Mixing with software on your PC can be a whole heap of fun and too many hours can be lost with fine detailed tweaks well into the early mornings. One technique that can stretch your valuable time is fixing the drums in the mix. If you’ve ever had to work with real recorded drums but just don’t like the original source recording all is not lost!
Drum Trigger VST Approach
The scenario is that we are working in your favourite editor/sequencer such as Cubase SX, for example, and we have loaded up our individual audio tracks such as the kick drum track, the snare drum track, the hi-hats and whatever else was originally recorded.
Often a recording engineer may use up to 12 channels or more for the drum kit alone in order to capture the unique sonic qualities from various positions. In this instance however we are assuming we are perhaps re-mixing the tune or simply do not like, say, the snare and kick sound.
Changing Drum Sounds
I hear you say well why not use some drum e.q, or, what about some drum compression to improve the ‘punch’. Can’t we just process the drum sounds until we hear something we like. Naturally this approach can yield some interesting sounds and maybe something workable for our re-mix, although we are talking about obtaining a completely new drum sound for the kick drum and snare drum, yet still retaining the original drummer’s feel and performance. We are not concerned with programming a new performance using the drum editor, we like the way the drums were played but simply do not like the kick and snare sounds.
VST Drum Triggers To The Rescue
A VST drum trigger is a useful plug-in for this purpose and I’m going to work with a FREE VST drum trigger for this article in order that we can all benefit and have a go. The plug-in is known as KTDrumTrigger programmed by SmartElectronix. A VST drum trigger is essentially a tool, which for a given audio input will output a MIDI note. ‘KTDrumTrigger is a VST plugin with custom editor that triggers MIDI notes based on the sound level of the incoming audio stream in different frequency bands. It allows you to ‘detect’ occurrences of percussive sounds in an audio stream and send out a MIDI event whenever that happens.’ Perfect for our needs.
Screen shot of the KTDrumTrigger highlighting the importance of the MIDI note number setting
Back in Cubase SX I inserted KTDrumTrigger into my kick drum channel using the effects option, so now KTDrumTrigger would listen to every hit of the kick drum and output a MIDI note providing I tweak the settings and set the threshold etc appropriately.
I then created a new blank MIDI track, and on this track I set the input to my VST Drum Trigger so it was listening to the plug-in and I set the output of this MIDI track to play one of my VST samplers, in this case Sample Tank loaded with their FREE Acoustic Drum kit samples.
Cubase MIDI channel inputs and outputs
Tweaking the VST Drum Trigger
After some tweaking of the Drum Trigger you’ll find you can get just the right amount of hits converted to MIDI note information. I had to play around to find the correct sound for a while as all percussive sounds in the MIDI are associated with a MIDI note number, I found the kick drum on MIDI note number 40.
Recording The Drum Trigger
Naturally you could stop here and simply play the VST Drum Trigger live each time, and have your kick drum sample of choice playing along with the track, or go one step further and actually stick the MIDI channel into record and record the VST Drum Trigger output. Doing this can really help out with some more creative possibilities as you can then get into some real detailed editing, like maybe shifting one of the beats to the left or right, correct some bad timing errors. Maybe even duplicate the track a couple of times, and assign further sounds to the MIDI information, thus layering your mix with some rich sounds.
Keeping the Drums Real
I was cautious to maintain the feel of a real drummer playing, so with careful blending of the other drum tracks into the mix, (lots of over-head) I was able to keep the ‘feel’ and sound of a drummer and yet have a great punchy sounding kit.
There are other methods to Drum Triggering and lots of plug-ins but hopefully this might just set your mind thinking a little.