it could be because a bypass switch is on, signals have not been properly routed or really a vast amount of other issues. Also make sure that your playback device (windows media player, winamp) isn't using an EQ setting other than flat response, no reverb or other fx that might alter your newly exported mix.

If you're simply saying that the iMac PC speaker doesn't sound as good as dedicated headphones then, albeit an opinion oriented statement, yes most people would agree. To my knowledge the built-in iMac speaker doesn't have the same diameter of the Beats by Dre headphones meaning it cannot match the bass response, not to mention the proximity to your ear is a factor as well. All things being equal, the engineers at Apple design computers, not speakers. If you have actual stand alone PC speakers then that's a different issue. A mix should sound the same everywhere you take it, but I will say that trying to mix/hear bass on built-in computer, and some stand-alone computer speakers, is truly an exercise in futility. Mixing in headphones is considered an art in some circles, so no reason to not mix with them. However, the car seems to be a generally agreed on venue to get an accurate mix as well as comparison to professionally mixed material.

Scram Jones told me to play a Dre record on my speakers/setup, then play my mix/beats. Get a feel for how Dre's mix is and how yours is. When your mix starts to sound like Dre mix, your onto something.

The Beats by Dre Studio headphones IMO are high end consumer headphones not really meant for monitoring. The Beats by Dre make music sound really good because of boosted low end for bass and a boosted high end.

The difference between these headphones and say the Sony MDR-7506 for example is the fact that the Sony have a more flat frequency response meaning they are made for an accurate reproduction of the frequency spectrum. This is what you want when you are mixing so you can spot problems in your mix.

I have had this same problem when I was using consumer headphones. I would take off the headphones and listen to my beat somewhere else and it would sound nothing like it did on the headphones. For example: the bass would be lacking and my samples would be sounding very thin and other elements would be obviously too loud etc.

If you are going to be using headphones for your mixes I would recommend something with a very flat frequency response. The Sony MDR-7506 are a standard and they are only 100$ and you will notice a major difference with how your mixes start to translate.
There are plenty of other options out there as well but I would say in the 100$ price range its hard to beat the Sony's.

Here's my reply:

I think this is a simple translation issue. Castro gave a great response, but it might have been a bit overwhelming at first. There's a lot to unpack in it, so be sure to return to it; he drops a lot of jewels in his response....

Like Brandon, yourself, and probably countless others, I've run into this problem before. And, typically, it's simply a "translation" issue. I use a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones, so I can attest to their quality and response. However, that being said, even using Beats By Dre headphones, you can train your ear to account for the missing bass.

For example, I once used consumer grade stereo speakers as my monitors. They produced a LOT of low end and very bright highs. So I trained my ear to mix for what wasn't "really" there. It took a lot of A/B mixing and listening across several playback systems, but I was able to figure out how those speakers translated. So regardless of what headphones that you use, always be mindful of how they translate. Listen to a commercial CD that you know in your Beats headphone and on your computer and on any other playback system that you have access to. Take notes on how it resonates, then you'll have a better idea of what to do when mixing your music with headphones and/or monitors.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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