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Mixing Virtual Drums

How To Improve Your Drum Recordings
By Mike Senior

Mixing Virtual Drums

Do your virtual acoustic drum parts never seem to work in the context of a mix? Here's how to fashion more natural and compelling results...

Software instruments that can emulate live drumming are 10 a penny these days, and many come with libraries of MIDI parts that make programming a convincing performance a breeze. Most such instruments also provide multi-channel outputs, a bit like the multiple mic channels of a real drum kit recording, but in practice you'll rarely get the best results at mixdown if you try to treat a virtual drummer just like a real one.

Start With The Source

The first thing to realise is that, with any software drummer, the mixing process should always start within the instrument interface itself — if any individual kit component doesn't sound quite the way you want it to, then reach for the software's own instrument controls before you start getting any other mix processing involved. Your snare, for example, will sound a lot more natural if you increase its sustain using the software's built-in envelope controls, rather than trying to compress the snot out of it with down-stream plug-ins. Similarly, adjusting the design or pitch of a virtual drum makes a tonal difference that's impossible to replicate with EQ — and if you tune the drum to the key of the track it'll often blend better straight away, without the need for artificial reverb.

Beyond changing the sounds themselves, you'll usually get some flexibility to rebalance those sounds within each of the software instrument's audio output channels. In the simplest case, there'll be a selection of output channels for individual kit components (kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom, hi-hat, ride, crash and so forth), each providing a 'complete' dry mixed sound for that instrument, and those will be accompanied by some kind of 'ambience' or 'room' track you can use to give the mix a roomier sound if you like. In this kind of situation, your highest priority should be to decide how loud each kit component is within the simulated room, because the louder a given kit component is in the room sound, the roomier it'll seem in the mix relative to the other components. However, it's not uncommon to find that the software instrument's simulated room sound is more appealing on some kit components than others within your specific mix context, in which case you can make your life a lot easier by muting certain kit components in the software...

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Published January 2020