Nothing, and I do mean nothing, quite beats a good drum track. The right player, the right kit, and the right room can make a mix…..magical. But what if you don’t have access to a space where you can track in your apartment, or your recording gear is limited? In this post, we’re going to explore some of the ways you can breathe life into your loops.
Nothing is more essential for establishing a solid foundation in your songs than establishing the groove. If your kick and snare are displaced, and they don’t gel with the song, keep exploring presets until you find something that hits home with you.
Now that we have our groove in place, play along with it. Does it feel off or forced? If so, you might consider altering your BPM’s to make sure you can play comfortably and sit in the pocket.
Bearing in mind that keeping your songs interesting should be your endgame, it’s fair to say that there should be some delineation between the verse, chorus, and bridge sections. Maybe you’d like to switch from your hi hat to your overheads, or play a section in cut time. Go with your gut until you get that “aha” moment. (Note: Be sure to check aspects of your kit for artifacts. As is demonstrated in our next example, even MIDI drums can suffer from phase issues. This is merely to illustrate a point.) Here’s a before and after sample using Scripter in Logic Pro X to create rhythmic variations in the very same drum sample:
4. Live Samples
If you’re a mix engineer and you’ve worked with multitrack sessions for other clients before, odds are you have at least a couple songs with well played, tuned and tracked kits. Even if you don’t, you have options. Several companies make high end samples of live drums on great kits, if you’re willing to buy them. Of course, if you know any total package drummers, you can always barter to see if they’d be willing to setup their kits and allow you to get clean samples of all the parts. If so, here’s a little trick for you:
When you have your samples sounding right at the source (properly gain staged, of course) locate the beginning and end of your transient at zero crossings (the baseline where no audio is being played) and create a tight cut/fade at each point. Export the file into your sample library under the file name you’d like. Then you can pull it into your session whenever you want.
5. DIY Sample Kit
Many DAW’s have the capability to create and design your own custom drum machine. In this example, Logic’s Drum Machine Designer was used on the “Empty Kit” setting.
From there, you can route the right part of your kit to the corresponding trigger. By clicking on an individual sample box, your panel offers you a wide variety of options and a vast array of tools for designing any singular aspect of your kit.
Occasionally, you may find something unnatural is happening like the tail of your snare is being cut off. No problem! Convert your virtual drums into a MIDI region and open your Piano Roll.
Drag the clipped audio to another key assignment, and drag your snare sample into the corresponding box. As long as your sample isn’t being cut off from any triggers that follow it, you’ll be made in the shade!
As we talked about earlier, by clicking on an individual sample box in your drum machine, your panel allows you to do several things to each piece.
Each piece has zen simple high and low pass filters for cutting mud, harsh frequencies, and creative processing.
I’m definitely putting these two in the same category. Both affect the dynamic range of your instruments, and both can raise your RMS levels while making your tracks sound fatter and more aggressive. Even many of your DAW’s stock compressors are modeled after coveted vintage gear, and have a make-up gain controller. This drives the amount of distortion going out of the circuit, and a wet/dry mix control enables you to blend the unaffected signal with the highly affected one. This is essentially parallel processing.
Here’s an example of a dry sample, a compressed sample, a distorted sample, and a compressed and distorted sample blended into the original:
This is a tricky one. Many novice engineers drench everything in reverb because they think it makes the mix sound more lively. The truth is that if you oversaturate a mix with reverb and delay it will sound incredibly washed out. To combat this, consider only four or five things that could really benefit with the addition of reverb. Maybe on your kit it’s the snare or the overheads. Be conservative with it, and if it doesn’t need it, don’t add it. Here’s an example of our kit before and after adding a bit of reverb to the snare.
Wider is better. There are only three real positions in your mix: left, center, and right. Use the extremes to your advantage. Pan the more spaced elements of your kit to the extreme. It’ll sound bigger, and we like bigger. Here’s our kit in mono followed by an example with the toms and overheads panned hard left and right.
9. Processing the whole kit
Sometimes, a plugin can be used to add flavor and character to your entire mix. iZotope Vinyl does a pretty good job making music sound like it’s being filtered through an old radio.
Thanks for tuning in. Armed with this knowledge, hopefully there’s something that benefits you and your music. Now let’s go save the world one mix at a time!