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The Process of Making a Drum Sample Library

Hello folks, Matthew Weiss here. I recently released my first-ever drum sample collection: The Maio Collection.

It’s a unique library, and I think it warrants some explanation in terms of the idea, creative process and intended utilization.

The Inception

I’ve been a Hip-Hop head for over twenty years. I grew up with Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie, Arrested Development. I’ve been listening since Busta Rhymes was in Leaders of The New School. I remember when he went solo, and I remember when he cut his dreads. I’ve lived a good portion of the evolution of Hip-Hop.

Now here we are in 2014, and I have to say that on the whole, Hip-Hop production has come a long way.  I think today’s drums hit harder, sample-style producers are using more exciting chops and blends, and I think the sequencer/synth-style producers have come to develop a new style of Hip-Hop that enriches the overall music culture.

But it’s not like things have simply improved laterally. Some things have become better, other things have fallen off.

I’ve felt that one of the big losses is drums have become more drum-machine based, and less sample (real drum) based. Using sample-based drums actually runs the risk of dating the production style.

If you were into Hip-Hop in 90s, you know one of the most important aspects of the production was the character of the drums. My goal with the Maio Collection was to bring very characterized drums into 2014.

The Process

In order to do this I needed a few key ideas to come to fruition.

I needed to find a studio that would allow me to capture the sound of a drum in the most natural way possible — and that requires space.

The most natural sound of a drum does not really occur right next to the drum head — it usually is best captured a few feet out. However, that brings about an inherent problem: room sound. As soon as that live room tone starts showing up in the drum sound we get a much more “Rock” style of drum. Not a bad thing, but not what I wanted.

I needed a spacious live room that was also very tightly acoustically controlled. In other words, I needed a “dead” live room. That little oxymoron should let you know it wasn’t easy to find.

On top of that, I needed a studio where I could track to tape, through a console, and with a sizable collection of vintage mics so I could emulate certain sounds. That studio ended up being Kawari Sound, about an hour north of Philadelphia.

The Drummer

More importantly than the studio though, I needed a drummer. I needed a drummer who specialized in getting interesting tones and textures out of drums. That drummer was Alex Maio, a Temple University graduate who earned his degree studying Jazz.

Jazz drummers tend to think not just rhythmically, but “melodically” as well. His creative palette is extremely wide — I feel I could have made a whole kit of unique sounding drums with just one kick and one snare. Of course we had more at our disposal, but his tuning, damping, and playing choices created so much variation we could have just never stopped. Infinite drums.

Post Production

The post production process was where my mixing skills really came into play.


A lot of technical endeavors like manipulating phase, EQ, sound shaping with compression, and creative use of distortion transformed the drum samples into hard-hitting one shots.

The first key piece here was a plug-in called “In Phase” which allowed me to do micro timing shifts and split band polarity flips. I used these techniques to get the perfect relationship between the multiple mics used on the individual drums.

The second was my compressor which has a modification that would be considered a technical flaw. The bypass circuit on the peak limiter section only removes the compression stage from the chain, but the knob still reduces the output headroom. In other words: it’s a soft-clipper when in bypass mode. Guess what: so is the output of your ASR or MPC when you overdrive the output.

Finding the sweet spot to induce this distortion is a signature part of The Maio Collection, and one that is reminiscent of classic Hip-Hop.

Using the Drums

The Maio Collection was designed to be stand alone.

One drum should be full enough, interesting enough and not require any layering to fit well within a production.

However, because the character of the drums are complex, they layer very well with simple sounding drums such as 808s. The drums were not intended to be layered with other complex drums. But when have Hip-Hop heads ever done “what was intended?”

When Samik “The Symphony” made a record using The Maio Collection, he layered drums from within the collection together. The result speaks for itself.

One of the star aspects of The Maio Collection is the cymbals and hats. It is very difficult to find even half-decent cymbals and hats in a Hip-Hop drum library. They’re usually too tingy, boring, weird or lack depth. I feel I can pride myself on having captured exceptional hats and cymbals. Some of the best out there.

What’s Up With The Names and Stories?

More than anything else, everything comes down to creativity. I want my drum library to not only hit hard and sound great, but also inspire.

Producing has turned into this entrepreneurial grind. And while that’s not a bad thing, the whole mode of hustling and being business-minded can take away from the fun.

At it’s core, Hip-Hop music still needs to be about expression and creativity — and I wanted to pack that into my drum library in every way possible.

Also, days and days of editing drum sounds can make one go a little bit batty.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

Free Workshop Video: Low-End Mixing Secrets

Discover how to make your kick and bass hit hard by cutting (NOT boosting) the right frequencies! Plus, more counterintuitive ways to get fuller yet controlled low-end in your mix. Download this 40-minute workshop by Matthew Weiss, now for FREE!

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