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Words of Fang: Drum Sampling 101

February 24, 2016

Hails metalheads! My name is Fang VonWrathenstein, vocalist for the band Lords of the Trident (http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com). Every month or so, I’ll be handing out my sage advice to other bands on how to take their band from the garage to the next level. I’m no industry insider, but I’ve been around the block a few times. Have an idea for a topic, or fervently disagree with something I write? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com.

A couple of months ago on Words of Fang, I covered the “one simple trick discovered by a suburban mom (doctors HATE her!)” to turn your standard out-of-time drum, bass, and guitar tracks into an unstoppable atomic clock of precision. After applying my technique, your recorded tracks should now be as precise as any major-label recording out there. You’re welcome.


I’d like you to meet our new drummer, the atomic clock.

However, you might find that despite your tracks being perfectly in time, they still don’t sound very good. Especially the drums! Currently, your drum tracks sound like you put a $10 radio shack microphone in front of a plastic bag and proceeded to slap the crap out of it like a tween girl.

Why is this? First and foremost, it’s because you’re not recording your drums in a million-dollar acoustically-tuned sound-proofed recording studio. You’re almost certainly recording drums in your guitarist’s basement, or even worse – his garage. You’re also not using high-end microphones like the pros. Most amateur studios are lucky if they’re using a whole drum mic package that costs more than $1,000. And don’t even get me started on all the pre-amps, compressors, and high-end cabling you don’t have! There’s simply no way you can recreate the natural, acoustic drum tones from a professional studio.


Pictured: not your basement

So what’s a cash-strapped band to do? You may not have money, but you’ve got time. First, take the time to experiment with your room. Try different mics (if you have them), different placement (under the drum? close? far?), and use blankets, pillows, foam, …heck, maybe even packing peanuts to try to dampen the sound reflections in the room. With some old carpeting, some wood, and a little experimentation, you can even build sound isolation walls to put up around your drums. Go crazy, and try everything – you never know what will work for your room until you hear it! Your ultimate goal is to make lemonade out of lemons – get the best sound with the room you’ve got.


“Check it out, dude! It’s our new drum studio!”

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your lemonade’s still tasting pretty sour. What’s a band to do? The next step is drum sampling. Sampling is recording a single perfect hit from each drum using the best microphones, pre-amps, compressors, and room you can. You then replace the drum hits played by your drummer with these “perfect” hits. Alternatively, you can mix together the “perfect” drums with the live, “imperfect” drums to get a mix of the two sounds. There are two types of drum sampling:

  1. Using samples of your own drums, or
  2. Using pre-made professional samples.

Option #2 is probably the more popular option for most recording engineers, but can be trickier to work with, more expensive, and usually requires specialized software plugins to work. If you’re interested in trying this method, the plugin Drumagog is probably the most popular option. However, today we’re going to keep it on the cheap and give you a walkthrough on option #1.

Step 1 – Recording your own drum samples!

Just like last time, I’m going to hit you with a few warnings up front:

  • Today’s article will be a bit recording-theory heavy. I’ll try to keep it as dialed-back as I can, but if you’re not interested in learning about recording at all, this may not be the Words of Fang article for you.
  • The examples and techniques will be explained in Avid Pro Tools. The reason? It’s the most widely-used and popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software. The theory behind the techniques are not Pro Tools specific, however! If you’re using Reason, CuBase, Reaper, SONAR, or any of the other DAWs out there, you should be able to apply these techniques with a few workflow tweaks.
  • I’m one of those weirdos who runs Pro Tools on Windows. If I give a specific keystroke – i.e. “Control + G” – and you’re on a mac, just do the following: Replace Control for Command, Alt for Option, and the Windows Key for the Control key

Your first step will be to mic up your drum kit as best as you can. And remember to tune the drums! The samples that you record will want to be the best-sounding hits possible with your current recording setup. Hit each drum a few times, with a few seconds of silence in-between. When you’re done, your track will look like this:


Pick your favorite hit. Click somewhere in the track before the hit sounds, and hit the Tab key. Pro Tools will Tab to Transient, meaning that it will try to find the exact moment the sound starts. Zoom in – WAY in, and make sure that Pro Tools actually found the correct start of the note. We want this to be as accurate as possible. If it’s incorrect, use your mouse to select the very start of the transient:


Like so.

Next, hold down Shift and press Tab. This will tab to the transient of the next note, giving you a selection of the entire hit, as well as a little silence at the end.


With this selected, export this selection by using the “Bounce to” command (Control+Alt+B). Save this file as “(name of drum) Sample.wav”. You may want to solo this track to make sure you’re not also exporting any additional noise from other microphones.


WAIT! Before you click anywhere else, we also want to export the overhead microphones of the same selection! Due to their location ,the overheads will receive the sound a few microseconds after the drum microphone, so if you use the same method of “tabbing to transient” and exporting the overheads, things will sound weird when you use them together. Instead, move the selection down (or up) by using the P or ; buttons. Then, Bounce (Control+Alt+B) this audio as well, naming it “(name of drum) overheads sample.wav”. Remember to solo the overhead mics.


Do this for every drum. When you’re done, you should have two sound files for each drum – one for the drum mic itself, and one for the overheads. Save these in a folder called “SAMPLES”. Now, open your track and let’s add these bad boys in!

Step 2 – Adding your samples to a song

Open your song, and pick a drum to start adding samples. Usually I’ll start with the kick drum. If your drums are still cut-up and cross-faded, you will want to duplicate the playlist into a new track by hitting the “down arrow” near the name of your track on the left-hand side and hit “duplicate”. Next, select your entire track, and consolidate the clips by hitting Alt+Shift+3. This will “print” the edits down to one unbroken audio file, which we’ll use to insert the samples.

Once that’s completed, select (highlight) the track and bring up our ol’ friend Beat Detective by hitting Ctrl+NumPad(8). We’re going to be using Clip Separation to find the beats. With the track still highlighted, click “Capture Selection” and then click “Analyze”. Move the sensitivity slider high enough where all (or almost all) of the beats have purple lines next to them.


Now, the agonizing part. Zoom in – way in – and inspect each purple line, making sure it’s as close to the beginning of the hit as possible. You’ll find that a number of the hits are quite off, like this example below:


What were you THINKING, Beat Detective!?

Using the mouse, click and drag the purple line back to the beginning of the transient, then hit the “scroll next” button in the Beat Detective window to automatically zoom to the next transient. If you need to remove a purple line, hold down Alt and click the line. If you need to add a line, simply click near the start of the transient, and one should appear. Go through each hit, one by one, and line up all the transients for your drum. This will take a million years, but it’s probably worth it. Maybe.

Once you’re done, and you have every beat, click the “separate” button in Beat Detective. Now, all of your kick beats are sliced apart from each other. Here’s where the magic happens!

Use the File -> Import -> Audio menu to import the “kick sample” and “kick overhead sample” into your project. Import them as a new track, and move the tracks so they’re above the sliced-up original kick track.


In the upper left window, make sure the “Tab to Transients” option is turned off. If it’s blue, it’s turned on – make sure it’s grey. If you don’t know what the buttons are, hover over them with your mouse for a few seconds and the explanation should appear:


Second from the left

Remember those sample tracks you just imported? Let’s store them in memory. Make sure both tracks are highlighted, and Copy the tracks using Control+C. Next, hold down Control and click the names of the two sample tracks and your original kick track. All three names should be highlighted in white. Create a Group by hitting Control+G. Name the group “(Name of Drum)Sample”.


Now that you’ve turned Tab to Transients off, when you hit tab, the program will instead Tab to Selections. And wouldn’t you know it – we just made a perfect selection of each and every drum hit! Now’s the fun part. Make sure your keyboard command shortcut button in the upper right corner of the screen is turned on (yellow):


Turn the “a/z” guy on to yellow

And then Tab to your first kick drum hit. With the keyboard command shortcut turned on, pressing “V” is the same as pressing Control + V, which pastes whatever you’ve copied. And what did we copy earlier? Why, the two sample tracks of course! So go to town hitting “Tab, V, Tab, V, Tab, V…” over and over until your entire track has two samples on top of every hit.


Repeat for all the drums, and now you’ve got perfect samples on top of your recorded drums!

Ok, but what good are these?

Having samples allows you more flexibility in how you play around with your drum tone. You can try mixing and matching the sampled drums with the unsampled drums to get a bit more “punch” out of your drums. Alternatively, you can put a heavy EQ on your sampled drums, perhaps taking only the top end or bottom end of the sound, and adding it to your original drums. It allows you to increase your sonic palette while still maintaining a bit of the organic feel of recording real live drums.

On top of all this, your drummer will be happy that you didn’t replace him with a robot!


Are you a band that owes your success to my pearls of wisdom? Do you wish there was some way you could pay me back? Well there is! Buy the Lords of the Trident’s albums off AmazonMP3, iTunes, or BandCamp, watch our music videos on YouTube, and visit us online – http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com. Want to email me directly? Tell me how good/horrible my advice has been thus far? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com. If you give me an idea for an article, I’ll send you a FREE album as a reward!

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