Electronic drums have become the new standard for most popular genres of music, from hip-hop to pop to EDM. Several of the world’s biggest artists go on tour without a drummer — something unimaginable just a few decades ago. Drums are still an integral part of popular music, but instead of an actual drummer on an acoustic kit pounding out the beats, it’s usually a producer hunched over a laptop.
However, that doesn’t mean acoustic drums don’t have a place in modern music. Obviously genres like rock and country still use drummers. But for producers that are used to working with 808s and digitally-created percussion, there are plenty of benefits of blending acoustic drums with electronic drums. Though, it’s important to make sure blending the two is done smoothly. Otherwise, the contrast can be overbearing, sloppy, and inorganic. Here are five ways to blend the two:
1. Use sidechain compression to blend
One surefire way to make room for both acoustic drum samples and electronic drums is the use of sidechain compression. For example, if you have a loop of an acoustic drum beat, but want to also use a punchy electronic kick and snare, sidechain the loop to the kick and snare. So, whenever the electronic kick and snare hit, the loop will be compressed and subsequently lowered in volume. This will make it so they aren’t falling overtop of each other the whole time.
2. EQ the acoustic drums to lo-fi
Putting a high- and/or low-pass filter on your acoustic drums can help blend them into the background. If you have an electronic trap beat front and center, utilizing lo-fi acoustic drums in the distance can help to add dynamic movement and organics to your rhythms. Without a heavy low end or high end, their presence will be less pronounced and overwhelming in correspondence with the trap beat.
3. Use a heavy gate
A noise gate helps control the volume of an audio signal. If you’re lining up an electronic beat with an acoustic drum beat, putting a gate on each drum track will help to keep them from clashing. Additionally, if you want one beat to be more prominent than the other, put a heavy gate on just the drum track you want to fold into the distance.
4. Mix far out into the stereo field
By utilizing the full stereo mix, you can blend acoustic and electronic drums through simple panning and stereo expansion. For example, producers like Flying Lotus will put an electronic drum beat front and center, but will pan a minimal acoustic jazz beat all the way to one ear. This technique allows you to pick and choose which rhythmic elements you want to be upfront and in the backdrop.
5. Let them both speak individually
While the goal here is to effectively blend the two, there’s also nothing wrong with giving them both their own time to shine. For example, try starting off your song with acoustic drums — give the impression that there is a drummer chucking along for the first bit of the song. But for the pre-chorus and chorus, cut out those drums completely, and bring in a banging electronic bit. Then go back to the acoustic drums for the bridge or outro. Just be sure that the contrast works and isn’t too messy and sporadic.
Sam Friedman is an electronic producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, creating music as Nerve Leak. Praised by major publications such as The FADER, his unique blend of experimental and pop music has earned him hundreds of thousands of streams across the web.