This post describes how to create your own multitrack drum kits by creating and layering samples from existing multitrack drum recordings. Despite the samples being sequenced, you’ll end up with separate, mixable tracks for each mic just like you would have from a live drum performance.
Samples are a reality of modern music production. Whether you’re recording a live band and need to augment a weak drum sound or you’re putting together a song that’s entirely created electronically, samples have become a indispensable tool for the producer. The most common application for samples is definitely percussion. One thing that kinda sucks about straight up samples is that they aren’t very flexible. With professionally recorded live drums you generally will have your choice of room, overhead, and close mic tracks with which to paint your the kit’s sound. A single sample is the equivalent of a single microphone – not too much to choose from. There ARE a big variety of sample packs available out there from hip hop kits to samples that mimic the feel and sound of live drums.
Despite the inherent limitations of standard sample packs, one of the coolest features of the more expensive ‘live’ packs is the ability to change the sound through the placement of virtual microphones in a virtual room inside the virtual instrument’s interface. I know the BFD series has this sort of flexibility. You can actually adjust the type and placement of things such as the rooms and overheads. Each of these virtual microphones can be mixed as if they were genuine tracks that you recorded into your DAW from micing an actual kit. But you don’t necessarily have to pay big bucks to get that kind of flexibility. Nor do you have to use someone else’s sounds. What I’d like to show you folks is how to roll your own multitrack drum kit with a virtual room track, virtual overhead track, and individual close mic tracks.
The stuff you’ll need:
- A sampling program that has a) the ability to map multiple samples to MIDI notes and b) the ability to route individual samples to their own separate outputs in your DAW’s mixer. For this application I use Native Instrument’s Battery 3.
- A DAW with the ability to route virtual instrument tracks to groups or auxes (in this application either will do the same thing – the difference is in name only. We just need a channel that we can send multiple channels through. Cubase calls these summing tracks ‘groups’ and Pro Tools calls them ‘auxes’.)
- A multitrack drum recording that you like the sound of.
Making Quality Multitracks for Sampling
If you don’t already have a multitrack drum recording that you like or if the recording you have is too busy to extract individual drum hits to your satisfaction, next time you’re in the studio with a drummer take a moment to roll the tape during the sound check. Once you get the sounds you want, have the drummer play a few single hits on each drum – light, medium, and hard. Then have the drummer hit each cymbal, allowing them to decay naturally. While how long this takes obviously will depend on the size of the kit, it shouldn’t add much more than 10 minutes to your sound check. Save those sound check multitracks and, when you the chance later, come back to this guide and we’ll sample them.
Cutting Up the Samples
Load up your multitrack drum files (overheads, rooms, close mics, and whatever else you have going on) into your DAW of choice and ensure that they’re time coherent and in phase relative to each other. Stack them vertically and select them all. Find a drum hit that you want to sample and find the beginning of the transient on the corresponding drum’s close mic track (or overhead track for cymbals). Pro Tool’s tab-to-transient feature is awesome for doing this. Separate the region at the transient point. If you have selected all the tracks correctly this edit should be made across all the tracks.
Make your way to the end of the decay of the hit and separate the region there as well. Again, this edit should be made across the entire collection of multitracks.
You now have multiple samples of the same drum hit with all of the mic tracks. Continue to separate the regions of the other drum hits in the same way.
Once you have edited out all of the samples you would like to use in your virtual kit, highlight one of the hits across all the tracks. The way this will work depends on the DAW you’re using, but you’ll want to export all of those samples as their own sound files. In Pro Tools, for example, you can use the region section to the right of the edit window accomplish this. Make sure you name them in a way that makes sense (SnareLight_BottomClose, SnareLight_Overhead, etc)!
Setting up your Sampler
Start up your sampler and start loading each of the sampled mic tracks from one of the sampled hits. Map each sample cell to the desired MIDI note so that when that note is hit, each mic’s sample will play simultaneously.
Continue to load up each of the sampled drums in the same way. You’ll end up with a whole lot of sample cells if you have a lot of mic tracks. Once all the drum hits and their respective multitracks you would like to use have been loaded, take inventory of the channels you will need to recreate your original drum multitracks. For example, a kit recorded with stereo rooms, stereo overheads, snare up, snare down, kick, hat, tom1, tom2, and tom3 would require two stereo outputs (rooms and overheads) and seven mono outputs (snare up & down, kick, hat, tom1, tom2, tom3). Battery 3, for example, lets you specify the number of each type of output the sampler will use. Create those outputs. Map each mic sample for each hit to its respective output (all ‘room’ samples to stereo output 1, for example.)
Once you have completed this, the sampler will have all room, overhead, and close mic samples outputting on their own tracks. What we have essentially done is create virtual overhead, room, and close mic tracks in our DAW mixer. Cool!
Putting it Together
In your DAW’s mixer you can now manipulate each output as if it were a real mic track. Need more rooms? Bring up the volume of the output channel to which you routed all the room samples. Want to compress them? Throw up an insert. You get the picture.
That’s it! It’s kind of a lot of effort – but you’ve just created your own multitrack drum sample pack on the cheap and I think that’s pretty awesome.
If you are feeling inspired and have a computer that can handle it you can also play around with mapping the different strength hits to the different velocities of your midi notes.