Everybody from metal musicians to EDM producers would love to create heavier, more impactful bass drops and breakdowns. There’s something about these musical elements that gets a listener’s blood pumping. They create a whole different vibe than nearly any other production technique out there.
But while just about anyone knows what you’re referring to when it comes to a bass drop, the execution is a bit more nuanced. The same goes for breakdowns which can sound extremely templated and cookie cutter without a bit of ingenuity.
If you’re in the market for getting brutally crushing bass drops and breakdowns, strap in. We’re going to look at some of the characteristics of these techniques that can help you stand out from the rest and blow your fans away.
The bass drop or breakdown itself is only half of the solution when you’re aiming for the top of the charts. The other half comes from the build-up. The few measures leading into your drop can easily make or break the effectiveness of the whole thing.
Notably, EDM has really pushed the envelope when it comes to the build-up. In some instances, entire subgenres have sprung up overnight based around stringing drop after drop together with build-ups.
In metal, we’ve largely stayed away from large, drawn out rising elements, opting instead for dropouts (short sections of silence) and single notes or samples to grab the listener’s attention. For a while, you couldn’t find a metalcore song without a single china hit right before the bottom dropped out with a brutal breakdown.
Today, things are a bit more of a mixed bag. Both genres borrow from each other – creating rising actions and using samples and found sounds to catch listeners off guard before major changeups in their songs. The prevalence of these elements leading into heavy sections have found their way into nearly every other corner of the music industry too. Pop, rock, and hip-hop artists where synths and samples were already the norm have taken to creating rising actions and drops as core elements of their music.
No matter the genre you mainly work with, creating anticipation and tension in your songs is just as important as the release and brutality of the drops themselves!
Swapping The Drop
As for the drop itself, there are some basic stylistic options that are almost always a hit with listeners. Changing to a slower, half-time tempo or doubling up at a faster tempo can both create major shifts in the sound and style of your song and that’s exactly what fans are looking for most of the time. You can’t just drop the bass and go right back to the same old thing – you need to kick things into overdrive.
The same goes for a brutal breakdown which differs from a traditional bridge.
In a traditional bridge, a song’s style may change, but usually regarding the chord structure, key, or instrumentation. With a breakdown, you’re inherently “breaking down” the elements of your mix into their bare minimums. Guitar chugs, low notes & heavy hits are signature elements of the style we’re after.
For the song section immediately following any drop, you have a rare opportunity to change things up drastically. How are you going to capitalize on it?
The sound of a drop can get stale if you’re using the same techniques all the time, which is where experimentation comes in. I strongly encourage engineers to create their own drops whenever possible since the process is simple and way more custom to the session than using samples.
But even when you can’t make your own drops, there are plenty of processors out there to help you get creative with your sound. One of the latest innovations in the bass drop space is bitcrushing – as demonstrated below by Terran MacKay:
As you can see from his multiple examples, there are many different options when it comes to using plugins like Pixelator on bass drops and breakdowns. Whether you choose to use them for build-up or breakdown is up to you, but they certainly impart their own unique flavor on any session.
If bitcrushing isn’t your thing, don’t worry – there are plenty of other processors to work with. On the extreme end, phasers, flangers, and reverbs can create some truly otherworldly tones. And if those are a bit too aggressive/colorful for you, even a basic compressor or limiter can be used to temporarily “spike” the dynamics of a drop with automation.
Use what sounds best to you in the context of your song and don’t be afraid to try out something new – trial and error is the perfect way to find your signature sound.
Add a Dash of Kaoss
One of the most common things we hear from engineers that don’t use samples or synths to create tension in the build-up to their breakdowns is that they just don’t have anything available to do that easily. They’re often working with a band that has a limited time in the studio and just don’t have time to load up a plugin to find a patch that fits the song.
This is one of the main reasons engineers should be maintaining their own sample library. There’s no reason to walk into a session unprepared, and in this case, that means having some pre-selected drops, risers, and stingers ready to go.
For a jumpstart on building your collection, check out JST Kaoss Volume I – a post-production sample pack with over 100 royalty-free samples for use in your sessions!