Atmospheres and sound beds can add real warmth and texture to productions, and recording your own is straightforward. This could be anything from wind, the sound of a trickling stream, birds singing. Taking your field recorder on a country walk and you should have ample opportunity to record some nice ambient sounds. Once back in the studio, be sure to EQ out any unwanted low frequency from the recordings and try mixing with your drum track. Begin with the level very low and bring it up until it’s just audible, even try a subtle amount of ducking on the kick drum for a more rhythmic feel.
Resonant spikes in the audio are never pleasant on the ear, especially when you consider the sounds you’re crafting in the studio are indented for much louder playback in the club, where those resonances will be amplified.
Make sure you analyse your field recordings for any unwanted resonant frequencies, and use the notch method to identify and reduce them. Use a bell filter on your EQ, boosted by +5/10dB with a very narrow Q and sweep up and down, any particularly unpleasant frequencies you hear notch them out. Or something like Fabfilter’s Pro-Q2 is an excellent plugin for notching out resonances, featuring a Spectrum Grab that allows you to intuitively draw your EQ curves. Or Soothe by Oek Sound, that is designed specifically for such a task, doing all the hard work for you.
When you’re out making field recordings there is the tendency to record as much as possible, and whilst this is good practice it will undoubtedly leave you with more work to do in post-production; loading long audio files into your DAW and listening through for sections of interest. This is where something like Logic Pro’s Strip Silence can make this workflow a lot less painful. Intelligently stripping out any silence sections from a piece of audio, allowing you to set Threshold, Attack and Release times accordingly. Not all DAW’s have such a feature, unfortunately, so investigate if there’s an audio editor up to the task. For example, Audacity has a Truncate Silence feature that performs the same task.
One of the great things about field recordings is being able to capture anything in an instant, so try thinking outside the box and attempt to capture something unique or different. So while pots, pans and other standard household objects all make for useable drum sounds, what about capturing something more bizarre or unusual to use as sound FX incidentals such as the water emptying out of the sink or mustard seeds popping in a frying pan. With the right processing, such sounds can create lovely textures, especially when you begin to pan around the stereo field and add reverb and delay tails.
Go Off Grid
Once you’ve captured some of your own sounds, try a different approach with the programming and turn off the grid. Burial famously used Soundforge to produce Untrue, featuring no grid or snap function this contributed hugely to the sound and feel of his drums. Manually creating his own groove. Either play beats live with your MDI keyboard/controller or programme them in with your mouse, manually shifting hits slightly to the left or right until you achieve the desired amount of swing.