Layering Snares using a Noise Gate and Pink/White Noise

Sound design tutorial on how to create new snare textures using a noise gate and pink/white noise.

Beat Construction


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As more and more commercial tracks are released by home studio owners and semi-professional studios the role of the producer has been updated to include a number of skill sets. Recording, mixing, producing and mastering are just some of the many skills producers are expected to have and that is on top of the skills required to run a business, market content and so on. We can now add sound design to the ever growing list of skills that producers need to have to provide a complete all in one service. The ability to create custom sound-sets to be used in productions is a huge plus as most commercial tracks benefit greatly from having unique sounds and signature production techniques.

Drums feature heavily in all music but when it comes to dance based music they become even more important as the drive element of a track is defined by the bass and drums. Creating unique drum sounds and drum sequences always grabs the listener’s attention as anything that is different to the norm stands out. We have got used to hearing the same drum sounds over and over again and at some point the ears/brain starts to ignore what the drums sound like and concentrates on other factors in a mix. So, it pays to spend some time creating unique drum textures.

Layering is a tried and tested technique that involves layering a drum sound with another sound either to reinforce the sound or to provide a different bed for the sound to lie in. What is used as a layer is down to what the producer feels the sound needs and there literally are no rules when it comes to deciding what to use as a layer. I have used all manner of sounds in my layering projects and the rule of thumb is very simple ‘if it works use it’.

Snares are not constrained by a specified range of frequencies like kick drums are. A snare can be an acoustic snare or a simple cowbell/stick layer, it can be a glitch static noise burst or a whip with acres of reverb….in fact most modern snares are a combination of multiple layers with each layer having a specific task to perform.

One extremely potent method of layering snare sounds is to use noise as a layer and then to shape that noise using a noise gate.

But before we start let us have a look at the various colours of noise. This is important because the different colours of noise have different uses.

Noise

In essence, noise is a randomly changing, chaotic signal, containing an endless number of sine waves of all possible frequencies with different amplitudes. However randomness will always have specific statistical properties. These will give the noise its specific character or timbre.

If the sine waves’ amplitude is uniform, which means every frequency has the same volume, the noise sounds very bright. This type of noise is called white noise.

White noise is a signal with the property of having constant energy per Hz bandwidth (an amplitude-frequency distribution of 1) and so has a flat frequency response and because of these properties white noise is well suited to test audio equipment. The human hearing system’s frequency response is not linear but logarithmic. In other words, we judge pitch increases by octaves, not by equal increments of frequency; each successive octave spans twice as many Hertz as the previous one down the scale. And this means that when we listen to white noise, it appears to us to increase in level by 3dB per octave.

If the amplitude of the sine waves decreases with a curve of about -6 dB per octave when their frequencies rise, the noise sounds much warmer. This is called pink noise.

Pink noise contains equal energy per octave (or per 1/3 octave). The amplitude follows the function 1/f, which corresponds to the level falling by 3dB per octave. These attributes lend themselves perfectly for use in acoustic measurements.

If it decreases with a curve of about -12 dB per octave we call it brown noise.

Brown noise, whose name is actually derived from Brownian motion, is similar to pink noise except that the frequency function is 1/(f squared). This produces a 6dB-per-octave attenuation.

Blue noise is essentially the inverse of pink noise, with its amplitude increasing by 3dB per octave (the amplitude is proportional to f).

Violet noise is the inverse of brown noise, with a rising response of 6dB per octave (amplitude is proportional to f squared).

So we have all these funky names for noise, even though you need to understand their characteristics, but what are they used for?

White noise is used in the synthesizing of hi-hats, crashes, cymbals etc, and is even used to test certain generators.

Pink noise is great for synthesizing ocean waves and the warmer type of ethereal pads. I often use pink noise for layering kick drums.

Brown noise is cool for synthesizing thunderous sounds and deep and bursting claps. My favourite noise for creating deep thundering kick drums.

In the video I show you how to use a test generator to generate the different colours of noise we need for layering with snares. I show you how to use a noise gate to shape the generated noise waveform. I explain, in detail, how to set up the noise gates side-chain to be used externally. I explain how to route the snare sound to the gate’s side-chain and explain how to use the side-chain’s filter to further shape the trigger’s response. I end by showing you what settings to use on both the noise gate to achieve various textures for layering with the snare sound.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro G

Steinberg TestGenerator

Eventide UltraReverb

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Setting up the Signal Path
  • Why we use Noise in Layering
  • The different Colours of noise
  • Gates and S/C Triggering
  • Concepts and Practices of Layering
  • Filtering Frequencies for S/C the Body
  • Changing Order of Processing