Rhythm Creation - Music Production and Sound Reocording

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Many musicians who make music with a computer make drum tracks using software and recorded samples of drums, but all too often they find that their drums just don’t seem to sound like a real drummer could be playing them and sound too electronic (unless of course electronic sounding is what you are after). These are my tips for getting a drum track to sound more realistic and hopefully they will help some of you to create some amazing human sounding drum tracks and give a whole new feeling to your music.

Firstly we need to realise that a real drummer isn't a robot, a real drummer doesn’t hit every drum with exactly the same force every time he hits it and neither does he hit it on the exact same millisecond of a bar of music every time. So the main aim is to basically make your drum track less perfect because drummers aren't perfect.

If you are using the mouse to input notes on the screen you may find that by switching to a MIDI input device you can use it to play each part of your drum track in and it will start to sound more human (Making sure you don’t set it to quantize your notes too harshly). You will find that you will hit each drum with a slightly different force and at a slightly different time, if you make any big mistakes or any notes that just sound off you can always retake or start editing those notes with the mouse. If you don’t want to use a MIDI input device you can use these two methods of editing individual drum hits to effectively do exactly the same thing.
  • Change each drum hits volume slightly (Effectively changing the force that the drum is hit).
  • Change the time a drum hit is hit back or forward very slightly by small amounts.
Snare Drum - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:sonofwil With both of these don’t do it overly excessively, we are just looking for a very slight variation. This should improve the feel of your drum track slightly. Try experimenting with it, sometimes just changing these two aspects can really change the feel and groove of a rhythm.

There is another thing we can change which is the tone of the drum hit. As a drummer varies the force with which he hits a drum, the tone of the sound produced changes. On most drum machines such as the Redrum in Propellerheads Reason there is a tone feature, by varying this slightly with each drum hit (especially on the snare drum) we can give it more of a human feel. Try making the tone reduce when the volume reduces gives a nice combined effect.

We can take this further now by making our drums act like real drums. If you use snare rolls a lot, this is a nice way of making them sound much better. Drummers hit drums slightly differently with each hand. So set up two keys on your MIDI input device with the same snare sample on, but vary one ever so slightly in tone, pitch, volume or whatever other properties you want to experiment with and then play the snare hits one after the other on the keyboard creating a snare roll. This drastically improves the sound of our snare rolls. You could even have three or four variations of the same hit and change between them on each snare hit during the snare roll.

With the hi-hats, we often hear a drummer hit the hi-hat with it open and then quickly close it which cuts the sound off and gives a nice effect. So with your hi-hats you will want to make it so that when a hi-hat closed sample plays it stops the open hi-hat sample. Some drum machines have this feature built in, so use it effectively. If it isn’t built in try varying a hi-hat open sounds length so when the close hi-hat sound plays the open hi-hat sound stops.

This next way is the Ultimate way of getting that real drummer sound, but it is not always practical with samples. If you are recording your own drum samples make sure that you record differing volumes of each drum. Some software allows us to change the sample used depending on the volume of the note. So for example when a MIDI volume message says a note is played at a loudness of 100 to 127 it will play sample 1 (A full whack drum hit), if the MIDI volume message is below say 100 it will play sample 2 (a softer recorded drum hit). We can line these up with as many samples as we wanted at carying levels and that would create an extremely realistic sounding kit. Often though this is not practical for many people as many drum hits are electronically produced or the hit we want to use only has one recorded sample.

Hopefully this has taught you some great ways in which you can make your sound less computer sounding and more realistic. These methods certainly improved the realism of my tracks and hopefully it will with your music too.

Tutorial Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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One of the music signal processing effects that many people struggle to understand is the compressor, the reason they fail to understand it is because firstly with a compressor it is harder to hear the effect it is creating but also because they haven’t learnt why and what it is for, this quick tutorial will quickly explain what a compressor is and hopefully put some people on the right track.

What Does A Compressor Do?
Putting a sound through the compressor will make the loudest parts of a sound quieter, reducing the volume gap between the louder and quieter parts of a sound. If you could see the waveform of the sound you would see that it is flattening the peaks down closer to the troughs. It is basically an automatic volume fader.

When Should I Use It?
  1. Because the peaks of a sound are clipping (sending the volume into red) - compressing it will bring down these peaks and so no more clipping occurs and you will end up with a better behaved sound.
  2. Because you want to raise the quieter parts of a sound (such as the tail/sustain section of a sound) - A compressed sounds peaks are reduced and so therefore the overall volume of the sound can be pushed up via the output gain, in effect making the quieter parts of a sound louder. Because the sounds tail section is louder, it makes our ears perceive the whole sound as louder. (This technique can be used on the final mix to make the track loud). Advertisers also use this on TV adverts so the sound is much louder, so you can hear it when your in the kitchen making a brew.
  3. Because you want to emphasise the first part of a sound - Using the attack (see below) we can let the first part of a sound through uncompressed and then compress the rest of the sound. Making the sound more punchy.
How Do I Use It?
The best way I can explain this is to go through each part of a typical compressor and tell you what each one does. These individual parts should be available on most hardware and software compressors.

Compressor: Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:sibaudio Threshold
This sets the volume level at which the compressor starts to do its compressing. Whenever the sound volume goes above the level of the threshold the sound will get compressed. Anytime the sound's volume is below the threshold the compressor is doing nothing and the sound will therefore stay at the same volume.

Ratio
When the volume goes above the threshold it gets compressed and the ratio is by how much should it get compressed. 1/2 ratio is going to compress any volume above the threshold to 1/2 the amount above the threshold. For example if the threshold is 50dB and the sound going through the compressor is 70 dB. The sound will come out at 60dB. At 1/4 ratio it will come out at 55dB. 1/10 ratio will be 52dB.

Attack
This sets in milliseconds how fast the compressors reacts once the sound level goes above the threshold. Most of the time you will want to set this to a very low setting. As you set it higher more of the beginning of the sound will be let through after breaking the threshold. This allows you to place emphasis on these parts (commonly used on kicks to make them more punchy).

Release
This sets the time that the compressor stops doing it’s compressing after the sound has dropped below the threshold, setting this too low can make the sound sound like it is pumping. Commonly used on dance style recordings as a wanted effect.

Knee
Not seen on all compressors, sometimes might be seen as a soft knee on/off button and on other compressors you can control it with a proper dial. The Knee is the time it takes for the compressor to reach the maximum ratio of compression once compression has started to set it. A soft knee will take more time to reach maximum compression.

Output Gain
This is where you can increase the overall volume after it has been through the compressor.

Common Mistakes
  1. Compressing a recorded sound can cause any noise, hum or unwanted sound in the background of the recording to become louder reducing the quality of the recording.
  2. Too much compression applied doesn’t sound good. Sometimes a pumping like effect can be heard which can sound dreadful on the wrong sort of music. There is also quite a backlash from some people saying that some modern music sounds dreadful and of less quality because it is so loud due to overuse of compression.
  3. Removing the ups and downs of music on recordings that don’t need it. You won’t hear very much if any compression at all on classical music because you want to keep the very quiet sounds quiet to give more feeling and flow to the music. Adding compression may ruin the feeling of the music in situations like this.
This should help you to use compressors easily and effectively, one last thing to think about is where in the effects chain you apply the compression. After or before reverb and delay effects can sound very different as your also raising the levels on those effects. So think about when you want the compression applied.

If anyone has anything to add or other ideas on how to use it, please add it to the comments.

Tutorial Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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One thing that every electronic musician should have is a big collection of samples which they can go to when composing so they can quickly select the one needed to experiment with. These are my tips on sound sample collecting which can help you expand your collection, keep organized and therfore end up create some interesting results in your tracks.
  • With samples one of the most important things to do is to stay legal and organized. A simple way to do this is to sort your samples into different folders on your hard drive by license type (for example folders called Royalty Free, Free To Use Non Commercially etc). Then within those folders put the samples into more folders entitled by the source you found them. Using this method you can easily see the license and source of sample when choosing a sample.
  • Some days when you aren’t feeling musically creative it is much better to have a day of creating samples instead. I’ve had many a day when I’ve either sat in front of a synth experimenting making patches or in front of a microphone recording sounds. Splitting the making samples process from the writing music process can really benefit both areas.
  • Experiment as much as possible with different sounds in front of a microphone. You can get some great sounds from simple household objects. One of my favourites is pots and pans, which sounds made but I’ve ended up layering some of these sounds together with other drum sounds to create whole new sounds. Try reversing them too and you get these metallic sounding whooshes that I hear them in films all the time. Sounds like you banging on cardboard boxes or slamming doors layered with kick drums can create whole new sounding kicks. Go round your house finding different things to hit with different things. The options is endless, your family will think you’ve gone mad but the results can be interesting and really add something different to your music. That band called Stomp with the metal bins comes to mind.
  • A Microphone - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:Wazina
  • Lots of sounds can be made with the mouth too, check out HumanBeatbox.com. Now you might be thinking but I can’t beatbox like that Gavin TyTe (The guy in the vids). No maybe not, but on that site there are some excellent tutorials on how to replicate kicks, snares and hats with your mouth which can on their own be done quite easily and quickly (the hard part is putting it all together). Then create your own personal HumanBeatBox drum kit in your favourite drum machine software. The results can be very good especially with some reverb, delay and chorus effects on.
  • Keep a look out on eBay and in your charity shops, I’ve managed to buy some shakers, tambourines for next to nothing and then sampled them.
  • Make shakers out of containers and those dried peas and rice you can get from the supermarket. Sometimes they might not sound like the real thing but with a little bit of reverb on they can sound alright. Plastic drinks bottles or those plastic yoghurt drink bottles work really well for this. Small gravel from the garden is good too.
  • If you have friends who are musicians and create their own samples then maybe you can swap ones you’ve made with ones they’ve made, this can increase both your collections very quickly.
  • Borrow instruments off of friends or relatives, sample them and then give them back. Ask to go round and sample their piano, guitar or violin. Maybe you have a wannabe singer in the family, ask them to do some vocal singing phrases for you.
  • There are some music making magazines which regularly have CDs full of samples on (make sure you check the licensing though and put them in your appropriate folder (see tip #1). Libraries may also have them if they stock the magazines.
  • Subscribe to our RSS feed or bookmark this site in your favourites as we are going to release some sample packs over the coming months which are free to use as well as link to other sites which have free samples.
Hopefully from this list of tips and ideas for samples you can go away and maybe introduce something new into your music by creating some personalised sound samples. I shall release a few of my own samples which use some of the ideas in this article over the next couple of months so look out for them.

Article written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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If your ever looking for a specific sample one of the best places you could go to search would be The Freesound Project. At the time of writing this they have over 40,000 samples, all available to find via a search tool. All samples are provided free for you to use by other generous people from around the world under a creative commons license (which basically means you can use it as you like as long as you mention the person who made the sample).

I have also heard that a sample of a scream from The Freesound Project was used in the film "Children of Men" which starred Clive Owen and the user was properly credited in the credits, so if you make your own samples, why not upload them. You never know you may hear your sample in the next big movie.

The Freesound Project Logo I like The Freesound Project a lot and I thought it deserved a mention. I shall certainly be using it to search for sounds when I need a sound that I can’t make myself. Just remember to attribute the sample creator as great tools like this wouldn’t exist without them.

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Every computer musician needs to have in their collection of tools a audio editor to be able to see and edit the waveform of their sound files as well as record straight in via their soundcard from an external source. Audacity is an open source/free piece of software developed by a group of volunteers and distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

When you start Audacity you will see that it doesn’t look amazing and whilst some of the paid for alternatives have more features, Audacity has some amazing features which can certainly be a benefit to musicians and what Audacity does, it does well. Check out their feature list. Audacity is certainly a great add-on application for users of programs like Propellerheads Reason as they can then go and edit, cut-up and tweak samples. It may not have all the features and plugins of programs like Soundforge but it certainly can do the everyday stuff and I would certainly recommend it to musicians on a budget or anyone who doesn’t need those extra features.

What is good about Audacity
  • It’s Free/Open Source Software
  • Its fast (at loading, editing, zooming etc)
  • Easy to use and simple layout
  • Multiple operating systems supported
What is bad about Audacity
  • I’m not keen on the look of the interface (Not that it matters)
  • It is missing a few features of paid for applications (But it’s free)
You can download Audacity from The Audacity web site.

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