Making the Beat #3

Build This Mountain

This time, we’re taking it to the next level! We’re going beyond the typical Hip Hop bangers and see what we can learn from more orchestral, classy types of songs.

In fact, this article will make you apply some strong orchestral techniques to pounding beats in a heartbeat! And I’m pretty sure that it will help you to create your own unique sound.

The second half of the song showcases a part of the full version demo featuring Whitney Houston and Usher songwriter: Dejuan Turrentine.

This time’s game changing techniques include:

1. The power of cymbals

  • 1.1 Strong-arming with Crashes & Tuttis
  • 1.2 Building the tension with Crescendos
  • 1.3 Getting classy: Rides & Chimes

2. The 808 as an all-rounder

1. The Power of Cymbals

Cymbals can make a huge difference in your beats. By using multiple different types of cymbals throughout the song, panning and pitching them and varying their velocity the right way, your beat can become so much better. You can basically turn a simple programmed beat into your own musical piece of art.

So, to get the most out of your Cymbals, here are some techniques that I use, which you can apply to your productions right away. 

cymbal samples

1.1 Strong-Arming with Crashes & Tuttis

Probably, you are already quite familiar with crashes and you know what to use them for: To create that punch at the start of a bar or sequence. Especially when you have some sort of a buildup in your beat, crashes are vital for giving your drop or chorus an explosive start. But just putting a single crash at the beginning of every bar doesn’t always really do the trick. So, if you want a really stunning impact, these simple tricks might work for you:

Technique #1: Different crashes for different sequences.

It’s simple, but effective: Try putting different crashes in different parts of your beat and vary their velocity and volume. By putting the heaviest, most thundering crash at the starting point of the most intense part of your beat (usually the drop or hook), you can really increase the impact of that section.

Technique #2: Expand your crashes by using Tuttis or other hits.

The single most powerful technique that orchestras use to create an impressive impact are Tuttis. While this may seem complicated, it is basically stacking hits of hard-hitting (percussion) instruments on top of each other. And it works great. You’ll find loads of sounds suitable in the Ultimate Percussion Jungle premium package to do this.

In Build This Mountain, you can hear Tutti’s at 0:14, 0:29, 0:43 & 0:58.

The most common form is a combination of splashing crashes and Timpanis, sometimes accompanied by a huge, low pitched bass drum or a low Gong or Tam Tam.
If you experiment with these and add non-percussive instruments as well (for example brass and bass), you can really add a brilliant extra layer to the transitions between sequences.

To get you going, I included the Tutti that I used in Build This Mountain and two extra Gong’s for you in the download link below, so you can start testing this technique right away.

Technique #3: Use (soft) panned crashes to make your snares explode

So far, we’ve only talked about increasing the impact of the start of the hook, but crashes can also serve amazingly well to increase the toughness of your snare. The only problem is: if we would put crashes on every snare, the beat would become a total mess.

You can prevent this mess very easily by using softer, Chinese Crashes (a crash with a distinct more muffled sound compared to normal crashes, which contain more high frequencies). You do this by taking two different ones, pan one of them to the left and one of them to right, reduce their velocity, and put them variably on only the regular snares (on the 2nd and 4th beat). This will really transform your normal snares into smacking ones with ‘natural’ reverb!
I’ve also included such Chinese Crashes in the Build This Mountain drum download below.

1.2 Building tension with Crescendos

Have you ever heard of the term Crescendo? The Crescendo originated in classical music and it stands for ‘a gradual increase in intensity or loudness. It is basically starting to play something very softly and then progressively increasing the velocity and volume. And for really great dynamics and detonating hooks and drops, these are the way to go!

Crescendo Drum Sounds

(Crescendo as displayed in sheet music.)

While Crescendos can be applied to any instrument, I found that the most effective ones are cymbal and Timpani Crescendos. In Build This Mountain, I used 2 different cymbal Crescendos (at 0:42, 0:56 & 1:11) that I also included for you to download in the link below.

As they build up tension, it usually works best to use them as a transition to something strong, especially as a prelude to a Tutti.
To ensure that the transition is strong and smooth, you have to set up the Tutti (or crash) to cut of the Crescendo, so they don’t overlap. (If you have an MPC, or a similar AKAI product, you can do this by putting both sounds in the same Mute Group.)

1.3 Getting Classy: Rides & Chimes

Besides the crashes, Crescendos and Gongs, there are two other cymbals that you can use to take your beat to the next level:

•  Rides

Rides are a substitute for hi-hats. A great examples of rides you can hear throughout the verses in this worldwide hit by Beyonce and Jay-Z:

Rides can also be great in the parts of a song where you don´t want any heavy drums or percussion, but where you do want some rhythm. This is how I used them in Build This Mountain (1:12 – 1:16).
In order to get a smooth, realistic, and 3D sound use multiple (4 or more) different ones and pan some of them to the left and some of them to the right.

If you want a stronger, more metal kind of sound, you can try using rides that are played on the bell of the cymbal. To hear the difference between hitting the body or the bell of the ride, check this short video:

•  Chimes

Putting Chimes on the 1st beat of a sequence can give your song a nice sparkle. Stack two identical sounds on top of each other and pan one completely to the left and one completely to the right. Combine this with a crash and a Tutti and it will instantly transform you from a producer in a home studio into a conductor of a large orchestra.

2. The 808 as an all-rounder

When you think about 808, you probably think about Dirty South or Trap Music right? But 808s can be great in almost any type of genre. You just have to adapt the role they play in the song. There are three ways of using 808 sounds to strengthen your beat that work for almost any type of track.

Technique #4: Optimize any kick with a short, soft 808 kick

If you feel that your kick is nice and punchy, but it lacks the low, try to add a really short 808 kick and reduce the velocity. This will add the low you need, while people won’t even hear that you put an 808 in!

Technique #5: Snapping snares with an 808 snare

Sometimes you have an awesome sounding snare, but you can’t get it snappy. If this is the case, putting an 808 Snare on top might be the solution!

Technique #6: The 808 as bass-line supporter

As you can hear in the hook of Build This Mountain (0:58 – 1:12), the bass line is simply an 808 kick. This works out very well if you want to add a strong, ultra-low layer without too much rhythm and riffs to your beat. In some cases, you might even be able to combine an 808 pattern with another bass line. In that case, you would need to apply a high-pass filter to the bass line that is played by, for example, a bass guitar and a low-pass filter to the 808 kick.

- You can find all the drum sounds used in this beat in my Premium Drum Packs. -

Read more: Making the Beat #4