1. Devil in the detail
If a groove isn’t working, maybe there’s too much going on. Instead of adding more elements, try muting a few parts: a simpler groove can often be more effective when processed right than an over-busy one. Shift hits on the grid to ensure each one gels in the groove and delivers maximum sonic impact; ditch ones that don’t. This detailed beat-tweaking can be a time-consuming process, but it’s essential if you want to up your beat-making game.
Working a side-chained field recording of a walk in the park or night-time noise (for example) under a beat can really change the feel of a track. Layering subtle crackles, FX or background noise that pumps against the kick is a tried-and-tested method of adding depth and warmth to a beat – two fundamental traits of the deep house sound. Remember that this noise can be automated: if it feels overpowering during a busy musical part of the mix then simply turn it down – or fade it out completely.
Deep House often shuns the shiny, polished production values prevalent in other dance music genres. Which means scratchy samples, grainy elements, loose rhythms and dissonant progressions are all welcome in the mix. It’s these imperfections that bring life to the genre. Use downsampling to introduce lo-fi sounds, throw in some wonky triplet rhythms, play drums in live to maintain the human feel: use every trick at your disposal to mar the sheen.
Use syncopated delays to create abstract passages or breaks. Placing a reverb plugin before the delay blurs the delays, giving an analogue-style warmth to the deep dub vibes.
5. Work the filter
Filters play a key role in deep house. Assign an LFO (on your synth or sampler) to modulate the filter cutoff. Automate it in conjunction with other effects to create ever-evolving lead lines, or to introduce gentle washes to Rhodes lines.
Another trick is to filter the whole track while leaving some elements unfiltered. To choose which elements remain unfiltered, send all parts to a single filtered bus, and then start sending single elements to an unfiltered bus. When you have a selection of unfiltered elements that work well you can use these in breakdowns or short one-bar fills over the top of the filtered parts. An easier way of doing this is to bounce down the full track, place it on a new audio track, add a filter plugin on it and automate it as you wish and then layer the unfiltered elements above it. It’s a new take on the classic filtered disco trick and one that’s getting use in a good number of tracks.
6. Who snares wins
It’s all too easy to see the clap or snare as the kick drum’s dull sonic relative. But in deep house these upper beat constituents play a key role. Start by layering snare and clap sounds to make them your own. They can be layered further with vinyl noise, dusty bites or vocal hits. Send constituent parts to a single master bus and then run them through a compressor, some mild distortion (valve works well) and then give them a touch of reverb (try everything from room to plate, hall to chamber). Cut the lows for a lighter feel and to carve space for the kick. Make more of them by placing them on creative points in the groove rather than the usual 2nd and 4th beats of the bar. And don’t forget to change velocities: ghost notes that barely register play an integral part in interesting beats.
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