In the past when I first started working harder at producing beats, I thought I was doing the right thing. I would create all of the tracks that I needed and then mix it down to a WAV file and call it a day. I know, it’s very simple and not what I should have been doing, but that’s because I didn’t know any better.
Once I started to experiment more with the various software I was using, I began to realize that I wasn’t doing much with my audio signals at all. I pretty much left everything as is, instead of using tools to make my beats much better. Filters were one of those tools.
Low Pass Filters
One of the biggest things that I like to use in my beat making process, is low pass filters. I’m big on old school and 90’s Hip Hop so the low pass filter is huge. I mean HUGE for that type of style (or at least my type of style). At first I didn’t know what a low pass did, but it’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
A low pass filter does just that – it lets low frequencies pass through your audio signal, and the higher frequencies get cut off. By doing this, you end up with a very thick low end because that’s all you’re hearing, and it can be a great way to get some awesome sounds, like a bassline.
Most of the time that’s why I use low pass filters – to create my bassline. One of the reasons why I like to do this is because I don’t like creating basslines. I have lots of bass sounds and even some bass sound kits, but I just really hate having to do them, and I guess that’s why most people want to play the electric guitar and not the bass guitar – it’s boring.
The bassline is essential to any type of track (some don’t need one, though), and it will make a big difference if the bassline really stands out. But you don’t always have to use bass sounds, so that’s why the low pass filter is your greatest ally to combat the dreaded bass guitar boringness.
The easiest way to create a bassline with the low pass filter is to just take the melody that you have going in your track, copy it, then apply the low pass to it. This will be an exact copy of the melody, but just the bass version, if you will. It thickens up the melody but also sounds great when you take the melody out at different times in your beat.
It doesn’t always work though because it might end up just sounding like a thick melody, rather than a bassline. That’s why after I apply the low pass, I compress the track to thicken it up even more and make it sound like actual bass.
High Pass Filters
The high pass filter is the exact same as the low pass, except the opposite, plus you obviously won’t be using it to create basslines. It can be used for many other things though, such as adding brightness to your sounds, or making a sound “lighter” so that it fits in with the rest of your beat.
Take for example, horns. Many times I’ve sampled horns from a Jazz record but it was too thick for my liking, or it was surrounded by other instruments. When that happens, the first thing I think of doing is using the high pass filter to isolate the high frequency so that the horns will blend in nicely with the rest of my sounds. It’s a simple technique, and it can really help you when you’re in a tight spot and ready to punch someone in the face because your sample is muddying up your beat.
The other nice thing about the high pass filter is that you can use it for beat breakdowns. Often times when I want to have a break in my beat, I would simply take out the bassline or drums, but that can get monotonous real quick. Now what I do is I apply the high pass to my sound, AND take out the bassline or drums. What’s great is that I can then use that as my starting point to build the beat back up for a few seconds and get the beat to the original state again.
Band Pass Filters
Besides the low and high pass filters, the band pass is one I tend to use when I have a sample that just doesn’t sound right to me. We’ve all been there when we have a sample that is so dirty or full of instruments, that it becomes almost impossible to use within your own beat. This is when the band pass filter comes in handy.
There are no set parameters to using the band pass (or any of the filters), because it all depends on what you want. The main thing to remember is that you’re basically isolating a certain frequency in the middle of the frequency band because you’re cutting out both the low and high frequencies.
Normally you would use any of these filters with a gradual cue (or “slope”), so it sounds good, but there might be times when you want to cut it off really hard – like with drums.
A lot of times I use the low pass (can you tell I really like the low pass filter?) to thicken up my drum kicks. The same can be said with the high pass, which I use a lot for my snares, but not too much because I don’t want the snare to sound too thin and have too much treble. The last thing I want to do is to add an EQ plug-in and try to fix the treble, because then I will end up with too many plug-ins for one little sound, and that’s not good.
The low pass filter is also very useful on vocals, such as on a male vocal. This is because there is not much below the 80hz range with male vocals, so with a low pass filter on the vocals, you will be cutting off any unwanted noise below 80hz, since that’s all that will be there – noise.
Whether you’re using filters on drums, vocals, or any melody instrument you can think of, it will definitely help your sounds. I’m one for leaving sounds as natural as possible, but filters just make things so much better when you use them properly, plus they’re simple to use. Most plug-ins have a low pass or high pass setting, so you don’t need to mess with frequency ranges. This allows you to select the default setting and then tweak it from there, as needed.