In my last post I talked about why I use electronic drums in my studio. Today I’m going to give you an insight into my process for recording and mixing electronic drums, and how I make them sound like a naturally recorded acoustic kit.
Below is a list of topics covered in this post, click the links to jump straight to the specific section.
- Connecting the electronic drums
- Setting up the drum track for recording the electronic drums
- Drum production software
- MIDI Mapping electronic drums in EZDrummer
- Recording the electronic drum performance
- Converting the MIDI performance into individual audio files
- Unprocessed drum tracks
- Processed drum tracks
- Benefits to this approach
First though, I’d like to cover something I didn’t touch on in my previous post, and that’s pitch and phase.
Drum pitch and phase
Adjusting the pitch of electronic drums
Drums might not be particularly melodic, but pitch is still a very important part of getting the right drum sound for your track.
Now you can’t tune an electronic kit, but on some – like my Yamaha DTX8, you can adjust the tension of the mesh pads to match your preferred tactile response. With electronic drums, the tuning comes a bit later. I address tuning issues in EZDrummer, but we’ll get to that a bit later on.
Phase issues with drums
Phase issues occur because of of time and distance.
For example, if you’ve placed a mic both at the top and bottom of your snare drum, when you hit the snare, the mic on the top of the snare is going to capture the response of your snare hit sooner than the mic on the bottom of the snare.
In the above scenario, the time difference isn’t going to be of great concern, but as you add more mics to your kit, that time difference will grow, and the snare sound captured by your overheads or room mic can be significantly delayed compared to the direct mic’d snare.
This delayed capturing of transients, can produce overlapped waveforms with mismatched polarity, leading to phase issues or more precisely, cancellation.
Generally speaking, phase issues aren’t a concern when recording and mixing electronic drums. That said, some drum production software includes mic bleed, which can produce phase issues. My preferred drum software EZDrummer, allows you to adjust how much bleed is in each of the tracks.
Most electronic drum kits will give you at least one of two connection options USB or MIDI. The Yamaha DTX8 has both and the USB port can be used to send both audio and MIDI signals.
I tend to use the MIDI output simply because I already have a MIDI cable long enough to reach from my desk to my drum kit.
With the drums physically connected, I can now make sure they’re working in my DAW.
Because I’m using the MIDI output routed via my MIDIBOX interface, I need to make sure the MIDIBOX is enabled for input in REAPER.
Everything looks great, so now I just need to add a drum track, and set the track input to the correct MIDI input.
In this case, Input: MIDI > MIDIBOX 4X4 – Port 1 > All Channels.
With the drum kit connect and the correct MIDI input selected, there’s only a few last items I need to check off before I hit record.
- The track needs to be record enabled.
- If I want to hear what I’m recording I need Monitoring turned on.
- I need to insert some drum software.
- I need to make sure the drum kit MIDI Mapping matches the drum software.
You can see in the image below, that items one and two have already been addressed.
All that’s left to do now is insert the drum production software and select the correct MIDI Mapping.
I’ve inserted an instance of EZDrummer 3 on the Drums track, and selected EZDrummer 3 Main Room.
Because I want to process the drums like an acoustic kit, I’m also going to change the preset from Studio Basic to Original Mix, which gives me access to all mic channels that were used in the recording, but has no processing applied.
To make sure that EZDrummer triggers the right sound for each pad, I need to make sure the MIDI Mapping in EZDrummer matches my drum kit.
In EZDrummer 3, this is selected under Settings > E-Drums/MIDI In.
For my drum kit, I need to select Settings > E-Drums/MIDI In > Preset > Yamaha > DTX-PRO.
Scratch Guitar and Bass
Now that I have everything setup, I’m ready to roll.
I’ve enabled the metronome in my DAW, and laid down a scratch guitar track and a quick-n-dirty bass line.
Recording the electronic drums
Alright, the fun bit! I’m not a seasoned drummer by any stretch, but I do enjoy playing them.
I didn’t lay down anything terribly elaborate, but they should be enough for you to get the idea.
This is the part of the process that can feel like a bit of a time sink, and while EZDrummer offers a shortcut, unfortunately it comes with limitations.
You can choose to export the drums as a single audio file or as stems, which at first sounds promising, but the stems options bundles together the Kick In, Kick Out and Kick Sub tracks and I want to be able to process these individually. It also bundles together the Ride with the Overheads, and all the Rack and Floor Toms.
The other drawback, is that it renders everything to stereo files, which is not what I’m after, with exception of maybe the Overheads which I could treat as a Stereo Pair.
To export each of the elements as individual mono audio files, I’m going to start by soloing the Drums track in REAPER.
In EZDrummer I can now solo each of the drum kit elements, and render them as either mono or stereo WAV files.
And now I have 12 beautifully captured, hi-res audio files, that I can drag into my project.
This means I can now mix the electronic drum performance just as I would any acoustically recorded drum kit.
Here’s my ‘unprocessed’ tracks. If this was the result of recording an analog kit in my own studio I’d be pretty darn happy with these results.
Drums only mix
Now let’s take a listen to the processed drum tracks. The drums have now been mixed using IK Multimedia MixBox.
Guitar, bass and drums mix
Here’s a look at what that sounds like in a mix, after some quick processing on the guitar and bass.
- I don’t need an expensive set of drum mics.
- I don’t need to compromise by using a cheap set of drum mics.
- I don’t need to setup a single microphone.
- I don’t need to test and adjust mic placement.
- I can audition different kicks, snares and cymbals with just a few mouse clicks.
- I don’t need a room with a high enough ceiling to capture clear cymbal sounds.
- I don’t need to worry about early reflections muddying up my drum mix.
- I can easily fix accidental rim-shots or miss-hits in the MIDI editor.
- I can easily fix very loud or very quiet hits int he MIDI editor.
- I can copy the MIDI for a performance and re-use it in a different tempo.
For me, using electronic drums in my home studio is a no-brainer. It’s cost effective, I don’t need to hire a space big enough to record acoustic drums, and I don’t need to spend half a day setting up and testing microphones.
To my ears, the resulting audio files sound great. They’re clean, clear and I rarely find myself battling against unwanted frequencies in the mix.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, get in touch on social media.