Drum programming is a special kind of skill. A lot of musicians know how to create melodic hooks and chord progressions, but struggle when it comes time to finding the right sounds and building a drum loop. Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence make this process a lot easier, whether it's through rapidly sequencing new drum parts or generating one-shots that have never been heard before.
The idea of working with AI drums won't appeal to everyone. Purists have been known to look down on drum loops as an easy way out, despite their popularity among musicians of all skill levels. It's common for beat makers to use loops as a starting point, chop them up, and sequence them into new variations.
Generative audio software presents a similar approach to experimentation. In this article we'll review a collection of web apps and drum VSTs you can use to create drum loops with the help of artificial intelligence.
Table of Contents
Session Loops Drumnet (Free Drum VST)
Price: Freemium, pay $69 to export MIDI and audio
Format: Desktop drum VST
Download option: Export MIDI or Audio on paid plan
Summary: Generate AI drum sounds, program sequences and mix them.
AI Drum sample generator
Session Loops DrumNet is an drum plugin that creates custom drum kits using AI drum samples. It includes an 8-slot drum sampler that uses AI to generate the samples for each of the eight slots, allowing users to create unique drum kits that are different from anyone else's.
AI drum sequencer
DrumNet includes an 8-track MIDI sequencer with 16 steps. Choose from factory preset loops that are organized by a wide range of genres, including modern options like hyperpop and drill. Fine tune the mix of each instrument according to the presets and update your BPM as needed if you have an existing project.
AudiaLab's Emergent Drums 2
Price Point: $249
Format: Desktop Drum VST
Download option: Record MIDI and audio straight to DAW
Summary: Drum sample generator with 16 MIDI trigger pads
Emergent Drums 2 is the latest version of Adialab's plugin, using AI to generate infinite drum samples. Every hit is created from scratch, making it a versatile sound design tool for producers who want to explore new sounds and push creative boundaries.
AI-Generated Drum Samples
According to Audialab's website, Emergent Drums 2 is powered by deep neural networks, which means every one-shot is a fresh and never-before-heard sound. Each instrument model represent a limitless world to explore, giving producers the ability to generate unlimited royalty-free sounds from scratch – all with the touch of a button.
Each sound you generate comes with a similarity slider, so you can find sounds that are close to the one you're currently using. If you hear something that's close to what you're looking for and want variations that don't stray too far, the slider lets you control that degree of similarity.
Emergent Drums has multi-out functionality, which means that each drum can be shaped on its own channel. This feature is useful for producers who want to have more control over the individual elements of their drum mix.
Samples can be further shaped through the AI drum VST's built-in effects like clipping and filtering. This feature is useful for producers who want to shape their drum samples further without having to use external plugins.
Google's Infinite AI Drum Machine (Web App)
Format: Web application
Download option: None
Summary: Sequencer with AI drum sounds organized
If all you're looking to do is experiment and have a bit of fun, Google's Infinite AI Drum Machine could be the perfect tool for you. The web app doesn't support the option to download files to your computer, which is why I suggest that it's more of a toy than a serious production tool. That being said, it's a gateway into other advanced tools like XLN's XO and Atlas 2 plugins, covered later in this article.
How does Google's Infinite Drum Machine work?
To get started with the web app, all you have to do is click into the search filter and select the category of sound you want. Pick one of the tags or type in what you want to avoid having to scroll through and read all the options.
On the backend, Google's Infinite Drum Machine uses a machine learning technique called t-SNE to organize thousands of everyday sounds into a drum machine format with a built-in 16-step sequencer. The expression t-SNE stands for "t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding," which is a complex ML algorithm that can autonomously catalogue a vast number of different sounds and put them together in a point cloud.
The model was given audio only, without any descriptions or tags. It placed similar sounds closer together on the map, similar to the way Atlas 2 and XO do. Users can navigate across the map to explore neighborhoods of similar sounds and even make beats using the drum sequencer. The Infinite Drum Machine's sounds are organized based on a set of parameters, and the t-SNE Map technology creates an interactive landscape that organizes sounds based on similarity.
AI drum sample sequencing with randomization
As the screenshot above shows, the Infinite Drum Machine's bottom-navigation toolbar includes a four-track sequencer with sixteen steps. When you've selected a sound, the four tracks are automatically assigned to a random collection within that category. Hit the shuffle icon to cycle through new sounds and replace the existing tracks. Your beat will stay the same but the colors of each track will change based on the neighborhood (point cluster) where they exist.
Adjust the tempo of the beat with the metronome tool by clicking the icon and dragging the slider up or down. That's pretty much all there is to it - you'll just hit play to have a listen and stop it at any time.
If this user experience appeals to you, keep reading to learn about XO and Atlas 2. These drum VSTs are designed for serious music producers and can load your own sample library.
Atlas 2 and XLN's XO sample managers (Drum VSTs)
XO Price: Free trial with $129 to purchase
Atlas 2 Price: Free trial with $99 to purchase
Format: Desktop drum VSTs
Download option: Export MIDI or Audio directly into DAW
Summary: Scan your percussion library, organize into point cloud, and sequence
AI Drum sample organizers
Both Atlas 2 and XO are drum machine VSTs that help users to better organize their percussion libraries. They use artificial intelligence to analyze and categorize drum samples. As you navigate your collection, you can apply effects to modify pitch, time stretch, add filters, and more.
The advantage of using Atlas 2 is that you can create multiple sample maps, based on different libraries, whereas XO supports only one map. This means that all of your samples are thrown into the same space and if you have a lot of them, it can lead to some visual bloat.
We've previously covered these two apps in depth. Read more about the differences between Atlas and XO before making your decision.
MusicGen by Meta (Web app)
Price: Free for 15 second, small model. Sliding scale for running larger models.
Format: Web app
Download option: Download audio file to hard drive
Summary: Use MusicGen to create any kind of music, including drum files
MusicGen might be the world's best AI music generator to date. It's can create songs in almost any genre, based on text prompts and optional melodic conditioning. If you want to create drum loops, you won't need to upload a melody. We provide a complete description of how to use MusicGen here.
Suggested MusicGen prompts for AI drum loops
Prompt engineering is an emerging skill. You can type anything you want into a generative AI tool, but there are certain tricks you can use to get the best output. MusicGen is no exception to this. As a rule, it's best to type in a rich description of what you want, including details like genre, percussive instruments, and BPM.
If you follow your description with the phrase "percussion only", it improves your odds of getting an isolated drum loop. You can also use negative phrases like "no guitar" if the percussion prompt isn't working for you.
Difference between model sizes
You'll notice that Hugging Face includes four model options. Each size refers to the power of the AI model, which means that you'll get the highest quality drum loops if you use for the large model. Upgrading to the paid version will also give you the option to increase duration from 15 seconds to 30 seconds.
X Drummer AI Drum Beats (Mobile app)
Price: $3.99 with in-app purchases
Format: iPad (released 2017)
Download option: MIDI and audio exports via email
Summary: App listens to live instrumental and suggests AI drum loops
The X Drummer iPad app has been on the market for more than half a decade, with the most recent updates made in 2019. For this reason, the app is a bit dated but is still functional. For live instrumentalists who need a realistic sounding beat, their suggest tool is the AI drummer feature that we really want to highlight.
Drum loop library
At its core, X Drummer offers a collection of customizable drum loop samples. It was designed for live musicians - especially guitarists - who want an easier way to add drums to their projects. They have been described as the equivalent of EZ Drummer for iPad. But where the EZ Drummer VST works with your desktop DAW applications, X Drummer is intended as an easy way to jam and work out ideas while you're on the go.
The AI drummer "Suggest" feature
The screenshot above shows X Drummer's suggest feature in action. In the upper right corner you can see a guitarist recording his riff while the iPad listens. Once it's done recording and analyzing, a collection of tempo-matched loops appear in a list. They do a great job matching the subtle articulations of the guitar rhythm with the drum beats. It does more than suggesting a loop in the BPM of your chosen genre.
Lalal.Ai Drum Remover (Web app)
Price Points: Free, Lite ($10), And Professional ($20 currently, usually $30)
Format: Web app
Summary: Stem separator with options to isolate / remove drums
You might be thinking, why is Lalal.ai on the list? It's not an AI drum generator but it does offer a powerful way to isolate drums from an existing track. This can be helpful if you're trying to listen more carefully to a song that you like. Once you have that isolated drum part, you can drag it into your DAW for use as a reference track. It can also work for creating sampled drum breaks.
Drum isolator feature
Lalal.ai supports several audio and video formats, including MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, AVI, MP4, MKV, AIFF, and AAC. Here is how to use Lalal.ai to remove drums and percussion from a song:
Open Lalal.ai in your browser.
Click the Vocal and Instrumental button to open the Stem Separation Types list.
Select the Drums option in the drop-down menu.
Click Select Files to upload your audio or video file.
Play the previews of two stems - one containing drums and percussion sounds, the other with the rest of the music.
Download the isolated drum track.
Lalal.ai is a pay-as-you-go service, which means that you only pay for the minutes you use. The service offers 300 minutes for $30, and its stem splitting is of high quality, making it faster and cleaner to remove drums.
That pretty much covers it. Check out our article on AI music generators for help with writing melody and chord progressions.