Blending Samples with Audio for Drum Tracks

I recently auditioned a mixed acoustic song in Graduates’ Club and was asked about how I produced the drums so here’s a snapshot of the workflow I employed.

I used samples within Superior Drummer 3 as a plugin for a Cubase project.
Although I generally like the sounds I get recording a drum kit in my studio, there’s still room for improvement. By using SD3’s massive sample libaries of excellently recorded instruments I can better dial in to the best sound for each.

Recording Phase:
I recorded a drum kit with close micing and ambient micing.
Kick had a D112 placed halfway into the shell pointed roughly at the beater.
Snare used a pair of Shure SM57s - one pointed at the snare top, the other pointed up from the bottom at 180° polarity.
I used a couple of inexpensive mics to close mic one rack tom and one floortom.
Overheads used a couple of Rode NT5 small condensors evenly spaced over the perimeter of the kit.
Room used a Audio Technica AT2020 spaced a few feet away from the kit

Editing Phase:
In Cubase I created an Instrument track, assigned SD3 to it and opened it.
I used the SD3 Tracker to import the audio files for the kick, snare, and each of the toms.
Within the Tracker, SD3 analyzed each file accurately and built up MIDI triggered by its audio, a separate row for each file.

I worked on each track individually adjusting the audio with SD3’s generated MIDI. Once the track has been generated there is an adjustment to switch between the audio (which SD3 used to generate the MIDI) and the MIDI (which plays the currently selected sample). By looping through the track and turning the Mix knob between the two you can assess how well SD3 did in analyzing the audio. From there adjustments can be made to fine tune the MIDI generation. Since I had only been working with the four tracks that’s all that was all that was represented in the MIDI file

Tracker Window

The sharp white vertical lines indicate the MIDI that SD3 determined from its analysis to represent the Kick as played. Turning the Mix knob all the way left will isolate the audio, to the right will isolate the generated MIDI, in between will be proportional to the amount of each.

The top row indicates which parts of the signal were determined to be generated in the audio by the Kick. The horizontal line indicated by the “…” adjusts the level to correct for inaccuracies. The bottom row behaves similarly but instead of analysis uses velocity can also be similarly adjusted.

Mixing Phase:
Once I fine tuned the MIDI of each I exported all files out as one combined MIDI file and imported it into Cubase to the SD3 Instrument track.

At this point I had a MIDI file that could be used within SD3 to play specific instruments but still had the option to decide which sample would be used for each one. Within SD3 I looped the MIDI to play, auditioning various drum libaries and drums within the kits of each until I found a kit that seemed to fit.
In SD3’s Mixer I set up separate routing for each drum instrument out to its own Out pair to Cubase.

Within Cubase I paired up the audio of each instrument to its MIDI counterpart and mixed the blend of the combined signal to the best proportion.
e.g. Kick Audio and Kick Sample (driven by MIDI) are played together and the fader for each dialed in to make the blended signal.

Once this was completed, I bounced out each pairing as a new audio file to bring back into the Project and proceed mixing the entire set.
e.g. Export the Kick Audio and Kick MIDI out as its own Stem and imported back in as a single Audio file.

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