Studio Diary #29: Setting Up Superior Drummer 3 In Reaper

I’ve recently switched back from Universal Audio’s LUNA DAW to good old Reaper. Why? Because I need to work on some midi drums, and LUNA doesn’t really support that yet.

This is partly a note to myself, and partly a tutorial, on how I setup Superior Drummer 3 and Reaper to work well together.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Install Superior Drummer 3

Step 1 was to get Superior Drummer 3 (SD3 for short) installed onto my M1 Mac. This is done via Toontrack’s Product Manager. It’s a fair bit to download, but at least I already have the drum samples on an external hard drive.

I needed to restart Reaper afterwards, so that it could detect the newly installed SD3 plugin. (I’m pretty sure there’s a way to force Reaper to rescan for plugins while it is open, but it’s getting a bit hard to find little things like this in Reaper these days. Restarting Reaper is a much quicker way to make sure it happens.)

While I was at it, I also installed Superior Drummer 2. I don’t plan on using it, but if I open any old projects where it was used, at least they should still work (fingers crossed).

One thing I really liked: when I bought SD3, I got the version that came with all the drum samples preloaded onto an external drive. (This was years ago, when laptops came with a lot less internal storage than they do today. That’s how old SD3 is!) There were some updates for the SD3 drum library today, and the Toontrack installer installed those updates onto that external drive. That’s good software.

The older Superior Drummer 2 / EZ Drummer products seem to use an older installer, that isn’t aware of external drives. That’s something to be aware of, if you’re using these products and you’re a bit tight on disk space.

Step 2: Setting Up The Routing

The key reason why I’m doing this in Reaper – and not LUNA – is because Superior Drummer 3 publishes its audio out to multiple tracks. That allows us to apply different effects to each part of the drum kit (kick, snare, toms, hats, cymbals, room mics etc etc) just like you would if you’re recorded a physical kit.

I created a new virtual instrument track, added the SD3 plugin, and Reaper immediately offered to set up all the different sub-tracks automatically for me. Hell yes. That should save a lot of time.

Unfortunately, the audio inside SD3 doesn’t automatically route out to all of those individual channels. There’s a fully-featured mixer inside SD3, and by default, it routes all output to just two channels.

This makes SD3 very usable with DAWs like LUNA, which do not support virtual instruments with multi-channel output. As long as you’re happy to stick with the effects that are built into SD3, you can still process different parts of the kit in different ways.

Which Parts Of The Kit Should Be Routed Where?

I’ve followed the advice in this YouTube video. The video is for Logic Pro X, but it’s mostly concerned about the SD3 plugin, not the DAW.

The basic idea is:

  • Switch to the mixer tab in SD3. This is where the routing is done.
  • Go through all the channels from ‘Kick In’ to ‘Amb Mid’, and route them to separate outputs. These are the channels that emulate microphones around a drum kit.
  • Go through these channels a second time, and set their audio levels back to 0.
  • Mute the channels from ‘Front L/R’ through to ‘Rear Height Wide’. I believe that these are used if you want to emulate old techniques before close-mic’ing a kit was a thing?

If you then switch back to the ‘Drums’ tab in SD3 and start clicking on individual pieces of the kit, you should now see the audio coming through separate channels in Reaper.

Be aware: if you start exploring the different drum kits in SD3 through its presets, each preset comes with its own routing. If you’re likely to audition drum kits on a regular basis, make sure you use the ‘Drum Parts’ presets at the bottom of the presets list.

Building A More Realistic Sound Using Mic Bleed

Real drum kits are loud. When you mic one up, each microphone picks up sound from other parts of the kit as well. This is known as mic bleed. Ironically, while mixing a real kit is often about eliminating as much mic bleed as possible, digital kits with no mic bleed can sound a bit unrealistic.

Back in SD3, on the ‘Mixer’ tab, the top row controls whether or not mic bleed is enabled for each channel, and how much mic bleed there should be. For now, I’ve gone through and switched on mic bleed for every channel. It eats up about 5GB of RAM on my system, at the time of writing.

I’m sure that, at some point, I’ll go back and tone it down a bit.

Controlling The Drums From Maschine Mikro mk3

Earlier in the year, I bought a Native Instruments Maschine Mikro mk3 (MMMK3 for short) to use for drum programming. Let’s get it working with SD3 inside Reaper.

Once again, I’m using MIDI Router to map the MMMK3’s default MIDI notes to be the ones that SD3 is expecting to see. I can remap those in SD3 itself (Settings menu -> MIDI In/E-Drums option) or in Reaper (by adding an input fx plugin before SD3 itself), but I’d rather stick with MIDI Router for now.

And, once again, I’m going with The Quest For Groove’s recommended pad layout:

Pad 13
Low Tom
24 > ??
Pad 14
Mid Tom
25 > ??
Pad 15
High Tom
26 > ??
Pad 16
Cymbal A
27 > ??
Pad 9
Hi Hat
20 > ??
Pad 10
Open Hi Hat
21 > ??
Pad 11
Hi Hat
22 > ??
Pad 12
Ride
23 > ??
Pad 5
Side Stick
16 > ??
Pad 6
Snare
17 > ??
Pad 7
Snare
18 > ??
Pad 8
Side Stick
19 > ??
Pad 1
Cymbal B
12 > ??
Pad 2
Kick
13 > ??
Pad 3
Kick
14 > ??
Pad 4
Cymbal C
15 > ??
Table 1: The Quest For Groove’s Recommended Pad Layout

We need to know which MIDI notes SD3 is listening for. We can find these by going into SD3, then selecting ‘Settings -> MIDI In/E-Drums’ from SD3’s own menu bar.

SD3 supports a lot more than 16 ways to hit a kit, so we have to compromise here a little. I’ve picked the ones that will allow me to lay down the core of any drum groove (I hope! I’m very new to all this):

Pad 13
Low Tom
24 > 43
Pad 14
Mid Tom
25 > 47
Pad 15
High Tom
26 > 48
Pad 16
Cymbal A
27 > 57
Pad 9
Hi Hat
20 > 22
Pad 10
Open Hi Hat
21 > 24
Pad 11
Hi Hat
22 > 22
Pad 12
Ride
23 > 59
Pad 5
Side Stick
16 > 37
Pad 6
Snare
17 > 38
Pad 7
Snare
18 > 38
Pad 8
Side Stick
19 > 37
Pad 1
Cymbal B
12 > 49
Pad 2
Kick
13 > 35
Pad 3
Kick
14 > 36
Pad 4
Cymbal C
15 > 49
Table 2: Maschine Mikro MK3 MIDI Mapping For Superior Drummer 3

I’m sure these will change over time.

Talent Not Included

Now it’s all up and running, the hard part is learning to put down a groove using the MMMK3 and SD3. I need to go away and practice!

And that’s a story for another blog post.

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