4 Ways to Use Drum Samples

I recently released my first drum sample library, and several people who are new to sampling and MIDI have inquired about how they could go about using them.

These samples are 24 bit stereo WAV files. Most DAW applications record in WAV or AIF, and they all can read both formats. WAV and AIF are raw, uncompressed audio formats. This means that there's no loss in audio quality, as opposed to MP3, which sacrifices audio resolution in favor of smaller file sizes.

1. Drop the files directly onto the grid

Samples dropped directly into audio tracks in Ableton Live

The simplest way to use samples is to simply drop the sounds directly into audio tracks. Create a track for each drum and place the samples where you want them within the measure. This doesn't require using MIDI or software instruments. You can treat the sounds just like you would any audio in your song project.

There's no disadvantage to this approach, although it can be a bit slow.

2. Use a drum machine instrument/plugin

Ableton Live "Drum Rack" Instrument

 If you use MIDI and some kind of software instrument, you can perform the drums with a keyboard or other MIDI controller.

 A drum machine plugin has a container for each drum sound, and often some kind of step sequencer interface for creating beats. One big advantage to this approach is you only need one MIDI track for an entire drum kit. Each "note" that you play on the keyboard or MIDI controller triggers an individual drum sound.

3. Use a sampler instrument/plugin

Ableton Live "Sampler" Instrument

This approach is like a hybrid of numbers 1 & 2. A sampler plugin is what you use anytime you play an artificial piano or organ sound in your DAW. Every time you press a key, you're playing back a pre-recorded WAV file of a sound via the sampler instrument.

If you instantiate a MIDI track and sampler instrument for each drum sound you want to use, then load a drum sample into each sampler, you can easily perform or draw the MIDI for each drum track. If you want to get fancy, you can use "multisample" configuration wherein you use one track and assign a different sample to each note. That way you could control the entire drum kit with one MIDI track, similar to #2.

4. Use a drum replacer plugin

WaveMachine Labs "Drumagog" Plugin

Nowadays, many records feature acoustic drum performances enhanced or replaced with drum samples. A plugin like Drumagog is inserted on, for instance, a pre-recorded snare drum track. Looking ahead, the plugin detects the transient for each snare hit and alongside it (or instead of it), plays the drum sample. The timing and dynamics of the original performance are preserved, but the sound is replaced.

Hopefully, this post gives you the info you need to get started. Good luck!

3 Guitars You Need In Your Arsenal

Electric guitars are fun to collect. There are so many classic models, and new boutique builders are popping up all the time. The two primary characteristics are tone and playability. The biggest determining factor when it comes to tone is the pickups.

When it comes to pickups, there are two primary classic categories: single coil and humbuckers. Most pickups are constructed by wrapping wire around a magnet. When the guitar string vibrates, it induces the pickup to generate an electromagnetic signal. A single coil pickup has a well-defined tone but can be noisy and harsh at times. A humbucking pickup essentially combines two single coils in such a way to cancel out the noise. It also has a side effect of a more compressed, fuller sound, and often has a higher output.

I'd recommend having a selection of single coil and humbucking guitars. Here are my choices:

Humbuckers: Gibson SG

The SG is a classic, probably made most famous by Angus Young of AC/DC. It's a beautiful guitar, and it's a joy to play. It's slightly unbalanced (neck-heavy) but it's light overall. Gibson's 57 Classic humbucking pickups are on lots of your favorite records. For heavy music, an SG is often paired with a Marshall amp, but they sound amazing with Fenders and Vox's as well. Below is a video of me playing my 2004 '61 reissue with Lo Tom, through David Bazan's Benson Monarch combo amp on the "British" setting (more of a Vox amp vibe).

Single Coils: Telecaster


Tele's and Strats are the quintessential single coil guitars. I prefer Tele's for the most part. Telecasters excel in situations where the guitar needs to cut through the mix, and you're looking for either a clean sound, or something just slightly overdriven. You'll hear Telecasters in a lot of country music and indie rock from the 90's and early 2000's.

Below is a video of Mike Campbell showcasing his Fender Custom Shop Telecaster (the Telecaster was originally called the Broadcaster. Fender soon renamed it to sound more modern, due to the emergence of television).

P-90 (Single Coil): Les Paul Junior

The first Les Pauls had P-90's because humbuckers hadn't been invented yet. Gibson still makes a P-90 Les Paul called the Junior. P-90's are also single coil pickups, but they sound much different than Strat and Tele pickups. They are larger than most single coil pickups and bring way more growl and aggression to the tone. Mick Jones from the Clash is one of the most famous players of the Junior.

Here's a video of Doug and Pat comparing modern Juniors to more valuable vintage Juniors.

If you have these three guitars on your wall, you can really cover a lot of bases, and you can have a lot of fun.