For today’s production tip I want to talk a bit about how we can combine multiple drum samples properly. If you really want your tracks to compete with the pros, stacking multiple samples, whether for your kick, snare, or any percussive sound, is really important. The problem is without a solid understanding of the common mistakes most people make when stacking samples, this can be extremely hard to do well. Today I want to talk a bit about phase and it’s extreme importance when making drum samples.
Phase cancellation is the most common mistake people make when stacking sounds. Take a look at the bottom diagram in this photo: notice how the two sine waves (which could be the beginning of any kick sample) are in exact phase cancellation: when one sine wave goes up over zero, the other sample goes below zero (zero is the middle line). This becomes basic math: when you add a positive and a negative of equal value, what do you get? Absolutely nothing.
Now take a look at the top diagram. This is what often happens when people create their own drum samples from multiple sounds. Although the phases between the two samples don’t cancel completely, they do cancel partially which weakens the sound of the resulting waveform. Have you ever combined two solid drum samples that on their own sound quite powerful, only to sound mushy or muddy when combined? This is why. If you don’t pay careful attention to the phase relationship of your samples, you will actually end up with a very weak resulting kickdrum.
In the first audio clip below, you’ll hear two nice 808 kick samples that I want to combine. One is at C3 and it adds some tonal color to the sound, while the one on C2 is a heavy, powerful sub bass kick that will really hit the subwoofer of any club.
In the next clip, you’ll hear two versions of these kicks stacked together, and with their releases turned down. The first is what happens when I simply layer them up in a sampler, without attention to phase. Notice theres a phasey weirdness in the sound, and the low end of the kick is less defined - definitely not what we’d want driving the low end of a club track. In the second clip, I’ve aligned the samples phase more precisely, and the result is a much punchier, deeper, and more firm kick. We’d still need to envelope this second sample a little more, and it would need a hi hat or topkick sample before it would be complete - but hopefully you get where I’m going on these examples with regard to phase alignment.
To make this more clear, take a look at these screenshots from Ableton. The first pair is the low kick (C2) and the high kick (C3), with their start points set at how they are in the first “phasing” clip. Notice that while the C2 kick’s waveform initially goes above zero, and then back down below, the C3 kick’s waveform simply starts going below zero. This results in the partial phase cancellation you hear in the phasing example above. In the third photo, you can see that I’ve adjusted the start point of the C2 sample so that it also goes below zero at start - meaning these two kicks now add to each other, as their initial phases are in line, instead of weakening each other.
First sample fixed: