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Stay Creative in the Studio #5: Use Time-Based FX to Create the Groove

Nov 06, 2019

Groove is a critical factor in modern music, but for producers who are not drummers, it can be a challenge to create an interesting feel for the song. Learn to use your time-based FX tools to create inspiring rhythmic ideas.

By Josh Bonanno

Stay Creative in the Studio #5: Use Time-Based FX to Create the Groove

Rhythm and groove are some of the most important factors in modern music productions. But if you’re not a drummer by nature, creating fun, unique and interesting grooves to build the rest of your song around can be a challenge. Pre-made loops can help inspire ideas and there are countless virtual drumming software programs out there. But what happens when those tools just don’t cut it anymore, or you begin to get into a rut of writing the same grooves? Learning to create more interesting and unique grooves using the tools you have is a great way to stay inspired and bring new life into your productions.

Without having a drum kit readily available (and being rhythmically challenged to begin with), I enjoy using some pretty standard methods and tools to mix it up rhythmically in my productions. One of my favorite ways to spice up loops or standard grooves is to let time-based FX like delay or modulation do the work for me. Because most plugins can sync with the tempo of your session and DAW, it makes transforming loops that much easier. Let’s look at 3 ways to quickly and easily transform a basic 8-bar loop into something new and inspiring.

1. Delay

Using delay is a quick and easy way to augment a groove or change it into something entirely new. Changing the feel of a loop isn't limited to any single delay plugin, as they all have something unique to offer. H-Delay and Manny Marroquin Delay are both great starting points and offer creative color. I generally like to stereo unlink the delay to allow the left channel to react differently to the right channel. This allows a wider stereo image and more overall variation and interest to the groove.

In the following example, I inserted an H-Delay on my loop with a dotted quarter-note setting on the left and a dotted eighth-note on the right, leaving the wet/dry mix at about 50% to let some of the original groove poke through and not change the beat entirely. I set the feedback high enough to create interest but still not get in the way of the beat itself. Additional plugin features on delays can be fun to experiment with too. H-Delay allows me to filter my repeats so they feel as if they are decaying and getting further away. The added modulation can bring in some interesting movement as well. These tools have the potential to breathe new life into your rhythmic ideas.

2. Modulation

Modulation effects like choruses, flangers and phasers don’t quite change the groove of a loop as much as a delay will, but can still bring interesting flavor to an otherwise ordinary beat. The added movement and phase shifts introduced by these effects make the rhythm feel different, bringing new energy, and creating new points of emphasis within the groove. There are plenty of modulation effects out there, many available in stomps within the GTR3 series.

For this loop I used MetaFlanger. Dialing in some fairly liberal settings and syncing the plugin to my DAW’s tempo, things started to feel different. The stereo field gets wider and more interesting as the beat bounces back and forth. The claps are also accentuated and given more interest as the delay goes up. Turning the mix knob closer to 100% wet allows a usually organic-sounding groove to become something very synthetic and electronic sounding.

3. Automation

Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time automating some parameters on the plugin to spice up your grooves. By automating the feedback or delay time on the 2 and 4 of the beat you can accentuate things even more, making your beat more impactful and interesting. The same goes for modulation effects. Automating the rate or depth to increase gradually throughout the entirety of the 8-bar loop can create some subtle tension that will build interest as the loop progresses.

Challenge yourself to take some of your old loops and transform them into something new and interesting! What techniques do you use to make more vibey grooves?

Want more ideas on staying creative in the studio? See how you can use your gear for unintended tasks.

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