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Drum programming tips for more realistic sounding tracks.

January 12th, 2010 | 54 Comments   « Previous  |  Episode 15  |  Next »

In this episode I explain one of the common mistakes when building your own drum tracks without a drummer and give  tips to easily make programmed drum tracks sound more authentic. I try and do my part to get people to stop making lame records.

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54 Comments ~ Speak your mind »
  1. Dave K.

    awesome show! well done.

    also…. Nice dogs and nice super hero animation.

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  2. Steve

    I’m a Drummer Myself- I can vouch for the Hihat technique. I Usually play the whole kit, but sometime My project calls for that more poppy drum sound- so I’ve been sequencing the Kick, snare, and Toms, and then Micing my kit and playing only Hats and cymbals. If I know I’m going to quantize and oversample the tracks, I just will sequence them from the start. I find that Gives me more to work with in the end.
    But- for anything that calls for a loud rock band sound, nothing beats just playing it!

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  3. Thomas Hornig

    Great and useful stuff…
    Love the dogs…but based on a certain section I shall now call you a geek :)
    see ya at NAMM

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  4. toro

    great sounding drum tracks and i play drums dude keep up the good work!

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  5. David

    Great trick with he high hat. I write so much music for tV and film and I have a hard time finding a drummer that is willing to play for performance credits. They all want $100+ per track which I can not afford at the rate I turn out music. So this leaves me with using drum loops and software.

    I use mostly Drums on Demand and Drum Core 3.0 which are realistically sounding because they are real drummers playing the drums. However the thing that always screws me up is that when it comes to fills to transition from verse to chorus or a bridge etc…the fills that are included with both programs I mentioned above are extremely limited so getting a nice smooth transition is always a pain to get things to sound natural.

    Anyway, I love the highhat trick and I will give it a try. If anyone knows of someway to get better sounding drum tracks with out going the midi route, please shoot me an e-mail. I would appreciate the advice. Dave

    visionbandct@yahoo.com

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  6. Simon

    really cool idea!

    i haven´t seen this trick before,so this episode was really helpful for me .
    I´ll try that on my next projekt for sure :-)
    I also think it´s much faster to record a hihat than to programm it for hours.thank you very much!

    Simon

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  7. Todd Cumpston

    Thanks! This is a great bunch of tips… anything that makes it more real is okay by me.

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  8. NYMorningstar

    Hey Ronan,

    Another excellant show. I love the way you push for peeps to give up their excuses and value their own productions.

    Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into these. You are a genius and most definitely God sent.

    Bob.

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  9. Joe

    Brilliant video. Real tips for real musicians.

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  10. scott

    Great stuff. Thank you for saying it like it is… but then giving a solution for the problem. Even for “drum machine” music, I think I’ll start doing this for the hat parts.
    Do you prefer panning drums in drummer’s perspective? If you switch it around, what are some deciding factors in the decision?

    em em em em, i like beer… HA!

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  11. francisco

    great subject, great show – ditto Bob.

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  12. carlos

    I spent almost 20k in sound engineering school and never learned this!! Ronan I Should have gave that money to you!! haha!! I can feel your passion and its very inspiring, keep rocking!! we love you!!

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  13. Kevin Granstrom

    Thanks once again RONAN… I finished recording last night thinking exactly what your show was about. “My drum tracks sound like a drum machine how can Real them up.?” Great Idea.. And I’m off to buy a hi-hat or maybe the 6 pack….

    thanks
    Kevin

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  14. Kern

    I have recorded midi drum kits played by real drummers before, but insisted that we use real hi hats and cymbs with a couple of mics on them, just to seal the deal. This really makes all the difference!
    Ronan, we are all waiting for each video post, checking often! Have fun at NAMM.

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  15. Brenton

    Excellent stuff Ronan, keep it up. I’m a drummer and engineer, another easy tip to make them sound real is don’t program anything a drummer couldn’t play. In other words, a drummer only has two hands, ie, if you are playing something on the floor tom and snare then you can’t be hitting the hihat or cymbal at the same time. Its amazing how often I hear three or four things being played at the same time with only two hands. A dead give away that its programmed.

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  16. rpeck

    “Em em em em, I love beer!”

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  17. laperlestudio

    again and again, really good show, nice trick. I’ll will use it for sure!

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  18. John J

    Punk Rock Chicken did it for me. Thanks Ronan hope you had a great holiday. I sure did. As for the drum programming tips for more realistic sounding tracks video it was very helpful and insightful. Just another of your great and informative media outreach to us who really care what we want to say artistically. Your knowledge and experience has put many on the front line, to which we can build from there as you have laid some of the most important groundwork. That’s my take on it and I’m sure there are many others who will agree. Keep up the good work! I’ll be back. No pun intended.

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  19. Stephen Shapiro

    Great tip. This is something I learned a long time ago, but I’m sure other people out there will really benefit from it. Thanks for making the show!

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  20. Árni

    Great tip!
    One thing you should really mention, is when programming drums (especially cymbals/hats), use Velocity, Randomize each hit a bit. Drummers usually play the HiHat a bit harder when they are hitting the Kick or the Snare at the same time, same thing with the Ride cymbal.

    You’ve got me subscribed tough :)

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  21. Kevin Thorley

    Great tips Ronan! One question… how do you get the hi-hat to sound like it belongs with the rest of the (sampled) kit? Is it just a matter of trial and error, moving the mic around, adding reverb and eq? I find that part of this rather intimidating, but maybe I just need to grab a hi-hat and start playing around with it. Thanks for another great show!

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  22. Shane O'Connor

    they keep getting better. awesome episode.

    -shane

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  23. Brian @ Topsoil

    Great episode Ronan! I’m totally with you on getting folks to “real up” their drum tracks. LOVE the geeky animation, btw!

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  24. Peter Morgan

    Excellent video – hand played percussion in general helps add human feel and variation to a recording. Most music stores have plenty of cheap percussion stuff to try, so why not experiment a little.

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  25. Steve

    Hmm strange dogs ;-)
    Interesting advice (interesting as in good and something I never considered). Always enjoy your shows.
    Worrying that a grown man with long hair plays with Christmas snowman dolls??? Hmm but punk’d might almost allow a pass on that however ??

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  26. E.

    Hey Ronan! Great show! :)

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  27. Chris

    Hey Ronan,

    I have a problem, can you help me?

    I bought a six pack, but I drank it myself :o p

    Seriously though just discovered your site, and I just happen to be working on my first track with programmed drums! I will give this a go!

    Keep up the good work!

    Chris.

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  28. couser crowley

    great show ronan…awesome tip…i’ll definitely give this one a try in my home studio….thank you…

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  29. CC

    This is awesome. Anything that makes it more real is fine by me. Going out to get some hats and cymbals.

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  30. Ronan

    Hey Everyone, thank you so much for all the nice comments I really appreciate it

    One question… how do you get the hi-hat to sound like it belongs with the rest of the (sampled) kit? Is it just a matter of trial and error, moving the mic around, adding reverb and eq?

    This is a really good question. The first things to try is to send the samples and the real parts out to the same processing, for instance the same reverb or same compressor, or even send all of them out a speaker and record the output to a new track and blend that in with the individual tracks. It does not have to be loud. Make sure that doing the latter does not induce any really bad phase problems. -Ronan

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  31. Ronan

    I spent almost 20k in sound engineering school and never learned this!! Ronan I Should have gave that money to you!! haha!!

    One of my favorite comments ever. And not just because you said you should have given me money!! -Ronan

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  32. Ronan

    Do you prefer panning drums in drummer’s perspective? If you switch it around, what are some deciding factors in the decision?

    I almost always pan drums from a right handed drummers perspective for one simple reason. I like to play air drums while I mix and I am right handed. If the artist wanted it the other way, I would have no problem changing it.- Ronan

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  33. Bill Forth

    Great show! Hey, that’s my Hi-Hat!

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  34. Ian

    now I just need to find a deal on a cheap hi-hat&stand

    tips?

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  35. Ronan

    now I just need to find a deal on a cheap hi-hat&stand

    tips?

    Pawn shops can be a really good source.

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  36. Dan Terlep

    I tried the hi-hat trick on a project of mine and it really helped!!

    Thanks Ronan!

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  37. Chris

    Hi Ronan – I just had a thought – do you have a mix of the same song but with the programmed hi hats.

    I am currently working with a drummer who is programming drum tracks that he usually plays live with an acoustic kit.

    I’m trying to convince him this could be the way to go, just wondered if we could hear a direct comparison between the 2.

    Sorry if it’s hastle!

    Thanks again

    Chris.

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  38. Jay

    Awesome tip, Ronan. Thanks!

    Can you show us how you got the GUITAR sounds?

    -Jay

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  39. Chris White

    I tried out the hi-hat stuff on a tune – very cool! It works!

    You can hear the results here:

    http://abatzu.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/ill-take-a-little-hi-hat-with-that/

    Ronan, Thanks for another great tip!

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  40. Rob

    Great info, Ronan… I’m not a drummer so I’ve been looking around for an inexpensive used hi-hat setup to use your little trick. Not having any luck on Craigslist because people don’t want to break up their kits, I took a trip to GC. I found brand new PDP (Pacific Drums) hi-hat stands that normally sell for $79 selling for $29! The catch is that reduced price is only for their custom red or blue color scheme stands (pedal and foot pads) and not the black ones which are the normal price. I grabbed one for $29; I could care less if it was pink, I like the price and I’m just using it for recording anyway. So if anyone’s looking for just an inexpensive hi-hat setup to use for what Ronan suggested, run over to GC and grab one of the blue or red ones for $29.
    Now it’s time to get back to Craigslist so I can find some hats for my new stand…

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  41. Ronan

    Rob, Thanks for sharing your find here. Good luck finding the hats. -Ronan

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  42. Johnny Cox

    I havent re-watched. but i missed if there was a hi hat in the original programmed track. I’m trying to get a good blues sound with easydrummer. All of the files in easy drummer have Hi hat already.Sorry if this seems dumb, i’m really new to recording. Seems the guys at easydrummer didn’t include a real lush bluesy shuffle. I have a semi good kit in my room, and a great drummer in my band. Is it worth while persuing a good blues sound with midi samples, or do you recomend a dedicated drum room in my studio enviroment. I have a big open finished basement. I’m desperate to get my first cd out, and i’m trying to do it in the most realistic way. I need it to be pro quality. Any feedback would be great. Your show is really helpful, thanks bigtime.

    Johnny Cox

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  43. Ronan

    Johnny, for blues stuff, I would definitely go with real drums. It does not have to be a really complicated recording. For grooves that shuffle or swing, real drums make a world of difference.

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  44. Anthony Rochester

    I’m a bit late, but another trick I learned for making programmed drums more real is to play the programmed drum track through a speaker on a snare drum and record the rattle of the snares. Cos with a real kit, the kick drum makes the snares rattle. Mix it in just a touch..

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  45. rumbletone

    Great trick! I’ve been adding hand percussion to tracks with programmed drums and it definitely helps, but I can’t wait to try the hi-hat technique.

    Have you ever tried it in stereo to add a little more authentic air/room (i.e., to give some of what would come from the overheads in a typical live kit recording)? I wouldn’t normally mic HH in stereo, but I’m thinking that it might be warranted in these circumstances, and maybe I’ll even try intentionally allowing some headphone bleed into the mics . . .

    Nice frenchies BTW!!

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  46. duffman

    i used an alesis sr-16 for a while and recently have aquired ezdrummer and a korg nanopad for my super low budget fake studio.

    what does everyone think of ez drummer?

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  47. alexh

    Wow dude, I’m a drummer and Audio producer very good tips
    Peace Dude
    Alex

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  48. justin

    thanks for this tutorial not alot of people like to give away thier secrets!

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  49. Simba

    Hey, can you atleast also give us drum samples you have recorded…
    Please. I cant find drum samples that sound realistic at all…

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  50. Mark

    Great show Ronan, I’m enjoying these a lot. I too felt like I pointlessly handed my money over to a certain workshop in Ohio…

    duffman: I started using EZ Drummer with a little keyboard and I like the sounds OK. I always record it live instead of programming or whatever. I actually miss using the sr-16 that I used for years and years. I guess the pads just are comfortable for me.

    Gonna head over to my storage space and record some hi hats with a laptop! Thanks Ronan!

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  51. Michael B

    Many thanks for this great tip. Next wwek I will get myself a hihat to humanize my tracks in the box.

    Could you recommend a certain mic – perhaps not only for hihat / cymbals / percussion ? Perhaps i will also start recording vocals or record my rhodes from my tube amp / cabinet. So should I simply put a sm57 on it or would you recommend a condensor (for example AKG C1000S)?

    Many thanks , your show is great ! I will tell all my friends !

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  52. rob zumbrunnen

    This information was extremely inspirational for me. Thank you thank you thank you. I ordered a hi hat set immediately after watching. this will give me hours and hours of creativity and fun! I think this is great advice because someone who may not feel confident with a drum kit (like me) could certainly play around with a hi hat, then maybe after some time decide they can go for a snare, then a tom, then a kick, then before they know it they’re a drummer! Then, the alesis goes on ebay! Thanks man!

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  53. waster

    Nice, I’ve heard about this trick before but I didnt give it much thought . Now I am thinking about different acoustics of the hi-hat room and drum samples room. Is that why you used dynamic mic, so there is less room ambience in the recording?

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  54. Ronan


    Nice, I’ve heard about this trick before but I didnt give it much thought . Now I am thinking about different acoustics of the hi-hat room and drum samples room. Is that why you used dynamic mic, so there is less room ambience in the recording?

    I actually used the dynamic because it was close and easy, and I wanted to show the technique without using something that was out of the reach of a home recordists. Any mics will work, its just a matter of the sound you want, and a little extra ambiance might actually be a good thing (unless you have loud computer fans and such)

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