What Is Drill Music & How To Make Your Own UK Drill Beats in 6 Steps
November 24, 2023 | Soundtrap
Today, we’re talking Drill Music. It’s a genre of music that’s had a strong run over the last few years both in the USA and in the UK. Drill songs first started getting traction in the early 2010s in Chicago, where they were known as Chicago Drill.
However, the US didn’t have a monopoly on the idea. UK drill is the British variant that emerged just a few years later. Falling within hip-hop and rap music while also being closely related to Trap, Drill music revolutionized the music scene and has inspired many artists over the last several years.
If you’re interested in making music like Chief Keef, Central Cee, Tion Wayne, or Russ Millions, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through exactly what drill music is and how you can make your own UK drill songs using Soundtrap.
Bobby Shmurda - Hot N*gga (Official Music Video)
The Rise of Drill Music
Drill as a specific subgenre of Hip Hop emerged largely as a result of the rise of social media platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud. The gatekeepers and studio labels that used to be the ones who decided who could become popular were far less relevant. Now, anyone with a microphone and talent could get their art in front of an audience. It was a time of fierce individualism and grit, which was quite fitting – much of what makes up Drill can be defined by those two words.
The genre’s distinct sound and lyrics reflected the experiences of young people living in urban areas who face the challenges of violence, crime, and poverty. The artists felt themselves to be outside the system and their sentiments resonated with a large group of people, just as they still do today.
Now, Drill is an essential part of the urban music scene. This genre of music has given rise to other subgenres such as Afrowsing and UK Drill which have both drawn inspiration from Drill’s distinctive sound and style. But what makes that sound so distinct?
Krillz - Not In The Mood (Official Music Video)
The Key Characteristics of Drill Music
If you want to make something, you need to know what it’s made of. Drill music is characterized by its ominous, heavy beats, aggressive lyrics, and distinctive sound elements. Let’s break down these key characteristics and get a clearer picture of what drill music is before we get into how to make it.
A drill-type beat is typically slow and heavy with distorted 808 basslines, dark synths, and trap-style hi-hats. The aim is to create a menacing and ominous atmosphere that reflects the genre’s themes of violence and aggression.
Drill music lyrics are often graphic and violent, reflecting the experiences of young people living in urban areas where violence and crime are prevalent. The lyrics are typically delivered in a monotone, deadpan style, and often contain references to gang culture, drug use, and firearms. It’s all about raw, unvarnished emotion.
Distinctive Sound Elements
If you’ve listened to a lot of drill music, you've likely noticed a number of unique sounds inserted into the music at strategic points. These sound elements are what set it apart from other hip-hop subgenres. For example, many drill songs include sound effects like sirens, gunshots, and other audio elements to contribute to the genre’s ominous and aggressive tone.
Music is a primarily auditory medium. However, drill music is often associated with a particular visual style in the art and music videos associated with the songs. These visuals often feature gritty, dark elements and can include violent imagery. Music videos often depict the artists in urban settings, surrounded by their crew, and engaging in different activities. The interesting aspect of drill is that it was born chiefly as a result of music videos going viral, rather than because a certain artist was promoted by a studio. In this sense, it is a truly grass-roots musical phenomenon.
So, What’s The Difference Between Drill and UK Drill?
So far, what we’ve said is true of all kinds of drill music. However, UK Drill music is another subgenre that has its own traits and unique elements. Essentially, UK artists did not bring Chicago Drill to London and then leave it unchanged. Rather, they brought their own experiences and influences, creating a distinct sound.
For example, much of UK drill borrows from UK garage and grime music, bringing aggressive and bendy 808 basslines with glide, and syncopated rhythms. Also, UK artists have been known for experimenting with different sounds and styles and incorporating them into UK Drill.
This has broadened the sound of UK drill, incorporating different elements like Afrobeat and dancehall music. Flute melodies have become a recognizable element in many UK Drill beats, providing an eerie and distinctive melodic layer to the music.
Finally, UK artists also modified the lyrics of drill songs to include more UK-specific issues like knife crimes.
Easiest Way to Make Authentic UK Drill Beats | Jay Cactus Tutorial
How To Make A Drill Beat in 6 Steps
Alright, now let’s get into actually making these beats. Before you get started, you’re going to want a few tools. At a minimum, you’re going to need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and some virtual instrument plugins to get you going. All of this is included for free in Soundtrap.
To play these instruments, you’d ideally use a MIDI keyboard of some kind. For the purposes of this walkthrough, the easiest DAW to use would be Soundtrap, a browser-based DAW that comes fully featured with all the instruments you need to make Drill Beats, including the 808 Bass with Glide. Plus, it’s all cloud-based, so you don’t need to sit around waiting for large programs to download. You can get started straight away. Just click here.
Step 1: Set The BPM And Key
To start off, you want to decide what BPM you want to go for. Start with a relatively slow tempo, typically running from 140 to 150 beats per minute. This slower pace allows for intricate drum patterns and enhances the dark and atmospheric feel of the genre. You can set this BPM in the timeline of the DAW of your choice.
Also, choose the key you want to write the song in. Dark = minor. So, most drill artists will use a minor key to capture the ominous and gritty vibe associated with the genre. Common keys include D minor, F minor, and G minor.
Step 2: Create The Drum Pattern
It’s not Drill without drums. In Soundtrap, add a new track and pick Patterns Beatmaker. Start with the heavy kicks, and then throw in the sharp snare hits. Be sure to experiment with variations and ghost notes for added complexity.
Then, move to the hi-hats. Throw these in with pace and high energy. Introduce triplets and rolls for rhythmic diversity. Also, right here, why not experiment with panning to create some deep spatial effects? Well, we’re building the beat. Now would also be a good time to throw in the claps, snaps, and any other percussive elements to act as the driving engine for this groove.
Read more: How To Make Pro Beats: Step-by-Step Guide
Step 3: Get The Melody Going
Once you’ve got that beat hitting, you can now set down a bassline in the key you’ve chosen. We recommend you use an 808 to create the bassline, like Soundtrap’s 808 with Glide. Experiment with slides and variations in your bass notes.
Next, start bringing in those keys. Using lead synths or pianos, experiment with your minor scales and try to come up with some unconventional progressions. Use slides and pitch bends to get that signature UK Drill sound. Also, since this is UK Drill, consider integrating flute sounds. Experiment with the flute’s pitch and velocity for variation. All instruments.
Step 4: Use Premade Drill Loops in Soundtrap
Soundtrap comes equipped with thousands of premade loops and samples to incorporate into your beats. Simply open up the Loop tab in the Studio and search for “UK Drill”. Preview the sounds and drag in the ones you want to use into your project. The loop will automatically match your BPM tempo and song key.
Below, you can listen to the demo project from our Brixton UK Drill Sound Pack. This pack is filled with premade UK Drill Loops, Samples, and One-Shots, ready for you to create your own Drill bangers with. Click on "Open in studio" to open the project in Soundtrap and get to work!
Step 5: Arrange The Piece
Once you’ve got the pieces, you then can build the thing into a song. Use a structure like this:
Intro – Short, atmospheric, gradually introducing elements to build anticipation
Verse – Bring in the full drum pattern and melodic elements for the main section
Chorus – Enhance energy by introducing additional elements in the melody, emphasizing the core elements of the beat
Bridge – Create a bridge section. It’s essential for any Drill song.
Outro – Wind the beat down with a gradual reduction of elements. Consider adding a final melodic or rhythmic flourish.
Step 6: Mixing and Mastering
The next step for this song is mixing, working the EQ and compression, adding the effects, and then getting the master finished. Balance the frequencies to ensure each element has its place in the mix. Apply compression to control dynamics and add punch to the drums. Experiment with reverb and delay to create space and atmosphere. Use subtle automation for dynamic shifts. Ensure a balanced mix with a focus on clarity and impact. Pay attention to overall loudness, but don’t sacrifice quality.
With Soundtrap, you can choose to have your song automatically mastered with your export. If you want to master your song elsewhere, just toggle off the Auto-Mastering option before you bounce your final mix.
Read more: Pro Guide: Mix Your Songs Online
Good luck making your UK Drill beat and don’t forget to send us your beat once it’s finished. We’d love to hear from you!
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