Do you want the secret formula to making UK Drill melodies for your beats? In this article I talk about the different techniques, scales and effects you can use in your DAW to get the modern dark and eerie feel of Drill music.
History of Drill
The UK Drill scene has been growing exponentially in the past 8 years or so. Stemming from the Chicago Drill scene where major artists such as Chief Keef took the sub-genre to a whole new level, UK Drill has distinguishable characteristics that separate the two in many ways.
Drill music is more than just 808 slides and dark piano patterns, it's a culture built from street life, conflict and a controversial criminal justice system. It's no secret that gang life plays a big part in the music too but in my opinion it's just an expression of the reality that many under-privileged people face in this world.
The media like to look at music such as Drill and blame it for the amount of violence that happens in the streets which is why YouTube began removing many Drill videos from their platform back in 2018, as they received complaints from the Metropolitan Police due to lyrics "inciting real world violence".
Luckily YouTube eventually refused to remove any more videos as technically the rappers weren't breaking any of their rules and the platform should be "a place for those who do not have a voice."
For many people music is their only hope, and banning them from this chance to make something of their lives seems counter-productive to say the least. In many ways giving Drill music this type of stigma only increased its credibility in the streets and made it more appealing and intriguing to the public. No such thing as bad publicity I guess!
I can't lie and say that I never think of the impact it may have on others though. Of course Drill music is violent - you only have to hear one verse to know this and music is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to altering emotions.
I worry that people who aren't in struggling situations get gassed from the lyrics and try to relay what they see. However, I've never been one to blame music for violence, the media have tried to do this since the birth of Hip-Hop without diving deeper into the root causes of poverty and why certain lifestyles are not a choice, but may seem like the only option through decades of systemic racism and unequal opportunities.
Anyway... that's for another article, you came here to learn how to make UK Drill melodies right?
Let's start off with the most basic, but most important part of Drill melodies - sound selection. As with any beat, sound selection plays a vital part here so what I always do when studying music is to write down the sounds I hear when listening to tracks. What type of drums are they using? What Instruments can I hear? How do I feel?
If you listen to UK Drill music you'll know for sure that pianos play a big role in the instrumentals, and that they tend to sound dark and eerie.
The piano itself you choose shouldn't matter too much as it's the effect and pattern that defines the mood. If you don't have the luxury of having third party plugins, just go with your stock piano. I like to use Keyscape within Omnisphere and I also use the Grand Piano within Nexus (which I tend to see a lot), but honestly you can achieve the sound without going out and buying additional plugins.
Other instruments include strings, pads and leads. I tend to browse through wide-sounding presets that compliment the keyboard I'm using so just browse through the ones you have and find one that sounds right to you.
I won't go into drums today, this is purely for making UK Drill melodies.
If you aren't too familiar with scales, most DAW's include some sort of guideline where you can select a scale to work in and the notes within that scale will be highlighted. Understand that scales are only groups of notes that we as humans have decided sound good together, but if you're just getting started scales can be useful to follow until you've developed a good ear for composing.
A basic rule of thumb to follow is major scales tend to sound happy, and minor scales tend to sound sad. So what do you think you need for Drill melodies? That's right, Minor scales.
There's no rules here, but what I'd suggest is just picking one like D Minor and going from there as you can always pitch it up and down once the melody is ready. Start with the Aeolian then try others such as Harmonic and Melodic.
For the melody, try starting with one bass note. For example if you're working in D# Minor, use the note D# and extend it for one bar then repeat this for another 3 bars, so you have 4 in total. Then, draw one or two notes on top of the root note within the scale to form chords. How does this sound?
If it's not dark enough, adjust some of the notes to taste.
Once you have your chords, the counter melody is up to you again. I want to stress that there are no rules in music, only certain guidelines you can follow when getting started as I have outlined.
Try think of a counter melody in your head, just listen to the chord loop you have and try to imagine where the notes should be positioned. Once you have a basic groove, start drawing in your notes and if it doesn't sound like it did in your head, adjust each note to another note within the scale and you'll soon find that it'll come together.
This can be extremely good practice as it'll help you to draw the notes you hear without being overly confused.
Tip - once your melody is ready, try to make it a little more realistic by bringing some of the notes slightly off-grid, and by adjusting the velocity (volume) of the notes so they aren't exactly the same all the way through. Think about when a pianist is performing. The chances of them hitting the note perfectly on time and at the same velocity are very slim
For effects in Drill melodies you can have fun with this one. I like to adjust the attack of the volume envelope within my VST so that the notes don't hit as hard. The volume envelope is essentially the time it takes for the sound to reach it's maximum volume, and I find with Drill beats the melodies are more subtly in the background. The kicks are the hard hitting elements.
A go to effect for Drill melodies is HalfTime. HalfTime allows you to time-stretch your loop giving it an instant eerie feel. This works wonders on fast piano melodies so try adding a lot of notes in your initial melody, transposing everything an octave up then adding HalfTime to bring the speed and pitch down.
If you don't have the HalfTime plugin you can achieve similar effects with GrossBeat or by manually stretching and pitching the sound. However, HalfTime will cost you less than £10 to buy from the creators CableGuys or from a third party retailer such as Plugin Boutique.
If you're going to spend a little to invest in yourself and your beats, I'd highly recommend buying HalfTime as it gives you a little more flexibility ad creativity than the other methods.
After HalfTime, I'd definitely recommend applying reverb and some subtle delay.
When it comes to reverb, the more "wet" level or mix you have, the further the sound will go the background. Be generous with the amount of reverb you apply. I tend to hear Drill melodies more in the background of the beat rather than upfront and this is a good way to achieve this.
You may also want to apply an EQ to remove some of the sub frequencies to make room for your heavy 808 slides that need to fill this space. Try cutting the low's under 100hz, or a low shelf cut at around 150hz by 6db if you don't want to dead the sound completely. Each track is different so adjust until you have a good balance.
As I mentioned earlier, I really don't want you to think there is an exact formula to making UK Drill melodies, but what seems to work for me is minor scales, no large major chords, pianos, strings & pads, HalfTime effects a lot of reverb with the mix / wet level relatively high and an EQ with a low cut or low shelf.
For practice, listen to beats producers such as 808 Melo, Chris Rich, MK The Plug & M1 On The Beat - study their sound and apply some of their techniques to your own music.
I also want to add that when making Drill beats, don't be afraid to use loops. They can be a good starting point and a good way to capture the overall feel. There are many free loops you can download such as my latest Drill melody kit - Homegrown Loops.
There's over 20 Drill melodies produced by me, all mixed and ready to go so all you have to do is add drums and you have a banger!
You can download the loops 100% free by clicking here. No strings attached! They are also 100% royalty free, so you don't have to give me a penny when you sell a beat after using them.
If you've found other ways to capture the vibe, what techniques did you use?