We recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with the creators behind our best-selling Reworked Breaks collection. They gave us in-depth insight into the gear used to create such a diverse collection, challenges faced & offered advice for anyone looking to create their own music or design sound libraries.
What were your biggest challenges in creating Reworked Breaks?
“The biggest challenge by far was matching the quality set by the Vintage Breaks series we were following on from, as they really set the bar high in terms of quality. The pack involved a lot of research into not only the drum sounds and recording techniques of the 60s, 70s, and 80s but also sampling techniques, retro hardware and time stretching algorithms.
This style and groove is a great love of ours. Getting into the mindset of some of our favourite drummers and trying to quote their nuances can be labour of love. Also being conscious of the original feel of the breaks and of the recordings of the reference tracks is important.”
Tell us a little more about the workflow and process creating reworked Breaks?
“We tracked several days worth of original vintage-sounding breakbeats in three different studios across London, each studio offering us a different set of parameters and hardware to work with. We used a pool of around 100-or-so classic breakbeats as reference material, paying careful attention not only to the sound of the kit and room but grooves and other stylistic idiosyncrasies, percussion, reverb, processing etc.
Choosing the correct room for each beat as was important as selecting the right drums from the vast resource of kicks, snares, * cymbals, heads, stick, beaters and dampening techniques available to us. We captured lengthy takes with state-of-the-art microphones, preamps, compressors and EQs from vintage and modern sources, often comparing the same beat with different choices of all of the above.
Once in Logic the drums were mixed and mastered as if they were original breakbeats lifted from vinyl. We used retro emulation plugins as well as hardware, tape saturation, convolution reverb and whatever was needed to finish off these already classy sounding beats covered in dust and dirt.
From there the stereo files were imported into Ableton Live and treated as if they were 1st generation samples, sometimes layered with 808 or 909 one-shots, pitched up, re-arranged, resampled into an array of classic samplers and then the process was sometimes repeated. By the time the beats had been bounced and exported two or three times, they started arriving at what we were after.
Some samples were pitched up or down, some layered, others have noise added, some were cut-up, processed but in nearly all instances we ended up with something original and different but somehow still true to the breakbeats were recorded in the first place.
We tried to closely match beats from classic breakbeat rave, oldskool, golden era hip hop, jungle DnB, house, broken beat and everything in between. This meant sometimes limiting us the equipment and techniques available to producers from those eras.”
Tell us a little about the gear you used for this release?
“For the 60s sounding recording, we used vintage Coles ribbon mics, mostly working in mono. Sometimes we’d put one mono overhead over the whole kit and other times we’d use one across the snare and one just out from the kick – a classic Motown era drum micing techniques.
These were captured with vintage Altec, Abbey Road or Chandler pre-amps and compressed with Pultec EQs and optical compression. The idea was to capture roomy performances with plenty of lively compression crushing the cymbals in a pleasant way. Sometimes we’d add in authentic vinyl crackle or tape hiss where necessary. We even recruited a 1930s era mono compressor used during World War 2 for some of the earliest sounding jazzy breaks.
Moving to 70s beats we’d gradually move to more and more stereo recordings, using a pair of Coles or sometimes a pair of pencil condensers such as the KM184s. We’d sometimes accentuate the sound with an SM57 on the snare and U47 FET or RE20 on the kick.
We would add depth with a plethora of optional room mics from vintage U47s and U67s to C414s or Royer R121s through Neve mic pres (1078 or 1081). The treatment was similar but focusing on the closer elements of the kit and having the stereo width add an extra dimension. We’d smash these into 1176 FET compressors or dBX 118s.
Lastly, for 80s beats, we zoomed in even further preferencing isolation over ambience. We used more and more modern microphones and preamps but mostly settled on SSL G-series, Avalon, API and TLA. We would use digital reverbs such as Lexicon and EMT-clones, and compression and EQ would also more closely reflect the era.
Drum wise we mostly used 60’s 3 ply Ludwigs and 70’s Ludwig Vistalites. For cymbals we usually went back to a 60’s set of Avedis’. We used a plethora of snares including studio standards Ludwig 400 / 402 / Acrolite to some single ply Slingerland Artist series, Slingerland Sound King, Yamaha SD-493, 60’s Kent single tension drum amongst a host of others. Then heads, tuning, and dampening give each drum another host of voices to play with.”
What’s a unique unconventional production technique you would like to share with our readers?
- Recording beats at one tempo, processing them then pitching them up. We do this a lot for simulating breakbeat rave or jungle/DnB loops. Processing beats at faster tempos and pitching them down works great after some sample rate reduction too – this given a softer cymbal sound whilst retaining a crunch to it.
- Heavily enveloping sounds can rid you of cymbal noise, you can add ambiance back in with tight convolution reverb. Transient designers or gates can achieve fantastic results. Don’t be afraid of gating close mics if you have overheads to bring in to compensate.
- iPhone mics are great for trashy room mic sounds. Phase align to tighten it up or add sample delay to fake depth. Ensure you EQ out any nasty spikes in the higher frequencies though.
- Passive and tube EQs are great for subtle mastering FX. While they’re not as precise as their modern digital counterparts but what they lack in detail they make up for in character.
- Similarly, experiment with different compression algorithms – optical, FET, VCA and VariMu all sound vastly different slapped across a pair of overhead mics, especially at higher ratios and low thresholds. Don’t leave attack and release settings where they are: get in there an listen to how shorter attacks squash transients lengthier ones allow them to breathe.
- Don’t be afraid to leave hum from the mains in there. Compression can make it feel a part of the sound. Same goes for tape hiss, vinyl crackle, and Sampler artifacts. Noise is often what makes these breaks sound less clinical. With digital audio workstations it’s sometimes tempting to be over surgical with recordings – let go!
- Bolster kicks with tight pitch enveloped sine waves and snares with white or pink noise. Adding a touch of reverb will soon blend it in. Yes, this technique might not be authentic but once you’ve recorded your drums if they don’t contain the necessary frequencies you need to get them in there somehow.
Finally, what advice do you offer for anyone up and coming trying to make music or indeed create Sound Libraries
“Don’t lose sight of what it is you’re trying to achieve. Too many producers overwhelm themselves with often needless and superfluous detail when often what is sacrificed is their musicality. 99% of your listener base don’t know or care you arrived at where you did, so just make sure you arrive there.
Of course, this doesn’t mean technical detail should be ignored, far from it, but my advice is to create the conditions and environment where you’re free to be musical without having to worry about technicalities. This comes from preparation.
If it’s recording drums, ensure you’ve line-checked every mic before recording. Nothing saps the energy out of a session like constantly switching between mics, preamps, outboard etc. Get the sound then get on with it.
The same goes for sound design, if you’re collaborating with another producer or singer, it’s pretty tedious watching them build a Massive patch from the bottom up. Do your sound design in advance of the sessions or get close enough then tidy it up in your own time.
From a drummers’ perspective in making music then go down the rabbit hole, learn, play and love your influences and then find their influences and so on. Building a leaned knowledge of players, styles, feel etc will help shape your own individuality. Also one of my favorite quotes is “you are the only person that can speak with your voice unless you give it some credence, nobody else will”. (Of course, I can’t remember/find who said it.)
In regards to playing for sound libraries then I found having reference tracks key to help my ear figure out sounds to play with. Also, old funk/soul records were seldom recorded to a click, replicating this organic feel can be tricky as to not make the beat sound too rigid or in some sense perfect.”