Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Get a free Propellerhead Rock and Metal drums ReFill here!

My first Propellerhead ReFill has landed!

Hello again! Since I've been using Reason the one thing that I have found more difficult than anything else is building realistic drum patterns for more rock and metal based tracks. If you are doing electronic music you can normally get away with using three or four drum patterns during the whole song with maybe a couple of fills thrown in.

For a rock or metal track though this is simply not going to cut it. Real, live sounding drums, played by a real drummer are an integral part of the style in this genre. Real drummers never play the same drum pattern twice. If a drummer is playing 12 bars of a verse in a song, each bar, even if they don't intend it to be, will be slightly different.

A lot of drummers will throw the odd extra note in here and there though, or alter the pattern they are playing slightly to keep things interesting. Trying to draw in manually a drum track with that level or variation and detail in it could take you a very long time indeed. It's not just the pattern might be slightly different or the timing slightly off either. If you are playing a drum kit you can hit each part of the kit as hard as you like, from a slight caress to John Bonham esque levels of brutality. Hitting the skin of the drum in different places will also alter the sound.

For something like a rising snare roll the drummer may be consciously increasing the power of each snare strike during the fill for dramatic effect. Even then the rise in volume will not be a straight one, it will be something of an inadvertent wiggly line, with a general trajectory of upwards.

The drummer may not be meaning to change the velocity with which they strike the kit, but those variation will still be there. This is one instance where man is far superior than machine.

Whilst all of the above holds true for a rock drummer in the more general sense, when you move into the sphere of metal drumming (or jazz drumming for that matter) it becomes even more true. A typical metal kit will have either a double kick pedal, or in some cases two kick drums, each with a single kick pedal. Added to that, instead of just the standard snare, rack tom, floor tom, crash and ride cymbal, the typical metal drummer will have a kit that takes up half the stage.

Try drawing a drum map by hand for one of these bad boys!

Multiple instances of snares, toms and cymbals all struck slightly different every time by a whole army of drummers out there who struggle to sound consistently like themselves from bar to bar, never mind each other.

Basically what I am trying to say here is unless you are a drummer yourself and you are willing to spend a couple of weeks drawing the perfect rock or metal drum track to prove me wrong, you are going to need something of a different approach to get the results you want in a timely manner.

Obviously the ideal at this point would be that either you or someone in your band is an epic drummer and you have the money and/or the equipment to record drums directly, in which case you may think that this article has no relevance to you or your music.

If you are the guitarist or bass player in a band though, how many times have you come up with a killer riff at 3am, when you either can't get some real drums recorded for noise reasons or the drummer is at home and in bed? If you had something that would allow you to strike whilst the iron was hot and lay your killer new riff over some awesome sounding drums, then it would make the creative process a lot easier.

Well using this ReFill you can and the best part is that it is free!

To get around the usual pit falls of drawing a drum track with a mouse I have completely avoided that and sampled some Rock and Metal drum tracks directly. I have sourced myself some isolated drum takes and cut these down into loops that are beat matched and synced perfectly.

I have used a noise gate to remove most of the mic bleed from the studio sessions and also the added digital reverb and natural reverb from the original recording as much as possible. This leaves you with around 170 free, dry loops to use in your tracks.

I have then divided these up into the sub folders of 'Classic Thrash', 'Dark Breakdown', 'High Tempo Thrash', 'Nu Factory', 'Power Groove', 'Punk Drums' and two sets of straight ahead rock samples.You can drop these wave files straight into any DAW you have that will accept the .wav format and play around with them as you wish.

Some people will be quite happy manually tempo syncing and beat matching these loops to their projects, however if you are a bit less confident about your ability to work with samples in this manner I have also converted them all into REX files for you!

The REX file format is the format that Propellerhead Reason's Dr.Octo Rex uses. REX files are basically digitally sampled versions of their source wave files. You can do this yourself using Reason 7 onwards in the Dr Octo Rex device, but if you are using earlier versions of Reason you will need to use another Propellerhead standalone piece of software called 'Recycle'.

I have Reason 7 installed on my laptop, but because I am still stuck in the dark ages using Windows Vista on my main music making PC (don't ask!) I have used Recycle for building this ReFill as Reason 7 will not work with anything earlier than Windows 7.

In whichever REX editor/generator you have chosen to use, you are presented with a graphical version of the audio file you have imported to it. On this you can then draw what are known as 'Slices'. A slice basically isolates, say a snare hit from a drum pattern and then tempo maps that to the selected speed of the slice. If you slice an entire kit up playing a basic 4/4 pattern for example, Recycle removes all the spaces between the sampled slices and just retains the kit strikes.

The view inside a REX editor (in this case Recycle on the Mac platform).

As you then increase or decrease the playback speed of your project in either Reason 7 or Recycle, the drum pattern then becomes locked to that tempo and increases or decreases with it.

There are limitations to this method however and you usually notice them when slowing the play back of a REX file down. If you are sampling something quite simplistic and sparse then there will be lots of space between the notes. This means your sample slices will be clean. By clean I mean that you are not putting slices in mid way through something like a kick drum sounding. If this is the case then the sliced wave file will respond pretty well even to substantial decreases in tempo.

If however you do this with something like a metal drum track, with double kick drums hammering away through it and a general 'drum kit pushed down a flight of stairs' type style it is impossible to get clean slices. This means a drum pattern of this complexity, when sliced will not respond so well to being slowed down. A metal drum pattern can start to sound quite badly distorted with just 20 beats per minute knocked off the play back speed.

Therefore I have included with each REX file the original BPM of the loop. I recommend in some of the more complex ones that you don't go too much slower than the original speed of the file. Speeding up the tracks is less of an issue, but again I would advise caution.

I've done my best to tidy up these wave and REX files in terms of sound quality as I said earlier. The noise gating trick (read your Propellerhead Reason manual, you will be amazed by what is in there!) works because the mic bleed and the reverb on the drum tracks are quieter in the final mix than the sound the kit itself actually makes. If you set the gate at the right level it will remove quite a big chunk of the added extras and leave you with a largely clean and dry signal to play with.

If you choose to add auxiliary effects back onto this dry signal in your project, as I am sure most of you will do, you may then start to notice the mic bleed again a bit more. You can reapply gating to the track in your project using the 'Dynamics' section of the Reason SSL mixer to lower the unwanted sonic intrusion, but again this is not a perfect solution.

What you will find though is that if you plan on recording double tracked guitars and bass over these sampled drum tracks, it will drown out what little of the mic bleed you can still hear anyway, so I wouldn't worry about this too much.

If you like these drum patterns but want to use them in a completely different context, such as in a quiet track or slowing the tempo down so much that the REX file you are using starts distorting, then I have also included all the REX file MIDI maps for you!

A MIDI map made from one of the sampled 'Classic Thrash' drum loops.

Propellerhead Reason versions 6.5 onwards support MIDI import from an external source. You can use these in a lot of the Rack devices, but as these are drum maps you will be restricted to the stock ReDrum, Kong and ID8 drum devices, unless you have any Rack Extension drum machines (of which there are a few).

For the MIDI maps of samples like the 'High Tempo Thrash' collection, you cannot just drop a MIDI map straight into something like the 'Kong Drum Designer', select the acoustic drum kit preset and off you go. The end result will sound like a chimps tea party on record. You will need to build yourself a MIDI mapped device with all the different bits of the kit present that are in the original wave file sampled. For best results you will need to use a hyper sampled MIDI drum kit to factor in things like different areas of the drum skin being hit and different velocities of strike, using different mic placements.

Propellerhead have done a lot of hyper sampled Rack Extensions recently so I am wondering whether a drum kit might be next. I hope so if you are reading this Propellerhead as that would be awesome!

There a few other things I should point out. Some of these kits are not really suitable for playing along with tempo synced parts of a Reason project. A human drummer does not keep the kind of true time that MIDI enabled machines are capable of. If you were to draw a perfectly in time piano part into a project and play it back along with the drums in this ReFill, even at the original BPM of the drum sample they will sound terrible together.

These are sampled from a kit played by a human being and are designed to be played along to by other humans playing instruments themselves, not something like a step sequencer. Also, in an average rock or metal track, besides the unintentional wobbles in timekeeping, there will also be a lot more sections where the tempo of the track deliberately moves up or down through the gears than you would get in electronic music.

On a really complex passage of a drum track the time signature may also be switching in and out of 2/4,4/4,5/4 and 6/8 timing almost from bar to bar. I am mainly a guitarist myself and have what I would call good natural timing. It didn't take me more than a couple of hours of trying to keep time with a drummer or a drum machine before I could do it almost spot on. As my playing has got better, so has my ability to cope with a drummer working through the signatures at will, but I'm still not always sure what time signature we are in, or even that the signature has changed.

A couple of typical rock and metal time signatures. Don't worry though, you don't need to fully understand this.

Basically what I am saying here is do not worry about such things unless you want to, because you wont have to in order to use this ReFill pack.

What you will have to do though, to compensate for the changes in BPM between some REX files and audio loops in the same sub categories I have grouped them, is automate tempo changes in your Reason song project where you are using different REX samples.

It might take you a while to get your head around some of this, but once you have, the ability to build realistic sounding drum tracks will then be at your disposal. The link for the free ReFill download can be found here.

This free sound library can also be used with other Digital Audio Workstations, such as Logic, Ableton, Cubase and Pro Tools (although only those that support REX will allow you to use those files - I think Logic does)

If you would like to download the multi DAW version of this file, the link for that can be found here.

Lastly from me, the next stage will be to put together some demo tracks and tutorials for this ReFill. I'm going to have a bit of a break before I do that, as it has taken me a lot of time and headaches to build this ReFill and I need a break.

If this ReFill proves popular enough and the feedback I get from it is mainly positive I would be open to the possibility of doing further ones (hence the 'Volume 1' in the title). These don't necessarily have to be Rock or Metal either. If you would like a Jazz one or maybe an Indie or Hip Hop one then drop me a line and I will see what I can do.

Remember though, if you want more it will require some audience participation on your part, so be sure to interact with me, share this page and give credit if you use any of these samples.

Hope you enjoy it!




  1. ohh yes this is massive great post this looks wonderful

  2. Nice one mate, glad you liked it. I'm just building a demo track to but on youtube using the 'High Tempo Thrash' patches. Unfortunately on some of the more complicated patterns you will have to drag and resize them slightly for one loop to transition seamlessly to the next one, but just playing the loops in isolation in the Dr.Octo Rex they are fine.

    1. ohhh great I look forward to this really got my creative vibe flowing !!!!! Masterful work indeed

  3. Hello

    Thanks for this. Looking forward to trying it out.



  4. Just about to upload a demo video to Youtube. Will do another post in a minute with the link in!

  5. Hi
    Hi, I was simply checking out this blog and I really admire the premise of the article this is regarding and this is really informative. I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

  6. Glad you enjoyed it. Speak to you again soon.

  7. where is the link to download???

  8. its in a link in one of the last few paragraphs in the word "here".

  9. Did you ever put up the youtube demo? Downloading the refill now... thanks for all the hard work you have put into this, including the blog post!

  10. hey there, glad you liked me stuff! i have a couple of other posts in the works, which i will complete soon.

  11. Hey thanks. Is there a list of the bpm for the loops

  12. Thank you very much for this mate.

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