Jump to content

Creating Killer Drums in Cakewalk! Samples

Recommended Posts

Having a great drum plug-in, such as Addictive Drums 2 is one thing, but how do you go from programmed MIDI that’s all at velocity 100 to a professional and real sound?

MIDI Drums: The Proper Way

People often can not believe that my drums are MIDI drums, and that the timing on them comes from extracted MIDI grooves.  What’s my secret you say?  Well, you’re all in luck because here it is...drum roll please!

Professional audio engineers usually record drums, not build them; but if they need to build them, this is how they do it with plug-ins (Superior Drummer, Addictive Drums, NI Studio Drummer, etc.):

If you wish to cut straight to the samples, see link below.

1.  Load your plug-in in your DAW
2.  Ensure a MIDI track is output to the drum plug-in, and that the drum plug-in is output to a stereo audio track for outputting the sound.  Also, know what MIDI notes will trigger different drum hits (e.g. C3=kick, C#3=snare open ... )
3.  Craft your MIDI drums (you may find it easier/faster to build them quantized first and set the timing offset or groove after)
4.  Apply professional timing to the MIDI by selecting your MIDI for one drum sound at a time and telling your DAW to shift the notes toward a groove file that contains timing information (Ableton, Cakewalk, and other DAWs allow for this type of editing, for example; but, you can also listen to pro drums and make the shifts yourself once you get a sense of how tight pro drumming is compared to quantized.  Moreover, you might choose to build groove files by extracting timing info from all the factory grooves and beats that come with the plug-in, as these are played by professionals)
5.  Adjust the velocities generally (all selected at once) so that your drums are fit for the genre and song’s intensity.  Hard rock cymbals are going to be higher than jazz tip hits, for example
6.  Adjust the velocity of individual kitpiece sounds so that the drum kit sounds real and dynamic (having all velocities at 100 is bad, think YouTube metalhead guitarists who quickly whip it up).  Note that velocity is how fast a note is struck, which in this case, is heard as how hard a drum kit piece is struck.  

7.  Adjust any final settings of the sound in the plug-in such as pitch; tuning drums is part of a great drum sound, so don’t forget.  You can also adjust the faders in your plug-in, but if you’re using a preset, they’re already set
8.  Play back your track and observe the RMS level; adjust the master output of your plug-in so that your track is at -18 dBFS RMS
9.  Record or bounce your drums (upsampled) to a stereo audio track and re-check your drum RMS levels along with peak levels this time.  Adjust your plug-in master bus again, and re-bounce/record, if necessary.  (Don’t forget to save your drum preset with your output settings).  Play back your track and adjust the fader, not the gain, as you have already set your drums to the correct gain or voltage (1.23 Volts or approx. -18 dBFS), so now you want to set your peak levels by lowering the bounced audio track fader.  Aim for -12 to -6 peak depending on how many other tracks you will be adding after the drums (audio tracks sum together and get louder, that is, the more tracks you add, the higher your master level will be)
10.  Don’t delete your plug-in yet, or ever.  Archive your drum plug-in (to save CPU usage), or mute it audio track especially, as you now have a recording of your plug-in, and don’t want to hear them both simultaneously
11.  Build your song as you listen to your drums
12.  At various stages of your project, you may wish to edit your drums again, but what if you’ve already recorded your drums?  Most DAWs allow you to freeze plug-ins, which will create a bounced version of the plug-in as an audio track, just temporarily, to save CPU usage; so to edit, un-freeze your MIDI drums and adjust the MIDI timing and velocity as needed, then re-freeze.  If you’ve already recorded or bounced your drums, don’t worry, you can adjust your plug-in and then bounce/record again
13.  Don’t forget to re-check your levels and sound quality if you make changes beyond step #9
14.  When your entirely satisfied, bounce or record a final upsampled version
15.  EQ and edit the whole stereo drum track as needed (usually for frequency masking/clashing at this point)
16.  Head to the restaurant and order a hearty drummer’s meal, and maybe a beer, and cake too to celebrate your new hit song!

It’s actually fairly simple, but the trick is to build solid grooves that apply professional timing/velocity to your drums, ensuring that your drums are at -18 dBFS RMS when bounced/recorded, and finally adjusting the bounced/recorded audio track’s fader for peak levels that allow headroom.

For samples, visit 



Cheers everyone!

—Maximus, Rock Mojo Studio

Edited by maxsthaven
Fixed number order 😂...again! I’ll just blame my iPhone. No, just kidding...OK yeah I will.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/26/2019 at 1:04 PM, maxsthaven said:


I thought I would add the following info, just for clarity of technique.  After your drums are bounced/recorded, you may wish to set your clip gain (clip gain is for recorded clips; track gain a.k.a volume trim is what you set before your signal enters the ProChannel; and if ProChannel is off, then before it hits the FX rack).  This way you can match the RMS of your other tracks and make your drums fit better in the mix.  So, record all your tracks and then adjust clip gain to ensure RMS consistency and still have your faders at zero.  Use your track gain to avoid clipping your plug-ins/FX rack (esp. important for analog emulation plug-ins), and finally, adjust your faders for best overall sound: clip gain—>track gain (if necessary)—>faders—>no problem.  To adjust your clip gain, select Clips in the Track View and then Clip Automation—>Gain.  Why is it tucked away and hidden you say?  So you don’t accidentally bump it and screw up your mix!  But if you wish, you can adjust it from the Clips View as well, and it’s also somewhat hidden tool-wise for the same reason.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now

  • Create New...