How To Get Realistic Drums – With Drumdrops Drum Samples
First things first.
Today, we’ll talk about how you can get the best sound out of your drum samples. Introducing Drumdrops as well, because well… those are some great drum samples, to be honest!
As a short disclaimer: yes, Drumdrops contacted me to ask me to try out their drum samples and yes, they did ask me what I thought about their collection and if I would write them a review.
Now, I haven’t done any features on the blog yet, simply because I haven’t had any offers of products or software I liked enough to actually share with you guys. If you’re a regular here, you know that I started thesoundcoach.com with the intent to give you my honest opinions about products or methods (either positive or negative) and over time have it become a vast, useful resource for your production and mixing needs, while at the same time offering personalised advice to all and everyone who needs it.
That’s why I will never talk about anything I don’t believe in – and definitely won’t ever promote or feature any product that I am not thoroughly impressed with.
So when Drumdrops sent me a couple of their sample collections, I told them I wouldn’t write a review on a whim. Instead, I really took my time to try them out. I made some drum tracks using their samples, had late night binge production sessions with the samples and for a while essentially lived with them whenever I made music. It allowed me to develop a good view on their drum samples so I could share my honest opinion.
My opinion is this.
I was impressed.
It’s as simple as that. The samples sounded really good and I decided it would be a fun idea to feature them on the blog.
Except, I really don’t want to do just another lame promotional post.
So what I’m going to talk to you about today is not going to be a list of positive and negative points about the Drumdrops libraries. While I know that’s what some of you are looking for, I think it’s going to be a lot more fun if I can teach you guys something in the mean time. You come here to learn, not just to get an annoying promotional post shoved up your throats, right?
So look at this as a feature, rather than a review. Today, let’s talk about some of the ways you can replace a drummer with samples. Because hey… not all of us can shell out the cash to hire a professional studio session drummer every time we’re making another song.
Luckily, though, we really don’t have to anymore. Sample libraries (and especially drum sample libraries) have become THAT good.
To be fair, they have been really good for a while now. True… But they also used to be very expensive. Nowadays, you can get amazing drum samples for not that much money. Some of the sample packs that you get in Logic X (for free!) are already pretty great on their own, but add in a third party sample library (like drumdrops) and you get really mind-blowing stuff.
But you already know that, right? I’m sure you’re not really doubting the quality of drum samples out there. You wouldn’t be reading this article if you were. No… What you’re looking for is:
a) what are some of the best drum sample libraries around and
b) what are some awesome ways in which you can use these samples.
You’ve come to the right place. BUT…
We’re going to skip right through a) and move along with b), because, well, I’m featuring Drumdrops here in this article and I wouldn’t be doing so if I didn’t think they’d be worth your time or money. In fact, in a previous article, I’ve already compiled a list of great drum sample libraries (guess what, Drumdrops made the list and that was even before they ever contacted me to review!).
What is the best way to use drum samples?
Well, just owning a great sounding drum sample library is, unfortunately, not enough. There is in fact a whole lot of work, dedication and detailed midi-editing that comes into play when you want to fool the listener with midi drums.
Wait, no… Let me rephrase that: there’s a monstrous, insane amount of work involved!
I’m not just saying that to discourage you though. The weird thing is… I’m saying it exactly to encourage you! I’m saying that if you are disappointed with the sound of your drum tracks at this point in time, there are two possible problems, one more likely than the other. And! The solutions to both problems are ridiculously easy as well.
1. First problem: you don’t have good drum samples.
Well that should be sorted right now. If not, go read this post to help you pick. The list is at the bottom of the article. So if you’ve got great samples, the more likely problem is simply this:
2. You’re not spending enough time on your drum tracks
Seriously, if I had spent the long hours I have been busy playing with midi to make my drums sound realistic in a bar, I think I would’ve walked around quite intoxicated over the last couple of years.
What to spend your precious time on?
The easy way for me to give you some advice would be to simply tell you to get off your ass and start working. Fortunately for you, that’s not the kind of guy I am.
So here’s a couple of very effective ways to get your drum tracks grooving, once you’ve got a great sounding drum library.
1. Use drummer in Logic X – then copy paste the midi
Ok, so you’ve got me. Here I am telling you how much work it’s all going to be and how much you’re going to have to live your life as a hermit if you’re ever to succeed… and then I just tell you to lazily let a program do all the hard work for you.
Well… The only reason I’m saying this is because this is not just a program, but because this is a damn fine program!
In my humble opinion, if I may, Logic’s drummer might just be one of the most awesome, if not the best feature to come to music production in Logic Pro X since the invention of the DAW itself. The midi patterns it creates are so realistic, they might as well have been played by a real drummer.
Wait… That’s right… THEY WERE played by a real drummer! Well… “Based on real performances” it says, anyway.
Seriously, though, that’s the most awesome thing about drummer. Based on a couple of parameters and your song structure, it can produce a mighty fine drum track for you in literally seconds.
Sure, producing midi-drums is a huge pain in the ass and it does take so much time to go into the midi and finetune each and every single hit… but if you’ve got Drummer, there’s no need to do that anymore.
Well… (yeah, there’s a but…) almost no more need to do that anymore.
Drummer can take you only so far. It’s got pre-programmed midi drumloops and it’s a very fun and intuitive way of selecting the groove you’d like, but in all fairness… it’s still just all pre-programmed midi drumloops.
So while Logic’s Drummer can definitely get you started or all the way there if you don’t know to the point exactly how you want your drums to sound, you’re going to have to tweak the midi after the fact if you want to be in full control.
More tips on how to write your own midi drum loops effectively come next, but I did want to take the time to illustrate how freaking awesome Drummer is first. Seriously, try it if you haven’t already!
2. Drawing in midi drum loops yourself
If you’re serious about your drums, then just using Drummer is not going to be enough. You will get a good starting point, yes, but knowing how to add to that with your own midi loops will really kick start your drum production!
To make a midi drum loop sound realistic – I.e. it sounds like it’s played by a real drummer – there’s a couple of things you should look out for. This will be a quick overview, as there can be whole books written about this subject, but it will give you a starting point.
If there’s one thing you can do to bring life into your midi loops, it’s playing with the velocity of the notes. Think for a second about how a drummer actually plays. Imagine a drummer in front of you playing a nice and easy 4/4 beat on the hi-hat. Now think about how it sounds.
Is he hitting every note with equal power? is every next hit as hard as the last?
Nope. Obviously not.
This is where a lot of beginners go wrong. It’s easy to draw out a drum pattern with all the same notes, but it takes time, considerable planning and careful composing to actually write down each and every note individually, just like a drummer would play it.
Here’s a before and after example for you. First all straight notes, then with careful velocity editing. Hear for yourself what the potential of simple velocity editing is:
Here’s the same drummer loop from before, but with the velocity all the same for each hit:
And here it is again with the velocity editing:
The difference is staggering!
Really, listen to how much more the drum loop came to life with some velocity editing!
Same thing here. Pay careful attention to timing. Easy enough.
Now the thing about timing is… You should really make sure that you pay careful attention… Not to do your timing perfectly! Real drummers don’t play on a perfect grid. Neither should your midi drums! More on this in a bit, when we talk about groove.
A good drummer knows when it’s time to shine, but a really good drummer can combine his awesome fills with the ability to musically link together different parts of the song.
You probably know about fills, but when was the last time you actually implemented some in your programmed drums? Especially if your writing electronic music I really want to know: how many of you actively use fills in your music? I’m willing to bet there’s a whole lot of you that are just making one or two beats and start to copy/paste away for the rest of the song, filling everything else with sweeps and risers.
Hell, I’ve been guilty of the same thing before. Not ashamed to admit that I can also be a little bit lazy when it comes to programming. But really, take my word for it, fills really help. They signal a new section to the listener and serve to build and guide the energy.
So no, they’re not only a means to a drummer ego boost. They are a powerful weapon in your arsenal that you might be underusing.
d. Small variations
There’s nothing so exhausting on the face of this earth as an everlasting drum loop with no variation what so ever. I’m already dreading the thought just writing about it.
Some small variations are absolutely vital to:
a) keep the listener entertained and
b) stop yourself from going absolutely bonkers when listening to your song a thousand times over.
I think we can all agree on this. But the problem is we are all so good damn lazy! In so many songs I hear the same drum loop bring repeated over and over again with no end to it. To be honest, it sort of drives me nuts!
Why? Because it’s really not that hard to implement some variation in a drum loop! In fact it’s really easy. If you’re really lazy… You can just use your DAWs randomizer function and be done with it. Google it if you’re not sure where you can find it in your own software.
Ghost notes are also a really good trick to use to add some variation to your drums. It’s all about sketching out your drum loop entirely but then adding in some snare hits here and there between the main hits.
These things really add a lot of interest to your loops and it would be best if you would implement them right now, don’t wait for it!
Finally, maybe the simplest, but also the most important thing: To program realistic midi drums, you need to think like a drummer.
You need to introduce groove in your drums! Don’t be static, don’t be boring. If your drums aren’t giving anyone in the room the urge to get on their feet and dance their asses off, you’re not doing it right.
In the end it’s very simple: a computer needs to be told exactly what you want it to do. That’s it. Whether that means telling it to use quality drum samples or stay on top of your midi editing game, you need to be the boss, the conductor.
It’s just not going to play itself.
Last but certainly not least, remember to mix everything to the best of your abilities! It’s almost as important as the layout of your drums themselves. If you’re new to mixing, why not start here to learn mixing, step by step.
Thanks again for letting me teach you how to improve your sound!
Kevin – The Soundcoach