“Building” Drum Tracks
When I set out to record some jazz songs I had written, I planned them to be demo tracks that I could give to musicians to learn and practice my songs. I had several factors that I had to deal with. First, I had zero budget for recording. There would be no going to a studio. So this would have to be a laptop studio project using existing instruments and software. Second, I don’t have a decent room for recording and I mainly have late night for recording. So it would have to done direct into the laptop. No microphones. Third I play guitar, bass, and keys well enough to get my ideas across, but I don’t play drums. So I would depend on drum loops and drum software to build the drum tracks.
One of the advantages of using drum loops is they are recorded in professional studios and typically sound very good. The disadvantage is they are not very flexible. MIDI drums are more flexible but don’t always sound like they were recorded in a studio by a real drummer. Drum loops are great for songwriting because you can base your writing on the drum tracks, but if you try to make loops work for already written songs it becomes much more of a challenge.
Actually the first step I take is recording a rough take of the song's chords on guitar. Then I use that to audition loops and see if I can find something that fits the guitar part. It also gives me a road map for assembling the drum tracks.
The easiest method is to find a drum loop that is close and then cut it up and move things around to make it work. Or combine parts of different loops. If that doesn’t work, I have gone as far as using single drum hits and assembling a drum loop myself from the individual sounds. I have seen videos of guys playing in incredibly realistic drum parts using a MIDI keyboard controller, which would be an ideal method for me, but that would take far more practice than I have time for. It would be almost as time consuming as learning to play real drums. So I stick with manipulating audio.
Most drum loops are one or two measures long, and some are fills. If you can build a loop that is one or two measures long, you can copy and paste it to make most of a song section. In jazz song sections are usually call the A section, B Section, etc. In vocal music they are often called verse, chorus, bridge, etc.
So once I have assembled a basic section loop, I will find or create a fill for the end of the section. Then sometimes I add small variations to the loop for repeats of the section or to make it sound more like a real drummer played it instead of a loop. I then add any symbol hits I want. Then I work on the next section of the song until the drum track is complete.
Creating the drum solo for the song Boom Bip Bip was by far my biggest challenge yet. I went through several version before I decided to simplify it and came up with something I could live with.
So while I can say I played the guitar, bass, and keys on all the songs. I don’t really know what to call how I create drum parts. I didn’t “program” MIDI drum parts. I didn’t “play” in the parts using a controller. I tend to say I “built” or “assembled” the drum tracks. Maybe I need to invent a term for what I do. Or maybe there is a term and I just don’t know it. What would you call it?