Making a drum kit

Today i’m gonna walk you through the process of making a drum kit, from scratch. It’s not uncommon that you need to edit the preset drum kit in order to fit it to the track and sometimes you need to start from nothing in order to get the right drum kit for your track at hand. This blog is not only about this process, but written while i’m building a kit for a old track that needs a new beat, this way i’m sure i got all the information i can give you.

As always this is more a “how to do it” then a “what to do” as it’s impossible to tell you what drums you need for your track, also since my expertise is in the art of making rap beats, this is not a good guide if you need a kit for a pop or rock song, but before we go into it, i got one thing i need to do.

Epilogue on my summer in hell

If you haven’t read my previous blog, skip this section, it will only confuse you. However if you have read my previous blog you know my summer been a bad on and that i was recovering when i wrote it. However i’m out of recovery now, it’s no longer summer and i’m no longer in hell. No i’m not exactly living easy now, nor have i found a job, but mentally i’m in a much better place and i’m no longer unable to do anything. The turning point was my cousins 19th birthday or rather the day after my cousins birthday, you’ll be surprised how good you feel the day after a full on, all out bender, sure i had a thousand hangovers, but i also had something worth a million hangover, a realization. I can’t keep piling it up, i can’t do it all my self. I acted accordingly gave more responsibility to my partners in rhyme, started saying no every now and then. I also worked on my mental state, i have picked up martial arts and meditation again, not on a regular basis, but when i feel, i need. All i need now is a job, or a winning lottery ticket (never stop dreaming).

Okay back to the task at hand.

Organizing

As i sit here with a fresh cop of coffee in my hand, i need to do or rather redo my organizing, before i entered the pack first and the drums where in sub dictionaries by type, this i have decided was a bad idea it need to be organized by type and then what pack it’s from, that makes it easier to try different kik, snares so on, but still let me go into certain pack so i can find a specific kind of drums (some of my packs are very specialized). This is by far the most annoying piece of poop job in the world, but you need to organize your library in a meaning full way, in the end it might take two hours here and now, but save perhaps three times as much by doing this, not having to go two steps back and forth every time. You don’t need to organize it type then pack like i do, but i feel it’s the best way to do it, of course it all depends on your way of working.

Important note: Everybody that releases drum samples packs need to name it with what drum it is, i just went trough i01 to i50 looking for which ones that where kiks.

A bit over an hour into it, i can give you one more important tip, clean up during reorganizing if you find something you know you don’t use remove it.

Now almost done i can give you one more tip, move everything in few big moves, a lot easier then small moves. Also try to use as few sub dictionaries as possible, that way you don’t have to go back ten times and then into ten folders to get from a kik in one pack to a kik in another.

Okay organization is done now, lucky you don’t need to this every time you make a new kit, just once every now and then when you get a new pack. Time to get into the actual making of the drum kit.

Building the kit

There are a few reasons for building a kit, sometimes i build one with sounds i use a lot together, sometimes i built a menu of kiks, snares, hats etc. For this blog i’m going to assume you are building one for a track, like i am. However many of these practices are universal to kit making.

First off we need to build the kit, and the first order of business is to figure out what you want in the kit, and how many. For this kit i’m following Guru’s standard set up, with 4 kiks, snares, hats and percs. This make it possible to use the kit on other tracks as wells, since you rarely use all drums in a 16 drums kit. Secondly you need some idea of the sound you want, you don’t need to know exactly what sound you want, but a general idea will make the process alot easier, i usually write down a few adjectives explaining the overall sound of the kit, for a track it’s easy to do this, what do you want the track to sound like, find drums that support this sound. We are still on the foundation of the kit, so don’t mess with layers effects or anything just yet, just find a drum sample you like for each pad. Once you have done this take a little brake, then come back to it. It’s not impossible to change the foundation later, but it’s annoying to do so, you might want to save the kit now as [trackname]_found so you can go back to it, i do this when i now there are a big risk that i want to change the whole kit later on, however i’m pretty certain on what kind of sound i want on this specific track.

Layering

I got 4 options for layering in Guru and im going to assume you got the same, most drum samplers got these or at least Velocity Spilt and All.

Velocity spilt: Absolutely essential is you want people to think it’s a real kit your playing on. However in order to use it effectively you need the same drum sampled at different strength. Another use that i have found in many tracks is to spilt between a distorted 808 kik and a clean one. This is a easy way to make have distorted main kik, with a ghost hit coming in afterwards without distortion. This can create a certain feel of the main kik hitting hard and also create a bit of texture and movement in the track.

Round Robin: Here the layers play in order, basically first time you hit the pad layer 1 plays next layer 2 and so on until you got no more layers then it starts over. To use this effectively you need to have a general idea of the pattern you are going to play. It is of somewhat limited use to me, however i used it once with two layers of the same snare, sampled in a small live room and a big one. This made the snare really move around a bit more in the track, however it limited it uses as i could use the large room snare for rolls with the decay being cut off or going into the short room coming in shortly after, so i had to dedicate another pad with the small snare for rolls. In theory you could use this to stack up drums on if you don’t have enough pads, but if that your case i think that in 9 out of 10 times that means you trying to fit too many drums into the track.

Random: pretty self-explanatory every time you hit the pad a random layer plays. I have only use this once with 4 hihats on it, made a bit more movement, but Random is in most cases useless, unless you use similar drums.

All: Self-explanatory again, you hit a pad and all layers play, this can be used to layer a Rimshot onto a snare, a snap onto a hat or a subkik onto a kik and so on, probably my most used type of layering, however it can be quite difficult to set up as you need to sat the layers volume right.

I rarely layer very much, i got a couple of pre-layered acoustic kits with velocity spilt, but i usually find one sample i want, however building this particular kit i know i want three of the drums layer, 1 kik needs a subkik, 1 snare needs a rimshot and a clap need a snap. All of them are going to be layered with the all function in this case, i’m not trying to make a realistic drum kit here, but more a classical hiphop sampled kit, where layers are rarely audible.

Once you have choosen the drums to layer and what samples to layer them with, you need to set volume and then your basically done. I’m now and i’m gonna take a break and come back in a few minutes to evaluated my choices.

I ended up layering on more kik with a sample of a empty watercooler bottle and a subkick, this is going to be my special kik for this track, i usually use a special kik right at the climax of the song.

Sounds

This is the final step off the kit, here we going to tune the drums, set amp and effect envelopes, filters, volume on each pad and any effect that are going to change the core sound of the drums.

Start by tuning the drums, this is the the core element (after the samples of course) of getting a good drum sound in our case, again you know what kind of sounds you are after, use this as a guide plan. For this track i know i want some bright snares so they are going to be tuned a tad bit higher. I’m going to turn one of the kiks into a almost subkik for addtional layering once i start recording the patterns, i also got a triangle i want to make into a weird bleep like sound.

For once in my life tuning was easy, normally i can spend hours tuning my drums, but i think my new organizing scheme has paid off already, since i now long have to go back and forth between packs, i can now find the right drum easier, making the “i see if i can’t tune it into the right” approach less appealing. I ended up turning the triangle into a bellish gong type of sounds, i could have changed it with a gong sample, but i have a very specific idea of how this drum should sound, like a abused triangle sample basically.

Next up volume this is not overly important right now, as most of it is going to be handled in the making of the track, i prefer to do it there so i can take the other instruments into account, and we already done the layers volume, but if anything is to loud or to quite compared to the rest of the kit it is beneficial to set a standard volume, is going to make the recording process much easier, also if anything is clipping at full velocity you need to turn it down a notch.

This was also a easy process only one drum had to little headroom at full velocity and it was only a few decibels i had to turn it down, so all good here.

Next i do filters, these have a similar effect as tuning, but it removes frequencies rather then shift pitch of the drums, you can also add a bit of resonance to the cut-off frequency effetely boosting it and if used much add a synth like sound, in this case I’m not going to use it for much other then remove unwanted frequency and perhaps add a bit of resonance to one of my hats and a ride cymbal.

It was a bit more demanding setting filters, then i was expecting, i decided to add some resonance to my water bottle special kik, my triangle gong and my almost sub kik as well, the rest of the kik i just filtered any unused high frequencies of, with hats i used a bit of highpass filter as well, snares was left pretty much untouched only filtered out the frequency below 20 hertz, i always do that when i’m not using the filter, it’s a long story as to why, but basically it’s to make sure i remove any subsonic frequency that can disturb the low end according to some article i once read and have forgotten where.

Next we going to¬†envelopes, I got both a fx envelope (basically another filter controlled by this env) and a amp env in Guru, however not all samplers got these, some might have more, some might only have a amp env, some might have none. In my cases i’m only going to uses the amp env this time, it’s only to remove some unwanted decay on a few of the drums.

I ended up using a fx env on my triangle gong and doing some light attack setting on the cabasa, so it follows the waveform, other then that, nothing exciting this time around.

Now we move on to effect, i usually don’t use compression, reverbs or delay on a kit, i stick to effects that change the sound of the drum, like distorting, bit crushing, tube simulator (in theory, however i have yet to make a drum where it sounds desirable) etc. This time i don’t think i’m going to that much, i’m going to add a bit of bit crushing to a snare and a some distortion to a kik, perhaps some weird effect on my special kik and triangle gong as well.

I ended up leaving the snare alone, the kik got a little bit of distortion, but not as much as i was planing on. The special kik got some distorting and i added some sine wave ring-modulation to my triangle gong as well, making it sound like it was shaking a bit.

That’s it, the kit is done tomorrow i run it through my pattern test, basically i load up a few patterns and see if i still like the drums, i think they are okay, but after a long days work you sometimes don’t hear small (or if it’s bad big) faults in the kit. I’m toast, so i know i can’t accurately judge the kit right now.

Even if everything is alright, i know that my idea as to how the song should sound, are likely to change in the process of making it, this means i may have to change my kit a bit along the way, in rare cases i have even dumped kits midway due to changes, this is the prize you pay for choosing a creative hobby, you never know where you end up, but for now both i’m and the kit is done. It’s been a fun journey actually writing it down as i go along. It has also been a hard one, granted i didn’t make it easier by choosing to write it down a long the way, let alone reorganizing my drum library (consisting of some 10 000 samples), but several hours and around what seems like a gallon of coffee later, i’m glad i did both.

I think i might write more blogs about the making of this track, but it depends wether anything interesting pops up along the way.

A Little Trivia

I think we have gone long enough without one of these:

RZA made the soundtrack to Afro Samurai and Afro Samurai Resurrection

Good night

Nitten.

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