While there’s no replacement for recording a good drummer in a great-sounding room, EZDrummer lets us home studio hacks get great drum sounds for MUCH less than we would spend on booking a professional studio or even buying all the mics, preamps, and stands we would need to record drums ourselves.
First things first.
I want to re-iterate this before I give you some tips for dealing with virtual drum software.
Use a real drummer if you can. While software is amazing, you’ll always be better off recording a real human on drums.
Is it more expensive? Yep. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
I recommend simply finding a professional studio in your area, booking their big room for a day, and tracking all the drums for your project. I plan to do this on my next album, because as much as I love EZDrummer, I love a real drummer even more. 🙂
However, realistically a lot of home studio folks simply can’t afford to book a studio, or perhaps they just can’t pull it off logistically (don’t know any drummers, there are no studios nearby, etc.)
That’s completely understandable. In that case, you should use virtual drum programs like EZDrummer, and you can get some great-sounding drum tracks.
Here are 3 quick tips for working with virtual drum software:
1. Use MIDI grooves as your starting point
Any drum program worth buying will come with tons of MIDI grooves. These are just little 1-4 bar phrases with all the drums already programmed.
I highly recommend using these rather than starting from scratch. Unless you’re an experienced drummer, the grooves you come up with will always sound like they were written by a non-drummer. (Trust me, I’ve done this enough to tell you I’m not a great drum programmer.)
INSTEAD, find a MIDI groove that fits with your song. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just close. Then drop that MIDI groove on your drum track and adjust the various notes as needed.
I usually remove a kick drum here or add an extra snare hit there. Nothing major, just locking it in more tightly with the groove of the song.
2. “Humanize” the timing
One of the major issues with virtual drums is that they can sound too perfect. Every note is 100% in time, which seems great at first, but in reality it sounds very robotic and stiff.
The small imperfections of a real drummer are what makes a drum track sound energetic and powerful, so you need to “inject” some of that human-ness into your drum tracks.
How do you do that? By humanizing the timing of the MIDI notes. You know how you can quantize MIDI to make an out-of-time performance more IN time? With drums, you need to do the opposite.
Your goal here is to make them sound less in time and therefore more human.
Most DAWs have some sort of “humanize” button in their MIDI quantize window. Look around for it and spend some time trying it out. It will make things sound worse…which is better. 🙂
3. “Randomize” the velocity
This goes along with humanizing, but it takes it one step further. While humanizing quantizes the timing of the notes, you can also do the same thing with the velocity of the notes.
In Pro Tools it’s fairly easy. You open up your MIDI editor window, select all of the velocities (along the bottom of the screen), then open up your MIDI quantize window and select “randomize” and give it a percentage.
This will take each of the drum hits and make them slightly louder or software than all the others, which is a GREAT way to make sure the drums sound realistic and not fake.
Try doing this on individual pieces of the kit (kick drum, snare) or even on the entire kit. It’ll take some practice, but once you master it, you’ll be well on your way to great-sounding drum tracks.
Hey! Wanna see how I go about programming a MIDI drum track on a song? Become a VIP member today. At the end of the month I’ll be doing a live training, just for members, on programming MIDI drums.
The recording will be available afterwards, but only for members. Join here: