How To Make Computer Drums Sound Real

If you’re just starting out as a producer, or you just want to have some drums for riff ideas and such, you’ll probably go for programming drums with software such as EZ Drummer. It’s a great solution for those who don’t have the money, space, or ability to mic up a full acoustic set. Or maybe your drummer just flat-out sucks, that’s also a problem sometimes, haha.

Trouble is, even after you spend so much time programming a drum track, it still screams “fake.” I’ve recently had to program drums for one of my band’s songs because our drummer wasn’t able to track them that day, and I learned a couple of new things about working with computer drums.

h4. Make The Drumming Realistic

This is where most beginners mess up. Don’t program blast beats or kicks at 64th beats, few real drummers can do that, and it generally just sounds fake as hell. Don’t make the entire song one drum beat either, that gets really boring and sounds amateurish. If you have no idea what drum parts/fills to use, look up Guitar Pro tabs (you can open them with Tux Guitar which is free) of your favorite songs. Chances are, they’ll have drum parts tabbed out as well, so you can see what kind of beats professional drummers use. Throw in a couple creative drum fills here and there to liven things up, much like what a human drummer would do. If you have a drummer friend, study his/her style while drumming and try to replicate that in your programming.

h4. Drum Sounds

The second hallmark of bad drum programming is a terrible overall sound. Boxy, flat snares. Way-too-clicky bass kicks. Dead-sounding cymbals. Sound familiar? Fortunately, this is a pretty easy problem to fix.

All you need is a drum replacement plugin for your DAW (ex: Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase) and some good-sounding samples. There are free drum replacement plugins out there, you just have to find them. Being a semi-professional audio producer, I opted to buy what is widely considered the industry standard in drum replacement: “Drumagog”: A basic license costs $90, and it can turn the worst-sounding drum tracks, whether programmed or real, into sweet-sounding beauties.

Drum samples can be found pretty much everywhere on the internet, you just gotta find the really good ones. I’ve found “Steven Slate”: drum samples to be rather good sounding in my mixes, so I’d recommend checking them out. They’re not free, but they’re totally worth it (of course there are _ways_ of obtaining it for free).

However, even with amazing samples and perfect drum replacement, there is still some more work that needs to be done. First, resist the urge to turn up the kicks super loud, that’ll only highlight how steady (and robotic) the drums are. Unless you specifically want that sound, of course. Turn the cymbals down, and apply some basic compression on them to make them fit into the mix better and sound less grating. EQ and compress the snare until it sounds punchy but not too hollow, and make sure to apply a good amount of reverb onto it. While it may sound weird to have so much reverb on just the snare, it sounds pretty darn good in a mix.

With these two main tips and a little bit of effort, you can make drum tracks that sound fairly convincing and realistic. Remember, how good your drums sound is directly related to how much effort you put into programming and tweaking them. Don’t expect to get a pro-quality drum track in five minutes, unless you’re directly ripping off another band. Which I wouldn’t recommend doing unless you’re doing a cover.

Posted in Audio, Rant