Make your programmed drums sound alive

Virtual instruments these days can sound pretty convincing, but often there's something that just doesn't feel right in the end product. Let's have a look at what we can do with the rhythm section to make it feel a little bit better.


So you're recording at home with Addictive Drums. The sounds are really what you want but it feels 'programmed'. The reason is of course because it is programmed, but what can we do to make it sound more real?

Try these 5 tips:

1. Play the hits on pads or on your keyboard. If you got the feel for rhythm, this is most definitely the best way to do it. It gives you slightly different velocity and timing on each note. It's real.

2. Groove quantize template or “humanizing”. You often end up quantizing notes to the grid. If your DAW supports it, you can try to quantize to a groove template instead or look for a function called “humanizing”. Some DAW's support the same thing for velocity, which can be very helpful too.

3. Program each fill slightly different. Yeah, that fill sounds great, and it works on three places in the song, but at least don't keep the hits at the exact same place. 

4. Don't program fills after the grid. You can of course use the grid as a guideline, but don't put the hits exactly on the grid.

5. Use grooves recorded by a real drummer. Similar to the #2 tip. You can find a massive library of MIDI grooves/beats in AD2 MIDIpaks, which can get your song moving in all directions!


Real percussion

The drum libraries and virtual instruments available today can come very close to the real deal. You can easily convince a lot of people with some good programming, and if you're playing an e-drum kit even better.

Still, some of us miss having actual human interaction, or real world sounds in our recordings. A good advice is to get some real percussion. For just a few bucks you've gone from programmed rhythmic material to real human recordings. Keep your virtual drums in there, not all have the luxury of recording real drums, but by just adding a shaker, maracas or a tambourine and the track will feel a lot more alive.

You can actually do this with real drums as well. I know some people that use virtual drums but have added a real hi-hat and/or cymbals. This is actually a really good idea. It won't take up your entire room like a full kit and you won't be bothering your neighbors nearly as much as you would with a full kit.


Create your own sounds

Instruments are good for your music of course. Usually 'real' instruments are often better than virtual instruments, but not always. Sometimes, however, using any sound - any sound at all – will give you some rather wicked results!

When you think about it, a lot of the percussion we take for granted today is atonal and could just as well been completely different. Who's to say you can't bang a baseball bat against the wall and record the sound coming from it? Well, the landlord might not be all too happy about it, but you get the idea.

In a matter of minutes you can record something that’s brand new. Try it for yourself. Try different materials. Try wood or plastic materials. Try to reverb the heck out of your sound, or gate it hard. EQ it to hell and back, add rhythmic delays or mess with the phase. You get the idea, use your own imagination, and find the spice that fits your dish!


Good luck!