Are you bored of using the same drum kits and sounds again and again? Or are you finding that synthesised percussion sounds are all a bit flat and simple sounding and your sampled percussion library is uninspiring and hard to work with?
In this Weekend Workshop, we are going to make a percussive kit from things we’ve found from around the house, from the kitchen to the shed and some methods of processing them to sculpt the raw sounds into novel, tweaked percussion sounds.
Check out this amazing live performance by Dario Rossi in Paris to get an idea of what I mean, we may not be incredible percussionists (well, I’m certainly not) but we do have access to lots of powerful software that we can use to build a unique sounding foley drum kit that will sound like this:
Here’s an example of what you could end up with:
What you’ll need:
- A microphone / portable recorder / phone
- A DAW – I’m using Reaper but you can use whatever you are used to.
- A drum sampler – Maschine or Ableton are great but for this i’m using the excellent Sitala which is free and very capable
- Lots of things to hit and something to hit them with – think pots and pans, metal tools, wooden spoons for drumsticks, something to shake, something BIG for a kick drum, as much variety as possible.
- Your favourite plug-ins – I’m using the excellent and free TAL-Filter-2 and Oril River reverb to sculpt the sounds.
1. Amass your items
Scour the house for items to hit, shake, punch and drop. You want as large a variety of items here as possible, thinking about different sizes. Large things will sound deeper than small objects. Look for objects made from different materials. Wood, for example, will sound dramatically different from metal. Also, look for objects with different densities – a solid object will have a very different sound to something that’s hollow.
It’s also worth thinking loosely about real percussion instruments and drums, and things in the house that could work in a similar way. For example, hitting a biscuit tin with a wooden spoon for a snare, or shaking a tube of salt will make a decent shaker.
For hi-hats, think of hitting smaller solid metal objects with wooden sticks. For a kick drum, you are going to want something larger and hollow to get a nice big tone. Also, think about using something like a kick drum beater rather than a wooden stick.
Once you have the sort of objects that would mean you have a basic kit covered (something to cover kick, snare and hats at least) then you can think more laterally. For example, I found a log cushion that has artificial beads in it that I planned to record for some sort of shaker or hat hybrid, a hacksaw that made a spring-type sound and a small metal cup that was similar to a cowbell.
We are going to process the sounds after we’ve recorded them so don’t worry about things sounding weedy initially or unlike any real percussion. Just do your best to create as much sonic diversity as possible from high to low tonally. You want to round and plump, right through to skinny and clicky.
2. Record the kit
With all your sound sources together you now need to record them. Find the quietest room in your house, set up your microphone/portable recorder/phone and record each element. It won’t be the end of the world if there’s a bit of background noise as each sound will get trimmed pretty tightly. However, you should still aim for as little background noise as possible.
You will need to experiment a bit with microphone placement for each object you record, along with whatever you’re hitting it with. You’ll get dramatically different results hitting a metal pot with a wooden spoon versus hitting it with a metal coat hanger. You’ll also get different results depending on where you hit it – from the top rim to the bottom of the pot will give you entirely different sounds.
It’s best to just leave the recorder going and keep hitting whatever you are using, keeping an eye and ear out for clipping. You may need to adjust levels or move away if the signal is too hot. Don’t worry if you do record some clipped hits, they could still be useful! Just aim to get as many clean ones as possible too, and make sure you leave a nice gap between each hit to allow for the natural decay of the sound of each hit to be captured. There’s nothing worse than ruining one sound by hurriedly hitting the same object, even if you really are enjoying it in the moment.
It’s always best to get more than you think you’ll need at this stage – if something is worth recording once it’s worth recording a few times to absolutely ensure you’ve captured it.
3. Edit the raw recording
Transfer the raw recording onto your computer and load up your favourite editor or DAW and start to chop each hit. You’ll want to make sure you get a nice tight cut at the start of each hit as close to the initial transient as you can get. Don’t worry too much about chopping the tails at this stage, a bit of silence or noise at the tail is fine, we can address that later on.
If you have multiple good hits from one object it’s best to keep several as you may want some variety. We may end up layering several hits to make a composite sound so it’s worth getting more sounds than you think you need here. You may want to normalise the hits to -1dB just so they are all the same volume, and you don’t get any shocks down the line.
I used Soundforge for this, but you can use whatever audio editor you find easiest. By the end of this process, I had 30 samples to process further.
Here are the raw files I recorded for you to download and play with, but it’s much more fun if you record your own.
4.Process the kit
I loaded the sounds into Reaper to see if I wanted to do any destructive editing or corrective EQ on the sounds before loading them into Sitala. After playing with the sounds a bit I had some ideas on which sounds needed more doing to them before getting them into the sampler.
I started with water butt’ as my first sound as it was the deepest and seemed the best candidate for a kick drum. I checked on the EQ and could see a nice solid fundamental around the 100Hz mark – perfect for a kick! I applied the sort of EQ you would apply to a kick drum – a small boost in the 100Hz region, a cut in the 500Hz region to remove some mud and then a tight boost in the tops around 7khz to get some click.
This worked nicely but the kick starts off with a lot of mid and high content and this sustains throughout, so to further make this sound like a kick, I automated a low-pass filter using the same EQ. If your sound is suffering from the same problem, try this too.
This approach leaves the high-end information for the initial transient, then rapidly filters it away. Finally, I added a sharp pitch bend to the start of the kick to give it a bit of extra thwack in the transient.
I moved on to the ‘big pot’ sample, pitching this down a full octave. Pitching Foley percussion sounds down works really well – you can turn quite a weedy sound into something massive and industrial-sounding very quickly this way. Next, I filtered it using the TAL-Filter-2 in low-pass mode with some resonance and then finally put some reverb on it using the Oril River plug-in for a large mechanical clanking sound.
For a snare-type sound, I got the ‘biscuit tin’ sample and pitched it down an octave to get it into the right sort of pitch while chucking on an EQ. Pitching and EQ are among your most powerful tools for making big changes with this type of sound design
The biscuit tin on its own sounded a bit dull. When this happens, it can be a good idea to find another sound to layer. I mixed in some of the rustling sounds from the artificial cushion I’d recorded. You may want to find a sound that’s sustained and has mid and high-frequency information to mimic the sound of the snare wires on a snare drum.
To make the two layers sound cohesive, I applied fades to both, making sure the tail was a decent shape. I also used to EQ on the composite sound (both together), then finally applied a tiny bit of EQ to the cushion sound to give the whole snare a bit of space.
The ‘salt shaker’ sound was close to being ready to use as it was, but EQ was required to remove some of the very low frequencies; they aren’t needed in a sound like this. For a bit more control, I chopped it into two different parts so I could access the “chick” and the “ah” portions of the sound seperately for precision. Try this with your sounds too.
On to toms next. The raw ‘pizza peel 2’ trio of sounds was interesting but also messy. Listen to the raw audio.
To fix this, I duplicated the WAV file and made three different samples out of it with a view to using them all as different toms. As previously discussed, the same item can sound very different depending on how you hit it. When you start examining your raw recordings, you may find sounds that can act as toms. Here are my toms post-processing.
I used a high-pass filter on the ‘lighter’ ‘scraper on battery’ and ‘beatbox’ sounds as they currently had stacks of unneeded low-end which would really clog up the mix.
The rest of the sounds I simply applied fades to the tails and then rendered all the files to disk as 24-bit WAV files.
You can download all of the processed samples here if you want to get straight to work making a sampler instrument in your DAW.
5. Assemble the kit
Once you’ve processed anything that needs cleaning up with fades and EQ you can load the sounds into your drum sampler. You should have more than enough sounds to make a full kit of 16 hits now, so load the most vital sounds first then audition new sounds against each other to see what works best.
I’ve used Sitala, a free drum sampler, but most DAWs have a built-in sampler for doing exactly this.
You can use the parameters in Sitala – or your DAW’s sampler – to help get the parts working together.
In Sitala, use the Shape parameter to tighten up tails of sounds or to give the sounds softer attacks. Use the tuning to fine-tune the sounds so they work better together. Compression will apply basic dynamic compression
to the sounds. Then use the tone knob to brighten or darken the sounds, and volume and panning.
It’s worth using all these tools to help you get a cohesive sounding kit. I turned all the sounds down aside from the kick and gently panned most other elements too, leaving the kick solidly central and loud with the other elements quieter and more spread.
You can route each sound to its own DAW channel also to add further processing from your favourite plug-ins to get things really pumping. Here, you can really go wild if you want to.
All I did was apply a bit of EQ to get the kick punchier and add reverb to some sounds to give them a bit more space in the mix, along with further mixing with volume and panning. It’s generally advisable not to add too much reverb to your kick, but there are no firm rules.
6. Results and next steps
Here’s a loop of the finished kit along with the Sitala preset you can use in your own productions if you want to bypass the whole recording part and get straight to making music.
If you’ve downloaded the free Sitala sampler, you can load the kit I built here.
If you wanted a more contemporary and chunky sounding mix you could layer some artificial drums, perhaps a Roland TR-909 kick and snare for really defined low-end punch mixed with the organic tones from the Foley percussion. This is a great way to go to keep the unique character of your sampled percussion and benefit from the familiar sound and extra weight that electronic kick drums provide.
Following this tutorial, you should have made yourself a totally unique sounding drum kit from household objects you can use in your future productions, and have extra single hits for future kits.
Share your results in the new MusicTech Creator Community Facebook Group for a chance to win an Audio-Technica studio bundle. We’d love to hear what you come up with.
Don’t forget to check out our past Weekend Workshops as well, and look out for more in the coming weeks.