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How do you blend live drums with electronic music?

You can only go so far with purely electronic music. Adding live instruments adds humanity and soul. So how can you get the best blend between live and electronic?


Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

"How do you blend live drums with electronic music, such as drum 'n' bass/jungle, or house? I make most of my tracks in computer based software. I have trouble blending the bass drops and the kick and snare together. I need tips and suggestions. My mixes are not sounding like a lot of the UK tracks I compare them to. What do they do to get there sound so tight.? I'm new to mixing and I have been trying to finish this EP for a couple of years, and it's frustrating!!"

David Mellor responds...

One of the problems here is that you are working in genres of music that are mature. Therefore you have to hit the style exactly spot on, or it won't sound like drum 'n' bass, or jungle or house, whichever is the genre you are aiming for.

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It is far harder to make a track in a mature genre than a genre that is still developing and you can write some of the rules yourself. Which is not to say that the genres you mention won't develop further in the future, just that now they are in the 'lull' phase that every successful music genre goes through immediately after its initial period of popularity.

Your question doesn't make it clear whether you intend to add live drums played by a drummer, or drums from a sample library of loops or single hits.

Let's suppose you mean samples. In this case there are two main factors to bear in mind. One is that timing is absolutely key. If say you have started off with a loop sourced from vinyl (which you intend to clear the copyright for of course), then there is no guarantee that the timing of the playing is rigid. Therefore rather than placing your kick and snare samples on exact quarter notes and eighth notes, you have to place them exactly to the millisecond where the corresponding beat occurs in the loop, quantization off.

The second factor would be the EQ blend. You need to EQ the loop so that there are 'frequency holes' for your kick and snare to fit into. Also, if you have sourced your kick and snare from a sample library, they might simply be too 'big' and take up too much space in your track. Taking out some energy at low and high frequencies should help, as might compression to bring down the peak level of the samples.

If you are adding a loop of drums to a loop sourced from vinyl, then you have the further problem that although both loops might start at the same time and have the same duration, their internal timings may not match.

In this case, you should cut up whichever loop is simpler into individual beats, and space those beats out to match the rhythm of the other loop exactly to the millisecond.

Adding live drums

If you want to add live drums played by a drummer in your studio, then the situation is altogether different.

You could have the drummer play along to your track, but drummers commonly find it difficult to keep exactly in time with a totally inflexible pre-recorded track. To try and record the song the whole way through would result in many timing inaccuracies.

Instead I would split the track into its different sections and make loops for the drummer to play to. Get the drummer to play just the basic beat, over and over. Record everything he plays. Do the same for a couple of alternative rhythms, then record some fills and breaks. Repeat, repeat, repeat - the same thing each time over and over, and record everything.

When the drummer has gone, you will have a lot of excellent material to work with. You can pick the bits the drummer got exactly right, and loop and sequence them to your heart's content. The rest you can simply trash.

Let us know how you get on. We would love to hear what you can do.

By David Mellor Monday April 24, 2006