The best Organic House Music producers recognise the importance of having a solid drum groove in their tracks. Percussions are arguably the most vital part of any dance music genre, but organic house drums must act as more than just the rhythmic backbone of a track.
The soft and attentive drums associated with this genre, when done correctly, can breathe life, add texture, and can even act as a melodic element to your track all simultaneously.
By listening to the top-tier artists dominating the genre, we notice a natural fluidity in the percussion of organic house music that is not present in other genres. This is a staple of this newly-defined niche, and something we will be discussing at length later on. The significant thing to understand right now is form is often more important than function when handling these drums, which is to say that the texture of a hit is often more valuable than its punch, clarity, or sonic precision.
Artists signed to labels like Anjunadeep and All Day I Dream all have unique styles of programming these drums. Lane 8's percussion are direct and to the point, allowing the lead melodies to dominate his productions' foreground. Compare that to Sebastien Leger, who creates driving rhythms by mixing his irregular arpeggiator melodies underneath his far more complex percussive sequences.
These two approaches to drum programming seem to occupy similar spaces due to their imperfect or unconventional character. Sometimes a clap or snare is used for a backbeat, but not always. The same can be said about off beat hi-hats or other rhythmic loops used in the groove.
So let us dig in..
Black Octopus thrives off of its versatility and breadth of sample packs available. Their ambient and world music genre packs will offer plenty of great material. Note that many percussive hits included in these packs feel designed to be at the forefront of a mix. Watch out for samples that include sub-bass frequencies or reverb-heavy samples. They are phenomenal samples but may take some adjusting to get to sit appropriately in the mix.
Origin Sounds is a UK-based sample company whose ambient, IDM, and world music sample packs share similar qualities to those of Black Octopus. The samples that this company sells are crispy, clean, and always usable. What many producers love most about these packs is that they include longer loops and sequences of more complex percussion. These loops are great for chopping, editing, and rearranging into more extended and complex organic house drums.
Sample Magic deserve every bit of acclaim they receive. It would be easy to recommend looking into their ambient, deep, or afro-house packs. However, Sample Magic is a popular enough name that we can assume that thousands of other producers use those packs within the same niche that we are producing. Sample Magic shines with its off-genre sample packs. Look to their jazz-focused percussion packs for dusty, textured snares and their west-coast hip hop packs for textured snares that punch through a mix.
Artist Sample Packs - Many top-tier artists get commissioned to make artist sample packs. These packs are great because they are guaranteed to be track-tested and used in the artists' releases. Artist sample packs truly shine when sourcing kick samples as good kicks are the holy grail of dance music, and the kicks in these packs are dance-floor ready right from the box.
It may seem counterintuitive, but recording your samples can immensely speed up your workflow when you compare the amount of time we spend fruitlessly digging through sample packs. There are endless found percussion and foley sample packs available to buy, but having sample packs of personally-recorded hits and bits is second to none.
Picture a production session as one large puzzle, with only a few sections left to finish. Those sample packs could easily be filled with hundreds of thousands of potentially correct pieces (samples) to fill in those sections of your tracks, but finding the perfect combination would take precious hours and detract from the creative workflow. Recording your samples with digital recorders or directly into your DAW allows you to create the sample or loop to the track now from the start.
But sample packs also offer a valuable perspective, as they are professionally recorded hits that could perfectly complement other percussion loops in the arrangement. Find packs that offer longer environmental foley loops (as in one minute or longer) to mine shorter hits and bits if recording your own is not an option.
Here are a few great field recorders to help get you started making your own samples:
Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder - This is the model to buy if you plan on only buying one portable recorder. Its travel-friendly size makes it easy to bring with you on outdoor outings or to travel abroad. But watch for its onboard storage, which comes in small at 2GB
iZotope SP111 Spire Studio - Brought to you by the famous plugin company responsible for the Ozone mastering suite and Trash distortion plugin, this portable recorder is Izotope's first foray into hardware. Its sleek design is easy to look at, and its sturdy design means it can handle a few bumps and bruises while on the go.
Tascam DP-006 Digital Portastudio Multitrack Recorder - This is the preferred portable recorder for musicians looking to record ideas while on the go. It is battery operated, which means you do not have to rely on phantom power (this can be very liberating). But this recorder truly shines by offering two inputs with quarter-inch jacks for easy access to external instruments. This may need a separate microphone though, which requires a steeper upfront investment.
The rise in popularity of the organic house genre can be largely attributed to Anjunadeep's brand and sound. A half-decade ago, the label was releasing darker and more driving progressive tracks. They have since transitioned into deeper and more texturally complex house music. So let us unpack two elements that give Anjunadeep style organic house percussion their signature energy.
The majority of drums across any genre will require a touch of reverb to help them sit in the mix. However, the drums used throughout Anjunadeep tracks often approach reverb in a slightly different fashion. These drums tend to be placed forward in the production, cutting through the mix with a brightness that harkens back to the club-centered tracks released in previous years.
The way we use reverb in this instance should start before we even reach for our reverb plugins. Begin by leaving intentional space in the drum patterns. Spend time ensuring the percussions are tight and syncopated, leaving intentional space for the reverb to fill eventually. It is easy to get the impression at this stage that the drums are sterile and dull, lacking the intimacy and coloration of Ajunadeep's tracks. Nevertheless, spending a small amount of extra time here will make the reverb shine all the clearer in the later steps.
Plate reverb will be our best friend once we are ready to reach for one of the many different reverbs' styles at our disposal. This reverb style is designed to give it an unnatural brightness and false sense of immediacy that can add shine and clarity to an instrument, where other reverbs add depth. Set the decay times on the reverb plugins to be shorter, which creates a perception that the percussion is closer to the listener.
Pair this plate drum reverb with a secondary reverb on an auxiliary channel. Use a standard reverb approach here, applying chamber or room reverbs to place the percussion in an authentic space. When adjusting this reverb's settings to taste, pay close attention to the pre-delay and decay. These parameters should allow the reverb to fill in the intentional space left in the drum patterns. Try adjusting the pre-delay and decay to something close to the track's tempo for added rhythmic cohesion. When paired with the plate reverb, this second reverb gives that textured intimacy associated with Anjunadeep style organic house percussion.
Enamour said in a recent masterclass with MYT that you do not need to cram everything into your percussion. Arrangements. Outside of the core hats, claps, and kicks, you often only need one rhythmic element that allows you to feel something outside of the core drums. Tonal, melodic percussions work great for this situation. They act like an anchor where everything else can expand around.
Let us take a different approach from conventional layering techniques to make our percussion patterns gritty, textured, and genuinely unique.
The next time you take a walk outside, be mindful of the sounds around you. Notice the snaps of the twigs under your feet. Hear the friction of a thousand raindrops hitting the pavement. Find the rhythmic patterns of your feet against the gravel. Everything in the world has a percussive element that we can add to our tracks. If you don't think they do, rest assured that your DAW can force transients and textures out of almost any sound.
Think of ways to mix these transients behind your drum hits and loops. The Anjunadeep producer Gallego said in a video that he combines singular drops of rain into his hi-hat loops because rain has a crisp timbre he has come to love.
How else can you apply this principle to other percussion sounds?
It is obviously advised that you record your samples for this, but it is not a necessity.
Field recordings can be found on all popular sample library platforms, and Freesound.org can be an indispensable source
Tracks released on All Day I Dream have a signature quality when compared to the previously mentioned Anjunadeep. The slower tempo and lighter tonality require slightly different approaches if you want to achieve this sound's rolling and dreamy vibes. Anjunadeep finds its roots in progressive house genres; ADID originates from classic house genres, which means that percussion is the front of the track's melodics.
The loose and layered drum programming of this style often creates fairly dense arrangements, at least where the drums are concerned. Layers of hats, shakers, bongos, claps, and other supplemental percussion loops can clutter up a mix before we even reach for reverb or delay. The subtle use of reverb will add cohesion and unity across the percussion, but heavy-headed use of the effect will create a cluttered and washed-out effect that leaves little room for anything else.
Instead, create transitional effects by applying high levels of reverb to the ends of sections. The washed-out build created by reverb sweeps will save room in your arrangements, as you will need far less transitional effects like sweeps or risers. This also works to add cohesion and unity throughout the track, but only when used sparingly.
Everything in art is about contrast. Just because this genre thrives off softer tones and whimsical elements do not mean we need to sacrifice the punch or clarity required to make your music effective on the dancefloor. Ensure your percussion keeps the dance floor moving by selecting one or two elements with your percussions that genuinely pop out of the speakers.
The two percussive elements that will serve you the best in this regard will be clap/snares or your off-beat hats. These two elements underpin the track's groove, and a certain amount of attack is needed, no matter how soft or dreamy the vibe of the song as a whole. Do not think you need to reach for aggressive off-genre samples to fulfill this need; watch for samples to crisp transients. Hip-hop snares and claps work well for this, and classic 909 hats or rides bring similar crispness to your off-beat drums.
The Organic House genre thrives off of delicate choices and decisions at every stage of the production process. Sound choice, mixing, and even mastering all must be done with a light touch.
The genre has risen to popularity and has quickly become a dominant part of the content we bring to our community of producers at Make Your Transition. Our weekly masterclasses have featured long-form interviews with Tim Green, Enamour, and even Patrice Baumel himself.
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