Darkstep Drum and Bass Tutorial Day 1: Making a Dark DnB Beat

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Hi!   I’m Dave from boyinaband.com, and welcome to my seven day song tutorial on Darkstep Drum and Bass, where I’ll be taking you through the process of making a Darkstep song from scratch over – Oh Em Gee Zed – 7 days.

At the end, I’ll post the finished song and you guys can post your completed songs as video responses.

Darkstep is a minor, evil-sounding sub-genre of Drum and Bass that some of you might know as Neurofunk, Darkcore or Techstep… and some of you might not know of it at all and wonder what the hell all those words I just said mean, in which case don’t worry – at least your career doesn’t depend on you having to pretend to understand what they mean.   Ahem.

This is a sponsored 7 day song, meaning someone paid to have this genre covered – if you would like me to make a 7 day song specific genre of electronic music, check out the “custom video tutorials” page in the “services” section on boyinaband.com

In this Reason 4 tutorial, I’ll go through things like Making the Beat, A positively disgusting Reese Bass synth, Leads, atmospheres, fx, arrangement of a conventional Darkstep song and mixing and mastering.

This is the 7th 7 day song, so be sure to check out the other ones too!   And also, I encourage you to post your tracks on the boyinaband.com forum and share your music, make some friends and learn more about production!

In Day 1 I’ll be teaching you how to make a punchy Darkstep DnB beat with techniques like using layering, interesting syncopations, EQing and tube distortion to build a driving basis to your track.

Okay!   Let’s begin.

We’ll start by setting the tempo to 170bpm – Darkstep is generally between 150 and 180bpm so DnB DJs don’t have too much trouble mixing it together!   I’ve found Darkstep tends to be faster than conventional drum and bass, though.

Make a Mixer 14:2 and a combinator for our first drum loop.   Name the combinator “Beat”; this is nothing to do with it being the drum beat, it relates to how it’s going to sound like it’s beating you over the head repeatedly.

Inside the combinator, create an instance of Scream 4, bypass it, then make a Line mixer 6:2 and a ReDrum instance.   Initialize that too.

Now, I’ll load up a drum kit I’ve made for this tutorial.   If you don’t know how to load samples into reason, then check out my tutorial on how to load samples into reason, then you’ll know how to load samples into reason.

Okay, so here I’ve got a load of samples in Reason.   These are all from my free Drum and Bass sample pack except this hat, which is from my electro house sample pack and this ride cymbol which is from the reason factory sound bank.

Let’s go through the samples – 2 kicks, 3 snares, 2 hats and a ride.

The two kicks are not going to be layered on this occasion – I’ll be alternating between them to make the percussion seem to flow faster.   This bassier, punchier one will be the main kick, with this airier one being the extra percussive element.

Next up are the snares – a hard, punchy low-end snare, a snappy, high end snare and a low-fi little snare that we’ll use for the ghost notes.   Watch the original 7 day song drum and bass tutorial if you don’t know what ghost notes are.   We’ll be layering the first two into a snare that has the punch from the first snare and the snap and tone from the second snare.

Lastly we’ve got those hi-hats, we’ll be alternating between these really fast to create a fast overtone to the beat.   The ride is going to be consistant on every beat, just to drive things along that bit more.

Okay, so let’s make the syncopation!   Starting with the channel 1 kick selected, put a beat on 1, 9 and 11.   The conventional drum and bass beat is just the 1 and 11, but I want to make the beat more driving, and by bringing the kick down every 2 beats, it makes a consistancy that drives it, without being so many kicks that it starts feeling like a dance tune.   Copy the pattern to track, name the note lane “Kick” and create a new note lane.

Name the new note lane “Snare” and head back up to the ReDrum instance.   To link the two snares together, so they both play when one is triggered, hit the “Tab” key and link the “Gate out” from the snare you’ll be triggering into the “Gate in” on the snare you want triggered as well.

Now, select Pattern 2, so we have a fresh new pattern that doesn’t have the kicks we just programmed in, but if need be we can always get that kick pattern back quickly.   Put the snare on steps 5 and 13.   Copy the pattern to the track, disable the pattern section and listen.   Conventional drum and bass, score!   Now, you could copy that for 5 minutes and call it a minimal drum and bass song, or you can carry on watching for some advice on how to make it sound more interesting.

Next, let’s have a go with those Ghost snares.   Make sure you have a new note lane selected called “Ghost Snare”, then make pattern 3 have steps 4, 8 and 10 hilighted with the channel 5 ghost snare (incidentally, that seriously sounds like a superhero TV show), then copy them to the track.   Take a listen – this adds a bounciness to the beat.   This is because when you have a percussive sound a 1/16th before the on-beat, it almost sounds like it’s tripping into the on-beat.

Time to learn a word if you don’t know it already; “syncopation” – it makes you sound smart if you overuse it, but all it means is a drum beat that isn’t your conventional uhn-tss dance beat, with some unexpected rhythms in there – so every drum and bass song ever.   That unusual syncopation from the ghost snare we just added makes the beat sound more filled out and driving.

So!   Onwards.   Let’s add in that other kick before we forget about the poor thing.   Move to the next pattern and change the number of steps to 32.   On steps 1-16, add it in on the 3 and 9, then change the dynamic slider to “Soft” and add one in on the 15 as well, this will make that kick a bit quieter, adding a little bit more variety to the dynamic range of the beat.

Move to steps 17-32 with the “Edit steps” slider, then add in the kick on 3 and 9 again, leaving off that last beat.   Copy it to a new note lane called “Kick 2″ and take a listen.   MUCH more interesting, right?   That extra kick gives so much more syncopat-y goodness to the beat, driving it along that bit more.

Okay, we’ve almost finished making the beat itself, now it’s time to add the high end!   Let’s start with the hi-hats.   Make a new note lane called “Fez” – why “Fez” you ask?   because it’s a high hat!   Ha!   Ha!   Let’s move on.

Now, we’ve got two different hi-hats, in a new pattern, make sure the “edit steps” slider is on 1-16, then place one on every even beat and one on every odd beat, so you’ve got 8 of each hat in the pattern.   Copy this to the track and take a listen to what it does.   The alternating hats really make it seem faster.

Lastly, make a ride cymbol note lane, on a new pattern put it on the 1, 5, 9 and 13 and then copy that to the track as well.   Now, take a listen to the finished beat.   Pretty sweet, huh?

Now we’re going to change the beat from this *play the beat* into this *play the beat with effects on it* in part 2…

Okay then, time to get this beat sounding punchier!

Let’s start with the kicks.   Run both into a spider audio merger and splitter.   From that, go into an MClass Equalizer, then into a channel on the mixer up the top.

Now, we’re going to use param 1 and 2 to boost the punchy bass end and the clicky treble end of the frequency spectrum for the kick, so you can feel it and hear it more clearly.

So!   Turn on Param 1 and with a small bandwidth, boost the gain to full, then sweep the band of frequencies around the low end until you find that loudest sweet spot.   I found it around 140hz on this kick.   Widen the bandwidth a bit.   Now, listen to the difference – it’s louder, but more importantly, the focus is on the punch now.

Now for that clicky high end – Do the same with the high end – I’m going to bring up around 2.8khz by 10dB.   Check out the difference before and after the EQ.   Both kicks sound much better.

Let’s do the same thing for the snares – run all 3 into a merger and splitter, then a compressor this time, then an EQ and finally into the mixer.

We’re going to make it have a slightly punchier attack and more of a noticeable tail with the compressor – turn up the input gain by 6dB to make it louder overall, turn the threshold down to -24dB so everything is squashed to that volume, then turn the ratio to 2:1 so it’s only squashed a little bit.

Now, the EQ is what will really bring out the punch – using the same technique as on the kick, find the two sweet spots.   For punchiness, snares tend to be boosted around 200hz in DnB, I found my sweet spot at 205hz, then the crack at 3khz.   As long as these are different from the kick, the mix will be much clearer if you ever play the kick and snare at the same time or slightly overlapping.

In fact, it’s good practice to assign each instrument in your mix certain frequencies to stick to, cutting those frequencies in other instruments that might overlap with it.   This is especially important in the bass end where things can get really muddy really fast.

So, by boosting the low end by 12 dB and the high by 7dB, listen to the difference to the snare – much better, right?

Lastly, run the hats into a merger, then an EQ, then the mixer.   On the EQ, boost the high high end, around 10khz, with param 1 by about 13dB – this will give much more airiness to the high hats.   You can also boost the hi shelf a bit if you want for extra brightness.

Now, we’ve got everything nice and punchy, time to make it all sit together a bit better.   Add an RV7000 reverb unit to the mixer, then add it to the hats a decent amount, just over half.

Now, with that scream 4 unit we bypassed earlier, turn it to “Tube” mode, a mode that emulates tube amp distortion, take the P1 knob to full so there’s plenty of low end, then damage control to just over a quarter.

Turn off the “cut” and “body” modes, then take a listen to the difference with and without.   Without it you have a more clinical, overwhelming beat, but with it you get a grittier, more well-rounded beat that seems to fit together.   Depending on the type of music you’re making, you might prefer it without the scream 4 unit, but if you try out a few of the distortions available it can just give your beat that bit more character to it.

Just to top it all off, join me in part 3 where I’ll be adding a quick conga loop to fill out some more of the mix.

Okay!   It’s time for some congas!   Since congas are used in every cheesy TV show ever to depict a villain, I figure it makes them perfect for an evil Darkstep breakbeat.

So!   Combinator, name it “Congas” and then inside it, create a Dr. Rex loop player.   Now, in the reason factory sound bank there are a bunch of useful percussion loops if you look in the folder “Dr Rex Percussion Loops” – funny, that.   Look in congas and I’m going to select “Congas_12_120″.   Take a listen – a nice, consistant beat that Dr Rex automatically tempo shifts to the speed of the track.   Good ol’ Dr Rex.

Copy that pattern to the track, then we’re going to add a bit more futuristic darkness to the congas with a PH-90 Phaser!   A Phaser is quite a complicated effects unit – it splits the signal into two paths, delays one of the paths very slightly, then mixes them back together.   It doesn’t do this across all frequency bands equally – a high frequency might be delayed more than a lower frequency, depending on the sound.

The effect caused when the delayed sound cancels certain parts of the source sound out due to being slightly “out of phase” with it creates an otherworldly effect.   By modulating the delay with an LFO, it makes it appear to sweep up and down.

Sync the LFO so it’s in time with the song, take the rate down to 8/4, meaning it’ll sweep every 2 bars, then turn the feedback down considerably and the width up to full, meaning it’ll be less high pitched and wider in the stereo field respectively.

Now, let’s do some EQing.   Add an MClass Equalizer, boost 330hz by 12dB with a Q of 3 to get more low end.   Next, can you hear that resonance?   There is a note that is being hit, caused by the phaser.   Sweep a band of frequencies to find it, it’s around 900hz in this case, then cut it by a narrow Q, around 6, by 18dB.   Hear the difference?

Let’s punchify the congas with an MClass compressor – create it, turn the input gain up to 3/4, the threshold to 3/8ths and the ratio to about 4:1.   Listen to how much punchier and louder it is.

Lastly, make a Stereo Imager.   Solo the hi band, so the low end of the congas doesn’t interfere too much with the low end of the rest of the percussion, then widen the high end so it’s pushed further left and right in the stereo field, clearing space in the mix.

And there we have it!   A Drum and Bass beat punchier than Ryu and Ken combined, and some congas more evil and spacey than Andross.   If you don’t get either of those jokes, then congratulations!   You are not a massive computer game geek.

Join me tomorrow for day 2, where we’ll be making some absolutely vomit-inducingly disgusting bass synths!   Until next time, guys!


2 Responses to “Darkstep Drum and Bass Tutorial Day 1: Making a Dark DnB Beat”

  1. [...] Just click here to go to day 1, where I’ll start by teaching you how to make a darkstep breakb… Related Posts…Reason 4 Tutorial: Hip Hop Lead SynthsReason 4 Tutorial: Mixing and Mastering Trance MusicReason 4 Tutorial: The Structure of a Trance SongReason 4 Tutorial: Sweet FX, Advanced Thor Routing and Choir + Strings!Reason 4 Tutorial: 3 Epic Trance Lead Synths! April 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm by Dave Category: 7 Day Song, Darkstep, Drum and Bass Tutorial, Reason TutorialTags: 7 Day Song, Darkstep, reason 4 tutorial [...]

  2. Nice! I like to understand how all this drumming technically comes about, and you share it so well. Thanks for being so generous of your knowledge!

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