March 30, 2023
Blog by Thomas Lack
Hot off the heels of Tuesday's Draft Funk release, we have the 4th in our Pop 40 Series of production drum kits! Pop 40 Drums: Justin offers you the freedom to create your own rhythm, and add a fresh new layer of sound to your pop tracks. Whether you're producing an upbeat dance number or a heartfelt ballad, Justin's signature sound will add a level of energy and emotion that is sure to captivate your audience.
As easy as it is to make your own beats in Soundpaint, everyone gets stuck sometimes. Pop beats can be pretty simple at their core, but we can still break them down into smaller elements. Let’s discuss some tips for making your beats your own, so you can create tracks that truly reflect your unique style and vision.
A Few Beats to Keep in Mind
Drum beats are an essential part of creating Top 40 music. They set the tone and pace for the song, and can make the difference between a hit and a miss. Making a great drum beat requires a combination of creativity, technical skill, and a good understanding of the genre you're working in.
#1: Keep It Simple
One of the most important things to remember when making drum beats for Top 40 music is to keep it simple. Top 40 songs are often characterized by catchy hooks, memorable melodies, and infectious beats. To achieve this, you don't always need to create complex drum patterns or use intricate rhythms. Intricate beats can be great, they might not be catchy, so make sure you don’t go overboard for your track. Instead, focus on creating a solid foundation for the song with an effective beat.
#2: Emphasize the Kick and Snare
In terms of creating a solid foundation, the bass and snare are paramount. They are almost always the backbone of the beat, providing a strong, driving rhythm that keeps the song moving. The kick and snare help musicians and the audience stay oriented when performing and listening alike. This does not mean that the kick and snare have to stay stagnant throughout the whole song, though. Varying the strong notes in a pattern can be a good way to transition, grab attention, or turn up the groove. As a writer, coming back to these key elements can ground you, too, so try experimenting with different kick and snare patterns to find the one that best fits the style of the song, and then work from there. Without a strong foundation, simple and complex beats alike can crumble before your ears.
#3: Use a Variety of Sounds
While simplicity is key, variety is the spice of life… Anyway, varying sounds and elements can help keep the beat interesting and dynamic, and prevent it from becoming repetitive or boring. It’s yet another reason that loops can become stale pretty quickly. There are several kits in each Pop 40 collection, and we keep the mapping symmetrical across all Soundpaint drums. This makes it easy to experiment with different drum sounds and layer sounds together to create a unique and memorable beat.
#4: Don’t Forget the Tempo
It’s so obvious we sometimes don’t even think about it, but the tempo has a huge impact on the overall feel and energy of the song. If it’s any kind of “dance” genre, it should probably be a tempo that feels good to dance to (or headbang, or toe-tap, or whatever appendage you like to groove with). 120 to 130 beats per minute (BPM) is pretty common, but it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule. Some Top 40 songs have a slower, more relaxed tempo. When creating a beat, think about the reason you chose the specific tempo, and make sure the drums enforce that reasoning.
#5: Use Dynamics to Create Interest
Drums will probably be pretty loud, and they cut through other instruments and vocals pretty naturally. This actually gives you a lot of freedom to change how loud the drums are, both within one beat and between two beats. We already mentioned that the kick and snare are important, so they will likely be the loudest part of a beat, but adding or removing accents can add variety and interest. Bringing the drums down or up in the mix can also create a sense of tension and release.
#6: Use Effects to Add Texture
Effects have great power, which is why we make them such a central part of Soundpaint. Preset Programs will have effects applied already, so if you find something you like, try turning the effects off and on to see how it impacts the sound. Adding effects such as delay or distortion to your drum sounds can add texture and depth, making your beat stand out. Filters can create some really cool sounds, too - for example, you could map a low pass filter cutoff to the mod wheel and turn it down to create an “outside the club” sound. Don’t forget about the pitch, either! Raising or lowering the pitch of the whole kit might really lock it into the rest of the track - or you can automate the pitch to add another layer of motion to the beat. Try experimenting with different effects and settings to create a unique sound that fits the style of the song.
#7: Listen to Other Songs
When you listen to music, you always hear the drum beat, but you might not always really listen to it. Taking a short (or extended) break to listen to other music is useful in a lot of ways: it can help reset your brain if you’re feeling stuck, it can calibrate your ears if you’re caught up in mixing, it can be educational and motivating, and it can just be fun. If you are working on a drum beat specifically, make sure you really pay attention to the drums when you listen to other music - what makes it interesting to you? How does it relate to the rest of the instruments? How often does it change, and for what purpose? You might incorporate some of these elements, or they might spark a new idea. This can help you stay current with the latest trends in popular music.
#8: Don’t Be Afraid to Get off the Grid
Depending on the song, the drums (or at least the strong beats) may need to be precise. And if you’re using the ARP in Soundpaint, the drums will be on the grid. This is not a bad thing, but it might not be the best thing for a song. You can add swing to the arp to change up the groove (you can also assign an LFO to the swing so it’s always changing). You can play in the beats and not quantize them (or at least, not fully quantize them) to preserve some of the human element. So, play around with the exact timing to keep the beat organic.
Our goal in Soundpaint is to make all the technical mumbo-jumbo simple so you can get to the creative process as quickly as possible. It’s a central theme of all of our instruments, and especially true of the Pop 40 Drums. But if you get stuck, hopefully one of these pointers will give you a push in the right direction. If you have any other tips for making beats, we’d love to hear about them over on the Soundpaint Discord!