How Hi5ghost creates drums for grime and dubstep with a £10 plugin

“I bought it on a whim – ‘£10? Yeah, why not?’ Now, it has become a cornerstone of my sound.”

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Hi5ghost makes dramatic and moody grime and dubstep that echoes the early days of the UK-based 140 bpm genres. It’s then paired with the angst and energy of UK rappers.

Speaking to MusicTech, he justifies transitioning to a DAW-only setup before shouting out his essential plugins and explaining how he uses them. We hear about his mastering process, how he uses Cableguys‘ HalfTime tool and a beat repeat tool to fill in the gaps in his drums, which he calls a “cheat code for drum fills”.

Hey Hi5ghost! What’s made you switch to a strictly DAW-based setup?

When I had my first studio with all my hardware and synths and effects, I felt like I couldn’t make music unless I was in that space. Now I’m trying to find the happy medium of working from home, studio hotel, or airport and still have the same level of creative output no matter the space I’m in. I’m making more of an effort to collaborate and there’s nothing worse than when you try to open a project and you’re missing plugins or samples so, for now, I’ve downsized to a laptop, hard drive and field recorder so that I can be more hybrid.

What was your latest plugin purchase?

The most recent plugin I’ve bought is MiniMeters. It’s such a convenient analyser, allowing me to see everything that’s happening but not distract or obstruct my creative or mixing process. I love how simple and flexible it is, I can adjust what type of analysers I need depending on if I’m doing sound design or if I’m mixing down a track. Plus, it can be used as stand-alone software so if you use software like VCV racks, you can still keep the benefits of the analyser without being bound to your DAW.

Hi5ghost's Plugins I Actually Use

What’s the best free plugin you own?

That’s easily Vital by Vital Audio – hands down one of the best software synths available. I mainly use it to make plucks and bass. The user interface is easy to navigate and the learning curve for making complex sounds is not that steep. When I’m not in the mood to start a track I open Vital and make patches or one-shot sounds that I can resample or use when I’m in the right headspace to start a new song.

Hi5ghost's Plugins I Actually Use

What’s the best-value plugin you own?

Halftime by Cableguys. I bought it on a whim – “£10? Yeah, why not?” Now, it has become a cornerstone of my sound. The first released track I used it on was I’ve Seen.

I use this to add a layer that fills in the gaps between the drums that also adds an accent to some hits. But it can also make melodies sound fuller and give them some polyrhythms. It’s easy to use but a powerful tool when applied to certain elements. If you don’t believe me, here’s an old video of me showing its possibilities on drums and melodies.

What’s a DAW stock plugin you use all the time?

Auto Filter and Auto Pan. Auto Filter always ends up on any instrument rack or audio effect rack I build, simply for taming low or high frequencies, automating the filter cutoff for sweeps, or making space for an instrument based on the arrangement. Before I got a plugin dedicated to sidechain-style pumping, Auto Pan was my go-to for this effect, and it still is when I’m not fussy about the wave shape of the pump.

Hi5ghost's Plugins I Actually Use
Hi5ghost's Plugins I Actually Use

What plugins go on your master bus without fail?

Typically, I would have Live’s Gain/Utility, Fabfilter Pro-Q3, Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Sonnox‘s Oxford Inflator, FabFilter L2 and MiniMeters.

My process is that I focus on the creative sound design and arrangement first, I keep the limiter on but the rest is bypassed. Once I have a solid track idea I’m happy with, I bounce the stems and move to Logic Pro for the mixdown/master. This way, I’ve committed to the idea and I can fully focus on making the elements sound as clean as possible and coherent. Even though I mix in Logic, I still use the same master chain in Ableton Live so that I can bounce out a quick playable version if I don’t have enough time to create a full detailed mixdown.

Hi5ghost's Plugins I Actually Use
Oxford Inflator

Do you have any secret sauce plugins?

It has to be Cableguys’ Shaperbox 3 and Beat Repeat. Shaperbox 3 is easily my favourite multi-effects plugin. From using it lightly or to the extreme, I always have fun seeing where it will take a sound or loop. I use the time, filter and volume effects the most but the new Crush effect has a preset that adds air to a track, and the Liquid effect is a strong tool for sound design. And I use beat repeat as a cheat code for drum fills. I have this on the drum bus then I record some variations on an empty audio track and then take the best bits and fit them into my drum loops to add some ear candy. This effect is used in my singles Jelly Fish and Longway home

What do you use without fully understanding?

Metaphysical A & B in Reaktor. I love random modular-sounding noise, and this plugin is an easy way to get something similar. It’s a constant sound generator so I usually click through presets, set it up to record into an empty audio track, and then keep hitting the randomise button. I’ve tried a few times to learn it and build my own patches but this is one plugin I’m happy not knowing it inside out if it keeps providing strong sounds with little effort.

Check out Hi5ghost’s music via his Bandcamp.


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