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Beat Production: Mixing Loops and Samples Beyond the Basics

May 23, 2024

When working with loops and samples, compression, EQ and level adjustment are just the start. Leave your comfort zone, learn new loop and sample mixing techniques with our guide.

Beat Production: Mixing Loops and Samples Beyond the Basics

For many producers across a range of musical styles, samples are the bedrock of the modern music production process. Whether you’re a hip-hop producer who relies on loops to capture the right vibe, or a dance music producer who would be lost without drum one-shots, samples are a vital ingredient for creating great music.

It’s possible that you’re already applying some essential processing to your samples in the form of compression and EQ, but have you considered how more advanced processing might help your sample to reach its full potential? In this article, we’ll demonstrate some ways in which you can take your samples up a notch with the right tools and techniques.

In This Article

Enhance Transients with a Transient Shaper

There are very few characteristics of a sample that cannot be changed with the appropriate tools. For example, you might love the rhythmic and melodic components of a piano sample, but find it difficult to fit into your mix because the initial peak is slightly too pronounced. In this case, dialing back the pluckiness of the sound could help. This can be achieved by using an advanced transient shaping plugin like Smack Attack.

Place Smack Attack on the sample you want to process. This could be any kind of instrument, from synths and pianos to drums and guitars. Slowly bring the Attack control down until you achieve the desired level of transient shaping. A good rule of thumb is to reduce the control until you hear an audible pumping effect, then slightly increase it again. Similarly, you can increase the Sustain until you reach the desired volume contour. The plugin’s visualizer may help you to refine your transient shaping settings.

Refine your piano tracks with transient shaping

Now, the initial peak of our piano sound is much more muted, which helps it to sit further back in the mix.

Remove Reverb from Vocal Samples with Clarity Vx DeReverb

Sometimes, vocal samples come completely dry and ready for you to apply your own processing, but often they come with time-based effects applied, such as reverb. While this might be useful if the tone, length and character of the reverb already works with your production, there could be times when you want to strip the baked in ambience back and start again with a dry vocal sample.

Take this vocal passage for example, the reverb is quite noticeable, particularly the reverb tail at the end of the vocal take.

We can attenuate or even completely remove the reverb from the audio using Clarity Vx DeReverb. Simply place the plugin on the channel and increase the DeReverb amount until the reverb has been adequately removed. You can also try each of the Neural Networks to see which works most effectively. In our case, the Singing 1 mode sounded most natural on our vocal

Vocal sample reverb reduced

Control Room Noise with a Transient Shaper

Any instrument that has been recorded with a microphone may be prone to picking up the noise of the room, or even a background noise such as an electrical hum or environmental sound such as traffic. In those cases, you can use the Sustain control of a transient shaper like Smack Attack to attenuate the room noise, thus making the recording tighter and more transparent.

In this example, we’re working with a breakbeat loop, notorious for having a lot of room noise baked into the sample. We want to tighten things up a bit, so we’ve placed Smack Attack on the channel. Adjust the Sustain’s Sensitivity control to set the threshold at which Smack Attack will process the Sustain reduction, then reduce the Sustain until you achieve a tighter drum sound.

Reduce noise with transient shaping

Repitch Individual Drum Samples with Torque

As mentioned before, you can alter just about any characteristic of a sample, including the pitch. Historically, repitching drums has been a slightly contentious issue, as traditional repitching methods often led to unwanted transient smearing and aliasing. Today, specialist drum repitching tools such as Waves Torque can be used to alter the pitch of tonal drum sounds by up to one octave, without impacting the transient information.

Ideally, you will apply this process to a one-shot sample, then resample it in the correct key ready to be sequenced within your project. In this case, we’ve got a huge tom sound which contains both a noise transient part and a resonant tonal part.

Once you’ve figured out the key of your sample, place Torque on the channel containing it, then slide the Focus control to locate your sample’s fundamental frequency. This tells Torque where to apply the pitch adjustment.

Repitch your drum samples

After you’ve established your drum’s pitch, you can use the Torque knob to control the amount of formant shift of the tonal portion, without affecting the transient. In our case, reducing the pitch by 200 cents, or two semitones, brings our tom into the correct key.

Recycle Samples with CR8 Creative Sampler

A great way to create a sense of cohesion in your productions is by using the same sample in multiple ways. We’ve got a piano loop from the Waves Cosmos AI-powered Sample Finder,  which is the WA Clean Piano 80BPM 02 Fmin sample, but we also want to add a bass pad sound to sit underneath the piano loop.

Load the same sample into CR8 Creative Sampler and select the appropriate Scheme. In this case we’re using the Harmonic Stretch Algorithm, which is ideally suited to harmonic and complex samples such as piano loops.

Next, drag the Sample Start and End points to find a sustained portion of the sample in a suitable tone and timbre. Using the small cross icon, you can apply a fade to the sample loop to prevent clicks when the sample loops. You can also experiment with the play mode and sample playback speed to adjust how CR8 plays your sample back.

Adjust the Amplitude Envelope if necessary, and in our example, we’ve turned on CR8’s Unison mode to give the sound a bit of width and movement. You’re now able to play or program MIDI notes to trigger the sample as a sustained note.

Take your samples further

Get Lost in Waves StudioVerse

If you’re not familiar with Waves StudioVerse, it’s worth exploring its potential as a highly powerful and effective source of mix inspiration. StudioVerse is an AI-powered community for plugin chains, with thousands of mix chains from a range of established producers and engineers. Plugin chains are easy to browse with the intelligent tagging system making it extremely simple to completely transform the character of any loop.

Here, we’ve got the WA GuitarPick 114BPM 02 Amin guitar sample from Waves Cosmos, and we want to take that natural and dry sound to another dimension. At this point, we’re not exactly sure what we want to achieve, so we’re going to dip our toes in the StudioVerse to see what we can find.

After loading an instance of StudioRack on our guitar sample, then opening StudioVerse, we’ve applied the Motion Tag to try and find some interesting plugin chain presets.

Mixing in StudioVerse

Jeff Ellis’ Verse BGV with Swirly Adlibs adds some unique movement and space to our guitar, and creates a nice phasing sound.

The Synth Lead Europium Delays preset from Bluetech gives us a nice syncopated rhythmic delay effect.

After applying the Playful Tag, we found the Robo Blue Percussion – Electro Indigo preset, which uses Waves OVox and Abbey Road to create a filtered and chopped minor key chord sound that converts our guitar sample to a house-ready chord stab sequence.

Whichever StudioVerse preset you decide to use, you can tweak it using the predetermined Macro controls that are already assigned to a number of key parameters within the plugins. If you want to go deeper, you can switch from the Macro tab to the Rack tab to go in and alter each plugin’s configuration manually.

Apply Multiband Processing with StudioRack

One of the many strengths of StudioRack is the ability to apply parallel or multiband processing with any plugin. To do this, place StudioRack on a channel, open the Rack tab then click the + icon in a slot to select a device. From there, you can select the Parallel or Multiband Split device.

Mixing multiband in StudioRack

This is a highly useful tool for elements with a wide frequency range such as pianos, guitars and synths. Here, we’ve got a synth melody that requires some processing, but with different approaches in the low and high end.

By using StudioRack’s Multiband Split device, we can use Magma BB Tubes to add some analog-style warmth to the low end, and a unique space effect to the mid and high end using Magma Springs.

Add processing where you need it
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