How To Get MIDI Drums Sounding Like The Real Thing
Do you make music that you want to have realistic sounding acoustic drums in, but don't have the space or equipment to actually record a drum kit? This is a conundrum I found myself faced with a few years ago and know that many others have the same problem.
I have spent years finding a process that really works for me and the genre of music I primarily produce, but the way I now create my MIDI drums is a way that can work for anyone. In this blog we're going to look at how to get MIDI drums sounding like the real thing, or at least very close to it.
We're going to cover three main areas which are: Virtual drum kit plugins, MIDI programming/MIDI packs and Mixing and Processing.
Virtual Drum Kit Plugins:
As with all music production plugins these days, there are a lot to choose from with most DAW's such as Logic Pro coming with quite a few already built in. Some DAW's also have their very own virtual drum kits as well.
These drum kits such as the ones in Logic are good, but you can get virtual drum kit plugins from 3rd party companies that are a lot better sounding and have more choice of drums to suit specific genres.
I mostly make rock and metal music and have found a virtual drum plugin that works very well for me but do your research and see what ones seem best for the sort of music you intend to create with them. Some companies have a large selection of virtual drum kits suited for a wide range of genres, so looking at these might help you choose.
Although a lot of these drum plugins sound great 'straight out of the box', there is still more to do to make them sound more like the real thing. We'll cover these next steps in the following sections.
MIDI Programming/MIDI Packs:
One really important aspect of producing MIDI drums that sound like the real thing is giving time to making them sound and feel more 'human'. For example, if you're programming the MIDI drums and putting each 'hit' dead on the grid and all at the same velocity, they're going to sound quite robotic and more obviously programmed.
Some DAW's have settings to 'humanise' and add 'swing' to the MIDI patterns but doing it this way isn't always the most reliable and I would recommend either going through the sections individually to adjust the velocity and grid positions, or using MIDI packs and adjusting them to your songs.
MIDI packs are regions of MIDI data that have been pre-programmed by companies. The MIDI packs that I use have been programmed to have that 'human feel' already, which saves a lot of time and there is a huge variety of patterns and grooves that can be used at any tempo as well.
Using drum MIDI packs in my projects has been a game changer for me, as they've given me a great starting point to build my tracks around. Of course, the MIDI data can be moved and adjusted in your DAW to suit your project as well.
I would definitely recommend checking out MIDI packs for use with your MIDI drums, especially if you're not a drummer. Not being a drummer myself, using these packs has taught me a lot about how drums are played as well as being a great tool for music production.
Mixing and Processing:
The last point I wanted to mention is that although a lot of virtual drum plugins come with mixing abilities such as EQ, compression and panning, I would recommend mixing the drums on individual tracks within your DAW. This gives you more control and fine-tuning abilities when mixing them with your other instruments etc. Also, if you usually use specific mixing plugins, it will make the overall mix sound more cohesive as well as fitting in with 'your unique sound'.
I'm not going to talk about how to mix drums in this blog but to set them up on individual tracks within your DAW, you'll need to use your virtual drum plugin as a 'multi-output' instrument instead of just stereo. You'll usually have to change the settings in your drum plugin as well for it to work as a multi-output instrument.
Also, remember to pan your drums to give them more width and space in the mix!
The majority of drummers I know usually frown upon using programmed drums but with the advancements in music production technology and vast array of realistic sounding drum plugins, it is now very possible to create realistic drum tracks in your songs without the need for studio space and costs. The steps in this blog should help you to achieve the drum sound you desire and get your MIDI drums sounding like the real thing!