Layering drums using middle and side processing

Sound Design tutorial on how to create a background ambient texture from a drum loop using M/S (Middle and Side) and Layering it with drum sounds.

Beat Construction


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Layering different drum sounds together to create new sounds is a potent way to add dynamics and variety to your existing drum beats and sounds. This process has been around since the days of samplers and beat boxes and is being continually refined to fit in with modern day productions.

One extremely powerful technique is to use middle and side processing to separate the middle and side components of a sound so we can process each component separately.

In this tutorial the aim is to take a drum beat loop, heavily affect it using reverb and granular synthesis and then to use M/S to remove the middle of the drum loop and replace it with a kick drum.

Middle and Side

Basically, the stereo sound is split into middle (M) and sides (S) using a process we call ‘Matrixing’. Once the signal is in M/S we can treat the sides (known as the difference) and the mid (known as the sum) separately. After the processing the signal is encoded back into the standard stereo format. This process may sound complicated but when you see it in action you will realise how simple it is to use and yet so powerful in action. Once we have separated the mid and side components of the drum loop we can apply effects to either and in isolation. Removing the focus that the mid component normally gives us means we can apply broadband processes to the side. I have absolutely drenched it in a deep foreboding reverb to give a haunting texture to the drum loop.

Granular synthesis

Granular synthesis is a method by which sounds are broken into tiny grains which are then redistributed and reorganised to form other sounds. Using a granular processor we can alter the behaviour of the drum loop and add both vibrancy and clarity to it or we can add crackle and static to make it dirty and degraded. In fact you can do so much with a granular processor that sometimes I use it instead of eq. In this exercise using the granular process to degrade the reverb has worked wonders in creating a really interesting backdrop for the kick drum to sit in.

In the video I explain the middle and side process and show you how to separate the mid and side components from a stereo drum loop. Once the components are separated I show you how to heavily affect the drum loop’s sides using a very specialised reverb – Blackhole by Eventide. Next comes granular synthesis and I show you how easy and powerful it is to use. Finally, I replace the drum loop’s mid component with the kick drum.

Plugins used in this video:

Eventide Blackhole

Voxengo MSED

Soundtoys Crystallizer

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Creating Background Textures from a single existing loop
  • Understanding M/S and Pans
  • Frequency Conscious Side-chaining
  • Filtering practices
  • Using Effects in Series
  • Parallel Processing
  • Constant and Variable Frequencies
  • Understanding Ambience and Saturation
  • Reverbs and Filtering