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Learning how to make your own dubstep that sounds epic, original, has a clean mixdown and excites your listeners is where we should all be aiming towards (if you’re a dubstep producer!). Unfortunately a lot of dubstep out there sounds like garbage – rushed and predictable – the sound of robots raping each other.

Dubstep producers want their music to sound loud so badly that they often crush everything up against a limiter or maximizer on the master channel, which completely destroys the dynamic range of the song, making it sound even more processed and unnatural. The lack of dynamic range means that there is no life left in the music. You may have heard of the loudness war, which is a common theme among mastering engineers. You can read some tips on how to master your own music here.

I think dub step as a genre can sound incredible (think about Seven Lions and Xilent’s production skills). It takes time to make a song sound well polished and original. There are a lot of ways to make each element of the song sound amazing in itself, and this is one of the major keys to getting the overall song to sound amazing. Make each element of your song really pop! Let’s look at how to do this.

It’s Gotta sound epic! 

I think it is important to note that while we say dub step is typically at a tempo between 140 and 145 BPM, the snare is usually half tempo, so a more accurate tempo would be 70 – 72.5 BPM. For this reason, there is a natural epicness that comes into play with this slowed down tempo.

Making each element of your track sound big with the sound design helps toward the epicness. You can do this by increasing the unison in your synth. For bass sounds I usually use a unisono of between 4 and 6 in massive. I use between 3 and 4 for pads, and around 4 for synths.

Another way to get that epic feel is by using reverb and delay. Used carefully and not overly done, this can have a more dramatic effect. Focus on the stereo settings of these effects, the decay time, room size, density etc. and play around with the settings for a while to fine tune them. Also use a low cut filter on them to save room in the lower region of your frequency range for other elements. Only use exaggerated reverb and delay on certain elements. You wouldn’t use a long reverb on the lows and mids of the bass for example.

The Pads

A lot of producers use long, drawn out notes. One excellent technique is to layer pad chords over the top of long bass notes. These two instruments playing in harmony will create a big epic feel. I like to side chain my pads to the kick, or a dedicated silent sidechain track or channel in my DAW. I like the pads to rise up from silence to gradually become loud through each note, which gives more of a 3D feel to the whole song.

Sound design for pads: I usually go with the strongest waveform of them all – the square wave. I will have 3 oscillators making square waves, each playing at a different octave to get a really big sound. I may add a little bit of phase and slight distortion to dirty up the pad sounds.

One of my secret techniques is to take a long note of a woman’s voice singing, and put some eternal reverb on it, resample it and EQ it, then layer that over the top of my pads. This creates an interesting ethereal feel to the pads.

To create even more of a grandiose epic vibe, have gaps of silence between the long pad chords. Pads typically come in during at the start of the bar,  then stop suddenly when the snare sounds.

Drums and percussion

With this slow tempo, there is a lot of room to play with adding little shuffles and rhythms that make the overall groove of your song more interesting. The key is to play around with the groove and rhythm of the drums and percussion and leave out enough small gaps to create small tensions in the flow of the rhythm pattern. I spend a lot of time getting the groove interesting so that the song has its own character. A lot of the melodies will fit into this rhythm to make the individual elements of the overall song sound tightly woven together, so I like to get the percussion and hats worked out after the kick, snare and main chords of the pads and main long notes of the bass. From this point on I am able to start adding funky little intricate details to the bassline and other parts of the song.

The Snare

pitch the snare down a bit to make it sound more raw and cool. Time stretch it to keep its punch. Set up parallel distortion using a buss or return track, and parallel compression, but instead of using a compressor, use the Schaak Audio Transient Shaper. You have more control over the transients and the punchiness of the snare.

There are different approaches to actually designing your snare sound. Some people like to layer lots of different snares together. This creates a snare that has a lot of white noise on top, which can help it cut through the mix well, but this is quite an un-natural snare sound. Depending on the style of dub step you’re trying to make, you may want to use just one nice fat snare sample, and EQ it to sound exactly how you like it, then layer it with just a clap on top of it for the top end of the frequency spectrum. That will help your snare cut through the mix a little more.

Bonus: You can side chain other instruments to duck when the snare hits to make it cut through the snare more. You are then able to reduce the level of the snare slightly, and this will make your song sound a little louder overall. The key is to not go overboard with the sidechaining. Keep it subtle so people don’t even notice that the other instruments are ducking with the side chain.

The Kick & Snare Combo

Choosing the right kick drum that matches well with your snare is very important. I have a selection of about 12 kick drums that I really like, and I only use one of those with the snares. I usually make the snare first and then choose the best matching kick drum after that.

Another important thing about kicks is that, similarly to the snare needing some top end to cut through the mix, I like to use a kick that has some top end information, usually between 3 and 4 kHz, so that the kick will be clearly heard in the mix even at lower volumes.

Hats

The hats and other percussive sounds will have a major impact on the overall groove of your song. I spend a lot of time getting the right sounds. Another thing I do is layer Massive’s bright noise over the top of my hats to make them sound clearer and crisper. It brightens them up. You should set the level so that it is very subtle in the mix. I also recommend using the envelope 4 in Massive (which controls the attack, delay, sustain and release of the amplitude) to shape the bright noise transients.

Tuning your kick, snare and hats

I have found this word very well. Tune the drum sounds to the root note of your song. The drums will fit much better into the mix by doing this. By using a spectrum analyzer, some of them will tell you the corresponding note that goes with each frequency. Ableton Live’s Spectrum does this very well and I use it all the time, even though my main EQ (Fab Filter Pro Q) has a built-in spectrum analyzer. Unfortunately Pro Q doesn’t tell you the corresponding note of each frequency, which is why I use Ableton Live Spectrum.

Tuning your hats can be more difficult, because there is no obvious one point where they peak. I listen very carefully and tune them by ear. This has worked the best for me so far.

Bleeps and FX

Make your song sound more unique and exciting with small little bleeps that fit in well with the rhythm. Don’t go crazy here – being subtle is the key to getting the most interesting vibe. I make little bleeps in Massive or use other synths, and I also use a lot of one shot samples from Venegence sound packs.

Make Your Own Dubstep – Defining Your Own Trademark Sound

How To Make Your Own Dubstep

Arpeggios

The tempo of dub step is very slow, so an arp pattern will help to make it sound busier. To have maximum control over the arpeggio, I work out a rhythm first that fits with the groove of the drums, and I play that rhythm into the DAW with a single root note. Next in the piano roll I start moving different notes up and down to get a melody going. I also sometimes work out a melody playing it at half the tempo, then double the tempo of it once I’ve played it into my DAW piano roll. I automate a lot of different parameters on the synth playing the arpeggio, especially attack and release times, to create more movement and a build up of energy in the song as the intro gets closer to the main drop for example.

Don’t have the arpeggio playing for too long in the arrangement of the song. I may have it in the intro, interlude between the first and 2nd drops and the outro.

bass and sub bass

Spend a lot of time designing your bass patches. Try to bounce out long notes with lots of movement and filter changes. Bounce out and put in a sampler. Why? It saves on CPU, you can also EQ out nasty frequencies before bouncing out a long note, so when you play different notes from the resampled audio, the nasty frequencies never show up. This wouldn’t be the case if you kept working in midi, as your EQ VST couldn’t move up and down with the notches you created to eq out the nasty frequencies.

The sub bass should always be on its own separate channel and should be side chained with the kick. Here’s a video I made on how to set up your sub bass and do the sound design, sidechaining, compression and EQing, etc.

The video is no longer viewable.

Lead Synth

Use distortion on the lead synth to make it more prominent in the mix and sound more powerful. I sometimes use two different leads and frequency split them so they don’t create phase. One will take care of the mids frequency range and the other will occupy the highs. I use a compressor to glue them together more and then I try all kinds of effects on them.

Fills And Transitions

Using fills and transitions helps to make the song sound more exciting, more finished and professional. Fills and transitions can make a big difference between an amateurish sounding song and a well written, professional composition. I have written a lengthy article all about how to create original fills and transitions here. Some things to think about are adding drum fills, and also thinking about how a new sound or layer is introduced  and how it finishes as the song progresses – does it just end abruptly, or does its melody change and do something interesting that draws attention, creates excitement or tension in the song?

So if you want to know how to make your own dubstep that sounds epic and well polished, there are some things you can think about and start implementing into your production today.

Thanks for reading.

Luke