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Tips for a better Sound from Sampled Cymbals

by Hepcat62

Studio-Central Top Contributor

This is gonna be a long post from me, so strap in. The first part will probably not help you with this particular endeavor, but I feel it needs to be said. The second part will try to address your issues.

Part One - Why Thou Shalt Always Hate the Sound of Sampled Cymbals

Question: Why do my sampled drums suck?
Answer: Because they're sampled, and it's even worse if they're programmed in a drum machine/module as opposed to performed by a human.

Response: Ok, I gotcha, but why do the cymbals ESPECIALLY suck?
Answer: Because the way real cymbals behave has precisely NOTHING in common with the way pretty much every drum machine/module/softsynth in the world implements them (not that they could be reasonably expected to do it correctly at this point in technological history).

Roland's got something close with their very latest V-Drum stuff (assuming you shell out for the ROM upgrade and the special V-Cymbal pads), but it's still not right. Your drum machine sounds just about as good as any other drum machine I've heard. As bad as most cymbals are on drum modules, the hi-hat is the one that annoys me the most. Open hats always sound ridiculous (I won't bore you with the LOOOONG list of problems), and closed hi-hats always seem to sound like a really annoying ticking noise (like your's currently do to an extent). I throw away annoying watches, and I don't have much more tolerance for annoying high-hats.

Part 2: I have no choice but to use these samples from The Devil, so what can I do to reduce the ass factor?

Your goal here should be to apply as many of the principles that are applied to real drums and drummers as possible. Here's a list of things to try...

1) Apply a MIDI plugin to your drum track that will randomize (ever so slightly) the position and velocity of your drum hits. This will take a bit of the robot out of your drums, which is a big step. It's still a stupid robot, but it's a huge step up from that toy monkey with fez and the cymbals that's the current sitation...

2) Find better samples. Search around; there are some free ones. When I record real drums, I try out a variety of different cymbals to find the one that sounds right on the record. Find a sample that's as close to what you like as you can.

3) Recreate the room mics. You don't have room mics. You want room mics. You need room mics. Pan your kit the way you like it, then turn the kick and the snare down so they're low in the mix. Make the cymbals and the toms loud. Put a mic (or 2) at the back of your room, and record the playback of the drums onto 2 new tracks. If your room is not nice and big, or is really dead because of treatment, then this won't work. Instead, take the (slightly less good) compromise of exporting a copy of the drum mix I just told you to mic, importing it back in on 2 tracks, and then applying reverb to taste.

4) You're using SX? If it's version 2, definitely apply Magneto and (if it's included, I dunno) DaTube liberally to give some pseudo-life to your tracks. Before you do this, you'll want to print each drum track to a separate audio track, btw.

5) Buy the PSP vintage warmer. NOW. It has a snare drum preset that actually works. The Mix Extra Pressure preset makes kick drums (and optionally toms, if you like 'em big) rule. The high speed tape simulator presets will round out your cymbals a bit.

6) Turn down the high end on the hi-hat. You might think it needs to stick out more, but in general, a hat that really sticks out is just a really annoying hat.

7) Your kick and snare need to be way louder. The 3 most important things (aside from the vocal) in a rock recording are the kick, the bass, and the snare (in order of most important to less). Also, keep both the kick AND the snare dead center. You can pan the toms more extremely too (70 0 -70, etc).

These are just some suggestions. Hopefully they'll help. Really though, at a certain point, you just have to accept that sampled cymbals have a lot of limitations, and eventually you'll hit a wall where you either need to be content or start recording real drums.


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