By Craig Anderton
Because I do a lot of audio-for-video, soundtracks, and songwriting, sample CDs have become an important part of fleshing out arrangements. I've noticed over the years that some of these are like "A-list" studio musicians, because they get the call over and over again in different applications. Of all the drum libraries I use for "commerical" music, I've gotten more mileage from the Discrete Drums Pro Set libraries than any other. Discrete Drums went away for a while, but the line was recently purchased by Sonoma Wire Works, so they're back "in the mix" - literally and figuratively!
So why do I keep coming back to the Discrete Drums libraries again and again? Here's why.
The concept behind the Discrete Drums Pro Set series of sample CDs is simple: Drums were born to be multitracked, not premixed down in a way that might not work with your music. Each "construction kit" song on a Discrete Drums Pro Set CD was played by a real drummer on real drums, and contains folders with all of the sections used in a song. When you open a section's folder, you'll find separate tracks for the various drums (e.g., kick, snare, stereo toms, stereo overhead mics, etc.). On those sets with percussion, the percussion is also available as separate loops. With this kind of flexibility, you have the opportunity to shape the sound exactly as desired.
Over the years, the Pro Sets have mutated into product variations on a theme: Pre-mixed "Acidized" loops, Apple Loops, sets designed specifically for Pro Tools, and the like. Rather than simply parrot that information here, you can find out much more about what's offered at www.sonomawireworks.com. For example, the Series One Pro Set has 9 CD-ROMs with 8 tracks of drums, 2 audio CDs for auditioning the various "construction kits" (or for sampling mixed parts), and a CD-ROM with AIFF samples of individual hits. On the other hand, Series Two has 11 CD-ROMs of multitracked drums, 4 CD-ROMs of acidized stereo loops based on the multitracked parts, 2 audio CDs for auditioning, and 1 CD-ROM of hits. Again, the web site provides extensive details on all their products.
Many sequencers let you "drag and drop" the samples into tracks, but if not, you can expect to find an "import audio" option that lets you place specific sounds on specific tracks. Once the sounds are loaded, add whatever processing you like—distort the kick, compress the room mics, add reverb to the ambience, whatever it takes to get the sound you want.
In fact, one of the more interesting offshoots of using these sample CDs was processing them really heavily for a an intense, industrial feel—basically, a "remix" of their samples. I played the results for the guys at Discrete Drums, and instead of threatening to sue me, they said "cool!" I ended up creating a sample CD from these called Turbulent Filth Monsters, which was available as part of M-Audio's ProSessions series and is now available from Sonoma Wire Works. To say this was not at all what they had in mind is an understatement...
But premixing works, too. After setting up the mix and doing the processing exactly as desired, you may want to bounce the results down to a stereo track so they can be dragged/copied as needed.
Discrete Drums' multitrack libraries offer some other cool features. With Series One, sections typically end with an extra downbeat and a cymbal crash, making an ideal lead-in to the next section—just line up the next section with the final downbeat of the previous section, and you'll hear a smooth transition. Or, if you want to create a loop out of a track, set the loop's end point just before the extra downbeat, and you'll have the perfect place to form a seamless loop. There are also fills, intros, and endings.
Songs are available in a variety of styles and tempos (depending of course on the "theme" of each set), but with Series One and Two, separate dry and ambient hits (in both 16 and 24-bit formats) let you do anything from modify existing songs to create your own parts from scratch. (Hits for the Heavy Mental Pro Set are optional at extra cost). Need a "four on the floor" kick pattern to give more of a dance feel? It's easy. Just mute or erase the existing kick track, and paste in the individual kick samples where appropriate.
If you've felt constrained by existing drum sample CDs, or find that they just don't sound realistic enough, Discrete Drums offers a fine solution. Not only do the superbly-recorded drum parts provide a firm foundation for your tune, they allow for the customization needed to turn sampled parts into something fresh and original. Once you try multitracked drums, you'll have a very hard time going back to stereo—unless it's stereo you mixed yourself out of the multitracked parts.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.