Robotic drums can suck the life out of a track. Here we look at six techniques that can add flavour and groove to your sampled beats.
Step 1: Hard-quantising all of your sampled hits to the grid is a surefire route to a monotonous, robotic beat. Try recording in your drum performance using a MIDI controller or drum pads, then manually shift off-place notes nearer the grid - but not bang on - for a more natural groove.
Step 2: Many modern MIDI controllers offer some form of MPC-inspired ‘note repeat’ feature. If yours does, engage it and punch in repetitive bursts of notes to inspire new rhythms. This works a treat when programming techno-style 16th-note clap flourishes or buzzing trap hi-hats.
Step 3: Use velocity programming to not only change the level of different drum hits, but also a low-pass filter’s cutoff, amplitude envelope parameters, sample start point, sampler drive and other parameters. Keep this a bit more subtle for pseudo-realism, or be more overt for obvious effects.
Step 4: Whether you’re using a drum sampler or audio on the timeline, another way to add realistic ghost notes into a beat is by filtering, shortening and detuning duplicate copies of your main hit. Pepper these ‘ghost notes’ throughout the pattern, then refine settings in context to perfect the overall groove.
Step 5: While a beat’s obvious kick and snare hits underpin the main rhythm, the real groove lies in what’s going on between the beats, and so the incidental sounds in your kit offer scope for more creative programming. Try alternating between two or three similar hi-hat samples, or interplay two running percussion lines.
Step 6: When two or more sounds from the same kit collide on the same note within your groove, try shifting each apart off the grid by a few milliseconds. This is a delicate balancing act, and it’s easy to end up with a rhythmic mess, so take your time and find the perfect sweet spots.