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9 Tips to Produce an EDM Drop That Hits Harder
Whether you’re into slap house, hybrid trap, or experimental leftfield bass, an EDM drop plays a crucial role in keeping the energy up during a night out. After building to a high point of tension, the drop provides a huge payoff for clubbers eager to shake it, and it's up to you to determine how it all goes down.
For producers, the drop is a really fun thing to produce in the studio. But it can also be difficult to strike the right balance between what’s accessible to listeners and what’s fresh enough to grab their attention. If you go too basic, your EDM drop probably won’t turn many heads. But, if you go too outrageous, it might turn heads for the wrong reason.
No matter how you choose to blend the expected with the unexpected, there’s one thing nearly every EDM producer craves—for their drop to hit harder than the last. In this article, I’ll give you my top nine tips for how to make an EDM drop that really packs a punch. Buckle up, and let’s get started!
Jump to these tips:
We’ll be using plug-ins that are included in iZotope’s Music Production Suite 5.2 as well as iZotope’s Music Production Suite Pro membership.
This article references a previous version of Neutron. Learn about Neutron 4 and its powerful features including Assistant View, Target Library, Unmask, and more by clicking here.
1. Make sidechain your friend
Despite its prevalent use across electronic music, sidechaining remains a point of confusion for many producers. Sidechaining can do many things; but in an EDM drop, it’s mostly there to compress and quiet the bass for a brief moment whenever the kick drum hits.
Low bass frequencies overlap with important kick drum frequencies around 20–100 Hz. This overlap can cause frequency masking, meaning you won’t be able to hear either instrument clearly because there will be a boomy, overblown low-end that wrecks your mix. A clear kick and bass is integral to an effective EDM drop, which is why most drops employ sidechain compression to some degree. Check it out in action in these before-and-after audio examples:
In the latest version of Neutron, there’s now a very useful Oscilloscope view in the Compressor modules that will allow you to dial in the perfect sidechain with ease. In the Oscilloscope view, you can visualize your bass and kick together to see the audio processing occurring as you apply compression.
Whether you’re looking for a subtle ducking down of the bass whenever your kick hits, or you want to get that classic “pumping” sound found in the audio examples above, the Oscilloscope view in Neutron Pro lets you see how the changes you make to the Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold controls are affecting your sound in real time. This allows you to make intelligent decisions quickly to make sure your sidechain is perfect every time.
You can learn all about how to get started improving your low-end mixing using Neutron’s Oscilloscope view in the video below.
No matter what genre you produce, using sidechain compression is a tried and true way to bring more oomph to any drop. And with Neutron’s new Oscilloscope view, you can set up the perfect sidechain for your EDM drop with ease. If you don’t already have Neutron, you can get access to it (along with dozens of other mixing and mastering plugins) by signing up for a Music Production Suite Pro membership.
2. Layer your bassline
Sub-bass is great for really low sounds, but that’s about it. In addition to being felt, basslines need to be heard. You may make music for the club, but many people will still listen to it through their phone speakers, laptops, and earbuds. For a bassline to hit hard on any system, it needs some mid-range information.
Luckily, this can be achieved with ease. In your DAW, copy your sub-bass MIDI notes to a new track with a grittier midrange synth. To get a clear sound, you will probably have to bump the notes up a few octaves. This second layer adds presence to your bass in the frequencies that the sub just can’t reach. It also allows you to incorporate more bassline movement via accents, drastic pitch bends, and EQ while keeping the real bass intact. Listen to the difference this trick makes in the audio examples below.
If your bass doesn’t sound full enough with just two layers, it could benefit from a third, top-end only layer. Follow the same process of copying your MIDI notes over to a new track and high-pass the third layer at 2–3 kHz so it doesn’t conflict with the bottom two layers.
Bonus tip: sidechain all of your bass layers to the kick drum for maximum clarity.
For more info on writing and layering electronic basslines, check out this step-by-step tutorial.
3. Use vocal chops
Using vocal chops has gotten to be a pretty common technique for making an EDM drop hit the spot just right. Since our brains are naturally wired to focus on the human voice, including vocal samples helps the listener connect with the drop on a more emotional level.
Even if the vocal samples you use are chopped and glitched beyond repair, using snippets of the human voice can really help grab listeners’ attention. A track that does this really well is “Spanish Moss” by Of the Trees. Give it a spin below and you’ll see what I mean.
If you want to take it one step further, you can use the Pitch module in Nectar to add pitch correction and formant shifting to your vocal samples to create an even more unique sound. And, if you really want to spice things up, run your vocal chop through VocalSynth to add some interesting flavors to it (my personal favorite trick is to crank up the Breath knob on the Biovox engine to get the vocal sounding really crisp).
If you’re looking for how to make an EDM drop stand out, using custom vocal snippets is a surefire way to make sure your drop is unique. When it comes to using vocal chops in your drop, the possibilities of what you can come up with are virtually endless. Check out this article with even more ideas on how to use vocal samples creatively.
4. Focus on one lead sound at a time
If you want to suck in the crowd’s attention during the drop, it helps to only have one lead sound at a time. This gives the listeners something to latch onto and follow. If you have too many instruments competing for attention, it’s going to leave your drop muddy and confusing to most people.
In Tessela’s breakbeat stomper “Hackney Parrot,” he uses a chopped up vocal as the lead. The vocal is teased during the buildup, then dialed up to 11 once the bass drops. In Diplo and Nicky Da B’s raunchy bounce anthem “Express Yourself,” it's the wiggling high-pitch synth.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I love a good Complextro banger. The chaos of all the various sounds really helps create energy and hype. But, the key with producing a good EDM drop is to only focus on one sound at a time. An artist who does this really well is Jilax on his single “Clouds.” Check it out.
5. Layer your leads
Like the bassline, your lead most likely needs additional layers to sound bigger. Many great leads you hear in EDM drops are actually two or three parts working together. If your lead is a smooth, sine wave synth, layer it with a square wave and emphasize the high-end for sparkle. Explore processing options that make the second layer sound slightly different than the first, then pan both layers in opposite directions to widen your mix. Finally, stack additional layers where you see fit.
But be careful! Remember that frequency masking can happen with leads too. If your second layer has a lot of high-end information, you’ll need to roll off the top of your first layer (or vice versa). In order to easily see where the frequencies of my various lead layers are getting in the way of each other, I like to use Neutron’s Masking Meter.
The Masking Meter in Neutron uses inter-plugin communication to show you on the EQ where two different sounds may be clashing (it will highlight these areas in orange). This allows you to quickly, easily, and intelligently make decisions as to which frequencies you’re going to cut from each lead sound. Plus, you can make adjustments to both leads’ EQs from one instance of Neutron Pro, so you don’t need to bounce back and forth between different windows. You can learn more about unmasking your mix here.
6. Fake them out
If you want to make an EDM drop that really bangs, try to take people by surprise. Do something they won’t be expecting. For example, if you’re building up tension right before the drop, try delaying the initial bass hit in your drop just a bit. Or, experiment with using silence at the beginning of your drop. Alison Wonderland and Slumberjack do an amazing job at this in their track “Naked” at around 51 seconds into the song.
Listeners (especially ones at nightclubs and EDM music festivals) like a good surprise. It keeps the night of dancing interesting and fresh. So, feel free to get creative on how you transition into your drop—even going as far as switching up the genre or choosing sounds people wouldn’t ever expect. Give them a good “fake out” and it’ll help your drop pack a punch.
7. Use automation
Automation helps bring more life, depth, and dimension to your tracks. It involves adjusting various parameters on your instruments over time, so they don’t get boring or stagnant. Check out the video below to learn all about automation and how you can use it effectively in your productions.
To spice things up on an EDM drop, you can automate things like an EQ high-pass filter on your synths—sweeping across the frequency spectrum to create anticipation and keep things fresh. You could also automate the amount of reverb applied to your snares to give each snare hit it’s own sound. Or, play with automating the stereo spread of different elements to create a push/pull effect going from narrow, to wide, to narrow again.
Really, as long as there’s a control knob for it, you can automate it in just about any DAW. Flex your creativity and see what interesting sounds you can come up with. Just a spoonful of automation can really breathe fresh life into just about any EDM drop.
8. Use reverb swells
A great way to build anticipation before and during your drop is to use reverb swells. Reverb swells help propel listeners into the next section of your track and can be created using any instrument (although it works best on either a lead synth or pluck sound).
Think of a reverb swell like a miniature buildup within your drop. It produces a similar effect to that of a reversed crash, but sounds much more natural since the swell comes from an instrument within your song and not an outside sample.
Creating a custom reverb swell is easy. First, you start with your initial sound. For this example, I’ll be using a simple pluck.
Then, apply a reverb plugin with a fairly large reverb sound and crank the wet/dry mix to 100% wet. I always like using Neoverb because it lets you blend between three different reverbs using the Blend Pad. Pro tip: you can add some automation to the Blend Pad in order to fade between the different reverbs and create an even more interesting effect.
After you dial in your reverb sound, go ahead and bounce the final audio to a new track. This is what my pluck sounds like with Neoverb applied to it:
Pluck with Neoverb reverb
Finally, just reverse the sample and you’ll end up with something like this:
Reverse Reverb Swell
Now you have a custom reverb swell that fits the vibe of your track. Simply throw it into your drop to help build hype and energy between sections.
9. Refine your buildup
This may seem obvious, but an effective drop hinges on the buildup that comes before it. The longer your buildup, the more over-the-top and unexpected your drop has to be. If you can provide the payoff for listeners, then go for it. But in many cases, a simple, even unexpected whooshing sound can be just as powerful. See how far you can push the definition of a buildup and drop.
If your drop just isn’t packing the heat you want it to, it might help to shift your focus to the build up. Remember that listeners are hearing your drop in context to the music leading up to it. So, if you don’t have enough contrast between the build and the drop, it’s all going to blend together into one big, mushy, EDM mess.
For more ideas on how to transition between sections, check out this article on how to create better transitions in your mix.
Much of making a good EDM drop comes down to experimenting and playing with interesting ideas to see what works and what doesn’t. But, I hope these nine tips gave you a good jumping off place to start creating some truly killer EDM drops of your own.
If you want access to all the plugins I mentioned in this article, you can access them in Music Production Suite 5 or get them included with a free trial of a Music Production Suite Pro membership. Now, go knock ‘em off their feet!