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Drum Editing, Part 1

Reaper Tips & Techniques
Published August 2012
By Kenny Gioia

In the first of this two-part series on drum editing in Reaper, we look at getting your transients to land perfectly on the grid.

In the first of this two-part series, we're going to go through the steps of editing a multi-miked drum kit so that the drums conform to the grid. Basically, we're quantising a live drum performance to be in perfect time. There are many reasons for wanting to do this. You might have a sloppy drummer who doesn't play very tightly or in time; you might be adding the drums to pre-recorded parts that were played to a click; or you might be locking the performance to other electronic elements like loops, samples or programming that you need to stay in sync.

To begin, determine which tracks you'll want to detect transients from. In other words, what hits are going to land right on the grid and be timing references? Will it be simply kick and snare, or will you also include hi-hats and ride? Using hi-hats (or rides) may be more accurate but may also create a more robotic feel, and I usually find I can get away with just using the kick and snare, allowing the hi-hats to roam freely in the spaces. There may also be tom hits or fills that you're going to want on the grid.

Well Suited

Once you have a good idea of what you'll be placing on the grid, it's time to adjust preferences and options. One of the best things about Reaper is how customisable it is, but that also means that each Reaper system can behave quite differently. It's important that you're using the right preferences and options so that your system responds correctly to the technique we'll be using here.

Go to Preferences, and under Project/Media Item Defaults, un-tick 'Create automatic fade-in/fade-out for new items' and 'Overlap and crossfade items when splitting'. Under the Options menu, un-tick 'Auto-crossfade media items when editing' and 'Trim content behind media items when editing'. The 'Trim content' option makes it impossible to put multiple items on top of one another without replacing (or trimming) the first one. I normally leave this option on, but you'll see in the following steps why it's beneficial to turn it off for now.

Dummy Track

Next create a new track or 'dummy' track. You'll only be using this track to copy the items you want to detect the transient information from. It won't actually be heard or used past the editing stage. The purpose of doing this is to make it easier to see the transients from multiple tracks all in the same place. You could do it directly on the individual tracks that you have already, but then you'd have to deal with multiple stages of splitting (one for kick, one for snare, and so on) and work on items that have already been split. So it gets messy very quickly!

If you're going to use just the kick and snare track to detect transients, you can copy-drag your kick and snare items to this dummy track. (On the PC, hold down Control and drag. On the Mac, hold down Command and drag.) You can do the same with the hi-hat or ride if necessary. For tom hits that are used in fills (and used as a timing reference), separate them into items just in the areas where they play and drag them to the dummy track as well. If the drum part is complex, I encourage you to work on small sections at a time: intro, verse, chorus, for example. This way you can see and fix problems more effectively. If the process is going smoothly, you can begin to work on bigger sections at a time. Copying the kick, snare and tom fills to a separate 'Dummy' track (grey), makes it easier to split them when it's time to use Dynamic Split. Choosing 'Show overlapping media items in lanes' will also help to make things clearer.Copying the kick, snare and tom fills to a separate 'Dummy' track (grey), makes it easier to split them when it's time to use Dynamic Split. Choosing 'Show overlapping media items in lanes' will also help to make things clearer.

When you have multiple items on the same track, it may be hard to see them all at the same time. To fix this:

    • Turn on 'Show overlapping media items in lanes' in the Options menu. You will now see each item in its own lane.
    • Solo this track and make sure what you're hearing is correct. (You should be hearing just the items that you've copied to this track.)
    • Adjust the levels of the items so that they're similar. You can do this visually or by ear. By performing this step, you will be making it easier for Dynamic Split (used in the following steps) to split the transients correctly, based on volume. For example, if the snare hits were louder than the kick hits, it would be more likely to split the snare hits, while ignoring some of the quieter kicks. Keeping them closer in volume should mean that Dynamic Split considers them equally. Adjust the item levels by grabbing and dragging down from the top of each item, which creates a volume handle.
    • Select all the items on the dummy track and 'Glue' them using the command from the Items menu. You now have one media item with all of the transients you'll be detecting from.
    • Turn off 'Show overlapping media items in lanes' and turn on 'Trim content behind media items when editing'. As mentioned previously, I prefer to work with 'Trim content' turned on so that any items that land on top of another will replace (or trim) the items in those sections. This way we're never hearing two items on the same track playing simultaneously.

Better Together

You now need to group all of the drum items on all of the tracks, including the dummy item. This is important, because when you quantise a multi-miked drum kit, you don't want to be moving items separately from track to track, as the spill will conflict between drums. In other words, if you move the kick item separately from the snare item (ungrouped), the kick spill from the snare item would no longer line up with the actual kick item, causing phase issues and other weird anomalies. It's thus imperative to quantise all of the drum items together, using Reaper's item grouping.

Just select all of the drum items, right-click and choose Group/Group items. Then right-click the Item Grouping icon in the toolbar and make sure that the 'Selecting one item selects group' option is turned off. This allows you to select just the dummy item while keeping it grouped with all of the other drum items for editing purposes.

Dynamic Split

The next step is to use Dynamic Split to break up the item based on the transients that have been detected: Using Dynamic Split and adjusting the Threshold in Transient Detection Settings allows you to select the transients you want to Split into separate Media Items.Using Dynamic Split and adjusting the Threshold in Transient Detection Settings allows you to select the transients you want to Split into separate Media Items.

      • Select just the dummy track's item, go to the View menu and choose Dynamic Split. This will open the Dynamic Split items dialogue box.
      • Under the Split Points section, select the 'At transients' tick-box but de-select the 'When gate opens/closes' tick-boxes.
      • Select (in the lower left) the 'Set transient sensitivity' button, which opens another dialogue box where you can adjust the Threshold that sets what Dynamic Split considers to be a transient.
      • Adjust this parameter (there are green lines to help) so that all the transients you need are above the horizontal lines.
      • Close this window, go back to the Dynamic Split window and select the option 'Split grouped items at times of selected splits'. This will split all of the drum items (grouped) even though the dummy item was the only one selected. Leave the Leading Pad and Trailing Pad parameter set to 0ms with the Fade Pad off.
      • Hit the Split button. This will separate the dummy track's media item (glued) and the drum items (grouped) at all of the transients. Confirm that it is visually correct before moving on.

Prepare For Landing

Finally, it's time to quantise the items so that the transients that have been detected land on the grid:

      • After the items are sliced or split at all of the desired transients, as a group, choose Quantise to place them on the grid.After the items are sliced or split at all of the desired transients, as a group, choose Quantise to place them on the grid.
      • Delete the dummy track.
      • Go back to the Item Grouping icon in the toolbar and turn on the option 'Selecting one item selects group' by right-clicking its icon again. Now, selecting any drum item will select its entire group. Note that, because many pieces are created by splitting, you now have many separate groups as well, one for each transient that groups the entire drum kit.
      • Select all the drum items (one track will select them all), right-click, go to 'Item Processing' and choose 'Quantise item positions to grid', which will open the Quantise dialogue box. Leave all the tick-boxes unticked and choose the note value for quantisation: decide what the performance contains (1/16ths, 1/8ths, for example) and hit Process.
      • At this point, all of the grouped hits should be right on the grid.

Listen back to the drum recording. It should sound tight, but you may well notice spaces in the performance where Reaper moved items but didn't fill the gaps. Next month, we'll be looking at how to smoothly fill those gaps. See you then!  

Published August 2012