Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pro Tip #2 Softening Your Beats

After the last post, Strengthening Your Beats, follower Dwei asked an insightful question, "So what do you do if you want [the beats] a bit softer?"

This is a great question that reveals my tendency to make everything somewhat in your face. But there are definitely times when the beat of the music should be softened. This can work for an entire track, or even sections of a track to produce dynamic movement across the track. Hit the read moar button to learn three techniques to soften your beats or check out Electronic Music Production to learn all you ever wanted.







To soften your beats, one obvious solution is the inverse of the suggestion made in Strengthening Your Beats, simply turn up your drums as you are writing the rest of your track. The natural effect of this will be for you to write musical phrases that avoid the beat because of the drum's predominance.

Once you've written the rest of the elements within the track, turn your drums back down to their reasonable levels, and you should hear that the beat has been de-emphasized, the pulse will be weaker. This can be helpful in writing background tracks, tracks that the listener doesn't have to consciously pay attention to. This type of music can slip into the background and set a mood. But be careful, if you want to hold the listener's attention, it may be difficult once the pulse falls below a certain threshold.

Assuming you have already written your song and you feel your beat is a little too strong, there are three simple techniques to soften your beat. Before applying these techniques, you must first determine what is making the beat so strong. More often than not it will be the drums hammering away on the beat. But if you've been dutifully following my suggestions, you will likely have other musical elements strengthening your beat. For the examples below, we'll consider that it is the drums that are providing the foundation of your strong pulse, but whatever it is that is beefing your beat up, apply these techniques to those elements and you should have a softer pulse.

Decrease the level! It is obvious, but in the great big world of music production, the single most powerful attribute of a sound is its volume. The only trick here is to make sure you only turn down hits that occur on the beat. Pulse is created by the dynamic between loud and quiet; what we want to do here is decrease the dynamic range between the pulse occurring on the beat and the sounds in the off beat (sounds after the 1 but before the 2, after the 2 but before the 3, etc.).
Here the peaks are quite high on the quarter note beats, emphasizing the pulse for a very strong beat.
Here the level of hits on the quarter notes have been decreased, while the level of all other sounds off the beat have been increased, de-emphasizing the pulse, ultimately producing a softer beat. 



EQ! Another technique to soften your beat is to remove high frequencies from hits occurring on the beat. As sounds travel through the air, high frequencies are naturally attenuated. Because of this phenomenom, the brain perceives dulled sounds to be further away. If you remove high frequencies from hits occurring on the beat, the pulse will sound more distant, and therefore softer.

Transient Shaper! Get out that handy transient shaper, and soften the attack of elements landing on the beat. A transient shaper is a dynamics processor somewhat like a compressor or a limiter, but it functions in a slightly different, but significant way. Compressors and limiters are triggered when the level of the incoming sound exceeds a certain predetermined threshold. Transient shapers, on the other hand, are triggered by the rate of change between a quiet and a loud point of the sound. That means that the transient shaper is listening for the attack portion of sounds only, it doesn't really care about the raw amplitude of the sound like a compressor does. Therefore, you can turn down just the attack of hits that are occurring on the beat, the effect of which is to soften the pulse.

4! 4! There were only supposed to be 3? Well if you take anything away from this article, please take this: small changes to various attributes of a sound or the mix will likely produce better results than making one big change. So in this case, it might be helpful to drop the volume of hits landing on the beat a bit, pull out some of their high frequencies, and then soften the transients a touch.  All of these slight adjustments together will help you to soften your beat in a natural, almost spookly transparent way.

57 comments:

  1. These are great tips! Kinda makes me wish I was still making music, but alas, books are my new obsession. Perhaps someday I'll form another band...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Big ups on this! Useful shit here. Short attack compression is mighty useful for flattening things out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great tips, perfect for the sort of music I'm making at the mo.

    ReplyDelete
  4. always something useful here :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great info for all the producers out there!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The main problem i have seen with people softening their beats... is making them basically inaudible unless you turn up the base on your system a lot..

    ReplyDelete
  7. step 3: ??? but step 4: profit.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't understand much when it comes to making music, but this might -slowly- help a bit.
    Also, we need more titty cats hahaha

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with the comment above. i have no idea what you're talking about. haha. I just listen to music. I'm not good at anything else. omg. How sad!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Very informative, although I have no music talent what so ever, so it doesn't help me. I need a guide on how not to be terrible. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very instructive info, as always. :D

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is a good tutorial, thanks man!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Some very useful tips. Should be helpful for some of my friends (although may be useful to me too if I get into this)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great tip. Going to practice this when I get the chance.

    ReplyDelete
  15. interesting read. pretty usefull

    ReplyDelete
  16. listen if i made beats this would be Awesome but i am forced to link to a friend :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Cant you just put a pillow over the speaker?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm starting to learn this just to play around with in my free time. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Alright, makes sense. Good to see that my comments are being read too. :P

    ReplyDelete
  20. Life's a series of beats and loops

    ReplyDelete
  21. Very useful stuff. Now if only I can learn to throw down some good beats.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Some reverb is always good for adding depth and setting them back a bit in the mix.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Soft beats?! Who needs those?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hmmmm I might just try making something myself, I think I'll do good after reading this blog that is.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I've always wondered if Ozzy Osbourne mightn't benefit from some beat softening.

    ReplyDelete
  26. A really very interesting read! I hope you keep updating us with more info!

    ReplyDelete
  27. This is really helpful, thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Great tips! Always informative for someone who wants to improve their skills

    ReplyDelete
  29. itd be cool if you did charts for 2 +3 but i understand

    ReplyDelete
  30. Very useful in case I'll ever decide to make music (which probably won't happen but it's good to know nevertheless).

    ReplyDelete
  31. Helllllooooo

    Got beats softer than a mouse farting on a pack of charmin.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Great follow up to your previous article.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Interesting, nice to see you replying to peoples questions!

    ReplyDelete
  34. great info i seen many usefull stuff XD
    learn learn

    ReplyDelete
  35. Nice tips - been into music production for years had never heard of a Transient Shaper.

    Now I feel dumb.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Thanks for the update! Followed!

    ReplyDelete
  37. This is a little above my head but I have a friend who I'm sure would read this like it was porn.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Really helpful stuff. Step one was especially helpful for me. I am going to be saving this post as a reference for the future. I think I've been pretty much butchering the dynamic range on some of my past mixes in an effort to make them louder. Thanks a lot for the tips.

    ReplyDelete