Enhancing acoustic drums with MIDI in five easy steps
Have you ever mixed a song and whatever you did, you weren’t happy with the drums?
Not just slightly unhappy…
There was something wrong that you couldn’t sort out with EQ and compression.
Maybe the kick drum didn’t cut it. Or the snare was just not heavy enough.
Instead of tweaking the mix for hours – have you tried enhancing your acoustic drums with MIDI?
If the drum tracks are not in the right ballpark, this can save you hours of frustration.
You’re ready to create the impact your mix deserves?
Let’s dive right in!
I’ll be using Cubase screenshots and terminology, but this technique works with any DAW that provides transient detection and an audio to MIDI workflow.
1) Choose a patch to enhance your live drums
Listen to the drums and identify which parts need work. You need to hear how the kit interacts with the other instruments to make the right decisions – so don’t do this in solo!
Let’s assume you’re not happy with the kick. Maybe you’re working on a heavy rock mix and feel it’s getting buried underneath all the layers of distorted guitars.
In this situation, you’d choose a bright kick sample in which you can really hear the beater hitting the skin. To give a thin sounding snare more weight, you’d look for a patch that brings a lot of low-mids to the table.
You might need to combine samples from different patches in order to get the best results, so give yourself time to experiment.
2) Configure the routing of your VI
Most VIs route all sounds to one stereo output by default. For this workflow, I recommend routing each part of the virtual drum kit to an individual output. This will give you more flexibility in the mix.
3) Work your hitpoints
Load the track you want to enhance into the sample editor. Cubase does a decent job at automatic hitpoint detection – but a little tweaking might be necessary.
Activate hitpoint editing and start by working the threshold and intensity parameters. This should get you to a point where you cover all drum hits. Disable false positives by SHIFT-clicking and insert hitpoints if necessary by ALT-clicking.
4) Create MIDI notes
Now it’s time to trigger your virtual instrument. Click on the Create MIDI notes button in the inspector and fine-tune the note generation parameters. First, match up the pitch with the correct trigger note. Then decide whether you want to create MIDI notes at a fixed velocity or use a velocity proportional to the intensity of the drum beats.
If you are working with heavily compressed material, the fixed velocity option will be a good choice. For more acoustic tracks, the variable velocity might sound more organic.
5) Route the MIDI track to your VI and mix
Use the inspector or the routing section of the mixer to route your MIDI track to the VI. Now tweak the balance between acoustic and MIDI drums until you’re happy with the sound.
Routing acoustic and MIDI drums to a group track and compressing the group is a great trick to really glue the two tracks together. The screenshot below shows a setup using this technique with an enhanced kick and snare track.
Try drum enhancement in your next production and let me know how it worked for you!
If you liked this post, have a look at my recent post about getting killer-sounding MIDI drums. You can find it here.