Deep House beats are faithful to the 4/4 rhythm but are programmed to sound loose and lazy. Keep the rhythm organic by using swing quantisation. If your DAW supports groove templates try sourcing ones from the infamous Akai MPC60: they work especially well for deep house grooves. Some DAWs offer MPC-style swing as standard. Others – notably Logic – don’t, so do a web search for the groove templates and import them manually.
2. Lazy beats
Offset percussion hits by a few milliseconds to give patterns a more human feel. Try shifting snares and claps a few clicks before or after the kick to get a looser sound. If your snare is layered from two or three different samples shift the start of each sample a little for a more interesting feel.
3. Tight kick
Deep house kick drums are usually deep and quite short, with plenty of fat bottom end. Fine-tune the length of the kick by tweaking the decay of the volume envelope so that the kick works in the context of the track. Try layering a deep kick with a high-passed bass drum from a live drum kit for a more acoustic and organic sound.
4. Expand the stereo spectrum
Pan percussive hits evenly across the stereo field. Even panning sounds by a couple of ticks gives more space for the rhythm to breathe. Remember to tune samples to the key of the track to make the drum kit made using a range of samples sound like a coherent whole.
5. 7th, 9ths and beyond
Deep house chords are built from minor/major 7th chords and their inversions. To get a more lazy feel producers use 9th and 13ths chords too. Don’t be afraid to give a track a slightly dissonant feel by using unusual chord combinations.
6. Old-school workouts
Double the root note of a chord to get a fatter sound or double the whole chord on a different instrument for more definition. A classic old-school technique is to render a chord hit as a short audio file and load the resulting wave into your sampler of choice. Now play it on the keyboard like you would a melody.
7. Huge verb stabs
You can make great background ambient effects by taking a house stab and inserting a hall reverb effect on it. The decay should be very long with the mix slider at 100% wet so you only get the reverb effect. Now go crazy with effects on the reverb tail. Try filters, phasers, bit-crushers or even outright distortion. For extra movement sidechain the effected tail to get it pumping in the background. Another option is to use a delay effect instead of reverb (tape style works here) and automate the feedback level.
8. Filter it up
Autofilters are great for adding movement and giving wah-wah-type sweeps to loops and one-shots. Add gentle distortion or bit-crushing to the filtered loop or re-sample at lower bit rates to get a dirtier sound. Remember to tweak the cutoff on the filter: lower cutoff values give a warmer and softer feeling while higher values give extra bite. If your plug-in supports it, try sidechaining the input of the filter to the kick drum to get a pumping filter sound.
9. Dub delays
Dub effects are made by using a delay effect with the feedback cranked up. Automate both the delay time and feedback at the same time to get warm and wobbly sweeps and crescendos. Remember to high-pass filter the reverb and delay returns to keep the low-end of the mix uncluttered.
10. Edit binned tracks
If you are running out of inspiration and find yourself reaching into your vinyl collection for a loop to sample, try rendering some of your older unused tracks as audio and then cutting, re-sequencing, filtering and mangling them up. You may be surprised how many new ideas are generated this way.
11. Subtle variants
Deep house arrangements rely on subtly changing repetition rather than big leads, so you need to make the most of the sounds you have to keep a production interesting. Programming slight variations to synth lines and effects and tweaking sounds will keep the track moving. Remember also to automate any reverbs, delays and filters.