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Recording Digital Drums- need help

Hi guys,

I hope this would be the right place to ask.

i am not running a pro studio anymore. I reduced it to home recording and i sold the acoustic drum kit years ago. I am mostly doing self amusement projects nan and time to time (almost probono) help young talented hard and heavy bands. I tried drum soundfonts back then. When virtual drummers emerged, i tried them too but i did not liked them either for three reasons. 1. I hate editting everything beat by beat 2. Outcome is "unrealistically" error free which you you feel in the very first measures they are virtual. 3. I maybe be biased as i know they are virtual but I do not feel them sound right.

Two years ago i bought a Chinese made digital drum HXM HD10 to over come the problems 1-2 and hoped that either it would sound real or i could do better with new generation plugins applied over it.
Although i can play drums very decently i am not a drummer. My playing usually starts to suck after 130 bpm (especially in hard and heavy style). It has a built in ability to record my playing as midi and can be played back at higher tempos which is good for me but not enough. So i had been practicing to improve my drumming.

I did not messed up with recording setups up until recently. Make things worse i have no clue how to make it. The specs are not what i was expected. Neither digital drummers nor distributors know much about the brand and the manufacturer neither provides support nor answers e mails.

For the ones who are not familiar with the brand let me summarize its capabilities (recording wise). I do not know if these are common for other d-drums. i never tried a high end brand and this one exceeds the ones in the same price range.

-It has about 500 voices after firmware update. Additionally, it has several FX sounds and etnic percussion voices which i do not have any intention to use at the moment. You can create your own drum kit using different voices. Each kit contains 17 playable voices it is up to you how to configure. Many of the preset kits are sounding very real through headphones and PA. Yet, you can further fine tune every voice you assing. Waveform, pitch, depth, reverb, sensitivity (for dynamic range) and 3 band parametric EQ, individual volume, panning. In terms of sound i would happily record it as it is with mics in a real studio.

-This is where i had problem. The Specs in the ad and manual says USB recording. But it turned out that USB is only for Midi in/outs and data transfer in the form of midi (only works for firmware update). Although you can record your playing as song in the system and with an external midi device /DAW, you can not import songs from other sources to save in its user songs area. It can play back midi drum tracks coming from other sources but not any other instruments (expectable). On the other hand, the demo songs contains other instruments which also sound like a good sampled midi which is confusing.

-Additionally conventional Midi in and out socket for recording and communication with other midi devices. I have some old midi keyboards and other synths but i do not think i will ever connect them.

- Line in /out. Out= L+R stereo and L mono as usual. In. one stereo 1/4 jack

-Headphone out

-AUX in ( i do not know why they included this. It only works as an additional line in and only one of them works at a time)

What i would like to achive
-Thanks to recording capability and variable rec/play tempos i can play rather slow then record at up tempo to DAW while it plays back of its own. Still can be done.

- When i first read "USB recording + Midi in/out" in specs i was expecting USB to send 8 channel digital (real sound) out to recording interface/DAW. In this case everything could have been recorded in their individual track in DAW. Additonal processing/editing could be done in DAW, just like acoustic drum recorded with seperate mics. Not have to squized in to channel 10 of DAW and no need to do "one for all editing" or suffer from midi sound limitations.

My options I figured so far
1. It looks like the only way to get real sound is line outs. Direct recording from line outs to PC had never worked for me with my other devices. Distortion, lack of space definition etc. I had not make any trial recording yet. May work well this time. What bothers me most is, only two tracks for drums will be available. Which means i have to make all drum mixing arrangements even before recording and other track.

a.There is no way to to know how all tracks will sound when finished that this is very very bad idea. Besides, interms of space perception, each track must contain a mixture of the sounds ie; treble drums, bass drums and bells. This means at editing/mastering stage at least on of them will suffer.

b.This can be avoided by paning trebles to L and Basses to R but then the mix will suffer.

2. One other option allows recording 8 track real sound (Not only 8 but unlimited tracks can be recorded this way). Muting everything but one and record everything one by one. But there is three problems i do not like.

a. This will take too much time even if everything works great in the first attempts.

b. As each track will be recorded one by one and manually an there will be sync problems. If the sync problem occurs only at the starting times i can handle it by cropping the access and sync them all. 10 minutes of extra work. What i am not sure if there will be a drop during the playback in the D drum or recording in the PC. In order to be sure i had to listen carefully for lags and compare the wave forms of all tracks. (I suffered once in one of my songs which had to send in for an international project. See lesson of the day below if you are intrested :=) )

c. I do not know how d- drums should normally sound like when recorded (Yeah same as i hear it in the room :=)) That i may not be able to diagnose the problem whether it comes from line recording, wrong settings etc. Correcting without knowing the cause is not possible.

So please...
If you know the brand/similar devices or any other solution please help me with this. (If you suggest midi + plugins beware that i am a bit conservative in this league and I have not followed what has changes for several years. I may ask lots of additional questions). For now I am planning to take the risk again and go with the option 2.

Thanks in advance.

Bonus lesson of the dayfacepalm

As i mention above i made a one big mistake in the past with drums which i am still ashamed. I had to send several songs for an international project. We were all late for the due date and communication was a problem because of time difference between continents. It happen in the song i wrote for then my GF, wife. As i was to ashamed, i hated the song which both used to love while raw. I never wanted to revisit and correct the problem. This is what went wrong...

I was asked to send one additional song in the very last minute. So i decided to send the one that was still "in process". The final bass and drums were not recorded. Instead, there were only the raw skeleton versions recorded as que for other track. I recorded the bass at once. But i had only three mics available that day. I had to record drums in three takes in order to be able to record 8 tracks, different parts mic'ed everytime. Just tweaked the tracks briefly. Small edits here and there. I was going to send them my own mix for reference and project file and dry and processed versions of each track anyway. So i sent them all at once after finishing my reference mix.

The deadline was also to short for Mixing/Mastering guys. As my quick mix was very decent for their liking too, they decided to master my version of the mix and save time for other problematic ones. What we all missed was not only the whole drums were slighly out of sync with rest of the tracks but also hi hat was getting out and in sync with other drums.

The problem which was not easily detectable in mix, had become detectable even for deafs after mastering. Guess what? It found its way to get in to the CD that way. We only realized it when people started make fun of it around the world. It was horrible and I do not want to make the same mistake.


audiokid Fri, 09/21/2012 - 09:38
This has been my specialty going back to 1980 but I don't use the drum program you are on.
Hopefully I understand what you are trying to do and can help by saying this best I can without going on too much. I could make this a 10 page response. I have a few ways to do this starting with this one first:

VSTi suck compared to the old days when Midi was common and you didn't have to deal with all the latency and syncing issues with computers today. Ever wonder why pop music has such lame beats this last decade. I can't imagine trying to program music the way people do on the computer today, but it is improving finally and I am now doing the hybrid thing even with midi hardware.
That being said, I have been programming drums with the Akai MPC 60 for 20 + years and now just recently ( because it finally died) bought the new [=""]MPC Renaissance [/]="http://www.akaiprom…"]MPC Renaissance [/]( on order!) to replace it. The MPC 60 was the greatest drum machine and Midi Sequencer ever made ( 2 midi in, 4 midi out, thru's, 8 analog and 2 stereo outs). You want real, no problem. You want hip hop, not problem. It has onboard sounds plus you can trigger samples and keyboards too.

I sequence the entire sound track using racks of analog and digital keyboards, modules samplers etc running into a mixer.
Once close to completion, I sync all the midi tracks to Pro Tools or any DAW that works, and record the analog outs of the midi gear mix into your DAW. From there I continue the mixing process ITB followed by OTB summing and mastering.
There are so many options to continue from here.

The main reason I do it like this is because its fast, very accurate and easy to edit and I love Midi hardware compared to the VSTi issues. I have tried to program all in the computer (ITB) but it sounds un real compared to OTB ( out of the box) using external gear.

The second option is using a Drum machine or controller to trigger VSIi drums and create midi tracks along side your analog tracks in your DAW. I personally like [[url=http://="http://www.fxpansio…"]BFD2[/]="http://www.fxpansio…"]BFD2[/]. They sound great!

NOTE: I do not recommend USB power for controllers. If you are using a USB controller to trigger midi, get an independent power supply for the controller.

But before I go on, do you think you could do a better job if your drum machine was able to operate better for you, and the sounds of it were more real?

Eaglion Fri, 09/21/2012 - 15:30
audiokid, post: 393942 wrote: This has been my specialty going back to 1980 but I don't use the drum program you are on.

Thanks audiokid,

I am not using a drum program or a drum machine but a digital drum. I found a link in English that also show its spec w/o firmware update. I belive, playing a real kit with real human touch sounds always more realistic. Thats why i do not want to use ITB programmed drum sequences. It has also quantizing feature when recording to its song bank but i do not not want to quantize my playing just to keep those eventual off beats that makes the difference between human and computers. As this is the case, some of your recommendations do not apply to my situation i think. ie USB Power controls, MPC 60. Or do they?

(Dead Link Removed)

I think, once i record my performance to "the brain" (That's what D drummers call it), then i/we can consider it a drum machine. Then the way you record and mix can be applied to this also.I would like you to explain few things a bit more in detail. Maybe i did not quite understand because i am a alien to that approach. Before i go on i need to say that i am very low on budget. Although i had kept most of the gears from by studio i had to to spend good amount of money while constructing this in the house studio. Also I had to buy some new gears (ok maybe i had not). Instruments are all over the house. My wife is not as patient as old times with me spending money /time/space on them facepalm.

What i understood is; you are recording by running all midi and line (analog) outs in to your mixer then send to your DAW as stereo. I still have a collection of mixers, analog, tube and digitals. But i do not use them for recording any more as I am doing all the mixes ITB with th DAW in PC. I have Alesis Master Control Interface which i send everything to DAW with firewire. I may be luckier that you as i can have two tracks of mono wave mix (as mixed in the drum) and channel 10 midi in the DAW. Which can give an additional tweaking option later. This is where i am confused.

1. we can assign any soundfont, VST, DSP to the Midi track. All my soundfonts are now dated. From 20 or more years ago. Due to the limitations of these day they were no sampled in detail. They sound great alone but lack the buddy and get lost in the mixes. Their freq ranges are also so narrow to be definitive. I do not want to waste money or time for new libraries unless for a reason. The ones i tested recently were more hip hop/club/ pop sounds. The ones i need are rock, blues, jazz and maybe metal. You already know what i feel for the drum plugins. As far as i reviewed, the kits i want are not included in their standard packages either. i need pay additional money also.

2. Lets assume that i found what i am looking for. I have not heard any DAW that allows several channels for drums. Only 10 (some allow 9 instead). This avoids panning and editing parts like toms, snare, cymbals separately. I know we can make small adjustments by opening every single part and edit their midi settings. This is worse than editing the drum track itself. In order to avoid it in the past; i was recording the drums in midi sequencer and save as midi file. Then make copies of the file and delete everything accept one ie Snare. Then in DAW I was loading these parts to channel 10, record as wav while playing it back. Then replace the midi loaded to ch.10 with the next part. Repeat until everything converted to wav tracks. As the quality of samples were already low, result of this conversions were usually little better than crap. So hours of sound editing/processing was warranted. I do not know if it can be done any simpler now.

3. The two analog track (they should be digital by now after alesis) will still remain sickly mixed. I assume they will spoil more then they contribute to the mix as they are. I do not know if there will be better way of capturing the drums own sounds into 8 or more tracks individually other then i mentioned in the first post.

audiokid, post: 393942 wrote: But before I go on, do you think you could do a better job if your drum machine was able to operate better for you, and the sounds of it were more real?

We have a proverb. "Machines work, hands crow" thumb

I am not chasing the stars here. As i mentioned in the first post, i am doing it for fun after all. I have demanding day job, two kids and a wife and limited time for fun. What i seek is; simplicity, "still" human feel and real sounding drums.
I am missing the days i could record the real drums. Once you manage to learn how to mic and record rest was creativity not burden.

By the way, I asked the similar question in the digital drummer forum when i first bought the D drum. The answer was "record directly via stereo line out". I think they are not as picky as i am.

Thanks again for your first reply, if i am not boring you, I am expecting another on too.


Eaglion Fri, 09/21/2012 - 17:05
audiokid, post: 393942 wrote: The second option is using a Drum machine or controller to trigger VSIi drums and create midi tracks along side your analog tracks in your DAW. I personally like [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.fxpansio…"]BFD2[/]="http://www.fxpansio…"]BFD2[/]. They sound great!

I realized that you have included link to BFD2. I checked the site. It indeed looks helpful.
nochinaAs a routine with Chines products, my drum is not in supported drums list. It says customizable for other brands too ???

As i understand,it has both plug in and stand alone versions. If i am not wrong, stand alone version is be able assign voices to the voices coming from by drum separately and also record them in individual tracks as wav like a DAW. When used as plug in, I could not get if it works the same way or only processes the midi track in the DAW but it does not make much difference.

Though it is pricey. As I may not be able to download it with my slow internet speed, additional costs like overseas postage and custom tax will be added. = apprx. $400. I will check if any of my friends still in the business use it or have trial copy. It is a lot money for me to spend without trying.


pcrecord Mon, 03/04/2013 - 12:58
I too decided to work with an electronic drum most of the time in the studio. A lot of customers are on a budget and some have inexperience drummer that are note so hot with a click track.

To avoid latency with vsti, I record only the midi at first while listening to the sound of the electronic drum for monitoring (a Roland TD-9). after I have a good complete track, I activate the Vsti, (I like Addictive Drums) Then I can work the midi file as I see fit (removing stuff, copy paste, quantising if needed). I can also work on the velocity balance and nuances. At the end, I do a mix down of the virtual instrument and voila ! (Sonar has a freeze option that transfere in wav rapidely)
The more natural is you synth, the more people won't even notice its a sampler, and not the real thing.. :)

pcrecord Mon, 03/04/2013 - 14:37
Kurt Foster, post: 401711 wrote: wow. that's all so much simpler than just putting up a couple of mics and hitting record ...
I do record acoustic drums all the time btw !
Yes, electronic with sampler is simpler and faster than having a drummer bring in a poor sounding drums with 5 years old drum head. With that he as no clue about tunning and has taped sheets to muted the head. Yeah it's simpler using a sampler !! ;)

The guy asking questions does'nt have and can't have an acoustic drum.. I just tried to help

pcrecord Mon, 03/04/2013 - 16:29
audiokid, I tested nearly all of drum samplers in 2012, (so many downloaded trials ;). What I like about Addictive is that it sounds good right away. You can still personnalise the sound, but you don't have to spend hours of mixing before it sounds great. Plus they have addpacks for different styles and sound you might be looking for.

BFD2 was my first pick cause it sounds raw (I'm a drummer and it seduced me), but in the long run I realise that I don't need or want to fight overtones from the toms and fix what I usally need to fix on an acoustic drum... Actually, I found it easyer to setup my Ayotte kit that sounds good without much work ;)

anonymous Tue, 03/05/2013 - 04:52
Just my two cents here... as I happen to be a drummer as well as an engineer...

Much of what makes a difference in programmed drums isn't always about the quality of the samples. Yes... it's important to have quality sounds to work with, but just as important is the way the drums are programmed.

This programming can have very subtle to very major nuances, depending on the style.

Little nuances - like the way a drummer may drag a stick across the snare head going into or out of the back beat, or phantom or "ghost" beats that fall in between the actual back beats, and some are obvious while others are very subtle. Other little nuances and textures could be the way the snares may rattle a bit when the kick drum is hit, or how a "soft foot" hi hat is played at the same time that the ride cymbal is being played... all these little things can add up to very big differences if you are trying for an 'authentic" live drum sound and feel.

Some of the more major issues that will either add to the realism - or detract from it - are things like crash cymbals always sounding the exact same way, when any drummer can tell you that it's not always about how hard or soft they are hit that determines the tone, but also where on the cymbal the stick is hitting.

Many drummers will also use a combination of ride/bell while playing a ride cymbal pattern, either oriented in an intentional ride sticking style, or - randomly hitting one or the other.

Flams, press rolls, syncopation between the hat and the snare or the ride and the snare, striking the snare and the rim at the same time, and above all... dynamics, are but a few of the things to consider when programming.

These suggestions are but a mere few to consider. There's a lot more, but it depends largely on style and what the song needs...or what it doesn't.

And finally, don't think that there always has to be that "big fill" at the end of every 4 or 8 bars. Some of the best drum fills ever played.... were the ones that were never played at all. ;)


audiokid Tue, 03/05/2013 - 10:33
nicely said Donny.

I love bands like Santana. If Carlos asked me to sit in or go on tour with him, I wouldn't hesitate. I would grab my PRS and play right along side with him until the lights went out. I draw the line on what I would ever interfere as a producer for rich musical content like that. I would never consider such an insult to touch one thing. Keep it all real just as it happened. Thats what its all about.

However, my principals and methods change with commercial music. Nothing is better than drum samples.
I tent to put more replacement value on the kick , snare and hats and keep the rest real or bleeding in as much as possible, or remove all together "KISS". I would shape and replace pop drums almost 100% if i have control over that. Which, I am convinced is 99% improvement. Nothing compares IMO.

Commercial drums are about the sound and consistency. As you put so well Donny, "Some of the best drum fills ever played.... were the ones that were never played at all".


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