I’ve seen questions about percussion come up time after time on various forums and Facebook group pages. “What is the best percussion library to use for epic drums?” or, “What kind of drums were used in this trailer or that trailer?” While there are many different libraries out on the market that nail that perfect trailer drum sound, I’d like to talk about three different libraries that I use on a daily basis. I’ll also explain why I use them, and hopefully, it’ll give you something to consider when purchasing your next percussion library. After all, buying sample libraries isn’t cheap!

Action Strikes

Action Strikes is a Percussion library developed by Native Instruments. It gives you 12 different ensembles, 65 single instruments, and 12 different hit sets that are all recorded with meticulous detail. The quality of this library is unbeatable which is why you see it so frequently used among composers. One of the things I love most about this library is the sound of its Mid-low end. I’ll typically layer this library underneath other libraries to really give it a deep, boomy low end that sounds huge in the production. Get your hands on this library, and you’ll know exactly what I mean in a matter of seconds! This library comes with an ensemble patch that has many different loops to get you inspired right away. These loops can be changed in real-time using different keyswitches to make your rhythms sound more unique. These loops also come in a variety of different time signatures as well!

Action Strikes lets you control your sound by offering many different tools such as EQs, Compressors, Filters, Reverbs, and more. You can also control the microphone position on the drums to either get a close dry sound or a big room sound. I’m a big fan of adding my own reverbs to this library, but the reverbs they have built in sound incredible too. Action Strikes retails at $300, but I think it’s almost a necessity to my arsenal of sounds.

Watch a walkthrough of Native Instruments’ Action Strikes below:

A Komplete Guide to Action Strikes

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Damage is a library created by a company called Heavyocity (probably one of the best sample library developers out there). Damage is everything you’d want for glitchy, rhythmic, hybrid-type percussion. I use this library all the time when it comes to writing trailer music because it does what it’s intended to do. Damage features orchestral percussion as well as edgy/electronic sound design. This thing is aggressive and will bring the intensity of your tracks to life. This library comes in at around 30 GB with over 700 different loops, 500+ one-shots, and 58 drum kits. (Studio Armageddon Ensemble is my personal favorite to use!)

This library has many different customization features and effects such as ADSR, distortion, Lofi, reverb, delay, compressors, and more. It also has a mixer section where you can balance different microphone positions to give you a close/dry sound; a distant/hall sound, and everything in between. I personally enjoy using this library for its mid-high range frequencies. I’ll layer Damage in with Action Strikes and I’m immediately in heaven! Get a nice sounding bus compressor on both drum libraries and you’ll get a nice punchy sound that’s ready for the big screen!

Watch a walkthrough of Heavyocity’s Damage below:

Heavyocity DAMAGE percussion from Native Instruments review

Decimator Drums

Decimator Drums is a percussion library developed by a company called Audio Imperia. This library is pretty new to the market, but it’s probably one of the best percussion/sound design libraries out there! I’d say this library probably inspires me most when it comes to trailer music. The drum sections are so loud and punchy and really cut through just about anything in the mix. I’m a huge fan of all things Audio Imperia, but Decimator Drums is my most used library from them. Decimator Drums (DD) comes in at 2.19 GB and requires the full version of Kontakt. DD is split up into four different sections: Ensemble Drums, Designed Kits, Loops, and Extra. I know this is a percussion library, but it’s worth the $160 just for extra section alone (109 atonal FX, 39 Tonal FX, 10 Risers, 6 Arps). If you own an Audio Imperia library, then you know how phenomenal their sound design is, and I think DD is some of their best. Their drum patches have 6 different round robins with 10 different velocity levels which really makes these drums sound realistic. I’ve heard tracks that have been used in big movie trailers that were created using only Decimator Drums. I’ve even written some trailer tracks for publishers where 80% of my track was Decimator Drums. It’s an extremely inspiring library, and sounds great right out of the box!

Watch an in-depth walkthrough of Audio Imperia Decimator Drums with Bryan Nguyen below:

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Additional Tips

While all of these libraries sound good on their own, I highly recommend blending and layering all three of these to get that full, epic trailer sound. I always make sure to use my own reverbs on these drums to make them sound uniform and coherent. It’s really important to get your samples to mix well with each other! Another tip I’d like to mention is to run your percussion through a good bus compressor. I find that when you compress all your drums it really glues them together giving a solid sound! Make sure you set quick attack and release times on them and they’ll begin to sound even punchier which is critical with trailer music!

A close friend of mine suggested I use a compressor called TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Records. This compressor is extremely transparent, and it’s actually FREE! It’s basically all I use when it comes to percussion compression now.

Closing thoughts

While these three percussion libraries are fantastic, also note that there are many other libraries out there that sound incredible too. I think part of developing your own unique sound is to research all types of libraries on the market and find the ones that really grab your ear. There are plenty of other libraries I use when layering my percussion, but I think using the three libraries I mentioned above will really get you headed in the right direction. If you’re looking for some other suggestions I recommend looking at libraries from Spitfire Audio, ProjectSAM, Soundiron, Strezov Sampling, or 8 Dio. All of these companies have fantastic libraries for percussion and are worth taking a look at. When in doubt listen to library demos and watch walkthroughs on Youtube. I can’t tell you how many times watching walkthrough videos have helped me decide on whether or not to purchase a library. I hope this article helps you guys out when choosing percussion libraries for your trailer tracks!

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Posted by Grant Borland

Composer for television, films, trailer, and games.

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2 Comments on "The Best Percussion Libraries for Trailer Music"

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Here’s a real fast and easy Intro to Action Strikes: https://youtu.be/OGy1gbq0jq0

Peter F. Ebbinghaus

Thanks for sharing, Peter, good stuff!