How to make your beats more organic
Do you want to make more natural beats? You will be able to do so after reading this article. I’ll show you simple beat programming techniques that will improve the sound and feel of your beats.
Some methods may appear simple and obvious, and they are. However, once you’ve incorporated them into your production toolkit, you’ll notice how effective they are.
Before we get into the beat programming techniques, let’s go over some basic theory.
Let’s start with why we perceive something as organic versus artificial. Also, why you should use what you’ve learned to improve your music.
Why Is It Beneficial To Make Your Beats More Organic?
Over a longer period of time, an organic beat sounds more interesting. To put it another way, it doesn’t get old after the third listen. It also has a different energy than a static drum loop.
What Do We Mean When We Say “Organic”?
When you apply the question to the physical world (what makes a product look and feel organic?) you get a lot of different answers. It would be individuality and minor flaws. We consider products made of natural materials like wood or stone to be more organic than plastic-based products. Even if they are perfectly manufactured, no two wooden tables are alike. The texture is never the same, giving the wooden table an organic appearance. A plastic version of the same table would have a more artificial appearance and feel.
Drum beats are the same way. It’s the minor flaws and changes that we consider organic. Little changes in timing and velocity, as well as minor changes in sound (a drummer never hits the drum at the same spot), are examples of what makes a beat organic. Enough with the philosophy:-P Let’s look at six drum programming techniques that will make your beats sound more natural:
Swing is probably the simplest and quickest way to give your beats a more organic feel. (Swing is a feature in every DAW.) You can find out where to find it in your DAW by doing a quick google search.) Different swing measures exist. The 16th swing is the most common. However, I strongly advise you to try out all of the swing measures. The 16th swing is more energetic, whereas the 8th swing is more stumbling, which can be fun!
Also, experiment with different swing intensities. Slight to medium intensities (say, 20% to 65%) will give you a more organic feel, whereas extreme swing settings will make you feel artificial again. Of course, it all depends on the beat and tempo you’re working with.
Making Music with Your Beats
This seems self-evident, but it is overlooked far too frequently to go unmentioned: When you record your beats instead of programming them, you’ll get more natural results and imperfections. Playing your beats with a midi controller or (if you don’t have one) your computer keyboard is enjoyable and can produce more spontaneous and interesting results than the drag-and-drop method.
Deactivate auto quantize while recording to ensure that the beat is recorded exactly as you play it, including all timing and velocity variations. (Velocity variations aren’t possible with a computer keyboard.) Set your quantization setting between 90% and 98 percent if you want to tighten your timing afterward. This will allow you to keep some of your playing’s imperfections.
Dragging Drum Hits Away From The Grid
This can entail a lot of uninspiring work. The long-term benefits, however, are well worth the effort. I’m talking about slightly dragging each drum hit out of the grid, note by note, throughout the song. I usually leave the kick drum alone and lightly drag the rest of the drums. Just a smidgeon, so you won’t notice the difference but will feel it.
I also prefer to drag the notes to the right for a more relaxed atmosphere. A more driving feel can be achieved by dragging to the left. Throughout the song, I also like to change the velocity of some drums note by note. Even more effort, but well worth it:-) I usually leave kick drums alone and adjust the velocity of all other drums.
When studying real drummers, you’ll notice that most of them use ghost notes to add variety to their beats. Ghost notes are soft snare drum hits played in the space between two “real” snare drum hits. You can get a similar effect by interspersing soft snare samples with your main snare hits.
For the ghost notes, you can use the same snare sample throughout and lower the velocity. This won’t sound as natural as using a softer sample, but it will suffice.
Automation of Filters
No matter how good a drummer is, he or she will never hit the same drum twice with the same force and at the same angle with the drumstick. All of this adds up to subtle tonal variations in the drum hits.
With a little EQ automation, you can replicate the tonal changes. Slightly automate the mid and high bands of your EQ for a snare drum. Increase or decrease the frequency, as well as the gain and Q-factor, by a small amount. You can get even more tone variation by automating all three parameters of an EQ band at a different tempo.
For a subtle effect, only automate a small portion of the process.
Templates for grooves
A groove template is essentially a digital fingerprint of a drum beat’s (or other instrument’s) timing and feel that you can use to create your own beat. (Every DAW I’m aware of has this capability.) If you’re not sure how this works in your DAW, do a quick Google or YouTube search.) You could, for example, make a groove template out of an old funk drum break. Now you have a fingerprint of that drum break, complete with all of its timing inconsistencies (which is what makes it f*+& to listen to).
When you apply that groove template to your own beat, instead of using your DAW’s static, perfect standard grid, it will quantize to the timing of the drum break. You can then use your favorite drummer’s groove to create your own beats.
Make the switch to organic
You can create beats with a more organic feel using the six drum programming techniques we covered in this email series (swing, playing, dragging, ghost notes, and groove templates). And over time, this will make them sound more interesting. Experiment, pick your favorites, and combine them for the best results. And, most importantly, have fun with these techniques as you play and experiment with them.