This is a walkthrough tutorial to a 90’s/deep/tech/whatever house style beat I made while ago. Yes, I’m not 100% sure about the exact genre, but listen the audio preview below and make your own decision:
Ok. First, I’ll set the project tempo to 123 BPM which is quite typical to a genre like this.
Next, I’ll start building the drum section. In 99% of cases, I’ll begin with the drums when I make my own music. And that’s what I’m going to do now as well.
While I was originally making this beat, my aim was to find some basic but quality drum samples: clean, punchy but a little ‘softer’ kick with a semi-long sub-tail (not that short dubstep style kick nor anything distorted), basic clap sample (almost like that TR 909 clap), open and closed hihats and some percussions (mostly toms) and I found such samples from Echo Sound Works Future Deep House V.1 pack.
So starting with the drum samples, I drop them to Channel Rack, rename the Channels and assign each of them to their own Mixer tracks. I also extend the pattern length to 32 steps by dragging the bottom-right of the Channel Rack. This way I can add more variation to my drum sequence per pattern without the need to create a new pattern for each variation.
Also, while I’m making the drum sequence, I set the volume levels between the drum samples roughly in balance in the FL Studio Mixer. After the drum sequence is done, I’ll fine-tune the drum sample levels.
Now, the drum sequence sounds a bit too straightforward, so I’m going to make it ‘swing’ using the ‘Global Swing’ -slider in the Step-sequencer. It affects to the length of odd vs even steps. I’ll set it to around 67% for a quite intensive swing.
Ok. The drum sequence is ready. This is the core rhythm of this whole house beat.
But the mix is still just a rough mix so what I usually do at this point I’ll take a short break to let my hearing rest and normalize. Then I mix the drums again with fresh ears to make the drum mix correctly in balance.
(kuva | taking a break)
Ok. Back to work!
So with a fresh pair of ears, I’ll start the mixing by leaving the kick Mixer track to 0.0dB and drop all the other Mixer tracks to INF. At this point (while listening the kick), I also set the volume levels of my monitors to a value where I can hear the kick loud and clear, but not TOO loud though – something that is pleasant to my ears.
As you have probably seen in my earlier tutorials, I mix everything around the kick. So what I do next is I start mixing in the other drum instruments, so that they wont take over the kick. Starting with claps, then follow the hihats and percussion. Slowly raising their gain one-by-one.
And here’s how I ended up setting the levels:
Now, to my ears, the closed hihat sample sounds a bit too long (‘sluggish’) to sit well in this kind of rhythm so what I do next is I shorten/tighten it using a volume envelope which can be found in the Sampler Channel Settings.
Here’s how I edited the volume envelope:
Here’s how it sounds before and after the volume envelope (in isolation):
And here’s how it sounds before and after the volume envelope (with open hihats):
And here’s how it sounds before and after the volume envelope in the whole drum mix:
Sounds quite alright. However, I have a slight feeling that the closed hihat could use a little tuning perhaps..
Even though there usually aren’t any easily detectable pitched elements in pure hihat sounds, but if you feel that they wont quite match with the rest of the percussion sounds, try tuning their pitch up or down to see whether it makes any real difference.
I’ll decrease it’s pitch.
Check the audio example before and after tuning the closed hihat:
To my ears, tuning DOWN the pitch of the closed hihat kind of makes it fit slightly better to the WHOLE drum mix (especially when listened against the first percussion sound). BUT when listening it just with the open hihat…
…tuning the pitch UP would’ve probably been a better decision….
However, it’s the whole drum mix that matters and I think it works there like this so I just leave it be.
The closed hihat would’ve have also worked well in the mix without tuning at all.
As you can see, mixing and music production is full of little choices and decisions to make. Different elements can sound good in the mix in so many different ways. Sometimes, the best advice to remember is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. And lot of mixing decisions are just a matter of taste so it’s impossible to give a one rule that covers everything.
If you feel you are STUCK on a mixing decision, try taking a break and after that, listen the whole mix again: if the decision you’re struggling with doesn’t sound overly bothering, just leave it be and move on. When you progress with your mix and build it up more and you listen it again as a whole mix, those little things may become irrelevant.
Ok. Let’s move on.
I usually create also a bus track for my drum mixes, just in case. That way, I’m able to control the volume level of the whole drum mix via one fader. Or if I want to eg. compress the drums as a group, bus track is the way to go.
Ok. The volume levels between the drums are in balance. Next, I’ll quickly check out the frequencies of the drum samples. I’ll check that the hihat and percussion samples aren’t messing with the fundamental frequency of the kick (below 100Hz area). If they are, I’ll just use EQ to roll off that range.
My favorite plugin for checking the frequency spectrum is the Seven Phases Spectrum Analyzer so I’ll just drop it to the Mixer Master track.
While checking the spectrum analyzer, I saw that some of the frequencies in the second percussion sample seems to be peaking slightly near the 100Hz (as you can see in the image below), but not much below that and based on what I hear from my monitors, I don’t see it causing any problems to the kick. So I’ll just leave it there:
To my ears, the drum mix sounds quite good already so I’ll just do some minor polishing.
For the kick, I’ll try a little top-end boost to make that sharp transient part (the attack) to poke through the mix even better. It’s pretty good already, but I’ll check if the boost makes it any better. I’ll use the Mixer Track EQ for that.
And maybe a little top-end boost for the claps as well.
For the percussion sound, I’ll use reverb. Just a to add a little more depth and feel of space to the whole mix.
I’m using Valhalla VintageVerb with it’s default preset settings and a fairly short Decay time.
Okay. The drum mix is now ready.
Next, I’ll open Sytrus and create the bass sound.
When I was originally making this beat, I had a vision in my mind to use that UK Garage -style, kind of ‘hollow’ and ‘wobbling’ bass sound to play along with the drumbeat and that’s what I’m going to create now.
First, I’ll reset the Sytrus settings by loading the default preset. I also lower the Master pitch by two octaves in the Main module.
And in the Operator 1, I’ll set it’s Frequency Ratio to 1.0000 to drop the pitch even more. This is just because I want to play low pitch notes with the mid-range keys of my MIDI keyboard.
Next, I’ll enable the volume envelope in Operator 1 and edit the envelope as follows:
Next, a little frequency modulation. I’m going to use the Operator 2 to modulate the frequency of Operator 1 to add that ‘hollow’ timbre (so Operator 2 is going to be the ‘modulator’ and Operator 1 the ‘carrier’).
The frequency modulation amount is set in the Modulation Matrix by tweaking a knob either to right (for positive values) or left (for negative values).
(Yes, it’s not very hollow’ish yet, but be patient.)
Even the slightest changes to the oscillator shape of the Operator that acts as a modulator, affects to the timbre of the carrier. So next, I’ll edit the shape a little (which is pure sine wave by default) using the Shape Modifiers (I’ll use the Tension parameter):
If you’re asking how one can know exactly how much to edit the shapes and how much to modulate and what, search more on Youtube about FM synthesis. I usually tweak everything by ear.
Next, I’ll edit the volume envelope of the modulating Operator using the editor grid.
Usually, the volume envelope and it’s shape is used to control the volume articulation of the Operator and in which time it happens. This is the case if you have defined an output level of the Operator in the Modulation Matrix (eg. routed it to Sytrus main Output). However, in this example, I have not routed the Operator 2 to any Output at all in the Modulation Matrix – I’ve only made the Operator 2 to modulate Operator 1. So in this case, the volume level changes I make to Operator 2 via the volume envelope, affects only to the modulation amount/how it’s articulated in the carrier Operator (Operator 1 in this example). If I would’ve routed the Operator 2 to main Output in the Modulation Matrix, the volume envelope would ALSO control Operator 2 volume level.
You can also use the input modulation (MOD) of the carrier operator to achieve same results. Try setting the Operator 1 Editor Target to MOD and use envelope as articulator. This way, you control the incoming modulation amount in a given time. This is good, if you you have a situation where you have routed the modulating Operator also to eg. main Output in Modulation Matrix, but you want to control it’s volume articulation separately from the modulation articulation.
The values of the envelope points in the volume envelope editor grid of the Operator 2 are relative to the modulation amount Operator 2 causes to Operator 1. If you set an envelope point to zero per cent, no modulation cant be hard. But if you set it eg. to a hundred per cents the amount of modulation is as much as the maximum value you have defined in the Modulation Matrix.
Here’s how I edited the volume envelope:
As you can hear, this kind of envelope controls the frequency modulation in a way that it occurs in a short and stabby form, giving the whole sound kind of pluck like character.
Next, I’ll edit the MOD X Mapping envelope (note that the Editor Target is still the volume of the modulating Operator).
MOD X Mapping is linked to the Modulation X controller knob (which is in the MAIN section of Sytrus). So every value changes you make to the MOD X Mapping envelope by editing it’s shape are relative to the position of the Modulation X controller knob. And in this case, as the Editor Target is set to VOL, you can control the modulation amount (and it’s articulation set with the volume envelope) caused to the carrier (OP1) via the Modulation X controller knob by the limits you set with the MOD X Mapping envelope.
So now, I’ll edit the MOD X Mapping envelope like this:
So the leftmost side of the MOD X Mapping envelope editor corresponds the leftmost position of the Modulation X controller knob and the rightmost side corresponds the rightmost position.
So now, this kind of MOD X Mapping envelope curve defines that when I turn the Modulation X controller knob all the way to left, no modulation can’t be heard. And when I turn it all the way to right, it happens at maximum level (but of course, it’s relative to the modulation amount I’ve set in the Modulation Matrix). And also remember, that the envelope I edited in the ENV section and all the changes it causes to the modulation amount happens now by the limits I’ve set via the MOD X Mapping envelope editor.
Check the audio example below:
Now the thing is, due to frequency modulation (and the movement I’m going to create to it with automation), those pure sine wave sub tones aren’t so solid anymore. And this’ll make this bass sound partly weak. So to strengthen the bottom end, I mix in a pure sine wave which isn’t going to be modulated at all.
So all I need to do is I route the output of the Operator 3 straight to the main Out of Sytrus using the Modulation Matrix.
Alright, the bass sound is ready! Next, I’ll create the bass pattern.
First, I’ll add a new empty pattern to the Playlist and start laying down some notes to the Piano Roll.
Here’s the bass sequence:
Note that the Swing function in the Step Sequencer also affects to the notes in the Piano Roll. So our bass sequence has that swing too.
Next, I’ll make the bassline ‘wobble’ to add more movement and life to it. And I’ll do that by automating the Modulation X controller knob found in the Main section of Sytrus.
So now, in the Playlist, I’ll just create different kind of shapes to the automation envelope.
That’s it. Next, I’ll assign this bass sound to a free Mixer track and mix it with the drums.
I’ll use the already familiar mixing method to mix everything against the kick. I start by soloing just the kick and bass mixer tracks. Then I drop the bass to INF and start raising it’s volume level while listening the kick. I’ll try to find a balance between these two most important instruments so that they support each other.
Here’s how I mixed it:
Here’s how it sound with the kick:
And here’s with all the drums:
But it’s not ready yet.
The thing is, the bass contains low frequencies which operates pretty much in the same frequency range as the kick so they most likely clash a bit. That makes the low frequency area a little incoherent and not as punchy as it could be. It kind of drains the energy the kick contains. So to avoid this, I’ll use a sidechain effect, but only for a specific low frequency area because I don’t wan’t this kind of beat to be overly pumping. In my opinion, that just wouldn’t fit very well to this type of house beat.
Before I continue, I check the kick and bass frequency range with frequency analyzer. Just to be sure. I mostly trust my ears and monitors, but I’m using budget monitors and their placement and my studio room treatment is probably not the most optimal so I’ll use frequency analyzer as a helping hand.
Check image below. As you can see, the bass contains quite a lot life in the 100 Hz range and below:
And if we check where the kick is operating most of it’s energy is around the 100 Hz and below as well as you can see in the image:
And now to the sidechaining. The concept is pretty simple: I’ll use the kick as a trigger to cut off a specific frequency range from the bass sound using Fruity Peak Controller and Parametric EQ 2.
So I’ll put the Peak Controller to the kick Mixer track and Parametric EQ 2 to the bass Mixer track.
For the PEQ2 I need a low cut filter with steep slope and I can find one from the PEQ2 presets.
Next, I’ll link the PEQ 2’s frequency controller knob to the Peak Controller (to the ‘Peak’ feature of the Peak Controller to be exact).
To hear the kick, ‘Mute’ needs to be disabled in the Peak Controller.
So now, as you can see and hear, every time the kick hits, it cuts off the low frequencies from the bass sound. This is a way to avoid the kick and bass clashing together and keep the low frequency area clean and consistent.
Here’s just kick and bass:
And here’s the whole drum mix:
You can use the VOL (Peak amount) knob to control the frequency area which will be rolled off once the kick hits. Use higher values for cutting wider frequency area and vice versa. With the BASE, TENSION and DECAY you can control the peak behavior in various ways. Check the FL Studio manual for more info.
With this kind of sidechaining method, the bassline maintains it’s groove while the low end of the kick and bass can coexist without too audible pumping effect.
Next, I’m going to make that stab/pluck sound. With Sytrus.
For the stab sound I’m going to use saw wave and square wave. So I’ll need two Operators.
I’m going to set the Operator 1 oscillator type to saw.
And I’ll set square wave as the Operator 2 oscillator type. And to hear anything from Operator 2, I’ll route it to main Output of Sytrus via Modulation Matrix.
Next, I’ll set the Operator 2 Frequency Ratio to 3.0000. This’ll raise it’s base pitch up by seven semitones.
By doing this, I’ll get a power chord (fifth chord) which I can play using only one key of my MIDI keyboard. The saw wave of Operator 1 is the root note sound and the square wave of Operator 2 is the fifth note sound. And now, if I play eg. a note of E, I’ll hear E power chord.
If I play chords, E Minor for example, I’ll hear E Minor Ninth.
Next, I’ll edit the tone of this sound via frequency modulation. I’ll tweak by ear.
First, I’ll set how much the Operator 2 modulates Operator 1:
And I also make the Operator 1 to modulate Operator 2:
Sounds pretty noisy and well – horrible – for now, but it has it’s place. It’s the end result that counts.
Next, I’ll map the Operator 2 volume to the Modulation X controller knob – same way as I did with the bass sound. Only difference to the bass sound is that as the Operator 2 now goes straight to Sytrus Main Output as well, the Modulation X knob controls also the volume of Operator 2 besides the amount the Operator 2 modulates Operator 1. I’m going to automate the Modulation X controller knob later for some additional nuances to the pitch and color of this stab sound.
Next, I’ll route both Operators to Filter 1 module. I wan’t to be able to use low pass filter to soften the sound.
So first, in the Modulation Matrix, I’ll disable the Operators 1 & 2 going straight to Main Output and route both Operators to Filter 1 module by setting their Mix levels to 100 % in the ‘Operator to Filter’ -row. And finally, I’ll route the Filter 1 module to Main Output of Sytrus to hear the filtered sound:
In the Filter 1 module, I’ll select Lime Low Pass as the filter type. It’s a nice low pass filter for my needs here. And with the cutoff knob, I can control the filter amount.
Next, I’ll enable the volume Envelope. I have to admit that at this point, I made a little “mistake” while I was originally creating this sound. My intention was to use the FILTER CUTOFF envelope in the Filter 1 articulation section to make this patch sound like a stab. But instead, I used the VOLUME envelope for some reason. The volume envelope of the Filter 1 section doesn’t affect to the movement of the filter like the filter cutoff envelope does. Instead, it affects only to Filter 1’s output volume. And by using it, I’ll get same end result as if I would have used the volume envelope in the Operator 1 & 2 articulation section. However, this is the sound I used originally in the example mix and it seem to work there just fine so let’s just continue with this way.
After filtering, the sound is a bit quiet so I also raise the Sytrus master volume level a little in the Sytrus Main module.
Next, I’ll enable delay and reverb effects to add a bit of echo and sense of space.
First, I’ll send the Filter 1 output to FX module at full level.
In the FX module I’ll disable the Chorus effect as I don’t need it in this sound example and I activate the Delay unit 1 and use following settings:
To break the delay settings a little: I waned a long lasting echo so I set the Delay feedback level to fairly high. I also increased the delay volume level a bit as I want it to be quite audible.
Next, the reverb:
And little about the reverb settings: I enabled the Tempo-based predelay because I want the reverb to have that slap-back echo type of effect which is in sync with the project tempo. I set the Predelay to 2:00. This sets the delay time when the first reverb reflection appears. This is for a slap-back type of echo in the reverb. The reverb should be pretty big so I set the Decay time to fairly long. I also set the color of the reverb to warmest possible.
Next, I ‘ll go to the Main module to make some final adjustments.
I’ll add a tiny bit of Unison to ‘thicken and smear’ the sound. I also use EQ as it is a bit too bass heavy so I roll off some of the low frequencies. And I also raise the master volume to the max.
Ok. That’s about it. Next, I’ll create the chord for this stab sound in the Piano Roll.
Here’s the notes I’m using:
These notes alone forms E Minor chord, but keep in mind that we have the Operator 2 tuned up by seven semitones so the patch itself forms a power chord (Operator 1 is the root note sound & Operator 2 the fifth note sound). So with that in mind, this chord is actually E Minor Ninth.
Next, I’ll assign this stab sound to a free Mixer track and set it’s volume level in balance against the other sounds in the mix:
Next, I’ll extend the arrangement in the Playlist.
Next, I’ll automate the Modulation X controller knob. Just to add a little variation to the pluck sound.
So as I already mentioned, the Modulation X controller knob controls the volume of Operator 2 and at the same time also the modulation amount caused to Operator 1.
I’ll edit the automation curve as follows:
Here’s how the stab chord sounds now. First, in solo:
And in the mix:
That’s about it. That drop in the curve drops the Operator 2 volume level quite a bit. And this will also partly kind of change the chord a bit (not entirely though), because the Operator 2 contains the fifth notes sound together with Operator 1 and now, as the Operator 2 volume level drops, those fifth notes aren’t so apparent anymore. If I would’ve dropped the Operator 2 volume to 0%, then the chord would’ve been pure E Minor. But as I’ve set the volume level to around 11%, it’s a… well, I’m not quite sure what it actually is (the modulation messes the sound as well).
Ok. Next I’ll create that short intro sound you heard at the beginning of the audio preview.
The intro sound is simple: I’ll just record the pluck sound chord into audio with Edison, drag it to Playlist and reverse it.
So first, I solo the pluck sound track (and the Modulation X Automation Envelope track) and make a 4 bars long selection in the Playlist.
Next, I load Edison into the stab sound Mixer track using keyboard shortcut SHIFT+E. This’ll open Edison in loop recording mode.
So now, all I need to do is to press Play and Edison records the selected 4 bar section of that pluck sound in loop. It will also set region markers to the beginning of each loop. This way I can easily select exactly 4 bars long audio clip which I can then drag and drop into the Playlist.
Ok. Now I just select a loop in the Edison by double-clicking that region marked titled ‘Song jump’ and drag it to the Playlist as a audio clip using the drag-tool.
Next, I’ll make some room for the intro sound…
Next, I reverse the audio clip, rename it and assign it to a free Mixer track
I also remove the last few milliseconds from the reversed stab sound, leaving a very short silent part in the arrangement just before the section where kick and bass hits. This’ll increase the impact of the kick and bass section.
And lastly, I set the volume level of the reversed stab in balance.
And here’s how it sounds:
Next, I’ll extend the arrangement a bit more and make some changes to the drums (and some to the bass as well). This is all for the sake of variation and for building the tension towards the section change.
Next, I’ll add in that reversed kick. It works as a small transition effect.
So first, I’ll drag and drop the kick sample as a audio clip into the Playlist. I rename and reverse it and align it to the beginning of the kick and bass section (TIP: hold down ALT if you want to move clip in the Playlist bypassing snap-to-grid settings. This is good for precise placement of clips).
That sharp snap (which is the attack part of the kick) needs to be removed because it kind of takes away the impact and sharpness of the kick and bass section which follows right after.
And finally, I’ll assign the reverse kick to a free Mixer track and balance it’s volume level with the rest of the mix.
And lastly, I copy/paste the reverse kick to the beginning of the another section of the beat.
Final step is to increase the loudness of the whole mix.
In my opinion, this mix doesn’t require any other additional polishing than increasing the overall loudness.
So basically, if your mix is sounding good already, it may not require whole lot of work in the mastering stage. And in my experience, good sounding EDM mix starts almost always with good quality and right kind of combination of drum sounds. So sound selection is very important.
I guess you could call what I’m doing here ‘mastering’ because after this, I won’t do anything else that affects to the whole mix (other than convert it to MP3).
So. I start by selecting the ‘busiest’ part of the mix (by busiest I mean a part where lots of sounds are playing at the same time) so I can play it as a loop.
Next, I’ll playback the looped section and check that the Master channel isn’t clipping.
It seems that the highest peaks are around -6 or -7dB which is great. So I don’t need to adjust any single Mixer track volume levels.
Next, I load one of my all-time favorite tools to the Master channel: Fabfilter Pro-L.
Pro-L is really cool for all-kinds of normal limiting tasks, but also great for increasing the loudness. It can be very ‘transparent’ even in very heavy limiting tasks (by transparent I mean that the artifacts that are usually caused to audio signal with extreme limiting settings – such as pumping – aren’t so noticeable when tweaked right).
I like to start tweaking the Pro-L from a preset and surprisingly often I end up using a patch called ‘House – Transparent and Loud’ which can be found under the ‘Dance & Electronica’ -category. And that’s what I’m going to do now.
I set the final Output level of Pro-L to -0.3 dB. This is quite common practice when dealing with the final effect in the effect chain in mastering situation (which is usually a limiter). This is to avoid the occurrence of ‘inter-sample peaks’ (Google for more info about it).
And now, I’ll start boosting the loudness by increasing the input signal level via the Gain -knob.
Of course, this kind of tweaking needs to be done mostly by trusting your ears and your monitors/headphones. When I increase the overall loudness of my mix, I listen very carefully and raise the gain to the point it’s quite loud while still sounding punchy and dynamic (= not squashed).
I mostly trust my ears, but I do also check the RMS meter (RMS meter tells you the average level of the signal peaks over time). Pro-L has RMS meter, it’s that brighter blue bar there. I aim somewhere near -10 dB.
After listening the whole mix for a while, I left the Pro-L’s Gain to +9.5dB. To my ears this was the optimal loudness for this mix without squashing it too much. Also, I didn’t need do any additional adjustments to the Pro-L settings. So in other words, here’s the final mix:
FL Studio has RMS meters as well. Just load Wave Candy to any Mixer track, load a ‘Peak Meter’ preset and under the Meter -tab select RMS as Mode.
The end. 🙂
Watch the video version below and download the FLP file for this project below the video:
Download The House Beat FL Studio Project File (This is a .FLP file and it requires FL Studio 12.2 Build 3 or later to open. Also, I can’t share the drum samples I used as is as I used a commercial pack so the project probably opens a bit ‘crippled’ if you don’t have the same drum sample pack or Pro-L or Seven Phases Spectrum Analyzer. But nonetheless, you’ll get to see the exact settings I used to make this beat, Sytrus settings, note data, etc.)