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How to make sampled drums sound more real

Start with the samples

Start with good samples. If it's not right in the first place, it won't be right in the end. You'll probably want samples as unprocessed as possible. So, once you get the sample, don't normalize it, compress it, convert it to mp3 and back to wave and then normalize it again. Well, you get the picture. The closer it is to the original source, the more natural the final sound will be.

If you get samples from different sources (i.e. downloaded from different web sites, etc) run them through a common reverb. Maybe a medium room or something to simulate a room drums would be recorded in. Whichever reverb you use, use it sapringly. Use just enough so that you really don't notice a difference until you take it off. This will make it sound more like it was all recorded in the same place, which is what happens when drums are recorded live.

Creating your own samples

You could just create your own samples. This is probably the best way to do it. Try it next time you record drums. Once you have everything set up, take a few minutes to have the drummer play each piece of the kit separately. Record this and splice it up into individual samples later.

Here's an idea for those of you who prefer to collect your own samples: Set up a kit just as you would if a drummer would be playing a track. Maybe record everything on two tracks (i.e. kick mic, snare mic, overheads through a mixer and put on two tracks.) Record each individual piece being hit and grab samples from that. This way your snare sound, for example, will come from the snare mic, a little bleed from the kick mic and bleed and room sound from the overheads. This'll hopefully help your drums sound more livethan they would if you set up and miked each piece separately from the rest of the kit. If you try this, let me know how it comes out.

Programming your beats

Keep in mind what is physically possible. Most drummers (not counting the guy from Def Leppard) have two arms and two legs. So having a kick drum, high hat, snare drum and two toms hit all at once is pretty unreasonable.

Take the time to pay attention to detail and complexity. If you wanna hear a fill or cymbal crash, do it. Just copy the pattern you want to put a fill in into a new pattern, program the fill and modify your playlist. Here's a shot of my playlist; note how it isn't very repetetive.

Most human drummers won't play the same four beats over and over throughout the song. They'll play fills, cymbal crashes and slight variations of the beat just to keep it interesting.

Shuffle and Humanize

Two features of Fruity Loops that can make a difference are shuffle and humanize. Let's start with shuffle since it's only one control. This will adjust the exact timing of hits. Instead of being right on the beat, it'll fall just before or just behind the beat. Drummers (as I'm sure you all know) never play exactly on the beat.

Another helpful feature is Humanize. You can get to it by right-clicking on a channel in the step sequencer, moving the cursor to edit and selecting Humanize. Here's the dialog you'll get. I usually set this to affect only volume, and set the knob somewhere between just above 1/12th of the way up and barely up at all. This will vary the volume of each hit. Again, no drummer will hit every drum exactly the same every time.

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