Dubstep has evolved from its roots in 2001 London to become a much broader genre, encompassing varying styles of dubstep music. In this article I’ll explain in detail the different elements of a dubstep track.
The dubstep beat evolved from a two-step beat originating in UK garage. The formula is very simple, a kick on the first beat and a snare on the 9th. The beat gives a stepping motion to the track as it moves between low end and high end in a left right, left right pattern. I wrote more on dubstep beats here.
You can check out some original UK garage tracks in the video below to get a feel as to where the two step style originated from.
While the typical two step beat is very common in many styles of dubstep today, do not feel constricted to it. Feel free to move your kicks around the snare, or move the snare back to the 13th to give a lazy feel to the beat.
The kick and snare do the majority of work driving the beat but you will need to fill those spaces with some high end cymbals and hats. A common technique I see used today is to take a loud short cymbal, remove the low end completely and place it on the 1st 5th 9th and 13th. This creates a driving force and energy to the beat.
Hats will define the flow of your track. While the cymbals, kicks and snare in a dubstep beat are usually very un-syncopated (Fall on the on beats); try not to make your beat too robotic or they will feel strict and stale. I like to build the hats first to define a rough flow to the beat. Then build kicks and a snare around that flow.
High End Synth
Dubstep as an experimental genre of music has very few hard and set rules. This is especially true when it comes to high end synths. There are a million possibilities. Here are some tips however. Try to use bell sounds to give your track atmosphere. I have seen a great deal of dubstep tracks, particularly old tracks use bell sounds to build up to the drop and the introduction of heavy bass.
Modern tracks and mainstream chart toppers tend to use heavier synths for a vocal section of a track that allows a singer to shine. Depending on your style you may wish to go down this route instead. I’ve seen Skrillex type tracks add layered synths and then use a compressor to pump the sound in and out in rhyme with the kicks and snare.
If you do enjoy the Skrillex style, vocal chopping could become a large part of your high end melody. This technique involves taking a vocal loop and chopping it up. Take small cuts of the vocal loop to create the melody. Skrillex’s summit track is a great example of this :
Finally to the bass! Well sub bass. You can’t hear sub bass, you can only feel it. It’s the rumble to a track, the low end; it’s what gives the track power and force. Old original style dubstep tracks were composed of mainly sub bass. It gave the track its presence and really defined the bass section. An amazing example of this is Skreams In for the Kill remix:
A perfectly defined sub bass such as that is gorgeous to listen to and really defines the tracks purpose. Today modern dubstep tracks mainly use sub bass to prop up the heavy, in your face insane mid bass.
A staple of modern dubstep are mid bass sounds. You all know what I’m talking about. This is where the experimental of experimental dubstep really comes in to force. Mid bass is created by a range of synthesizers. Monster has risen to become the dominant synthesizer for dubstep producers who want that crazy in your face moving baselines. I plan to write a series of articles on building heavy bass so I’ll leave this here for now. Stay tuned!