Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rolling Your Own Drum Sounds Pt. 1

I don't know about you, but nothing inspires me quite like getting some new sounds to feed my sampler. Though the internet can be a great place to find an endless variety of free samples, finding exactly what you need can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. The truth is, if you have a vague idea of the sound you're after in your head, it's probably just quicker to try and create it yourself using your DAW and a bunch of plug-ins. Plus, you get the added satisfaction of knowing it's a sound you created and that no one else has. And sometimes that snotty elitism is what it's all about.

Recently, a reader was lamenting the fact that he was having a hard time locating snare sounds to use in industrial music. So on this post, I'll take you through how to turn the snappy, but perhaps a bit wimpy TR-808 snare sound into something a bit grittier. I'll be doing this in Logic, but you should be able to replicate it pretty closely in whatever your DAW of choice is.

1. In an instrument slot, load up an instance of Logic's sampler, EXS24.

2. Go up to the sound menu and select Factory -> 03 Drums & Percussion -> 02 Electronic Drum Kits -> EXS 808. Play a few notes and you will recognize the familiar Roland TR-808 drum sounds. Play a low 'D' on your keyboard and you should hear the snare sound.

3. On the instrument channel your ESX24 resides on, go up to the send section (located right above the blue EXS24 box) and select Bus 1. If you are on the arrange page, this should call up the Aux 1 channel right next to your EXS24 channel in the bottom left corner of the page.

4.On the Aux 1 channel, go up to the 'Inserts' section (right above the Sends). Here is where you can build an effects chain we will use to abuse your snare. In the first slot, load an instance of Space Designer (or the reverb of your choice) and call up a a medium-length room sound. For this example I am using the 0.4s Snare Chamber preset.

5. Immediately below the Space Designer slot, call up an instance of the free SSL LMC-1 plug-in. This emulates the limiter that was on the talk-back mic on the SSL 4000E mixing boards. Producer Hugh Padgham was working on an album for Peter Gabriel when he discovered accidentally that this was great for making big, explosive drum sounds, especially when placed after a reverb. This was the partial origin of the infamous, and mis-named 'Phil Collins' drum sound (the other part of the equation being a noise gate to artificially chop the reverb tail). A limiter or compresser applied after a reverb will exaggerate and 'embiggen' (look it up, it's a perfectly cromulent word...) the sound. Go ahead and crank up the INPUT knob on the LMC-1. We're not going for subtlety here.

6. In the next slot below that, add Logic's Bitcrusher effect. Set the Resolution to 12 bits and tweak the downsampling to 3X. This will add some grit and balls to the procedings.

7. In the fourth slot, go ahead and add an instance of Logic's Pitch Shifter II. Crank the mix level to 100% so we're only getting the effected sound, and tweak the Semi Tones value down to -2. Again, this will make everything a bit grittier and ballsier. Make sure you have the Drums box at the bottom checked. This helps preserve some of the transients that give drum sounds their percussive attack.

8. Now, if you're impatient, you've probably already been hitting the snare drum as we went along and wondered why everything sounded the same. This is because we haven't adjusted the wet/dry value on the Send yet. So on your EXS24 channel, go ahead and increase the wet value a bit by clicking on the little knob next to the send assignment. You should now hear the transformed sound. By varying the amount on the knob, you can control how much of the original 808 sound comes through and how much of the effected sound comes through. Any value between about 10-50% should give useable results, it just depends how extreme you want to get. Below is a quick example starting with the original sound and gradually increasing the Send amount:

9. When you find a send value you like, go ahead and sequence one hit of the snare, and use Logic's Bounce function to render the new sound to an audio file. Use your audio editor of choice to trim off any silence before or after the bounced sound and you now have a brand new snare you can load into Battery, Guru, EXS24, Ultrabeat, or whatever your sampler of choice is (where you can mangle it still further with filters, envelopes, layer it with other sounds, etc)!

By now, you can probably imagine that the sky is the limit in regards to what effects you can use on your send to transform your drum sounds. Go nuts and experiment with anything you can find. Part of the fun of this sort of this sort of thing is the experimentation. Before long, you'll have an entire drum kit of weird new drum sounds you made yourself and you can rightiously look down your nose at your lesser peers who just use 'presets'. Pfft. Amateurs. ; )



Seamus said...

Awesome tutorial Mr. Shear! :D

Unknown said...

Or, you could go even more nuts and get something like Waldorf's Attack, and synthesize your own drum sounds from scratch!

Tom said...

That's true. I think I even know someone who is selling one of those. ; )

Anonymous said...

Tom, you sir are a frickin legend... thanks so much...

Tom said...

Glad you found it useful!

Unknown said...

True, I'm selling the hardware version at the moment, but I was referring to the software, which is cheap and readily available as part of the Waldorf Edition VST package for under $100.

Tom said...

Yeah, Microtonic is really nice for synthesizing drum sounds too. The distortion on it is a bit digital sounding for my taste, but you can always use external distortion instead.

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