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OmegaMetroid93

Tips on programming drums?

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Hello all. I'm relatively new to working with DAWs.

I was wondering if any of you have any tips on programming drums, whether they be electronic or acoustic. When I try to do it myself, they always end up sounding really dull and flat. But on the contrary, if I try to EQ them, I always end up exceeding the volume limit, making the little red light flash.

Sometimes that happens even if I just put drums out without EQing them. It then happens when I try to add other instruments on top of that.

So, any tips would be great, as I know absolutely nothing about this. So far I've been using Impact, but if there's a better software out there that's free or really cheap (I'm a poor student and Impact came with Studio One), I'd love to take some recommendations.

Oh, and I have done full songs before, but I used drum loops, which I want to get out of the habit of doing, since it kinda feels like cheating.

Sorry about my utter cluelessness.. ^^'

And thanks in advance!

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This is kind of a generalized question where any tip can be broken and won't apply to every aspect of drum programming. It's also best to separate electronic drums and acoustic drums as they are usually mixed differently.

With electronic drums, focus on the bass kick. Get that to sounds the way you want to first, then start incorporating all the other elements.

With acoustic drums, realism is most important so I'd say finding the right sample(s) is key. Lots of variations when sequencing (velocity, timing, etc.) to make it sound more natural.

Finally, there's nothing overtly wrong with drumloops. Slicing and experimenting with them can lead to creative new sounds. They can also make your mix sound fuller, or they can be used as a good benchmark with what you want to end up sequencing.

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Hello all. I'm relatively new to working with DAWs.

I was wondering if any of you have any tips on programming drums, whether they be electronic or acoustic. When I try to do it myself, they always end up sounding really dull and flat. But on the contrary, if I try to EQ them, I always end up exceeding the volume limit, making the little red light flash.

Sometimes that happens even if I just put drums out without EQing them. It then happens when I try to add other instruments on top of that.

You need a basic grip on compressors/limiters then.

Oh, and I have done full songs before, but I used drum loops, which I want to get out of the habit of doing, since it kinda feels like cheating.

While just using stock loops can be boring and called lazy, if you use a slicer to play them back you can go from minimal or no modifications to complete rearrangement of the individual hits. Don't dismiss loops as a sound source, the most complex drum programming you will find in electronic music is based on breakbeat loops.

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Sometimes, a particular drum sample is just wrong for your track. Sometimes it's just mixed or written wrong.

You can have too many drums and rhythm elements.

The bass and the drums are best buddies. Or at least, should be.

Layering makes the drums thicker. Just make sure all your layers complement each other. Change pitch and stuff if you have to.

Less isn't more, but it can be more effective. This is especially effective during mixing - you can turn down your secondary rhythm elements and just focus on the kick, snare, and hat rhythms.

Don't just use a single drum kit track; separate the drums into groups that need different processing, and process... differently. The kick and the hihat does not need the same effects

Side-chaining isn't always necessary, but usually useful.

Subtle is underrated.

Groove > Beat.

Edited by Rozovian

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Groove > Beat.

Yep. Your drums don't have to be complex. They just have to match the mood.

https://soundcloud.com/zircon-1/ashes-to-ashes-super-metroid @ 2:38 ~ These drums are just Kick. Snare. Kick. Snare. And then later on an off-beat hi hat with 2 kicks and a snare. That's it, and it works, because who can focus on those in that section if they were more detailed than that? :P Loooootta Izotope SE in thar.

Edited by timaeus222

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im suprised nobody mentioned this yet, but try experimenting with swing in your drum productions. Some DAWs have a function for it, but if yours doesnt you should be able to just turn off the quantize grid and just slide your drum hits slightly to the right or left, depending on what youre trying to emphasize. I cant explain "the correct" way to use it though, since i just experiment myself.

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If you want to learn about compression, EQ, etc a bit more, then I recommend checking out this free Coursera course:

https://www.coursera.org/course/digitalsounddesign

Also, if you're a university student with free Lynda.com access, there are a lot of good courses on there as well, such as:

http://www.lynda.com/Logic-Pro-tutorials/Foundations-of-Audio-Compression-and-Dynamic-Processing/85998-2.html

(It's for Logic Pro, but the concepts should translate to any other DAW).

Other than that, the best thing you can do is to just start writing drum tracks, you learn a lot just by doing. Not everything that you write has to be perfect, that's something that I've learned the hard way. Also, I recommend watching some of Seamless's Tracks from Scratch:

The glitch-hop song has especially groovy drums. You learn a lot just by watching others, I've found.

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So, I was messing around with drums earlier and I came up with this:

https://soundcloud.com/omegametroid93/testing-drum-programming

I've EQ'd and used compressors and reverb on basically everything in this track. The thing is, I don't know if I'm doing it right.

So, I thought I'd have you mixing gurus out there tell me what I'm doing wrong and what I need to do to make it right.

And yes, I know it's the same drum loop throughout the entire thing. But I wanna make sure I know how to mix what I have before I start making variations.

Thanks again, guys!

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no real mixing gurus here. all just trial&error bedroom producing fools.

seriously dude, forget about right and wrong and go make some music, find out what drum sound you like yourself, then refine it.

ok that probly sounds not helpful by itself, but really, there are no rules, and the way you phrased your post rubs me the wrong way cause of that.

there's only right and wrong when you have a specific goal in mind. like, say you want more dynamics, and to do that you put a compressor on the drums. that's wrong all right.

there is no wrong drum sound, or any wrong sound for that matter. your example provides too little context for me to give any critique (which would still be subjective).

ask questions as soon as you know what you want. before that, do random shit and have fun.

Edited by Nase

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Sounds a little like freeform jazz or something.

Think about what each section/time stamp of the song is meant to sound like, and write the drums to reflect the mood from their rhythm and busy-ness/complexity.

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Think about what each section/time stamp of the song is meant to sound like, and write the drums to reflect the mood from their rhythm and busy-ness/complexity.

Ah yes, didn't think of that

Your example mainly shows that you can program lead lines well. As it happens, a music part less relevant to the drum track than others.

If you're feeling insecure about writing drums, feel free to start with a bassline, or other more rhythm based accompaniment. The syncopated chords in your soundbyte, for example. Then build your drums around that.

In other words, start by getting direction from other instruments. Your "fear" of drums hampers your creativity with them. The next tune on your SC just started playin - you clearly got stuff to express, so you just gotta get more comfy with percussion.

At some point, you'll notice things coming full circle: once your drum writing in turn is giving you ideas and direction for other instruments, you'll know you're on the right track. Good luck, and don't avoid writing because of some perfect production pipedream.

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Well as always, it's both in the playing and the sound.

Let's focus on sound: first and foremost, find a kit that sounds powerful to begin with. I think you know it when you hear it.

Then, you got various options of shaping stuff...

eq to give each drum part the level of bite and definition you desire. Ask others on specific frequencies to boost and cut, i just fool around.

Compression to give stuff more consistent loudness and make it gel together better. Lots of ok free ones around, maybe grab one with fewer knobs for starters.

Saturation/moderate distortion. Adds excitement, also makes stuff gel.

As far as reverb goes, really depends on the effect you're going for, and the reverb unit and settings. Can add power, can weaken the impact.

Personally, i'm no fan of excessive reverberation, and for the longest time just kept a lot of tracks completely dry. I've realised by now though that a tiny bit of reverb with a very small room setting usually helps the sound. Especially when you're using a reverb as send fx, it's another gel factor.

Big wet rooms can also sound powerful, but can be tough to mix.

In the end, power has a lot to do with dynamics. Relative changes in amplitude. Sound is there, now it's gone, and BAM!, now it's back again. A continuous wall of sound can have power too, but with diminishing effect. Your ear needs silence to recognise loudness. So work on that silence between the hits, and where exactly you want it. Accentuate the silence by being careful with reverb and compression, as these tend to draw the sounds out. Sometimes desirable, sometimes not.

Experiment, experiment.

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Hmm.. Alright, how about this?

Let's say I wanted to make something a bit heavier, with more power. I don't know how to make the drums reflect that.

It depends a little on what tempo you're in, but if you just focus on the tone quality, generally these types of drums are strong (though I may have missed some):

- impacts

- slams

- other "cinematic" drums

- particular, well-compressed kicks and snares (yeah... the compression is the hard part to describe unless you've actually heard its effects. Thwap, snap, click, punch, etc. are all jargon)

With regards to reverb, I start off with minimal amounts to just fill the void space on the headphones. Since actual rooms obviously are realistic and not so obviously have natural reverberations, and headphones kinda don't, headphones have built in reverb responses (or at least the ones I've used), and having the minimal amount satisfies that response, hopefully without sounding like it's too much. For a long time, that's all I've been doing, but occasionally I have done more ambient settings, like with vibraslaps, claves, and sleigh bells, so it's not wrong.

Sometimes people think that if you have drums, they have to be noticeable or "active enough", but that really depends on the context. For example, I barely did any "active" drums here; it's just a lot of rather diverse layers with very simple sequencing on each layer. So, just think about how active you want the drums, and try writing to reflect that. The production can wait if you want.

Edited by timaeus222

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By the way...i used to play around with putting delay on everything when i started, drums included.

If you wanna try it, make an utterly minimal beat...3 or 4 hits per bar, wherever you want em. Then go for a 1/4 or triplet delay. It can work a bit like a rhythm generator, making a fuller beat out of some disjointed notes.

And that's why posting here can be fun...i should try this again, man.

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