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Multi Track vs. Multi Channel Drum Setups In Your DAW

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I've been producing Electronic Dance Music for what seems like forever. I remember in the late nineties when I was just getting interested in computer based music sitting at my computer looking at the Sound Blaster General MIDI instrument wishing I knew how the heck to use it. Fast forward ten plus years past Fruity Loops 4, Sonic Foundry Acid Pro, Cool Edit and Reason 2.0, and I've learned a thing or two about making EDM.

I want to share some of the wisdom I've picked up along the way in hopes that I can save some of you aspiring producers some of the discouragement I've experienced  on my journey to where I am today.

I want to talk about what is pretty much agreed to be the foundation of any EDM track, drums and percussion. Specifically I want to focus on setting up your drums in your DAW. This sounds like a no brainer but I've seen a few different ways of setting up and using drums in a project and want to go over these ways and point out the pros and cons; and show you the way I ultimately settled on that is the most intuitive set up I've found.


Multi Track Setup

What I've seen a lot of producers do is have each individual drum hit on its own sequencer track in a project:


Multi Tracking Drum Samples in the Sequencer.

Pros:

  • This does have its logical reasons for doing it this way. You have access to each individual drum hit, you have track automation available on each drum hit independent of the rest. If you look at the mixer you can see you have each drum hit on its own channel strip giving you volume, pan, and insert effects processing on a per sample basis. It looks like an all around great setup.

Cons:

  • If we look at our setup from a streamlining standpoint however, we can start to see some problems. For starters you are peppering your sequencer with literally thousands of small audio clips for a full song. There is also no simple way to manage these audio clips outside of selecting them and dragging out copies.
  • If you do decide to use your DAWs looping function another problem shows itself. Your audio clip has to be absolutely perfect or else it will get out of sync.

Audio Clip Looks Like It Is Looped Perfectly.

But It Is Actually Not, And Gets Out Of Sync.

Well then, we'll use virtual instruments! That way we are dealing with MIDI information in the sequencer. This will clean up our sequencer and allow us to loop and manager our samples accurately while still having all the benefits of multi-tracking our drums. Not so fast, this solves a few problems, but it also introduces a lot.

If you are using virtual instruments to manage your drum samples, or even using for synth drums, on a per sequencer track basis, you are using up a lot of needless processing power buy having multiple instances of virtual instruments doing a single task (bass drum, snare drum, high-hat, etc.).

If you are not wise in the ways of your software yet, in addition to this you may also be loading up a entire bank of drum samples just to use one or two. This is going to eat through your computers RAM fast.


Loading An Entire Drum Kit Just To Use One Or Two Samples.

So what's a producer suppose to do? We want to have as flexible a setup as possible which means not having all our drums be funneled down to a single mixer channel strip, giving us only a master volume, pan, automation, and insert effects processing option. But on the other hand we don't want to have 15 plus virtual instruments running just our drums and percussion.


Multi Channel Setup

Any drum/sample plugin and DAW that pulls its weight is going to have an option to use one instance of that plugin, but give you multiple virtual axillary outputs into your DAWs mixer. Here you can see the various options available in the drum plugin I use (Native Instruments Battery 3):


Sampler Plugin That Offers Multi Output Configurations.

If we choose the "Multi Output (8xStereo, 8xMono)" option, what this is going to do is instead of giving us one master output into the DAWs mixer, it's going to give us 16 outputs (eight stereo, eight mono) into our DAWs mixer; all from this one instance of Battery. You can assign each sample its own auxiliary output inside your plugin, and inside the DAW mixer add auxiliary tracks onto the main sequencer track:


Assigning The Outputs For Each Drum Sample.

Assigning The Outputs To Auxiliary Tracks In the DAWs Mixer.

Pros:

  • The pros of this should be obvious. We again have inside of your drum sampler easy access to each drum hit, in the DAW mixer we have volume, pan, automation, and insert effects processing available to each individual drum hit via the auxiliary channel strips.

Each Drum Hit Is On Its Own Mixer Channel Strip, With Independent Volume, Pan, and Insert Effects Processing.

Each Drum Hit Also Has Its Own Independent Track Automation In The Sequencer.
  • In the main sequencer window we have a nice and tidy work area that is not drop kicking your eyes with a thousand little audio clips and twenty sequencer tracks. You can assign each drum hit to its own key on the 'piano roll' and arrange and build your groves with MIDI note events.

Your Sequencer Is Not Messy, Making It Easier To Work On Your Track.

Cons:

  • I honestly can't think of any. You have everything you gained from multi tracking your drums without any of the workflow or performance hindrances.

Conclusion

I hope this bit of information helps you aspiring producers get passed any road blocks you may have hit in dealing with this crucial part of any EDM track. If you have been setting up your drums in a Multi Track way before, give this a try and I am confident that you will find its a more streamlined approach.

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