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I recently saw a performance of 10 drummers playing in unison. It has a certain power to it. It's loud of course. Although they played together quite well, obviously the attacks don't line up perfectly on the scale of milliseconds. But beyond these, there's a certain energy. You know when 10 identical drums are playing instead of two.

Trying to recreate this from scratch in my DAW from individual samples and it lacks that extra energy. It's loud, limited just below peak. I have some purposefully imprecise attack. I've used an "energizer" plugin (reweights the upper formants of the sound). A touch of very natural sounding verb. . . What am I missing for that extra presence?

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3 Answers 3

Where did the samples come from? No two instruments are actually identical - in fact they are completely different. Also, no two people will play an instrument in the same way. If you're combining samples you are just summing together audio, but in the real situation you describe there is a much more complex thing happening - the interaction between the sounds and the environment. The sound from one drum will even resonate the body and skin of another.

I can't say I've got the answer, I'm afraid. I think these problems are some of the key issues surrounding sequencing orchestral type music on computers, and why when creating sample libraries we still record sections as well as individual instruments. The idea of physically modelling instruments and objects is the closest thing we have to a solution, but I don't think we can yet model the complexity of the physical world to this degree.

Here's a few ideas off the top of my head though:

  • Record individual samples from ten different drums
  • Take IR's from ten positions in a room
  • Use subtle resonant filters add a bit of colour to the drums
  • Connect it all up with a (very low energy) feedback network, like with waveguide synthesis - this can model some of the energy transfer between different parts of the room
  • Add in some distortion or overdrive to simulate the interactions between the sound waves.

Probably easier to record some drummers! But it would be an interesting experiment to try anyway.

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I would say that the energy is coming from the the attack and rate you move from your noise floor to your peak. The quicker your attack and shorter your sustain, the louder a sound is perceived. I would say emulating the noise floor, and levels to match your listening (fletcher munson) curves are part of what will make it sound similar. As far as the stacking of many drums, try applying different acoustic qualities (verb or delay) to each one if the samples/sound are too similar, and EQ each drums to occupy its own space and frequency band. Dont let them muddy each other up.

But even with all of this, its still pretty hard/probably impossible to get it to sound quite like a line of drummers do in real life, because they sound phenomenal! I'm not sure if any of that helps, but maybe some stuff to try out and think about.

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Sub-bass (e.g. Lowender)?

At least that's what I'd look for, if it's for "power".

Also, when stacking up similar samples, be sure not to cause more loss of energy than gain, because of phasing. You might be able to cut or volume automate out some parts of some of the samples to reduce possible masking and to gain more presence/punch/energy when applying the additional layer, without breaking the illusion of having many samples stacked. Or obviously use EQ as well.

If it doesn't work then you likely just need better samples. Or an actual recording of 10 drums playing for that matter.

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