Getting Natural Sounding Drums from MIDI

A lot of people struggle to get their “MIDI” sounding drums to sound human. I’m a huge advocate on helping people understand ways to make their programmed drums sound more human. So what’s the trick? Well there’s not just one, there’s a lot of subtle moves that you can do to make your drums sound natural.

One way is to create “flams”. Make big hits by “flamming” them, or offsetting them from the grid a little bit. This leads to another trick; do not quantize everything to the grid all the time. Make sure your key hits are lined up (like the 1st) and then let everything else fall in its place. Let your drum beat be loose. You could also change some of the velocities, so no hit has the same impact as the last, creating a more realistic groove and rhythm in your drums.

However, one of the best things you can do to help is while you are triggering drums. For the longest time I struggled to make my triggered drums or programmed drums to sound human because I wanted to isolate each individual element, and I didn’t want any bleed. So the lesson for today: Make sure to blend in some sort of snare rattle with the kick, you could even use a snare trigger on your kick to help. What does this accomplish? If you think about a real drum set, which I hope you’re doing if you’re trying to get more realistic drum tones, when you hit a kick drum, your snare rattles. Sometimes your toms have a little bit of resonance going if your kick is loud enough. By adding in those subtleties when your kick hits, you’re going to dramatically improve your drum tone, rather than having a “clean” kick sample or trigger. Get dirty, crank the snare rattle up, add some room noise, do something to keep those kicks from sounding sterile!


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