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Boost Your Drumming Skills: The Best Drum VSTs for Independent Musicians

Boost Your Drumming Skills: The Best Drum VSTs for Independent Musicians

There was a time when MIDI drums and VSTs were only popular among electronic artists or emerging musicians dabbling in EDM or hip-hop. But then came a global pandemic that forced millions of artists to create music from the comforts of their living rooms, and experiment with plugins and software to recreate the sound of real instruments. What’s more, technology has enabled independent musicians to record and mix music from their home studios in a professional manner, eliminating the need to cram drums and other instruments in a small space. The quality of piano or guitar VSTs is only getting better, allowing musicians to reproduce the sounds created by uber-expensive, world-renowned musical instruments with ease. 

So, why not drums? Massive drum kits are almost impossible to fit in a small home recording studio, and they require some serious soundproofing to avoid fights with the neighbors. But if you’re an emerging musician and you’re interested in expanding your drumming skills and experimenting with a new instrument, technology is here to help. There’s no need to spend time and effort booking a professional recording studio to do some experimenting or jamming. With these drum VSTs, you can recreate the sound of professional drums from the comfort of your bedroom and your headphones on. 

1. Toontrack Superior Drummer 3

If you’re not interested in trying out different tools and plugins and just want the best thing currently available on the market, we’d recommend Toontrack Superior Drummer 3. This is hands down the best drum VST you can get, whether you’re a beginner drummer or an established musician looking to further expand their drumming skills. 

There’s a reason why this particular tool is so popular among musicians; it’s been around for 20 years, when Toontrack released their Drum Kit From Hell. Superior Drummer 3 launched in 2017 and is still one of the best drum VSTs out there, and that’s because it’s constantly being improved and updated. 

It’s a complete drumming solution with a massive library featuring endless samples, a built-in equalizer, 35 drumming effects, and a powerful mixer. It’s also got plenty of options to offer if you’re looking to record and mix acoustic drums, so you don’t need a separate tool or plugin for that. And, if that’s not enough for your needs, you can try the various SDX and EZX add-on packs, which basically cover every drum sound you could possibly think of. So, whether you’re into heavy metal, EDM, prog rock, pop, or hip-hop, the Superior Drummer 3 will cover all of your drumming needs. 

2. Addictive Drums 2

If the Superior Drummer 3 didn’t wow you the way you were hoping, was out of your price range, or you simply want to experiment with other tools before you pick just one, Addictive Drums 2 by XLN Audio is a close second. It’s a complete solution covering all of your drumming needs, featuring various add-ons and expansion kits at a very reasonable price. 

The interface is incredibly easy to use, even for a beginner musician experimenting with VSTs for the first time, and there are plenty of mixing options, including equalizers and tape saturation modules, compression and distortion, pitch and volume envelopes, and more. Addictive Drums 2 works great with your electronic drum kit, and it’s reliable and intuitive. The name is fitting, because many musicians find themselves going back to the VST for their drumming needs, so using it can become quite addictive. 

3. Steven Slate Drums 5.5

If what you’re looking for is some heavy, realistic-sounding drums that can fill a stadium, then the Steven Slate Drums 5.5 might be a great option for you. It offers various classic kits that help you achieve a sound similar to your favorite bands, including Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, or Led Zeppelin, so it’s a lot of fun to play around with. 

The plugin features roughly 150 kit presets, including over 130 snare drums, 100 bass drums, dozens and cymbals, and much more, so chances are you’ll find something to your liking in the database. The plugin has its own playback plugin interface with a mixer section that allows you to fine-tune things like volume levels, much like Superior Drummer 3. If what you’re going for is realistic, bombastic, in-your-face type of drums, then this might be just what you’re looking for. 

4. GetGood Drums

Launched by former Periphery bassist and established producer and engineer Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood, this plugin is another great choice if you’re looking for realistic, professional-sounding drums to experiment with. There is no core library included, like some of the other plugins featured on our list; instead, there are several standalone packs to choose from, depending on your preferences. There is Classic Rock, Aggressive Rock, Modern Fusion, Invasion, or Modern and Massive. 

As you can already tell, this drum VST is mostly focused on big, heavy, modern drum styles, so if that’s your vibe, then you’re in the right place. There are some variations, as well, so it’s not all about heavy metal or big band, stadium-filling drums - Dry and Funky is a good example. For rock or metal production, Modern and Massive is our favorite, so give it a try if you’re interested in experimenting with these types of drumming. 

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5. Native Instruments Studio Drummer

Native Instruments Studio Drummer is another top-notch drum VST that’s worth a try if you’re interested in experimenting with drums from the comfort of your home recording studio. It features more than 3,500 samples and three quality kits that allow you to reproduce realistic, dynamic, and professional-leve drum sounds. 

NI’s Studio Drummer also gives you access to an impressive groove library featuring MIDI patterns that you can customize in your DAW to create your own beats. You also get to play around with built-in effects, including reverb, delay, distortion or compression, and customize individual drums within each kit in the library. The plugin is easy to use and has an intuitive interface, and it’s compatible with Mac or PC, VST, AU and AAX Native, as well. 

6. FXpansion BFD3

FXpansion’s BFD, which basically stands for Big Effin’ Drums, has been around for a long time. Similarly to Superior Drummer 3 or Steven Slate Drums, you can purchase the software with a built-in library, and throw in add-ons and expansion packs as you wish. There are endless mixing and processions options included in the software, including equalizers, compression and distortion, dampening, tuning, reverb, and more, so you’ll have a field day experimenting and expanding your drumming skills. 

BFD has changed ownership a few times over the years, so it might not be first in line when it comes to updates, but it’s still a worthy contender. Developers have been hard at work bringing improvements to the latest iteration, including a streamlined, easy-to-use interface, a faster audio engine, new drumming kits, new presets, an updated groove engine, and much more. They’ve also added new grooves played by drummers like Steve Ferrone, Stanton Moore, or Brooks Wackerman. The library has also been optimized to take up a lot less space on your laptop, without losing any detail or performance. If you like the sound of classic drums, and you’re looking for a tool that’s been around and reliable for many years, then you might want to give BFD3 a try. 

7. DrumDrops Vintage Funk & Disco Dual Kit

If big, bombastic, heavy and aggressive drums aren’t really your vibe, and you like to be more experimental and diverse with your drum sounds, then DrumDrops might be a great option to look into. Their Vintage Funk and Disco Dual Kit is incredibly fun to jam around with, especially if you’re a fan of the 70s and the way drums were used back then. Think Steely Dan or Frank Zappa for reference - if you’re into these artists, you might enjoy playing with DrumDrops. 

The drums in this dual kit were recorded at Ironworks Studio in Brighton, U.K., with samples recorded from Jan Kincaid’s Sonor Hi Lite Drum Kit. You’ll love these two kits if you enjoy the snappy, quick, dry sound of 70s drums, and you’ll have a lot of fun using vintage cymbals and percussion sounds. At least we know we did.

8. Room Sound – Beau Burchell

Beau Burchell is an American musician and record producer based in Orange County, known best as the guitarist in Saosin and his previous work with Kosmos Express and Open Hand. His Room Sound series is a great option if you like his style and enjoy realistic-sounding drums in your musical compositions.

The plugin allows you to create your own customized drum kit with 26 unique pieces, while enabling you to control the individual mic channels and bleed to create the sound of your dreams. It also features 16 individually controllable mic channels, which allow you to customize your sound in fine detail and reproduce the sound and nuances of a live performance with ease. The interface is easy to use and intuitive, and the plugin moves fast, so there are no issues with performance that we could find. You’ll also have access to presets and effects to further play around with drum sounds until you achieve your desired sound. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of VST?

Virtual Studio Technology (VST) serves as a software interface standard that enables the integration of virtual instruments and audio effects into digital audio workstations (DAWs). Developed by Steinberg, VST allows third-party developers to create plugins that can be seamlessly integrated with a variety of music production software. These plugins, commonly referred to as VST plugins, enhance the capabilities of DAWs by providing musicians and producers with a diverse array of virtual instruments, synthesizers, and audio processing tools. The purpose of VST is to facilitate a flexible and expandable environment for music production, enabling users to access a wide range of creative tools and effects to enhance their audio recordings and compositions.

What does a drum VST do?

A drum VST, or Virtual Studio Technology plugin dedicated to drums, is a software instrument designed to replicate the sounds and characteristics of real drum kits within a digital audio workstation (DAW). These plugins typically include a collection of virtual drum samples, encompassing various percussion elements like kicks, snares, hi-hats, toms, and cymbals. Drum VSTs offer users the ability to program realistic drum patterns, create custom drum sounds, and manipulate the nuances of each drum hit. They often come with features such as adjustable velocity sensitivity, different articulations, and effects to emulate the subtleties and expressiveness of live drumming. Drum VSTs are widely used in music production to add rhythm and percussive elements to compositions, providing a versatile and customizable solution for creating electronic and hybrid drum tracks.

How do I make my drums sound professional?

To make your drums sound professional, start by focusing on high-quality samples or a well-designed drum VST to ensure a solid foundation. Pay attention to the mix by carefully balancing the levels of individual drum elements, ensuring that each component sits well in the overall mix. Use panning to create a sense of space, placing different drums in various positions within the stereo field. Apply equalization to enhance the character of each drum, cutting unnecessary frequencies and emphasizing the essential elements. Compression can be used to control the dynamic range and add sustain, while reverb and other time-based effects contribute to a sense of space and depth. Experiment with layering drum samples to add richness and complexity. Lastly, consider the context of your music and the style you're aiming for, adjusting parameters accordingly to achieve a polished and professional drum sound. Regularly referencing professional tracks and seeking feedback from experienced producers can also aid in refining your drum mix.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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