The art of making great beats using your digital audio workstation begins with building a great sound palette. Whether you are using drum samples in a sequencer or a drum synthesizer, a key factor in making your sound come together is choosing elements that work well together within the sonic spectrum. This refers to choosing sounds that compliment each other within the sound field of your song.
One way to begin is by choosing a drum sound that really catches your ear. A good place to start is by selecting a kick drum, and then proceed to choosing perhaps a high hat and a snare drum to use in conjunction with the kick. Next make a simple 4 bar drum beat and play it in a loop in order to hear how they all sound in relation to each other. Once you do this and have your beat playing in a loop, you can play around with the sounds by changing them out until you find some elements that you think work well together.
As far as making a beat that has a nice groove to it, you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel if you are just starting out. You could always try and mimic the beat rhythm of a song that you already like. This time saving technique can be useful because it teaches you how to achieve a sound that you already find appealing while shedding light on how to create rhythm patterns that might be harder to stumble upon through experimentation. You can always embellish the beat to your liking later on by adding some extra well placed elements where they are called for.
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the effects that are available in your digital audio workstation because they are a great tool in helping to shape your sound. The use of EQ and compression can make or break a good beat. One advanced technique used by industry professionals is side chain compression, which if used properly can give elements in your beat room to shine by dynamically adjusting the volume levels of song parts in relation to your beat elements. Another great technique is to route elements to certain effects. One example is routing your high hats to a delay, which can take your groove in previously unimagined directions.
Breakdowns and build ups within the rhythm section of a song can make your arrangement dynamic and give it the tension and release it needs to be memorable. You can achieve this by subtracting elements from your main rhythm section to let the other parts of your song take the spotlight. One popular technique is to subtract all elements except for the kick drum and bass line. Once you have a general foundation for your rhythm section, you can then build upon it in context to the other parts of your song. These are just a few techniques for making great beats but one big thing to remember is that in digital music production it’s always best to start simple, making each element sound as sharp and clear as possible within the mix, and then expand from there.