Maybe you’re one of those people who started out as a two year old beating on something and soon discovered that you could make the beats orderly, and at the time you didn’t know what orderly was, but you liked it. If this sounds like you, then you might be a drummer now or you might be involved with loops or at the least you’re putting this natural ability for rhythm to good use in some other way.
Or you might be the kind of a person who has trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. Believe it or not, even you can add drums to your music, you see, it doesn’t take a Neil Peart to have nice drum parts in your music.
Lets say you have this desire to make music and you invested in some music software and a recording interface so you could do just that. You play a so and so or you sing… or you want to try it at least, only one problem …you don’t know any drummers and you have decided that you really need drum parts in your music.
Software companies are lined up to help you add drums in any way you could possibly imagine. In fact, your music software might have a drum program already inside of it.
No matter what recording software you bought, chances are high that it already has something in it to make rhythms.
You have several basic choices to make, keep in mind you can mix and match these if you want to.
Lets talk loops. Loops are simply organized bits of audio designed to fit perfectly into your drum tracks. If you change the tempo of your song they will follow that tempo.Loops can also adjust to key. Loops usually come in two flavors REX and acid loops. Rex loops originated with Reason Rex Loops
and Acid Loops originated from a company called Sonic
Foundry Acid Loops
Both of these technologies work in a similar way. Many software recording programs use both types of loops and both types can be used together in the same song if your software supports that. Of course , loops are a lot more than just drums. Entire songs can be made from the loops of different instruments.
The nice thing about loops is that they are drag and drop. You simply preview from a browser and decide which loops you like, then drag the loop into your track. For a beginner, it doesn’t get much easier than that. You can also make your own loops and “acidize” them so they will fit in a project.
Loop pros- Fast to work with, easy to preview, fit different project tempos,are usually of a pretty high quality,drag and drop simplicity.Easy to build a song and not worry about something being out of time.
Loop cons- You are stuck with what you have. Loops are prerecorded. If you like em’ great…if not..sorry. Loops start to degrade in sound quality the more they stretch from their original tempo. Loops work best within the ranges they were made for.You can get away with some stretching but go beyond certain parameters and they start to sound pretty bad.Purchased loops are generic. Your song will have the same loops in it as hundreds of other people who bought the same loops.
Dedicated Drum Programs
Your DAW software likely has a drum program in it already. A drum program is basically a software instrument that happens to have drum samples in it. These programs can vary greatly in quality and functionality.They all work on a similar principle. Actual real drums are recorded in a real studio somewhere which is a painstaking procedure. The best drum programs use many layers. A layer is one recording of any given drum at one velocity and the more layers a program has the more realistic the drums usually sound. One cymbal can be recorded at dozens of different velocity levels and each level is set to a velocity, so how hard or how soft you play the cymbal determines which samples will play and this is how the drum parts sound realistic…good recordings made exactly at all velocity levels multiplied across all the drums and you start to see the challenges to the designers. To add even more complexity this, the drums are also recorded into different mics so that the user can later add different mic configurations which adds more choices to the overall sound of the drums. The less expensive kits still sound ok but have less velocity levels and other extras found on the better programs and the recording themselves might mot be as good
The end result is these are REAL drums recorded in REAL studios. They respond like real drums. The better the recordings the better the kit will sound. A soft cymbal cadence that builds will have more dynamics on a better sampled kit with more velocity levels than the cheaper kits.
I don’t envy the poor drummer who had to sit through all those recordings!
Drums and Midi
Drums and midi go hand in hand in the home studio. Think of midi as the instructions sent to the drum program. It really isn’t complicated.
The drum program can’t do anything without instructions. You can obtain it in different ways. You can make your own midi , you can use midi loops or even find free midi on the web. Any drum program worth anything will include some midi loops as part of the program.Midi all by itself is useless. If you load a midi track into your DAW software you will never hear anything unless you tie that midi to your drum software. If the software doesn’t see the midi nothing will happen.Different DAWs work in different ways but essentially you need to point the midi track to the software…this might involve two tracks with one set up to midi send and your drum software track set to receive or it might be as simple as drag and drop the midi file from a browser into your loaded drum program. In fact, most drum programs really are that easy to use .
There are different ways people prefer to work with midi..some prefer pre made midi loops. These come in different kinds. Programmed and real. In the latter a real drummer used a midi drum kit and played the loops in real time, so you’re getting more of a human element that way. Programmed loops can sound mechanical. You can make your own loops the same way if you happen to be a drummer and have a midi kit. You can make midi by making the rhythms on your midi keyboard, recording them and then using them in your material. Since midi can be edited I tend to use midi loops and then I edit them to fit my song. I might add a cymbal crash or vary the timing slightly or adjust the velocity..really there is no limit to what you can edit in midi. Many companies that sell midi loops have them for your particular drum program. Midi loops aren’t terribly expensive and you can find all kinds. If you use loops made for one kind of drum program made for another drum program you may beed to reassign the parts because not all of it is the same. loops labeled GM midi are probably the most compatible across different kits that are also GM midi compatible. Midi loops made specifically for a certain drum programs tend to be best suited because the makers have allowed for the extra functions of that program….Don’t let this scare you..after you find out how to drag loops into your drum synth, you’ll be well on your way to getting great realistic sounding drums in your music!
Drum program pros- Maximum control over the final drum sounds usually covering every aspect of the drum from the sound itself to the midi programming.No need to set up a drum kit in your house and record it.
Drum program cons- The only con might be that it still isn’t a real drummer, but even that might not be a con because the drummers who make the loops are usually good drummers and might be better than anyone you can find near to where you live. You may not get quite the energy as a real drummer would put into the song…those subtle things that only the human touch can add during a live performance,but done right you can add those things and make it so close no one will ever know.
Most of these programs I have mentioned come out of the box ready to record two tracks. Most have a built in mixer and microphone placements. You use the drums GUI (graphic user interface) to mix all the kit pieces into the main and that goes into your DAW software. This is the easiest way to get started with recording drums. The reason that most of these drum programs don’t have any other options is because they don’t know which DAW you’ll be using and not all DAWs route the same way, they also don’t know what your preferences are. You might want to route the bass drum out as a single channel but leave the other channels inside the GUI..so here ‘s where it gets interesting. You can route either some or all of your drums into individual tracks in your DAW. The advantages are numerous. You can then use the plug ins in your DAW to treat the drums and maybe you have higher quality plug ins in your DAW than the ones in your drum program. You can add automation to the tracks individually.Things like panning and volume can be controlled. These are just a few of the reasons to break the kit out into separate tracks.I can’t get into all of the reasons here, suffice it to say, the control is incredible.
This is kind of like the PC .vs Mac debate as there are many and we engineers all have our favorites. Most have beginner packages that are pretty good. If you’re just starting out I recommend using the program that came with your software. These are sometimes pretty good.If you’re not getting the results you want you can look further. The beginner program from BFD called BFD eco is a nice inexpensive but high quality program. BFD 2 and 3 are even better but more complex. EZ drummer is one program that many song writers love because it is fairly simple and straight forward to use and gets good results.EZ drummer 2 just came out and it looks to be pretty good at helping a musician put together tracks fast.Superior Drummer is their flagship program which many also love and use regularly. If you use Kontakt you might be interested in Studio Drummer which integrates well with Kontakt as it’s an NI product. Addictive Drums has worked well for me on several of my projects. So far I have and use BFD2,Addictive Drums and Studio drummer. Any of these will get the job done. So will the others I don’t have yet.
In some cases you might want to use the drum sounds in your hardware instrument. This isn’t difficult to do, simply use the drum template in your software or make one yourself. This is more complicated because you will need to send midi out of your DAW and into your hardware synth, then take the audio from your synth into your recording interface. This is the preferred setup for many and one benefit is a lighter load on your computer since it’s the hardware making the sounds.
There are now plenty of beat/loop related softwares out there that while aren’t technically drums, they offer rhythms that might fit your genre better. Programs like Reactor which are synth based rhythms. There are plenty of others. Synths programmed for rhythm and beats. Some of theses are a cross between drums and synths and you can get some other worldly results.