4 Great Tips To Humanize Your Drum Programming

Guest Blog by Koorosh Daryaie

Hello Friends,

Los Angeles’ Premier Percussionist, Drummer & Drum ProgrammerMany of you know my work as the drummer for rock bands like Silence and LXIX, and solo artists such as Woody Moran and Kirsten Hansen. What most of you might not know is that I spend as much time playing percussion and programming drums as I do actually drumming.

Last year I was in the studio programming drums and playing percussion on my great friend Woody Moran’s Tu-Toned Stranger album when the resident studio engineer, Ryan Kushner, asked me what my secret was to humanizing programmed drums. After an hour-long explanation and perhaps being sorry that he asked, Ryan encouraged me to share my thoughts and procedures with other aspiring drummers and drum programmers.

Choose Your Drum Programming Tools Wisely

I’d like to first discuss my programming tools. I usually do the majority of my drum programming using Pro Tools with the Strike plug-in. I also use Live 7 with Battery 3 or EZ Drummer. My midi controllers are Mandala V 1.0 and 2.0 Drum Pads, Roland HPD 10, 15, and SPDS Percussion pads, an M-Audio Trigger Finger, and a Korg Wave Drum.

The most important thing to point out is, that these are plug-ins and hardware MIDI controllers that I have used for a long time and the ones I’m the most familiar with and efficient on. Remember time is money in the studio, and no one wants to throw away money because you don’t know what you are doing. You should choose the application based on your needs and ease of use.

Before You Program The First Beat

I’d like to discuss some of my procedures. I usually like to get together with the artist a few times for rehearsals, to play either drums or percussion with them.  By doing this I usually get a feel for the songs and learn the structure of the songs. I then spend a few hours after the rehearsal talking to the artist about the songs, their influences, and what inspired them to write the song. By asking questions I can get a feel for what the artist was thinking when writing the song and what direction they like to see their song go in.

With a metronome at hand during rehearsals, I tap tempo the songs and get the BPM (beats per minute). I listen to the feel, the groove of the song, to see where the song pushes, or drags. I then calculate the different sections of the song (verse, chorus, bridge, break), and if necessary ask the artist to make a decision to either speed up or slow down the song for a stronger feel.

Let’s Make Some Beats – Tracking and Programming

ReHumanize YourselfI like tracking programmed drums first. By laying down the drum part you are laying down the foundation for the songs where all other instruments will follow and use as their guide track. In programming I usually don’t quantize the Kick and Snare Drums, but do quantize the Hihat, and Ride Cymbals. I usually follow the Hihat track with a Shaker that is not quantized, and then a Tambourine track playing the down beats, also not quantized. After all the programmed drum parts are tracked in to Live or Pro Tools, I go in and start cutting sections for fills that lead from Verse to Chorus to Bridge, and so on.

Once the sections of the track are cut out, I start over-dubbing fills and lead-ins and change-ups in the areas with the holes.

The Finishing Touch

At this point I have already had a few cups of coffee and nice cigar, and am ready to lay down live percussion instruments. I don’t like to quantize any of the percussion tracks unless all the drums were live, and the percussion is what was tracked first. I usually start with the Conga, and work my way around to the Cajon, and then the Timbale if the song calls for it. I do a lot of Middle Eastern percussion work as well instruments such as Darbuka, Zarb, Daft, Boolangoo, and Tabla, and because of the nature of the way these instruments are played, and the technique applied, quantizing the tracks will not translate too well.

This is a multipart series on humanizing your drum tracks. In Part II, I will let you guys know how adding some effects can change the feel of a groove drastically.

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