Garage is Back. How to Make UK Garage Music by Jeremy Sylvester
A few tips on how to make UK Garage from one of the most prolific UK Garage producers around, Jeremy Sylvester
The backbone of UK Garage – The Drums
A solid drum groove is the most essential element in any UK Garage track. Shuffling swung beats give UK Garage its unique stamp, so when building your drum pattern its important to set your quantize/swing groove to between 50-56%. This will set the tone for the rest of the elements added later on. A good tip is to start creating your drum patterns from a good drum kit, beginning with the kick drum. Spend time searching for good sounds. For 4x4 Garage tracks, a strong punchy kick drum that's not too bass heavy naturally with a nice mid range frequency is the perfect starting point for any groove. This will leave head room for when you start to look for sounds for the bass to create bass line patterns later on.
Once you've decided what kick you are going to go with, which can always be changed later on, search for a nice crispy clap, but try to take some release off it and shorten the length of it, if it has to much sustain. You want it to sound quite short and sharp, but not too short so that you can still hear the natural sound of it. From here begin to add all of the other elements of your pattern. It is very important to keep the groove simple, with enough space in the groove to add all your other sounds later on, so keep that in mind. Lots of people make the mistake, I included by over complicating the drums. Less is more as they say. The key is to make every element of your pattern have a role, so every drum element is there for a reason. Another good tip is to make several patterns, all slightly different to give your overall groove some variety. When programming drums, imagine you are a 'Drummer' and how a drummer plays to help you construct patterns.
Try to keep the kick drum and other bass parts in mono and other drum parts such as hi hats in stereo to give the groove a nice spread. Keep your hi hats neat and tidy. Another good tip is to try and keep effects on the drums to a bare minimum. Too much FX such as reverb can drown out the groove and make it too wet thus loosing the energy of the drums. This will be very noticeable over a club sound system. Additionally, try playing around with the pitch of the sounds. De-tuning kick drums or percussive elements of your groove will bring another dimension to your pattern and completely change the overall vibe.
Chords, Stabs & Melodies
As well as the groove drum pattern, another important element of UK Garage is the melodic structure. If you are not a keyboard like like most people, then you can always use one shots / hits to help you. One shots can be in the form or short chord keyboard hits, bass notes, percussive sounds or synth stabs. When creating a pattern, try to listen to the drum groove you have and work with it, not against it. The rhythmic pattern of your melody must compliment the groove, in other words, the drum pattern and the melody line must 'talk to each other'. It must become part of the groove. Try using low –pass filters automated by an envelope with effects to manipulate and create movement with the sound and add reverb for depth and warmth. Use parameter controls over velocity maps for example to control cutoff and decay. This will create shape and by adding compression to it will really bring out your sound to new life.
If you are going for a rhythmic UK garage 4x4 style, space is important. When I mentioned above about 'Less is more', it really means something here. Picture a melody in your head and imagine how people will be 'dancing' to it. This will determine the way you create your melodic groove pattern. UKG melodic patterns tend to be 'off beat' grooves and not straight line groove patterns. This is what gives it its unique style and vibe. When choosing sounds, try to look for rich harmonic sounds. Obscure jazzy chords, deep house chord stabs or even sounds sampled from classic keyboard synths such as Yamaha's Korg M1 keyboard for those classic organ sounds.
When arranging your song, always keep the DJ in mind and imagine how he/she will be mixing your track within their Dj set. The intro is very important for Dj's as this allows them enough room to mix your track into another. Make your arrangement progress in 16 bar sections, so the DJ and the clubber knows when to expect changes within the song. Within each of these sections, some elements of the groove may consist of 1, 2, 4 or 8-bar repeating patterns. These elements tend to move around by adding, removing or altering every four or eight bars.
Breakdowns tend to be in the middle of the track, so if you have a track that is 6 minutes, you can drop the breakdown around the 3 min mark. There is no hard & fast rule to this, so use your imagination, this is only intended as a guide. You could also have a mini breakdown either side of this, for instance right after the intro and just before the first major section of the song when everything is in. Try to be imaginative and try different arrangement ideas. You could start with drums then lead into some intro vocals then the mini drop, or you could start with a non-percussive intro building up into a percussive drum section and into the main section of the song, its totally up to you and depends on the elements you have within your song. Another good tip is to finish the final section of your sing with drums. This is something a DJ really likes, as it allows once again for them to start mixing in another track within their Dj set.
Vocals & Vocal Chops
Garage is known for its very percussive vocal chops which is an essential part of the genre, especially when you are doing 'Dub versions'. You can use various kinds of midi based samplers and software instruments to do this. Back in the day, Akai samplers were very popular. You would chop up and edit sounds within the device and map it across a keyboard and play it manually. Nowadays there are many different ways of doing this such as Ableton Live sampler or ES24 being the most popular. Have a play around with vocals by chopping up samples every syllable. You could have a short vocal phrase of 5-6 words, but once chopped up and edited you can create double or even treble the amount of samples allowing you possibilities to manipulate the phrase in any way you want, even completely disguising the original vocal hook. Map out these vocals across a keyboard of matrix editor and have fun coming up with interesting groove vocal patterns over your groove pattern. Try adding effects and filters and play around with the sound envelopes in much the same way you would with 'one shot chord sounds' as explained earlier. Treat the vocals as a percussive element of the track, but listening to the melody and lyrical content so it still makes sense to what the track is about. It's a good idea to program 4-5 variations to choose from.
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