Sample replacement

robot-handshake

There will be a time when a kick or snare you’ve recorded just isn’t cutting it. Maybe the sound you’ve captured isn’t suiting the song; maybe you’re lacking the necessary equipment to get the sound you want; maybe your kick and snare need more grunt – whatever the reason, there will be a time when you need to either completely replace your recordings with samples, or at least support them by layering samples over the top. I’m going to use snare drum and kick drum as my examples (snare drum more so) because they’re the most common sounds to be replaced – and thinking about it, I wouldn’t advise replacing anything else with samples.
Finding samples
When I need to do some sample replacement for drums, I use one of my virtual drum kits – Superior Drummer, EZDrummer, or BFD. These samples are of high quality and as I’ll explain in a minute, the whole process is much easier.
Some producers will keep samples from recordings they have made in the past, which are catalogued so they can be recalled for future sessions. Obviously, this is only going to be an option if you have been recording for several years.
Samples are also readily available on the internet, although it can be time consuming to find the right sample.

Single samples & Multi-samples
If you’ve found a single sample of a snare hit (for example) that you want to use in your recording, I would advise using it along with your original snare recording and only to support the full, main hits. By this, I mean don’t try to use it under a snare roll or you’ll end up tearing your hair out for no good reason. Try to put yourself in the position of the listener – are they likely to be scrutinising each individual snare drum hit? Unfortunately for die hard drummers out there, the answer is no. If you replace a snare drum entirely with a single sample, it will sound robotic/unnatural, as each snare hit delivered by a drummer will be slightly different. Even adjusting the volumes of the sample as it reoccurs will be time wasted as the sound/dynamics of the sample will not change.
If you want to entirely replace a snare or kick drum, you will need to use a multi-sampled snare or kick for it to work properly. However, unless you plan to play in the new snare or kick hits using a MIDI controller, performing this task manually is practically impossible.
For the best results, I would advise using a tool like Toontrack’s Drumtracker, which listens to an audio recording and transforms each beat into MIDI notes, which can then be used in your DAW with virtual drum kits.

Lining up
Once you have found a sample you want to use, you’ll need to line it up with the original recording. If you have the above mentioned software, all you need to do is open the snare drum track in Drumtracker, convert it to MIDI, and then use the MIDI track in your DAW with virtual drum software. Virtual drum software usually includes a multitude of multi-sampled drums, and the performance will be exactly the same as the original recorded performance, since the velocity and timing info will have been converted from the original audio track. You can mix this in with your original recording, or use it to replace the entire track – rolls, fills, and all. You can also edit the sound of the drum, or change it completely at any time since it’s a plugin. 
If you’re placing samples manually, you will need to use the grid in your DAW to line everything up. *I would advise quantising your drums first, so that they are in time, otherwise the grid/snap function will not work* In your grid display options, you will be able to select the time signature and the increments in the grid (from quarter notes to 32nd notes and beyond). Create a new audio track directly under the track you are replacing and use the snap function to snap the sample to the beat. If the sample hasn’t been trimmed properly (so that there is a slight gap of silence before the audio comes in), zoom in and use your edit tools to ensure that the sample starts immediately. 
Some DAWs have tools that make this process easier, such as Pro Tools’ Beat Detective, which automatically lines audio tracks up with a grid or reference track. Audio quantising can be a bit of a nightmare, and requires careful attention in order to maintain the feel and natural sound of the recording, but it can produce good results.

Conclusion
Obviously, if there’s something wrong with the drums, the best thing to do is to re-record them. The less you have to do in the mix the better. However, if you don’t have the right snare drum or the necessary experience to produce the snare sound you want, then sample replacement is always an option. I would be more concerned about capturing the best sound from the kit you have rather than trying to replicate another drum sound. After all, the listener really doesn’t care what snare you’ve used. I know that’s hard to come to terms with, but it’s true.
So in conclusion, with the right tools, replacing or supporting snare drums and kick drums is entirely possible and fairly easy. If you do not possess these tools and have to use audio quantisation et cetera, all I can say is that it better be worth it.

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