One of the most fundamental elements of any type of deep house music is the driving drum’s. The drum patterns tend to follow a 4/4 beat format and never really deviate from that other than minimal cuts and alterations throughout the arrangement. You can create your drums using various programs such as Ultrabeat, Drum Rack or Ableton Live. Personally I prefer to use a drum machine. A great drum machine to use is Native Instruments very popular Maschine. It’ s cheap, very easy to use and the software is updated regularly. It comes with a huge bank of drum sounds and you can always import your own sounds into it. The hands on feel of using a drum machine is very appealing to most pro producers as opposed to using keys on a keyboard. You get a better ‘vibe’ playing around on the pads and it feels a little bit more natural. Try and make the drums feel organic as opposed to ‘robotic’ sounding. Although deep house drums run a regimental 4/4 pattern, the amount of swing/quantize applied plays a major part in the rhythm. It gives the groove a lazy and loose feel, which is what you’re looking for.
When deciding what sounds to use for your drums, choose them wisely. Spend time listening to which sounds go with what, for instance a bass heavy kick might not sound too great with a really deep bass sound, so if you are using a really deep bass heavy sound, you may want to use more of a minimal sounding kick. Another example might be, an open hi-hat with too much attack and high resonance will probably not sound too cool with a noisy snare drum or percussive instrument, so you would probably use a minimalistic hi-hat instead. Try and choose sounds to give your track ‘space to breathe’. Deep house is all about a smooth cool vibe. It is not as noisy, energetic and loud as other types of house such as Electro or Techno.
A good source for drum samples would be somewhere were you would not normally expect to find deep house drums, for instance, listening to ethnic percussion sounds, exotic samples or even early Hip Hop breaks. You can find great elements to use within these to give your drums a naturally funky feel. Try not to use overused samples such as the 909 drum’s, its probably not a good idea because you want your sound to be different from everyone else. You want to be able to stand out from the crowd. Take elements from these kinds of samples and try to use them, but obviously not the whole sample because you want to create your own vibe. Use them purely as inspiration to create new grooves. Another good tip would be to reference other deep house tunes out there, while you are making yours. This will guide you in the right direction when it comes to ‘sonics’. Deep house drums are mixed a certain way with emphasis on particular elements such as the kick drum and hi hats. Compression is important and side-chaining is being used more and more to make your drums feel tighter, but it also helps to create a little bit more breathing space in the overall sound.
Pad chords & Riffs:
Deciding what type of chords or riffs for your deep house track is extremely important. Whatever chord pad, riff or melody you use will determine the direction of the whole track. So getting this right from the start is crucial. Using a warm pad sound set to a nice chord note can really set off your whole track. You can find great pads sounds within most DAW software such as Logic Pro 9, Ableton Live, Reason, Cubase and many others. You can get away with the standard sounds already in these devices, but how it sounds depends on how you manipulate it with effects etc. There really are no set rules, you just have to play around and see what works for you. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes, but sometimes mistakes are the best thing that happens on the track, and it will probably give you ideas for something else. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
By using lo-pass filters, envelopes, effects, compression and side-chaining, you can create wonderful shapes and sounds with the pad sound you’ve laid down. Use velocity maps and automation throughout your track to keep the arrangement interesting. With just drums, bassline and a pad sound, a whole track can be created and sound quite full/complete if done correctly. Another great tip is to double chord notes. This can sometimes create new obscure chords giving another edge to your sound.
One Shots & Stabs
Using one shots and stabs are a great way to get nice rhythmic grooves going very quickly. Start by recording riffs naturally, then later on use your mouse and editor to go into more detail editing the riffs. You may want to try making your own one shots by cutting up key chords in Ableton Live or Dr Rex for example. Make sure your one shots are pitch correct with the sound you already have laid down. Once they are cut-up and edited, map them across a keyboard via MIDI and play around with patterns on top of your ‘pad sound’. You can have the one shots coming in and out throughout the arrangement, with the ‘pad sounds’ or without. This will start to give your track more movement and structure. Once again, play around with the lo-pass filters, cut-off, decay, sustain and release. Add compression and maybe a touch of reverb to widen and brighten the sound with more warmth. Use your envelopes in automation.
Try layering two kicks together to create an interesting new kick drum. By having a short phat boom kick such as an 808 kick, editing the decay slightly, layered with a more natural organic live kick drum kick can give your kick a new feel. You will have a deep analog sound with a slight organic feel giving you the best of both worlds. You may want to play around tuning/de-tuning the kick drums to give your drum extra feels. It’s also a good idea to use this technique with chords. By using this technique on chords, you can give chord sounds more body and depth. Try doubling them with other instruments to create a new sound. Get the balance right with the two sounds together, be careful not to overpower the original chord sound, as you want that part to be to be dominate element.
Your song arrangement is fundamental. Try to picture your whole track as a ‘musical painting’. Always have a Dj’s mentality. Even you are a Dj playing your track in a club. Think about the elements and section you would like to come in from beginning to end. Make it easy for the Dj to mix your track from another track. It’s a good idea to start with drums, because it has good trigger points. You don’t have to start with drum’s, you could start with a percussive vocal or chord pattern. As long as the DJ knows in their head at what point to trigger the track from. Keep the arrangements in Deep house minimal. Brings elements in and out subtlety. Stretch out the track in sections, so when something does change within the track, it can make a big difference. Even a change such as bringing in an open hi-hat after 32 bars of drums can really pick-up a groove and spark a reaction on the dancefloor.
Use automation by controlling envelops in chords, vocals & effects. Opening up lo-filters to hi-filters on a chord can really effect big changes within a groove. The same goes with vocals. By lo-filtering a chopped vocal pattern groove and automating the filters to a higher resonance, can create great movement within a track. Use delay effects every now and then, for instance on the end of a vocal sentence just before a big breakdown. This technique can make your track even more dynamic especially if you incorporate sweeping ‘white noise’ effects behind it going into the breakdown section.
If you have the luxury of having an international vocalist and songwriter like Robert Owens to work with, that would be one way of solving your vocal session problem. Most people don’t have that luxury, so try to search for royalty free vocals or even have a go yourself. Rather than recording a whole song structure, deep house producers tend to play around with minimal hooks and snippets to create percussive vocal phrases. The key here is the ‘hook’. Try and use vocal samples in creative ways by manipulating samples through effects, envelopes and chopping/slicing. This can be done in much the same way as ‘one shots & chords’. It’s a good idea to map chopped up vocals across a keyboard or matrix editor and create groove patterns in a rhythmic way. Always compliment the drums and groove pattern you already have going on and create different groove structures to play around with during the arrangement. This will give your track movement and keep it interesting. No matter what software or plugin you are using, they all tend to adapt the same principles.
Commonly used sounds in deep house
The electric piano or Rhodes are probably the most commonly used instrument in deep house music. The good thing is, you don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds splashing out on a grand piano or expensive plugin. Lots of music software programs such as Logic Pro or Reason have their own standard plugin which is more than good enough, but it all depends on how you use it. There are also many free plugins you can download from the web. Pad strings and pad synths are other common sounds used in deep house, these can also be found on most music programs. Try and use deep house loops & sample packs for added inspiration.
Dub Delay & Effects
Dubbed out delay influenced by early dub reggae sound system dubplate’s from back in the day are an integral part of deep house. By using good delay plugins and boosting the feedback while automating to create atmospherics, deepness and warmth. Try using low and hi pass filters with your delay to build breakdowns and uplifters throughout your track. Deep house music tends to use sparse effects. Spend some time getting this right because poorly edited effects stand out, sound awful and un-professional.