Hey folks, I've seen a lot of threads asking about programmed drums, so I'm opening this one to share some stuff I've learned over the course of dealing with midis, and to let everyone else give their inputs an opinion. Let's try to join our little bits of wisdom to make the best out of it.
I. Work with what you've got.
Sometimes you have access to well-recorded and realistic drums. Sometimes you don't. Either way, don't try to pass one thing for what it isn't, because that rarely will sound natural.
Got some shitty tones straight out of a casio keyboard? Do you have real drums but the recording quality sucks? Then shape the sound around that, don't try to hide it. Stop thinking about good or bad, and consider it as differences of tone and color, add effects if necessary (midi banks with some distortion can get pretty mean and heavy), make whatever sound you got add to the sum rather than take. Think outside the box, but most of all, remember, get out of the mindset of good/bad, and rather try to appreciate what you've got for whatever it's qualities are; work with, not in spite of.
II. On humanizing.
Happens to everyone, you've got some real nice samples, but for some reason they still sound machine-y. Even after you changed a bit the entrances and duration of the notes, it still ain't quite right. If you're on toontrack, nevermind the humanizing function, it doesn't work that good either, you probably noticed.
What I've learned is that the feel is not inasmuch in the tempo, as it is in the sound, so there's two main items we've got to work with.
a. Dynamics. Work by hand. It's slow, it's a hassle, but it's worth it. Open the piano roll, and... jesus christ, stop. Don't start clicking randomly. Try to get in the proper mindset, think how you'd play if you were sitting on the drums for real. Give life to each hit, accentuate where it matters. Go soft when it's called for, take to the front the voice carrying the melody. Yes, even on drums there's voicing, pay attention when you're listening to a good drummer, and you'll realize that sometimes he bring to the front the hi-hat work, other times it's the double bass that carries the rhythmic variety, while everything else lies back supporting the main beat, use your imagination and try to weave something that's coherent with the music.
b. Pitch. Something rarely talked about, but when you hit a drumpiece, it's never in the same spot, and much less with the same strenght and intention. Think of it, there's so many variableson the hit, that it's most likely you'll never produce the exact same note twice in your life. Therefore, why would you keep the sound constant for your programmed drum? Here it's easier, as it actually is something that depends on randomness, so you can just click wherever the fuck you feel like. Open the pitch controller for the channel (if you do it separately for each part of the drums, all the better) and start fooling around with it until you're happy with the results, and see what a difference it makes!
And then, after that:
c. Tempo and phrasing. But work conciously. Randomly moving the beats a bit here and a bit there helps to make a blast beat sound less machine-y, but wont work on slower stuff. Again, get mentally behind the drumset, and use the rubato to your advantage.
What's rubato? A term first coined to give indications in classical music. It means stealing: a bit of tempo from a note, to give it to another which might be more relevant (highly featured in Debussy and the composers of the impressionist school, though really, a tool and a must know-how for every respectable musician).
A fill or drumroll doesn't feel organic enough? Suppose we're on a roll across the toms that ends on a big crash hit. How could you work it here? By joining a bit together the notes on the roll, making them faster, and then stretching a bit the last note before hitting the crash with all your might; taking a small breath, making that fraction-of-a-second pause before reaching the climax.
Or want to get a more laid back feel? The secret is on getting the main hits (say, tempos 2 and 4 if we were on a jazz beat) and put them a tiny bit behind the actual beat. Works on the inverse of course, making it more frantic and spastic if you take the hit before the beat.
And that's it for now, I'm sure there's more to tell from my part, but I'm drawing a blank at this moment.
If anyone wants to comment and make corrections on what I've written, I'll be glad to listen, and of course, any other tips and input will be much appreciated.
Hope it helps!
Hellige: black/doom metal