The “break” of a song refers to a brief instrumental section where the track is reduced to its core percussive elements. In other words, all of the melodic elements of a track (the bass, the synths, the vocals, etc.) disappear, leaving only the drumbeat. Initially, before the innovations of early hip-hop, this was used by disco DJs in order to build tension before a satisfying return to the full track. Though the breaks were popular and would allow people to dance for longer periods, these sections were usually shorter and weren’t the emphasis of the track.
But not all DJs followed this rulebook. Throughout the 1970s, at block parties in the Bronx, DJs like Kool Herc would pioneer an emphasis on the breakbeat itself, looping it over and over so the "break-boys" and "break-girls" could continue to dance. These drum loops, usually sampled from funk, soul, and disco records, would form the basis of what became hip-hop. Take for instance the iconic drums of NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.” This legendary beat is simply a slowed sample of a four-bar break on the song, "Amen, Brother" by The Winstons. This infectious drum pattern, provided by the great Gregory C. Coleman, has since become one of the most popular breaks in hip-hop and drum-and-bass. Similarly, the opening four bars of “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band became a favorite amongst early hip-hop pioneers.
However, at this point, DJs were simply looping bars from a break, keeping the original drummer's playing intact. Though many iconic tracks were crafted with this technique, it didn’t give producers enough control over the dynamics and patterns of their beats. Later, with the advent of ground-breaking drum machines like the famous SP-12 and Akai MPC, hip-hop producers like Marley Marl would take sampling to a new level, isolating—or chopping—single elements of a drum break (such as the kick drum, snare, and/or hi-hat) and sequencing them to their own designs. Producers like J Dilla and DJ Shadow are renowned for this style of production.
Though these techniques are still practiced by countless producers, it’s safe to say that drum sampling has changed drastically with the rise of DAWs, virtual drum kits, stock loops, and sample packs. Now, rather than the need to chop up a sample and program it yourself, DAWs have drum kits that are designed specifically for hip-hop. Indeed, an upcoming producer might reasonably ask why you would spend time searching through samples of real drum breaks when your DAW already has drum presets that work well enough. In other words, why do any crate-digging when we have a virtual drum kit right at our fingertips? Though this argument probably holds some credence today, there is something to be said for the raw, authentic, and un-synthesized feel of real drum sampling.
**So how should the modern producer approach drum sampling in the age of endless sample packs and virtual drum kits? This question will be explored in this article along with a delve into **Tracklib’s own extensive library of both iconic and rare drum breaks.
Before exploring the best drum loops on the market, it’s worth briefly explaining the actual process of sampling, chopping, and programming a drum loop or break.
Firstly, a producer must find a break or drum sound that piques their interest. This process, dating back to the earliest hip-hop, is known as crate-digging; a reference to the act of flicking through crates of vinyl records. Then, after locating the break of the track, the producer can now choose to either loop a select number of bars or “chop” up the beat, isolating various parts (i.e. snare, kick, hi-hat) and mapping them onto a drum machine (this can be a physical machine like the Akai MPC or a digital plugin). Though this part may sound complex, it’s a fairly intuitive process. Of course, it should be noted that the dynamics, tempo, and overall sound of your sample can be adjusted in radical and even unrecognizable ways.
This is the most well-known use of the drum break. The producer simply takes a few bars from a drum break or isolated percussion track and loops them to form the beat. In many cases, the producer will adjust the tempo of the beat to attain a different feel. This process is most commonly associated with early hip-hop and was initially popular due to its use at block parties.
Chopping is the process of cutting up a drum sample, mapping it to a drum machine or MIDI keyboard, and rearranging it. For example, a producer might love the sound of the drums on an old funk record but the overall drum pattern doesn’t fit a hip-hop style. In order to get around this barrier, the producer will isolate the individual elements of the drumbeat and play them to their liking. Now the producer has the authentic sound, timbre, and tone of the original drum recording but can use those sounds in a totally unique way. Though this has often been achieved using drum sequencers, nowadays there are plenty of plugins (stock and third-party) that can do the trick. For example, along with the included sampler plugins of most DAWs, there are also free, third-party plugins like Momentum that are enormously useful.
Though this is not a technical term, it’s worth remembering that with modern technology, producers are almost limitless in their abilities to mold sounds and samples. In other words, don’t be afraid to manipulate drum samples into altogether unrecognizable sounds. This technique, in which one uses effects and editing techniques to twist the sound, can also help avoid any copyright claims. That being said, for both legal and ethical reasons, we’d still recommend that you clear the sample.
Despite the connotation of tech jargon, drum programming simply refers to the producer’s arrangement of a drum pattern. In other words, once the individual drum elements have been mapped to a MIDI interface (this could be a standard MIDI keyboard or a drum machine), the producer must now decide how these sounds are organized (i.e. the placement of the kick, the quantization of the snare, the strength of the hi-hat).
Sometimes this process can be instinctive with the producer “playing” the drum machine and seeing what works. Alternatively, it can be a more clinical effort in which the producer places each note with their mouse on their DAW’s piano roll.
In addition, the programming will differ between genres. Old-school boom-bap beats tend to be simpler with an aggressive, unpolished sound. The beats of J Dilla or Madlib are characterized by a looser feel, in part due to an intentional lack of quantization. Modern trap beats, on the other hand, are more rigid, defined by skittering, synthetic-sounding drums.
Improving your drum sound can be a detailed, multifaceted process. One might want to “fatten” the snare by increasing the low-end, or by applying some light compression. If your sound is a bit lifeless, one can always add some reverb or a small delay for a bit more depth. Finally, don’t be afraid to change the pitch and tempo of the drums.
All in all, using a variety of plugins (compressors, reverbs, filters, echos, EQs, etc.) and editing techniques, it’s worth experimenting with your drum sound until it feels right to you. However, keep in mind that there is no tried and true way to achieve the “best” drum sound.
At this point, one might wonder what to do if you love the drums on a track but there is no break in which the drums are isolated. There are several ways to go about this.
Firstly, one can use software like LALAL.AI or DeMIX Pro to digitally isolate the drum track. Though this can be effective, occasionally the final audio download will be imperfect and slightly warped.
Alternatively, you could simply recreate the drum beat yourself using an actual drum set or a virtual instrument. Though this method risks losing the specific drum sound from the original recording, it allows the producer to imitate the drum pattern whilst avoiding any potential copyright issues.
Finally, one could attempt to track down the original stems or multitracks of the recording. Check out some of our multitracks below:
This is a tricky issue with several key caveats. Firstly, providing you have paid for the download of the track, sampling is only illegal if you are making a profit from the use of that sample or sharing it in any public forums. In other words, if you are sampling drums in your beats and not sharing them anywhere, there is no need to worry about copyright or clearance. However, if you are planning on making a profit through the beats (i.e. selling them, earning streaming revenue, or using them for commercial activities), it’s always advisable to seek out the owner of the copyright and ask permission to use. However, if you don’t want the hassle of clearing your samples, you can always browse through Tracklib’s library of tracks that are easy to clear through the platform.
As for the question of where to find drum samples, there is a fairly straightforward answer. There are sampleable drums in any song with a drum beat. Whether you’ve found a great break on a rare, dusty record or you’ve heard an amazing, vintage drum sound on YouTube, there are endless undiscovered gems for producers to work with. That being said, rather than the time-consuming task of listening through records until you find something you like, one might prefer to have these samples stored in one place, organized in a vast library of high-quality, licensed tracks.
Though we at Tracklib offer an impressive range of licensed drum samples, the actual means of beat production is another question altogether. Traditionally, this process of drum sampling has been achieved using a drum machine. Hardware like the Roland TR-808 and the Akai MPC were influential in the development of genres like hip-hop and dance. In fact, the influence of the 808 on hip-hop has been compared to the Fender Stratocaster’s influence on rock music. Thankfully, spending money on such equipment has been made less important thanks to the development of VST plugins (Virtual Studio Technology). Now, producers can simply download software like Serato (paid) or Momentum (free) for intuitive, quick, and high-quality sampling. Where J Dilla would have to flick through heaps of records before sampling them on his MPC 3000, the modern producer can simply download a track, open their DAW and upload it to their preferred sampler plugin.
Often producers will face a difficult barrier when their desired drum loop is buried amidst the surrounding track’s instrumentation. Thankfully, Tracklib allows producers to sidestep this frustrating process by gaining access to the original multitracks. This means that for much of Tracklib’s library, under the master recording there will be a selection of instrumental downloads for each element of the song (bass, drums, guitar, piano, etc.). This is an enormously helpful resource for producers trying to achieve a streamlined process. Rather than the inferior imitations of some sample packs and virtual drum kits, Tracklib offers original recordings.
Ultimately, drum sampling—or any sampling, for that matter—is an art-form requiring practice and care. From Kanye West to J Dilla to even bands like The Verve, this technique of music production is now an enormous part of our culture and thus deserves to be accessible to producers without huge budgets for sample clearance. Tracklib offers a library of 100K+ songs and multitracks so producers and beatmakers can skip straight to the creative part.
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