How to beef up sampled drums with synthetic sounds

These days, anything goes when it comes to programming beats and drum parts, so don't be backwards about mixing up sampled and synthesised layers in order to get phatten up those tepid acoustic grooves.

In this walkthrough, we'll thicken a sample-based drum track with some synthetic elements, and work in some new percussion parts. For more on synthesising drums, pick up the January edition of Future Music.

Step 1: We start with a backing track consisting of a dark piano part, a supporting sub bass and a gritty synth sequence part. To that, we’ve added a programmed drum part that's been split into separate Kick, Snare and Hi-Hat tracks. The acoustic drums lack power.

Step 2: We turn to NI’s DrumLab Kontakt 5 library, copying the kick part over to it’s track. We set DrumLab to a primarily electronic sound, using the Mix Slider, select ‘Gritty Layer’ as the electronic source, and tune it. In the audio example, this is introduced in the second half.

Step 3: We develop the percussive side of things by tweaking a preset in u-he’s Ace synth. This gives us a driving, hard ticking sequence, to which we add a little more LFO movement. We EQ this (to scoop out unnecessary bass and boost the top end) and auto-pan it.

Step 4: We want some snare reinforcement, too. We build a new synthesised snare with two oscillators from Logic’s ES2, and trigger at on the root pitch of the track - E - to keep the snare ‘in tune’.

Step 5: Next, we add a fizzy synth-based percussion sequence from Native Instruments Massive. We dial out the volume of the kick drum here and use SoundToys’ FilterFreak to produce a one-bar rise and fall filter treatment. We extend the other new elements to play in the first half of the sequence, too.

Step 6: We add effects to balance the new elements. We use the AMS RMX 16 reverb on the sampled and synth snares, and add ValhallaDSP’s Vintage Verb to the snares and percussive elements. We also add an H-Delay treatment and set appropriate volume balances.

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