Tips for Layering Drum Samples with Live Recordings

drum sample layering

I could do an entire premium course on advanced drum sound design, but today I’m going to give you just a few tips.

Start with Great Drum Sounds!

You need to pick the best drum samples that you possibly can to give you a great starting point. You know how the saying goes, “Garbage in, Garbage out.” A bad sample can never sound good, any matter how much processing you do.

So if you are recording your drums, then I am assuming you are off to a great start. If you want to layer in some drum samples, you need to make sure you are picking up the best drum sounds possible.

For a quick reference on some great sounding samples, check out the Drum Samples Website – you can literally find any sound in any genre.  I love that resource.

Moving on…

Tune, Tune, Tune

You should get into the habit of tuning your drum sounds. Every sample has a unique pitch to it, and it will sound that much better if you can get it in key with the song.

Tuning your samples is especially essential when you are layering them on top of your recorded drums. Nothing sounds worse than a recorded drum and a drum sample that aren’t in tune with each other or the song.

For whatever reason, if that doesn’t work out, then I’ll try moving up the scale until I find something that works. I would point out that while you’re was trying to tune the sample, it’s better to have the song playing instead of soloing it. I think it’s obvious, but I thought I should mention it anyway.

If I’m layering sample, I might make one sample one note of the scale and the other a different note of the scale. Think of this as a harmony of sorts.

Layering Samples For Specific Characteristics.

Did you know that you can layer samples simply for their characteristics? For example, you may like the snap of one sample and the weight of another sample. Why not put a couple of them together to create a super duper mega drum sample? – Muhuhahaha.

This technique is super useful for making some clean samples that cut through your mix, and it can also do an excellent job of avoiding phase issues. I use this specifically for kicks and snares.

Tips for layering Snares.

I’m into working on a lot of rock and hip-hop music, so I tend to like my snares to be super heavy. I honestly will go 3-4 layers deep with my snare drums.

So once I get the snare drum recording to the point where I love how it sounds. You know, you’ve played with the mic placement and got it to the point where it sounds pro, but it just needs a little something extra.

At that point, I’ll go through my drum sample library and choose a snare that I like that has “weight” to it. This is the sample that, when combing with the recording, will make up the body of the sound.

From there I’ll move onto to finding a sample that has some attack or punch. I’ll even go as far as cutting off the body of the sound and just keep the attack (which is what I’m looking for).

Another trick that most people don’t know of is that you can layer in some white noise on top of your snare to give it some more brightness. Try it out; I think you are going to love it.

The last stage to getting the “ultimate” snare drum is that you can layer in a kick drum underneath to give it some extra weight. You can try to tune it up a bit and layer it in ever so slightly. If it does not fit with the vibe of your song, try using a tom sample as this can often be the right timbre for specific genres of music.

Go Forth and Layer!

Check out this video on Layering Drum Samples in Ableton. I thought it could help.

Recording Kick Drums Like a Pro

recording kick drums

Having the right kick drum sound is a deal breaker when it comes to making a fantastic record. Would Led Zeppelin records sound as great as they do without John Bonham’s monstrous bottom end? Of course, they wouldn’t.

The bass drum is the pulse of the music. It needs to sound right, and that means it needs to be recorded right; all the editing, filters, and after effects in the world can’t save poorly recorded drums. The problem is that recording kick drums can be tricky.

Engineers have to keep three things in mind when they’re getting a bass drum sound: compression, microphone type/placement, and EQ.

Compression

When recording audio, the term “compression” refers to the process of narrowing the dynamic range of what you are recording by reducing the volume of the loudest sounds, without affecting the quieter sounds. Compression is used to reduce gain, and gain reduction is measured with a ratio.

A ratio of 4:1 means that if the volume of what you are recording spikes, and exceeds the threshold you have set by 4 decibels, then the output will only be 1 decibel over the threshold. For example, if your threshold is set to 6db, and the signal you’re recording jumps to 10db, the compressor will bring it down to 7db for a gain reduction of 3db.

When recording kick drums, a good place to start is at a ratio of 10:1 and set the attack (the speed at which the compressor kicks in) at 7ms. From there you can start tweaking the settings until you find something you like. Make sure that the kick drum registers at least 5db on whatever you’re using as a gain reduction meter.

Microphones

dynamic mic - recording drumsThe best microphone for recording kick drums would be a dynamic microphone. These mics don’t have the same sensitive frequency response that condenser microphones do, but they’re much more sturdy and stand up well against high-pressure sounds like kick drums and loud guitar amps.

However, if you don’t have a high-quality dynamic mic, you can still get good results with some shrewd mic placement. What you do not want to do is place the mic directly in front of the kick drum’s beater, as this will end up giving you a dull and lifeless sound.

If you displace the microphone a little bit, moving it off center, you will be able to capture natural resonance in addition to the general attack, and the resultant sound will be fuller. You don’t want to move your recording device too far to the left or the right as each hit will sound too explosive. Experiment with mic placement.

If you have the means and the time, you might even want to experiment with two microphones: one right inside the drum, and another placed outside of it.

Equalization

When you’re EQing a bass drum track you want to concentrate on the three principal aspects of the sound: boom, smack and click. The “boom” is the bottom-heavy thud that anchors the entire track. That thud can typically found in and around the 50-60Hz range. To boost the “Smack” that helps give more definition to individual hits on the kick drum, you want to start looking at around the 3-5kHz range. As for the “click,” this helps the bass drum sound to cut through the entire mix and can be found close to the smack, at around 6-8kHz.

Keep in mind that these numbers are basic guides and will vary according to the size and style of bass drum you’re using, and the particular sound you want.
After all, as is always the case when you’re in the studio, recording drums is both an art and science.

There is always a level of subjectivity (either your personal taste or that of the client you’re recording) that comes into play.

Drum Overheads – The Secret to a great Drum Recording

Are you having a hard time recording your drums? It isn’t easy. Many folks find it tricky and somewhat intimidating, but it can be simpler the moment you comprehend the basic principles of recording drum overheads.

We all know that a great drum sound is the key to a superb mix.  I mean if you didn’t think that was, then you wouldn’t be searching for this article.  If your drums sound amazing, you’re off to a great start. Conversely, if your drums aren’t working as is expected, you’ll never achieve the big fat Chirs Lorde-Alge sound.  Here are some tips you can use the next time you record your drum overheads.

Begin with your overheads

Firstly, you have to put a stereo pair of mics (Overheads) to find out whether your kit sounds good. If you’re getting a decent and balanced sound, you’re good to go.

If you love the overall sound of your kit, but it sounds slightly unbalanced, try moving the overhead mics around. If you want to filter out some of the bass and augment the rest of your kit, simply place them over the cymbals and experiment.  Do not set it and leave it there idle.

Experimenting is essential and can’t be ruled out in this matter. Experiment with your overheads in different positions, such as parallel to the toms, in front of the kit, and behind the player facing the drum skins. Listen carefully, and then adjust them until they sound right (to you).

Tape cheap Pressure Zone Mics to the wall

If you think the drums sound perfect in the room, try using pressure zone mic’s by taping them to a wall, and in front of your kit.  It helps to capture a high-quality sound. Pressure-zone mics can provide spacious, excellent results on any instrument. Blending in a little is equally crucial since it adds a “live feel” to a close mic’d kit.

Mic – close and steep

While there are numerous schools of thought on this, the best one involves pointing the individual mics virtually straight and at least 70 degrees down into your drums. This approach allows you to get the most body and weight to the sound.

Alternatively, you may choose to incorporate your overheads to achieve a more open sound of the sticks as well as the sound of the kit—simply by hitting the skins. It’d be prudent to utilize a single mic, because it’ll let you get that punch and separation we all want.

Shift the mic around your drum head

Sometimes the drums sound decent in the live room when you get to the control room it just sounds – Blah!  To try and correct that you’ll want to make adjustments by moving the mic around—inch by inch.  Try moving it forward and then backward to see what kind of sound you get.

TIP:  Place the mic towards the center of the skin for one pass (recording to tape/Pro Tools), and on the next pass place the mic towards the edge of the skin.  Look for the sweet spot and make your adjustments based on the results you’re hearing.

Use Parallel Techniques for more Weight

Put a mic over your drummer’s shoulder and ask him what he hears. After all, his playing decisions are made from here. From there take that signal and run it through a parallel chain and destroy it with an audio compressor.  Then, take that compressed signal and feed it back into the mix by blending it up underneath, ever so slightly. This way, you’ll be adding an incredible feel and energy to the drums.

Mic the front of the kick

A good number of kick drums encompass a hole in the front. Therefore, try to sit the mic in this spot, or utilize it to develop the mic precisely inside the front of the beater. Alternatively, you can avoid the hole and simply mic up your kick drum from the front.  Often, this provides a great, punchy, and natural sound. Listen carefully before choosing so you can discern what sounds the best.

Tune your kit

Tuning of the kit is fundamental to its sound. Remember, if your skins are too tight or too slack, your drum won’t ring or sound as expected. Additionally, you will get very inconsistent results if the tension isn’t even. There are heaps of tricks that work best, in this case, which include adding tape to the skins.

Final thought

It goes without question that everyone needs a good space to record in, where the drums sound their best. Rooms can be manipulated to accomplish the best sound. For instance, if you’re in a carpeted room (probably rehearsing in a studio), use some sheets of plywood to add reflective surfaces. Nevertheless, if you’re in a massive garage where everything’s quite bright and lively, add some packing blankets, carpets and duvets to enhance the quality of sound.