The importance of humanizing drums in music producing

Image Credit: Jason Jarrach

Why should you humanize your drumbeats when you produce?

Just because music has been created digitally, it doesn’t need to sound like a robot playing a drumkit. The challenge for producers is making sure the beats they’ve created sound natural. Give it a little personality and life by humanizing your drumbeats.

Like all things in music production, there’s no hard and fast rule – if you’re creating industrial techno, for example, making your pumping beat sound like a real drummer is less vital. If the kick drum, bass, synth and so on are all playing exactly on the beat at the same velocity, it’s going to sound like a machine, and that might be just what you’re after.

You can however make your samples sound more human-made by using the quantize tool to create slight changes in the default note velocities of the sounds and make them less uniform-sounding.

Using the quantize tool on the piano roll you can select from different presets to create different feels and grooves. It’s not ‘swing’ that’s aimed at here but creating the illusion of a real drummer playing by changing the velocity of each MIDI note. Imagine the drummer hitting the snare drum at a different volume each beat, as happens naturally.

Equally, you can create a human feel by playing in the beats yourself using a MIDI controller – recording a drum pattern on your keyboard for example. If you do this and notice that, say, your kick drum has missed the downbeat and is noticeably out, quantizing can fix this. MIDI notes can be moved to their proper place in the beat, and you don’t have to do it manually, as there’s a sequencer tool on some DAWs that will change the quantization values and pace your MIDI notes and beats in time. You can select the amount of quantizing you want, on a sliding scale from one to 100%. A good setting is at 90%, pulling the notes in time, but not completely, creating just the slightest natural feel.

Generally music sounds more pleasing to the ear if there’s a natural feel, and humanizing your drumbeats is a good start. Have a play around with quantizing and see if you notice the difference in your producing.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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