Figuring out how to create lo-fi hip hop beats is tough. But once you've unlocked a few core techniques, you'll be able to experiment on your own and create your own dusty, lo-fi hip hop. The examples I'm using today are in Propellerhead's Reason 9.5, but this should work for any DAW.
The basics of creating a lo-fi hip hop sample are simple: you take one sound, speed it up or slow it down, pitch shift it, and add some distortion. But the skill of learning how to create lo-fi beats comes in the order that you do these things, how you do them, and what your source material is.
Here is a video/audio example of how to create lo-fi hip hop samples in Reason. I show you pretty quickly how massively you can create a radically different sound.
So you saw how I took a high pitched short sound and twisted it into a dusty, lo-fi out of focus drifting loop. Pretty neat.
I then time stretched that audio out so that the individual hits would have longer decays. This part was a little bit of trial and error, because I wanted a bit of the corruption/distortion from time stretching, but not too much. It's also worth noting that I cut up each individual hit to stretch out, so that the initial attack and timing of each hit wouldn't really be affected.
Then I bounced that to a Rex loop and created a Rex player. I added the incredible Wave's Kramer Master Tape plugin (affiliate link that will get you 10% off) as an insert on that channel, and dialed in a lo-fi tape setting with a lot of warmth, noise, and some wobble.
A good tape emulation is essential for that lo-fi hip hop sound
Then I used the Octo Rex's pitch shift feature to shift the sample down an octave. This created a really brooding sound starkly different from the original in spirit.
Finally, I used the Octo-Rex's built in LFO to lightly modify its own pitch Oscillator. Basically, this means the the LFO wave is slightly, slowly manipulating the pitch of the sample, giving it that drifting, lo-fi hip hop feel
There's a ton more ways you can play with these techniques. Bit crushers can play a huge role. Pitching things up and down and up again can create interesting artifacts. Adding a reverb or delay before creating the loop can give you all sorts of little noises to play with. And of, course, a good vinyl emulation plugin can create a distinctly lo-fi sound.
Once you've got your dusty samples, it's time to start chopping them.
Now that you know how to create lo-fi hip hop sounds, here's some free samples that you can get started manipulating today!
Once you learn how to automate trap hats in Reason, you'll be able to quickly make trap beats. But for some reason, Propellerheads Software has made it surprisingly difficult to automate hi hats to create a trap beat.
But don't fear! I'm going to teach you how to quickly get your trap hats firing.
You can download the patch here:
Start by creating a Kong drum machine in Reason and loading up a drum kit that you like.
Then create a Combinator. Inside the Combinator you're going to place an RPG-8 arpeggiator.
Now you're going to press the tab key.
Create a CV connection between the RPG-8's Gate CV Output and the Gate In of the Hi Hat in your Kong.
To automate your trap hi hats, make sure your CV routing looks like this.
Now select the Combinator to receive note input, hold down a key, and you should hear hi hats repeating.
Note: if the hi hats only trigger once, make sure you've got Single Note Repeat selected on the RPG-8.
Now repeating hi hats are good, but that's not the sound of trap hats.
So while holding down the key, experiment with moving the Rate knob in the RPG-8 (make sure the Sync button is pushed down).
Now you start to be hearing trap hats! Of course, you've still got to automate them.
So right click on the RPG-8 rate knob and click "Edit Automation."
This will take you to the sequencer channel for the RPG-8's Rate. Select the pencil tool and draw in an automation space. Then you want to draw in your automation curve. This will determine how the hi hats speed up and slow down.
An example of how you'd automate trap hi hats
You'll want to experiment with the movement of your hats, but at this point it's up to you to automate your trap hats.
Note: a Combinator isn't really necessary to program the rhythm of trap hats, but it is necessary if you want to start easily automating the pitch of the hi hats as well as the rhythm.
There are at least four different ways to chop samples in Reason, and each of them has their own pros and cons.
You can use the sequencer, Kong, Dr. OctoRex, NN19 or the NN-XT. This article will tell you how to chop hip hop vocals in Reason and explore when you may want to use each of the devices.
And if you’re looking for a good source of vocal samples to chop, I’d recommend Loopmasters. I get most of my samples from their massive library.
How to chop samples in Reason with the Sequencer
Reason 9 has added a bunch of new features to the sequencer that may make the Reason 9 sequencer the most powerful sequencer in the DAW workspace.
The huge benefits of using the sequencer – unlike Kong, NN19, and the NN-XT – are that you can time stretch a sample without affecting the pitch. And you can change the key of the sample without affecting the tempo.
These two features are huge.
Here’s an in-depth video tutorial on using Propellerhead’s Reason sequencer to chop samples.
But wait, there’s more….
Using Reason’s sequencer, you can easily edit the pitch of individual notes and move the time of transients. You also have access to the forment control to create unique effects.
And it also makes it really easy to cut tails, mute small sections and re-arrange fragments.
The downside to chopping samples in Reason’s sequencer is that it’s not very creative.
When you use Reason’s sequencer to chop samples, you’re not going to be able to use a keyboard. Instead you need to hunt through your sample library and place the samples you want directly on the sequencer timeline to use them.
As a result, it doesn’t lead to nearly as many happy accidents as the other methods, and can be quite time consuming.
How to Chop Samples in Reason with the Kong
The Kong is my preferred way of chopping samples in Reason. To me it feels the most natural and musical, like old school hip hop chops.
Aside from feeling highly musical, chopping samples with Kong has a few other benefits. You can use the pad groups to create mute and choke groups, easily set up round robins, and get easy access to certain effects only available in Kong (there’s a workaround for this, though).
Here’s an in depth video on chopping vocal samples in Kong.
The big downside to the Kong (aside from the pitch and timing issues mentioned above), is that it’s a bit of a pain to actually set the sample start and end point.
Chopping Samples in Reason Using Dr. Octo-Rex
Dr. Octo-Rex is probably my favorite way of chopping samples in Reason. It makes it really easy to pick slices, apply the most typical types of filtering, and loop things, if necessary.
You can easily make quick changes to the sound of individual slices, like reversing them, changing the pitch, or volume. However, it’s not that easy to move the location of the slices. You’ve basically got to convert the loop to an audio track, then move around the slice points. Then reconvert to Rex. The video details this more.
But yea, moving slices in Dr. Octo-Rex ain’t the easiest.
How to Chop Samples in Reason Using the NN-XT
Reason’s NN-XT Sampler is a super powered tool for creating complicated layers of sampled sound. Learning how to chop samples in Reason using the NN-XT is very similar to chopping samples in the Kong. In fact, the sampler used in Kong is just a striped down version of the NN-XT sampler. So if you understand the basics of setting the stop and start times from the Kong video, you’re off to a good start.
When you first create an NN-XT, you’ll want to right click on the interface and select “Reset Device.” This will clear out the current samples. From there, you want to click on the tab to expand the NN-XT’s “remote editor” and click on the file icon to load up your sample.
When sampling in Reason’s NN-XT, you can easily layer multiple samples. You can also chromatically map the samples across the keyboard, or just assign them to one note each. Please note that when chopping samples in the NN-XT, changing the pitch will effect the speed of the sample. Sometimes this creates cool effects, so experiment with it.
The NN-XT also provides a ton of tools for modify the pitch, amplitude, filtering, and velocity, among other things, of each sample. When used well, these additional tools can add a lot to a performance. However, if you don’t need the full flexibility these tools provide, it is often simpler to chop samples in Reason using the NN-19 or the sequencer.
And, of course, here is a detailed video on how to do it.
Chopping Samples in Reason Using the NN-19
The NN-19 is really just a stripped down version of the NN-XT. It’s easier and faster to load samples in the NN-19, and it provides a little less strain on your CPU.
The cost is that you have fewer filtering and modulation options, and layering samples isn’t nearly as powerful.
But if you are perfectly content with the sample you’ve got, there’s no need to use the more complex NN-XT, and this is probably the most light weight way how to chop samples in Reason.
Last week I showed you an ultra-detailed tutorial about all the cool ways that you can trigger sidechain compression in Propellerhead Software’sReason 9 DAW. Now that you know how to use sidechain compression though, I want to help you think about some creative ways that you can use it to further your sounds.
This guide includes a lot of really cool, unique sidechain compression effects. These techniques work in Reason 9, but should work in most versions.
You’ll learn how to:
Sidechain reverb for a rhythmic pumping effect
Create a free dynamic equalizer
Duck multiple instruments at once
Throw sidechain compression on a delay for other worldly effects
Whether you’re new to Reason or an Expert, this you’ll find this Reason tutorial on how to use sidechain compression in Reason useful. I’ve been using Propellerhead’s Reason DAW for about 15 years now, and I’m going to share all of the secrets to unlocking Reason’s incredible sidechain options.
This Reason tutorial is going to start simple, explaining what sidechain compression is and offering simple examples. You can skip directly to whatever section you might find useful.
What is sidechain compression?
2 ways to use a source to sidechain a single sound
3 ways to use a source to sidechain multiple sounds
How to use a loop to trigger a sidechain compressor
How to setup a ghost sidechain to create unique pumping sounds
I think video is probably the best way to teach DAW lessons, so I’ve put together this 30 minute guide. But if you prefer reading or are looking for a reference, keep reading
What is sidechain compression?
Before showing you how to use sidechain compression in Reason, and before even answering the question about what sidechain compression is, let’s dig into the concept of compression.
Compression is basically automated volume control. In its simplest form, if you put compression on the drums, it will turn down the loudest parts. If the peaks are reduced by 3db, this allows you to turn up entire drum track by 3db without losing clipping or interfering too much with other tracks.
The threshold control determines how much sound is needed to trigger the compressor to turn down the volume. The ratio control determines how much the volume is turned down once the threshold is crossed. The attack determines how quickly the volume is turned down, and the release determines how quickly the volume returns to normal.
For a much more in-depth guide to compression, check out the free guide by Rob Mayze.
But isn’t this Reason tutorial about sidechain compression?
So how is it different?
Well, sidechain compression, separates the sound that is being turned down and the signal to turn it down.
Say what? How would you sidechain a synth?
Basically, with sidechain compression, you can have a kick drum act as the trigger for the compressor, but the compressor turns down the volume of the synth! All of the compressor controls (threshold, ratio, attack, release) control how the kick drum triggers the compressor. But the compressor doesn’t affect the compressor. It affects the synth.
2 ways to use a source to create sidechain compression in Reason on a single sound
Ok, now let’s look at to ways of using a compressor in Reason.
The first way is the simplest, most straight forward method. This should work in Reason 5 through Reason 9.
In Reason create an mClass compressor on the channel you want to sidechain, for example, a synth. It will be automatically created as an insert effect, and by default, it will just be compressing the synth. Then you take the parallel output from your kick (or whatever sound you want to trigger the sidechaining) and connect it to the sidechain input of the compressor on the channel you want to sidechain.
Reason tutorial how to use a sidechain compressor
Adjust the compressor setting until you get the sound your looking for. Voila. You’ve got a sidechain.
Another equally easy way to do this in Reason 6 and above is to take advantage of the SSL Mixer’s sidechain option. While this requires less routing, you’ll notice that the SSL Mixer gives you fewer options to control the signal. For example, it lacks an attack control, which is really important for sidechaining.
But here’s how to do it.
Take the parallel out signal from your kick, but this time connect it to the dynamics section of the synth. Connect it to the sidechain input.
How to use a sidechain compressor with the SLL console
The key button will light up when sidechain mode is activated. Then go to the mixer, turn on the compressor on the synth channel, and dial in your sound.
3 ways to use a source to sidechain multiple sounds
The first two methods are great if you only want to use the kick drum to trigger one synth. But what happens if you’ve got multiple sounds you’d like to sidechain? Let’s say you want the kick to control a sidechain compressor on a synth and a bass. This is one of the most useful ways how to use sidechain Compression in Reason
Don’t worry. This Reason Tutorial has you covered.
Method 1 – using a Spider Audio Merger & Splitter to create multiple audio streams.
This is probably the most straight forward method. You use one of Reason’s most useful tools (it’s under the Utilities menu), the Spider Audio Merger & Splitter.
Create the Spider in the Kick’s mix channel. Then connect the kick’s parallel output to the Spider’s to the A and B inputs on the right side of the Spider. Create an mClass Compressor on the Bass and Synth channel. Then go connect the outputs from the right side of the Spider to the sidechain inputs of both mClass Compressors.
Using spider audio splitter for multiple sidechain compressor channells
If you need to side chain more signals, you can chain multiple spiders together (see the diagram) or go to the Prop Shop and get the Polymodular Splitter for free.
Spiders on spiders!
Method 2 – Get on the Bus!
The second way how to use sidechain compression in Reason is to get one signal to use a single signal to sidechain multiple signals is to bus all the signals to a single bus, then insert a compressor on the bus channel.
For example, you could send 4 synths to the Synthesizer bus, and then use the first method to create an mClass compressor on the Synthesizer bus controlled by the kick drum.
Finally, you can setup an mClass compressor on a send effect channel. Let’s say it’s on Send 1. You can use the kick drum to trigger the sidechain. Then you could go to the mixer, and click the Send 1 button on the channels that you want to send to the compressor. If you click the “pre” button and turn down the mixer volumes, only the send level will control the volume being sent to Send 1.
This can be useful for cool sidechained send effects if you add a reverb or delay after the compressor. Or it can create a cool pumping parallel sidechain compression.
How to use a loop to trigger a sidechain compressor
But what happens if you have a drum loop that you want to use to trigger the sidechain compressor on a synth?
You can’t just set up a Rex loop to trigger the sidechain compressor on the synth, because EVERY loud hit on the drum loop will trigger the compressor.
That’s right, the snare, the kick drum, and the crashes are all going to be triggering the compressor. This is going to sound like garbage, because there won’t be a consistent rhythm the sidechain compressing.
But I’ve got you covered.
Enter the Stereo Imager
The easiest way to do this is to use the trusty MClass Stereo Imager. This let’s you split the signal into high and low frequencies.
I made an easy patch for you to use here.
But let me explain what’s going on because teach a man to fish.
To get the kick drum of a drum loop to trigger the sidechain input of a separate compressor on a synth track, create an MClass Compressor on the Synth track. Then hold down the SHIFT key, and create an MClass Stereo Imager below the Compressor.
Holding down the SHIFT makes it so that the MClass compressor is not automatically connected to other effects.
To wire in the MClass Stereo Imager, connect the parallel output from the Rex Drum track to the audio input of the Stereo Imager. Then connect the “Separate Out” section of the Stereo Imager to the “Sidechain In” of the MClass Compressor.
Using an mclass stereo imager for sidechain compression
Make sure the “Lo Band” switch is flipped on the back of the Stereo Imager. Then hit Tab to flip to the front of the Stereo Imager and adjust the X-Over Frequency down to 100HZ. The X-Over frequency determines which frequencies are sent through the lo-band. So by setting it to 100HZ, only sounds below 100HZ will flow into the sidechain. This ensures that the kick drum will be driving the sidechain compression. Now you know how to use sidechain compression in Reason with loops.
How to setup a ghost sidechain to create unique pumping sounds
Sometimes, however, you want a sidechain compressor, but you don’t want to have a pounding drum track.
Thankfully, the Reason DAW is flexible enough to handle this, too.
The final great trick for triggering the sidechain compression effect in Reason is what I’d call using a “ghost” kick drum.
Now don’t get scared.
It uses the same basic technique described in part one, but the kicker (get it? Kicker?) is that the kick drum is not actually plugged into the mixer, so it doesn’t create any sound in the song.
Here’s a ghost kick drum patch you can work from.
But again, I’m gonna teach you how to fish.
So you create your synth track. Then you create an MClass Compressor. Then you hold down SHIFT (remember, no connection) and create a REDRUM drum computer. Take the stereo out portion from the REDRUM and connect them to the Sidechain In on the MClass Compressor.
How to create a ghost compressor in Reason daw
Then flip the REDRUM around and create a patter that fits the sidechain compression you’d like.
Now you’ve got a ghost sidechain compressor.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exhaustive (and exhausting to write) guide on how to use sidechain compression in Reason. Feel free to share it with your friends!
Can you think of any other ways of how to use sidechain compression in Reason? Let me know in the comments.