Drum Replacement

The Use of Drum Replacement

Recording drums is a rather challenging endeavor. Achieving an outstanding sound requires not only top-notch microphones but also an acoustically favorable room and a profound understanding of drum set mic placement. Given the complexity of this task, drum sets recorded in rehearsal rooms are often, let's say, "less than stellar."

Certainly, you can process the drums extensively using a myriad of tools such as gates, equalizers, compressors, expanders, and transient designers to attain a sound that is undeniably usable. However, this process demands a considerable amount of time and a thorough understanding of each of these tools.

A viable solution lies in replacing the original drum recordings with high-quality samples, such as those offered by drum software like Superior Drummer (or even EZDrummer). This, in essence, is the focus of this workshop.

Workshop Requirements

First of all, this workshop is based on Studio ONE. So, Studio ONE is one of the most crucial tools you would need to have, to follow the steps I lay out later.

Next, you will need to have some recorded drum tracks. These tracks should encompass the standard drum set instruments, including a bass drum, snare drum, toms, overheads, and perhaps a hi-hat. You can utilize your own recordings. However, if you don't have any recordings available, I can furnish tracks from the song "Be My Guest" by "Dude Ranch" via the following URL:

https://www.andy-hyde.de/drumreplace/stems.zip

Finally, you'll need some software that can groove to MIDI signals to bring your drum samples to life. For this gig, I'm using Superior Drummer 3 by Toontrack, but there are other sweet drum software choices out there too.

Setting Up the Project

Getting the project ready for this workshop is a breeze. Simply whip up a new song in Studio ONE, and pick 44.1 kHz for the sample rate and 24 bits for the resolution. That setup will jive perfectly with the tracks I laid down for the Dude Ranch (check 'em out above).

Now hit that F5 key to pop open Studio ONE's file browser. Cruise through to the stems you snagged from the download or cruise to the folder rocking your own stems that you're itching to throw down on.

Just grab those stems and drop 'em like it's hot onto the grid of Studio ONE's track window. Boom, you're all set up, and we're ready to kick things off.

Track window with imported stems

Give it a spin first. I've heard worse recordings, but also way better ones. Anyway, we're about to turn the tables. We're swapping in the killer drum samples from Superior Drummer 3 while keeping the original drummer's dynamics alive and kickin'.

Choosing our Destination Drumset

Before we flip our audio stems into MIDI magic, let's throw in another track - the MIDI track.

Hit T to summon the "Add Track" dialogue, then cruise up to the top and click "Instrument." This move ensures you're cooking up a MIDI track rather than an audio one.

Adding a new MIDI track

Slap a name on that track (I went with "MIDI Drums"), pick a color that vibes with your style, and opt for "new instrument" as the output. Down at the bottom of this section, you'll find a dropdown menu to pick your instrument. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm rolling with Superior Drummer 3, so that's the one I'm locking in here.

Once you've nailed it, you've got a fresh track, and it's game on. Click on that symbol I've marked in red in the picture below, and voila, the Superior Drummer 3 user interface swings wide open.

New MIDI track with Superior Drummer 3 opened

And don't forget to tweak the channel name down below (I've highlighted it in green) to match. Keep the vibes consistent, my friend.

Now, let's dive into the drum set selection. If the default one doesn't tickle your fancy (though it's pretty cool), pick the kit that suits your vibe best.

Replacing the Bass Drum

Let's kick it off with the bass drum. It's the easiest part because it usually doesn't pick up much bleeding from other drum instruments. And let's be real, most of the time, the bass drum tends to be the trickiest to get sounding just right.

When you solo the Bass Drum track, you might catch a bit of bleeding, mainly from the snare. No biggie, though. We'll slap a gate on that channel and work some magic to hush down everything except that kick sound.

Gate for the bass drum

No need for fancy plugins here, just the stock gate that rolls with Studio ONE. The gate's parameters aren't make-or-break, but I yanked the attack rate down to the bare minimum to ensure it jumps open pronto when that kick signal kicks in. Keeping the release rate in check is smart too. If a snare barges in right after a kick, a slow-release gate might spill some snare attack – and that's the opposite of what we're going for.

Now, hit that play button and crank up the threshold until you're riding the bass drum solo wave, with the snare and toms getting the boot.

To snag the MIDI data, we gotta grab the kick transients, capturing the moment the kick gets its punch. Lucky for us, Studio ONE comes to the rescue with this cool feature called Audio Bend.

Audio bend tool in Studio ONE

Give that red-highlighted button a gentle tap, and voila, the Audio Bend parameters sprawl out just below. If your gating game is on point, you can pretty much ignore these parameters. Just highlight the bass drum event in the track window, then hit that apply button on the bend tool.

And there you go – a fresh view of the event, spotlighting those punchy transients.

Transients of the bass drum

Now, here's where the fun kicks in. I'm all in for Studio ONE's smooth workflow. Simply drag and drop that bass drum event, loaded with those transients, onto the new MIDI track. Studio ONE does the heavy lifting, conjuring up a MIDI trigger with spot-on velocity for each transient. Easy as pie.

But hold your horses; we're not done yet with the MIDI magic. Select the event in the MIDI track, hit F2 to crack open the editor window, and let's get down to business.

MIDI track in the event editor

Hold up, we've hit a minor detour. You might notice there's just one solitary "note" going by the name of C3. Now, if you're brave enough to solo that MIDI track, you won't get the bass drum vibe, but a cymbal instead. Take a breath, my friend. Right above C3, there's a nifty triangle. Give it a click, and voila – a dropdown list unfolds with all your MIDI mapping options. You could import a Superior Drummer mapping, but the wise move is to roll with GM Drums, just because it will do the job in this case.

If you do this, you’ll see the drum instruments instead of the notes. Actually, the note where our MIDI events reside is called “High Bongo”, which si definitely not a cymbal, but that’s just because of the GM Drums MIDI mapping. Bass and Snare Drums are at the correct place. And the Bass Drum is the place where we want to have our events.

Drag and drop events onto the bass drum note

Time to put it to the test. Throw that MIDI track into solo mode and hit play. Compare it with the OG bass drum track also in solo mode. There you have it – this is the way of how a bass drum should be dropping.

One last move, and our bass drum journey is a wrap. We're not settling for MIDI; we want that real wave data (I'm all about it because MIDI tends to hog more CPU than we're willing to sacrifice). To make the switch, follow these steps:

  • Fully duplicate (complete copy) the MIDI track (we need it for the other drums later) and delete the event from the original MIDI track.
  • Right click on the copied MIDI track and select “transform to audio track”. You’re fine when you activate the checkbox “remove instrument” or you will be left with lots of Superior Drummer 3 instances after the process.
  • Deactivate the original drum track. We don’t need it any more.

Diving Into the Snare Sound

Next station on our journey is the snare drum. And should I tell you something: it’s quite the same process as we had with the bass drum. Put a gate on it, detect transients, drag and drop transients to the MIDI Drums track. Then drag the MIDI events to the correct note (the snare drum note), copy the MIDI track and transform it to an audio track.

Replaced and transformed BD and SD tracks

Now, revel in your triumph. You should be rocking two spanking new tracks, packed with the kick-ass bass and snare drum vibes from Superior Drummer 3 as audio tracks; they're synced up flawlessly with your original kick and snare beats.

Special Treatment for the Toms

In theory the Toms can be processed as we did it with the bass and the snare drum. However, often you have a lot of bleeing from the snare on this microphones, which means that you have to gate them real carefully.

Tom Tom with lots of bleeding

In the picture above, you can spot the transients of a single tom as sharp spikes, but there's also quite a bit of bleeding between the hits. Honestly, this is a solid recording where you can simply "gate the bleeding out." However, in some cases, other drums like the snare might be too loud to gate without cutting off the tom hits with lower energy.

If that's the situation and you're dead set on swapping out the toms, the only route is to roll up your sleeves and manually edit those tom tracks, slicing out the bleeding. Not gonna lie, it not only sounds like a ton of work, but it genuinely is a hefty workload.

Nevertheless, with the tom tracks I handed over, gating should be a breeze. No headaches on that front.

The Overheads

The real pain comes from the overheads. Those mics dangling above the drum set snatch up a ton of room sound, not just from various cymbals and the hi-hat but also from all the other instruments in the setup.

Honestly, I'm not seeing a clear path to untangle this mess. The ultimate fix is to roll with the overheads as they are, with a slight twist: we're throwing on an EQ to dial down those lower frequencies (courtesy of the snare, toms, and bass drum) and let the bright, shimmering sounds of the cymbals and hi-hat shine through.

EQ for the overheads

I employ a low cut with a steep slope, paired up with a low shelf set slightly higher than the low cut. The aim isn't to wipe out the snare and kick entirely, but to rein in those bass frequencies. The goal is to let the lion's share of the energy roll from the high end and upper midrange. Be cautious not to crank those filters too high, or you'll end up slicing off the body of the cymbals.

Conclusion

We're finished. Now, deactivate all the original drum tracks, except for the overheads. Approach the panning of the overheads just as you would when working with recorded overheads.

Panning of the drum tracks

I've also nudged the snare drum slightly to the right because I prefer the subtle off-center vibe. Actually, there's no necessity to pan all the drums from Superior Drummer since these are stereo tracks already balanced by Superior Drummer itself.

I hope that this workshop gave you some nice inspiration to get the best out of your recorded drum material.