Drumming up a storm

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wadewalbrun
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Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Okay, what are people doing about drums in their songs? Real or electronic, or tracks? There are a lot of drum tracks in my Mixcraft, but my efforts piecing together snippets seems to be time consuming at best, and a road to frustration (and a shitty drum track) at worst. Real drums are out of the question. My wife would kill me (plus the $$$$). Perhaps an electronic set? Perhaps some different software? I would really like to add drums to my songs in some fairly easy fashion. Is "fairly easy" even possible? Any thoughts and advice is greatly appreciated.

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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Kevin Mellows »

Drums are my main deal, and I like using Addictive Drums with my electric kit. It gives me a lot of flexibility and I don't make so much noise in my apartment. I would say this route is the easiest, but it is very dependent on how well you can play drums.

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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Lunkhead »

I'd say the large majority of folks here use fake drums. There are a lot more good options now than there used to be. glennny uses a bunch of really nice loops that he bought, but I don't know the details. Then there are things like the automatic/fake drummer in Logic Pro (and maybe in GarageBand too?).

My weapon of choice for fake drums had been Reason Drum Kit for many years. Early this year though I saw a really good deal on EZDrummer and after reading comments about it on the boards I decided to buy it and give it a shot. I used it for all Merisan's Nur Ein entries for Nur Ein IX ( http://nurein.songlander.com/ ) this year and I was really very happy with it, especially for the price I paid ($30 for the main app plus $30 each for the "Americana" and "Indie Folk" kits). I like the bunch of different kits I've gotten so far, both in terms of the styles and sounds of the kits and in the quality and quantity of the samples and different pieces of each kit. I generally hand program/sequence the drums. I'll play the main rhythm for each part mostly by hand on the keys on my keyboard, then I'll go in and clean up what I played, quantize it, etc. I'll copy/paste things around to fill out the whole song, then I'll go through and do the fills/transitions and cymbal hits. If I have time to I may make another fine detail pass after that. I like EZDrummer's options for mixing the levels of the pieces of the kit and for blending in the room ambience.

I like to play real drums too but I'm not that great at playing or mixing them yet. They're super fun though! I would like to spend more time on them.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by JonPorobil »

I use SuperiorDrummer, which is made by the same company as EZDrummer. That's been the basis of the percussion tracks on almost all of my songs since about 2010. Before that, I used to use the Percussion channel on my Casio keyboard and slather a bunch of reverb on it. I also tried using prefabricated loops a few times, but as you've reported, they can be time consuming and the results aren't always satisfactory.

Of course, when you don't have real drums, it can be helpful to keep your mind open to alternatives. From time to time I've utilized simpler percussion methods like eggshakers, finger snaps, and beatboxing. My "Suitcase" used an eggshaker and a cajon. I did a sidefight song called "Gas Tank" where the percussion was a loop of me tossing a stack of staples against my bookshelf. For one of my songs (which, admittedly, had nothing to do with Song Fight), I tapped two kitchen knives against a brass drawer handle.

If all else fails, you can always try to solicit the assistance of someone else in the community who plays drums. Ken, EddieBangs, reve mosquito, and Manhattan Glutton have all added live drums to my songs upon request (plus I've had Billy's Little Trip and Signboy add drums for me before too - they weren't "real" drums, but those guys know how to program their kits like nobody's business). If you're interested, I could even try to use SuperiorDrummer to sequence you up a drum part some time!
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Paco Del Stinko »

I am fortunate enough to have a house that I can play and record acoustic drums in. I'm not very good, but I do prefer even my limited playing style on my less than fancy kit to canned drums. That said, there appear to be oodles of great sounding drum programs out there. When I absolutely have to do the song I'm working on and can't pull off the beats well, I resort to a couple of drum machines that I have. They don't sound as good as the loops I've heard here, but if you keep the programming simple, you can get away with using them. I always think of Prince and They Might Be Giants as masters of simple, yet very effective, use of drum machines. Drum machines that sound like machines, that is.

My recording process for acoustic or drum machines, in brief, goes something like this: play a dummy/scratch guitar track to a click track. The click is within my recording unit, it's a MIDI clock. Then perform/program drums to the dummy track. Then record the 'proper' tracks on top of the beat, tossing the dummy. (Band name/Song title alert!) Should work for you as well, and I'm sure others here take a similar approach. You can do beat first, obviously, but this way allows you to custom tailor the accents, fills, etc. to your needs.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Lunkhead »

Yeah, I also do what Paco is describing. I record a scratch guitar track, get the main beats done to that to built out the ebb and flow of the song's dynamics, then throw out the scratch and record new tracks to the drums. I think I play better when playing along to the drums, as they help me really get into the dynamics of the song.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by ken »

I tend to just write out parts with MIDI and then use Cubase's built in Groove Agent One for the sounds.

I think the key to programming realistic MIDI drums is to keep it simple. People tend to over do their MIDI drums to the point that a real drummer couldn't (or wouldn't) be able to play the parts.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

Pretty much all of the good ones, like BFD, EZDrummer and Superior use real drum hits from real acoustic drum sessions. BFD for me and my sessions are all from discrete drums. All real hit on real drums. Doesn't sound electronic or canned. They even say where each session was recorded and who the drummer was. I do play drums, so it helps when adding details to your sequencing. A great drum session is in the details. But like Lunk said, start with something simple, then make another pass or 3 to the final arrangement.

You can hear here BFD and Superior side by side. Pretty damn close. I personally like BFD better.


Then of course you can get sample packs for whatever genre you like.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Thanks guys!! This is really useful. I checked out a couple tutorials on EZ Drummer 2 this morning, and it looks interesting. Definitely a possibility.

I tried doing the keyboard relegated drumming on Mixcraft but found it less than intuitive, even though the tutorial has a guy on it who is amazingly proficient at it. Makes you think you can jump right in and do it too. Perhaps, like everything, practice makes perfect.

Either way, it seems like there are many roads that lead to the Emerald City.

Thanks again for the advice and sharing your approach!

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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by JonPorobil »

ken wrote:I tend to just write out parts with MIDI and then use Cubase's built in Groove Agent One for the sounds.

I think the key to programming realistic MIDI drums is to keep it simple. People tend to over do their MIDI drums to the point that a real drummer couldn't (or wouldn't) be able to play the parts.
True, and I'm guilty of this as well. (I caught a pretty stupid instance of this in my "The Lurker" - I'm not sure anyone can execute a perfect snare roll with one hand while pounding out a fill on the toms at the same time).

Basically, if you know anything about how playing the drums works, try to imagine someone's hands when you're filling in the parts. Obviously you're never going to have more than four hits at the same time (two hands plus two feet), but also try to keep track of which beats are fast or complicated enough that a real drummer would have to use both hands to sustain it, such as long snare rolls or a series of uninterrupted 16th notes on your hi-hats.

And watch drummers! Go to a live show and pay attention to what the drummer is doing. Look up Youtube videos of drummers in action and pay attention to how they're achieving their grooves (and I'm not just talking about the people who are famous specifically for their drumming). Like Ken said, a lot of the time you'll find that they're doing deceptively simple patterns, and then they just judiciously build their fills around those simple patterns.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by roymond »

ken wrote:to the point that a real drummer couldn't (or wouldn't) be able to play the parts.
This may or may not be a bad thing. Depends on your intent.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Jon and Ken - when you are building up the drum part, and using the MIDI keyboard, are you essentially recording separate tracks for the kick, and snare and hi-hat, and toms? And building fills in a comparable way too? I know my typing skill and dexterity only goes so far. I assume it similarly translates to the MIDI keyboard (of which I don't even have).
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by ken »

I tend to just write in the notes on the MIDI piano roll. Much like Lunkhead, I will start with a pretty basic pattern or just kick and snare and build up from there. Here is a good article from Sound on Sound about it:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep10/a ... m-prog.htm
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Thanks Ken! I printed out the article to read later.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by JonPorobil »

wadewalbrun wrote:Jon and Ken - when you are building up the drum part, and using the MIDI keyboard, are you essentially recording separate tracks for the kick, and snare and hi-hat, and toms? And building fills in a comparable way too? I know my typing skill and dexterity only goes so far. I assume it similarly translates to the MIDI keyboard (of which I don't even have).
Back when I used my Casio, I would usually record one track for the kick and snare together, and another track for the hi-hats and cymbals. I usually avoided toms in that period, but when I used them, I probably included them in the track with the cymbals.

Now that I sequence all my drums, I just "draw" them in place instead of playing them live, which eliminates the need to separate them out. Cubase has a feature for this that works very similar to a "piano roll," but the drum hits aren't connected visually to keys on a piano, so it's a "drum roll," I guess. Like everyone else who's chimed in so far, I generally start by looping a simple pattern, then embellish based on that as the song takes shape. In the early stages, I copy-paste shamelessly, then substitute out the pattern for fills that are more specific to the section of the song they came from.
Last edited by JonPorobil on Mon Jul 07, 2014 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Thanks Jon, that's helpful!
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Lunkhead »

Definitely get a MIDI keyboard. You may have latency issues with using the actual letters/numbers keyboard, if that's what you're saying you're doing now. You need an input device where there won't be any noticeable lag time between when you hit the key and when you hear the drum sample, otherwise it's basically impossible to keep a beat.

I only use one MIDI track for my drums, though I might make separate tracks for tambo/shaker/etc. I make a first pass where I play the kick and snare with my left hand and either the ride or hi-hat with my right, and I can maybe throw in the cymbals with the right too, though I sometimes add those in later. Then I quantize and tweak in the MIDI.

For fills I will try to play them on the keyboard with my hands, but sometimes I can't play what I hear so I draw stuff in to the MIDI. As folks have mentioned, for realism you do want to think about e.g. you have a fill that would take two hands to play, you don't want to keep the hi-hat or ride going.

(Just for background, I've been doing fake drums for a long time. I started out with an Alesis HR-16 drum machine in the mid 90s, for both sequencing and sound samples. Then I started using a computer to sequence the parts by drawing them on the screen with the mouse but I still used the HR-16 as the sample source. Then I got a Korg X-5 keyboard and was using that both as a MIDI input and as a sample source. I still use that keyboard as my MIDI input. I switched to using Cubase's LM-7 samples for a while, before switching to Reason Drum Kit, and now EZDrummer. When I started doing Song Fight! I think I was still using the samples my Korg. People really complained a lot on the boards about my fake drums, which motivated me to work on them. I didn't even know they sucked, but they did. For some reason I remember Josh Woodward in particular complaining strongly about them on every song I entered, lol. Reason Drum Kits was a big upgrade in terms of sample quality, and I also started making more effort to try to make realistic parts. Actually starting to learn how to play even RockBand drums and then of course real drums helped a ton. I think at least learning how to think like a drummer is key, even if you don't have the coordination to actually play on real drums the stuff you have in your head. You may want to look into using loops or an automated drummer if you're not really interested in learning to think like a drummer. You might get better results for less effort.)
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Lunkhead, many thanks for the advice and your own background story! It's good to know there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. I may have to go through a similar learning curve, as I have zero actual drum experience. Still, I can hear it in my head, and as you say, that may be enough.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Caravan Ray »

Lunkhead wrote:You may want to look into using loops or an automated drummer if you're not really interested in learning to think like a drummer. You might get better results for less effort.)
That's what I do - using Garageband/Logic loops.

I usually just use a basic loop to do a song - then when finished, add some variations by moving some of the "notes" around - or entering my own fills using a little 25-key USB keyboard
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by Billy's Little Trip »

Lunkhead wrote:I started out with an Alesis HR-16 drum machine in the mid 90s
*high five* Me too! The HR-16 was the best thing to happen to me (musically) back then for writing music. Every song on this CD we did was with the HR-16 in the studio. I was a drum arrangin' mad man. :D
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by wadewalbrun »

Anyone have any experience with Jamstix? This sounds like an interesting alternative to EZ Drummer.
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Re: Drumming up a storm

Post by roymond »

I've used the Alexis HR-16, Reason Drum Kit, EZDrummer and various samples made into loops, as well as kitchen items and gated guitar noises. Then overdub shakers, hand claps and banging on the sides of a metal file cabinet. It's all good!
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