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The global electronic drumming e-zine
Snaring attention e-snares go head to head
VST Dr o i d Stu
GEA R H r y e um m per H
LE PROFI Lang as Tho m
Acoustic Electric AE Drum Rack System
AE Cymbal System
Lightweight aluminum extruded bars
Acoustic cymbal sound and feel
Patent Pending cast aluminum hinge folds for transport
Reduces ambient sound level 50%-70%
Wire management channel holds up to 14 or more cables
Dual head condenser mic pickups
Patent Pending glass filled ABS multi-clamp fits 3/8” to 1” diameter drum accessories
Fits most manufacturers’ stands and hardware
Available in two heights to better accommodate setups
Five Channel Digital Cymbal Processor with 20 presets per cymbal, volume and pan for each cymbal, audio mix for edrums and more
©2011 Avedis Zildjian Company
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--from-the-editor-As we mark the end of our second year, we have some of the biggest names in drumming in this magazine. is published by DigitalDrummer ABN: 61 833 620 984 30 Oldfield Place Brookfield Q 4069 AUSTRALIA email@example.com www.digitaldrummermag.com Editor & Publisher Allan Leibowitz Sub-Editor Solana da Silva Contributors Carl Albrecht Simon Ayton John Emrich Duncan Mitchell Allen Morgan Rob Silverman Cover Photo GearPix Design and layout ‘talking business’ Support digitalDrummer If you like what you’re reading, please make a donation.
Copyright: All content is the property of digitalDrummer and should not be reproduced without the prior consent of the publisher. In this age of electronic publishing, it’s obviously tempting to “borrow” other people’s work, and we are happy to share our information – but ask that you work with us if you need anything from this edition. Any reproduction must be fully acknowledged and include a link back to our website. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
I was thrilled when Thomas Lang agreed to an interview - and what a nice guy he turned out to be. No areas were off limits, no topic too touchy and he went to great lengths to answer a range of questions about himself, drumming in general and electronic percussion in particular. And there was no hype, no agenda, no self-promotion – just straight talk. Not bad for a contact made via his website. Neil Peart (or at least his kit and his drum tech) also appear this month, together with Mike Mangini and Tommy Lee – all featured in an article on e-drums making it onto some of the biggest tours of the year. There’s a bit of a different mix this issue. There’s perhaps less gear and more of a performance focus, with input from a couple of professional drummers in our ever-increasing contributor pool. We’re thrilled to welcome the likes of Carl Albrecht and Rob Silverman to our line-up, and also include an article from producer Allen Morgan who offers a non-drummer’s perspective on how drums fit in the mix. John Emrich is back with answers to more VST questions and he’s ready for the next batch, if there’s anything you want to know. And a special ‘thank you’ to Simon Ayton, a Roland product specialist who has not yet missed an issue of digitalDrummer. This month, he talks about sampling – co-inciding with the launch of the SPD-SX. This is the last issue before the Christmas break, so it’s a good time to thank everyone who has helped ensure the success of digitalDrummer in 2011. I would like to acknowledge all the contributors who offer unique insights into e-drumming. Of course, we also appreciate the support from a growing band of advertisers and I would urge you to mention us when you support any of them. Thanks also to the growing legion of readers and subscribers. I do, however, have one favour to ask: Increasingly, people are using bogus email addresses when they sign up. This makes it hard to alert readers when new issues go live. I want to reassure everyone that digitalDrummer does not practise spamming and certainly does not share reader information with anyone. The only email you’ll get from us is an alert that the latest magazine is available. So please, if you have used a phony address, take the time to re-register. Again, thanks everyone for your support and all the positive feedback. Keep the suggestions coming. So, on that note, let’s get on with it: One, two, three, four ...
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The global electronic drumming e-zine Edition 8
6 10 22 24 28 34 36 4
Hyper hybrids Some high-profile drummers have deployed e-drums this Northern autumn, but only eagle-eyed enthusiasts would spot the digital adaptations to the acoustic kits.
Snaring attention digitalDrummer puts eight e-snares up against each other in the first head-to-head. There’s a range of looks and prices, and there are also big performance differences.
Sitting pretty Pork Pie thrones have a solid reputation and we put a couple of models through their paces, reviewing the Big Boy Bicycle Throne and the Round Drum Throne.
Pedals - the bass-ics Modern bass drum pedals have various adjustments and a few small changes can make a huge difference to performance.
PROFILE Thomas Lang He’s a drummers’ drummer, known as much for his clinics and instructional videos as for his performance, but Thomas Lang is also a big fan of electronic percussion.
performance How I use e-drums Our series on how professionals use electronic percussion kicks off with The Classical Jazz Quartet drummer Rob Silverman, a Zendrum endorser.
Drumming for the song One of Carl Albrecht’s pet hates is the “busy drummer syndrome”. He’s not talking about too many bookings, but rather the tendency to “overplay”. www.digitaldrummermag.com
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38 40 41 42 43 44 48 50
Product review: Studio Drummer Native Instruments’ latest offering features three kits, a heap of MIDI grooves and a myriad of tweaking options. digitalDrummer gets a first look at this new VST offering.
Ditch the module A new application promises to replace modules, allowing drummers to plug their triggers straight into their computers.
VST Q&A E-drum guru John Emrich is back to answer more VST questions on topics from computer output to articulations.
New products A wrap-up of new VST offerings from around the world. Products include the AD Jazz Songwriters Bundle, Toontrack’s Americana EZX and Drumasonic 1.5.
recording The right balance Recording veteran Allen Morgan offers a non-drummer’s perspective on where drums fit in the overall music mix.
tweaking Just a sample With the release of Roland’s updated SPD-SX multipad device, it’s a good time to look at sampling.
DIY Tom holds a secret Usually, our DIY section consists of a reader question answered by our resident DIY expert. This month, however, our reader submission is actually a suggestion.
gear My monster kit This month’s monster kit is a DIY hybrid built by Timo Zenner of Merzig in Germany. It’s based on a Tama Artstart Esprit kit.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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PHOTO: LORNE WHEATON
Some high-profile drummers have deployed edrums this Northern autumn, but only eagle-eyed enthusiasts would spot the digital adaptations to the acoustic kits. Allan Leibowitz looks into the hyped hybrids.
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THREE OF THE biggest names in drumming, Neil Peart, Tommy Lee and Mike Mangini, are currently touring with e-triggers built into their kits. In the case of Rush drummer Peart, his 30th anniversary Time Machine drumset continues the use of Roland triggers, powered by two TD-20X modules. According to Peart’s drum tech, Lorne Wheaton, the current rig includes four 10”x6” and two 10”x4” tom pads, a 12”x6” snare pad and a 14”x14” custom bass drum pad. The Roland baskets are fitted into the custom DW shells and mounted on customfinished DW hardware. “I removed the trigger baskets from the stock Roland shells and mounted them in the DW shells,” says Wheaton. “That was for the snare and the toms. I needed to do a little bit of customising to make the bass drum trigger fit, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The mods have been perfected over the past two Peart tour kits, but one change is the e-cymbals. “For the previous tour kits, the traditional black Vcymbals were used, but for the current Time Machine tour kit, the new silver series were used:
three CY-14C-SV crashes, one CY-15R-SV ride and one VH-12-SV hi-hat system,” Wheaton explains, adding that they had toyed with the idea of recolouring the cymbals bronze or copper, “but we were afraid it would chip off eventually”. Besides building the electronic part of the kit, Wheaton also controls the triggering behind the scenes. The processing includes two Roland XV5080 samplers and a custom-programmed MIDI system. “We drive the MIDI rack with the TD-20X module,” he notes. “All the sounds except two sounds come from the XV-5080 samplers. Those two sounds are some tweaked 18” floor toms from the module. With the help of Jim Burgess at Saved by Technology, we program the samplers with the actual sounds ripped from the masters from the Rush studio recordings.” Roland’s liaison with the Rush team on the project is Roland Canada V-drums specialist Darren Schoepp. He says the collaboration was an exhilarating experience. “The collection of intense focus and the execution of timed events done with such accuracy and precision creates results like no other.
Peart’s 2011 Time Machine rig as photographed by Lorne Wheaton digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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Mike Mangini’s Pearl kit includes TruTrac heads ”It’s magic,” he observes.“It’s truly an honour to be associated with this team, even just as a simple and often distant contributor.” According to Schoepp, “Neil and Lorne and the rest of the band and crew are down-to-earth, very appreciative guys - and are some of the best people in the industry to work with.” Schoepp describes Peart’s set-up as “probably one of the most sophisticated and involved rigs you will find out on any major touring show around the world today”. “And although it takes a very detail-oriented technician like Lorne Wheaton to pull it all together, it has stood the test of time in enduring the rugged demands of extensive professional touring worldwide. “The timeless music of Rush requires that electronic drums and percussion be an important part of recreating certain songs live. Furthermore, the VDrums have become an integral part of the audience-anticipated drum solos each night as Neil explores rhythms and sounds from around the world, including modern-day sound effects and samples.” Besides the Roland gear, Peart’s line-up also includes a Dauz trigger pad, Fat Kat trigger pedals and MalletKat Express.
challenge that an artist brings to DW,” he says. Meanwhile, Pearl is using a couple of its high-profile artists to promote its ePro Live offering. Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who returned to the Pearl stable in April, has some ePro triggers built into his spectacular Rollercoaster kit. Lee’s electronic kit features acrylic shells and Pearl’s TruTrac Electronic heads and r.e.d.Box module. Most people will be focused on the elaborate rollercoaster rails on which Lee’s kit “rides”, but edrum returnee Pearl is hoping drummers notice the electronic elements in the drumset. The drum giant claims the Tommy Lee custom-built e-Pro Live electronic/acoustic kit “will guarantee that Tommy has the perfect tone and pitch for each drum, night after night”. The kit is currently on the road as part of the Crue’s extended global tour which kicked off in June in Dallas, Texas. Meanwhile, Mike Mangini is on tour for the first time with Dream Theater after winning the gig in the much publicised audition which also featured this month’s digitalDrummer profiled artist, Thomas Lang.
DW spokesman Mike Thomas admits he’s still a “die-hard wood shells guy”, but adds that Peart’s incorporation of electronics brings “additional spice to playing”.
Mangini goes on tour equipped with Pearl’s new Reference Pure drumset including a bunch of e-Pro Live TruTrac pads and a r.e.d.Box sound module “to produce any sound imaginable by the world’s fastest drummer”.
“When triggers and electronics fit your situation or you are experimenting, it’s always fun. I enjoy the
According to a Pearl spokesman, Mangini is able to create the sounds required for Dream Theater’s
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Tommy Lee’s acrylic kit is powered by e-Pro Live songs using the new kit. “Providing all the necessary ‘bells and whistles’ are six TruTrac pads mounted around the kit, allowing the triggering of cowbells, temple blocks and timpani,” the spokesman says. “The … r.e.d.Box allows for total customisation of the triggered sounds, drawing from a very expansive and accurate catalogue of instrument sounds and effects.” Mangini spoke about the versatility of the Pearl lineup recently, saying he uses one pad for a concert bass drum, two cabasas, a finger cymbal and a couple of odd Chinese cymbals as well. “For me, I was able to express myself musically as an artist.” While Mangini, Lee and Peart are up-front about their electronic enhancements, industry insiders say there are many touring professionals who keep their e-drums hidden. Pintech and Boom Theory have
installed electronics into acoustic kits, but are not able to reveal customers’ details. As one industry insider explains, the vast majority of triggering “remains off the radar” because drummers “don’t want to risk their ride”. “If you’re a high-profile player on an endorsement, you’re either taking gear - or gear and cash - and are contractually obligated to promote that product. You also have the corporate muscle and worldwide distribution of companies that can make touring really easy by backlining your exact set-up overseas,” the insider explains. The big-name drum companies obviously don’t want it known that drummers are just using their shells and audiences are really hearing sounds from an electronic trigger, he adds.
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Snaring attention Snares may depend on modules for their sounds, but that hasnâ€™t stopped drummers seeking out custom finishes, superior hardware and, of course, accurate triggering. Allan Leibowitz put a number of e-snares through their paces in another digitalDrummer head-to-head review. 10
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MANY ARGUE THAT the snare drum is the most important in any kit, so electronic snares have a lot to live up to. Obviously, the sounds are determined by the module, but drummers expect responsiveness, dynamics and head and rim separation from an e-snare. Increasingly, there are also aesthetic expectations, with e-snares looking more and more like their acoustic counterparts. We see increasing use of metal shells, exotic timbers and decorative wraps as well as high-quality hardware – certainly a far cry from the octagonal pads of the early Simmons or Pearl e-kits. digitalDrummer assembled a collection of e-snares from around the world for the first-ever head-to-head comparison. One qualification – e-snares are only as good as the module to which they are connected and the finetuning which they undergo. Given sufficient tinkering, almost any trigger can perform well, but set up wrong, even a good e-snare can be erratic and unresponsive. And finally, the quality of the mesh head also impacts on performance, as revealed in digitalDrummer’s mesh head reviews. Here are our observations, with the drums listed in alphabetical order:
How we tested Snares were tested primarily with a Roland TD-20X module, using stock PD125 settings unless other settings were stipulated by the manufacturer. The snares were compared in a range of playing conditions. These include soft rolls from the edge to the centre and harder hits and rim shots – all triggered using the Laugh Lin VEX kit, a patch known for its lively snare sounds. Crossstick testing was done using the Xstick setting, and the snares were also tested with brushes, using the module’s “brushes” setting. For compatibility testing, all snares were tested using a TD-3 module and a DrumIt Five 2box module. While the review batch was extensive, there were some notable absences: Jobeky elected not to participate and Australia’s Alchemy was not able to provide a sample. We didn’t include ddrum, ddt, Pearl or Traps since none sells e-snares as a stand-alone product. Yamaha was also not able to provide its latest-generation snare pad and module in time for the testing. Finally, we didn’t include Alesis or 2box because the former is known to perform best with its native module and the latter is in short supply as a stand-alone pad (Did I mention previously that it’s very orange?).
Not only did we take notes during our extensive testing, we also assembled all the snares and recorded their performance directly from the module using a video camera with direct-in audio. The recording was more flattering to some snares than others, even though they were all recorded on the same output settings on the module and input settings on the camera. If anything, the video has exaggerated the differences and readers can check out the results here. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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Acoustic drummaker Billy Blast has launched a new range of custom hybrid snares. The 13”x5” Keller Maple shells are set up with snare wires and strainer fitted and can easily be converted back to an acoustic snare by removing the internal trigger. Like SpaceMuffins and RET drums, the 3.6 Kg drums are fitted with mylar heads rather than mesh – in this case, Billy’s Sound Controlled Heads. The heads were actually quieter than I anticipated, thanks to some internal muffling. Compared to a mesh head, the Blastech has a bit more snap and less thud – but you need to remember to turn the snare off. There are a range of wraps including pearls and glossy solids ($350) and sparkles ($400) – and then there are the special designs like the 9/11 Special Edition sample which ironically reached digitalDrummer on September 11th, US time. Because of the mylar head, the drum takes some dialing in on the TD-20, with the stock PD125 setting not sensitive enough on the head and too hot on the rims, and with false rim triggers on the edges. However, with the sensitivity hiked up and the rim gain turned down a few notches, reliable triggering was achieved across the head. Again, probably because the mylar is less forgiving than mesh, the snare was quite hot in the centre and responsiveness dropped off quickly towards the edges – something that can be mended by changing the response curve. The drum was less responsive in brushes setting, especially for sweeps, where the lack of surface friction reduced the triggering. On the plus side, the mylar gives excellent, realistic sweeps to compensate. 12
On the 2box, in Pad12 setting, the snare needed some extra gain, a reduction in threshold and a shift to the Pos1 curve to give good response. Reliable triggering on the TD-3 module required a sensitivity boost, threshold adjustment, scan time tweak and rim reduction. It should also be noted that this snare seems designed for heavy hitters. When sensitivity was hiked for soft playing, it was harder to separate head and rim triggering. www.digitaldrummermag.com
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Diamond Electronic Drums
For this review, custom UK drummaker Diamond Electronic Drums supplied an exotic 14”x5” snare made from Finnish Birch with a Kevasingo veneer. The exquisite 3.7 Kg drum was enhanced with eight chrome mini-tube lugs and 2.3 mm hoops and had been for sale in “Dave’s Shop” for £249 (the base 14”x5” price for the 14” is usually £189). The review drum was fitted with a snow-white Drumtec design series batter head (a £12 option) and a plain white mylar reso head. This is the third Diamond snare digitalDrummer has tested, and it’s obvious that company is committed to continuous improvement. The drum triggers beautifully, with excellent dynamics across the head, full positional sensing and no hot spots. The rim triggers have been repositioned to improve rim sensitivity, and no module tweaking was required on the TD-20 to get good rim shots and cross-stick triggering (in Xstick mode). Indeed, the repositioning has eliminated the need to dial back the rims, which were hotter in the previous-generation Diamond snares. Combined with the excellent Drum-tec design head, the drum also performed well in brushes mode. This snare was one of the best performers on the 2box, with very little tweaking required from stock Pad12 to produce excellent consistency and dynamics. Rim performance was a bit subdued – like most non-2box triggers. And on the TD-3, the Diamond was simply plug and play, with no adjustment required from the stock PD125 setting. In particular, the rim sensitivity was excellent – possibly better than any other trigger. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
The Diamond range is truly bespoke, with buyers able to select everything from the shell depth to the materials, hardware and heads. There’s no documentation or cables provided, and no mention of warranty, but it’s clear that Diamond stands by its products and there is plenty of evidence of the builder going to extremes to keep customers happy. In short, these are well-crafted, unique drums built to buyer specifications at less than the price of a mass-produced trigger. 13
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Drum-tec Pro Design
The Germanmade snare is heavy-duty and solidly built, weighing in at 4.4 Kg, with some exquisite wraps over quality Sapeli timber shells. The hardware is also high standard and attractive, with 10 lugs on each side. Even the jack connector is upmarket, with a secure clip and release mechanism. The snare is fitted with a white two-ply Drum-tec design head on top and sheer black mesh head on the bottom. Designed for use with a snare stand, there is no mounting hardware. Drum-tec recommends some tweaks from the standard TD-20 PD125 settings, primarily a slight drop in sensitivity. Triggering was even across the head, with no hot spots or dead areas, and the dynamics were very good. Rim response was similarly excellent, while cross-stick triggering worked well with the module locked in Xstick mode. The snare was very responsive in brushes mode, achieving good sweeps. Paired with a TD-3 module, the snare performed very well. Dynamics and responsiveness were very good and rim response was excellent. The results were less pleasing on the 2box: the Pro 14
Design needed quite a bit of tweaking, primarily a reduction in sensitivity, a reduction in threshold and a change to Pos1 curve. Even then, triggering was not optimal and further tweaking was probably required to get optimal responsiveness across the head. Rim triggering was subdued and not really acceptable. At â‚Ź469, the Pro Design snare is the most expensive sample, but it is a distinctive, substantial piece and itâ€™s covered by a five-year warranty. www.digitaldrummermag.com
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The 12”x5” jet black snare was substantial and well finished, weighing in at 2.4 Kg. It is fitted with six lugs per side and attractive hardware, including an l-rod mount and solid-looking rims. The snare comes with Drum-tec’s two-ply ‘design’ head on top and a single-ply white head on the bottom. The instructions recommend some minor tweaks from the standard PD125 setting on a TD-20, and responsiveness was excellent. Triggering was good across the entire surface, with no hot spots or dead zones. Positional sensing was accurate, rim triggering was excellent, and cross-stick was better than its big brother. The snare was very responsive in brushes mode, achieving good sweeps and crisp hits. Overall, this model performed slightly better than its big brother - which isn’t surprising since 12” triggers inevitably outperform larger triggering surfaces. Paired with a 2box module, the 12” model also performed better than its bigger brother, with less tweaking required in Pad12 setting. Good even triggering was achieved without altering the curve, but this drum struggled with rim triggering. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
On the TD-3, performance was flawless, with excellent triggering across the head and good rim sensitivity – again in stock 125 setting. At €249, the Diabolo is well priced and covered by a three-year warranty. 15
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Hart has opted for a 13â€?x4â€? offering for its snare, and the hammered chrome drum is a monster at 4.5 Kg. It has eight lugs, upsized versions of the Drum-tec Diabolo. While the drum is advertised with Hartâ€™s single-ply Maxxum head, the review sample shipped with a Magnum head, but performed well nonetheless. The drum comes with a stereo cable and some instructions, but to find the trigger settings, you have to hit the website. For the TD-20, only minor tweaks were required to the stock 125 settings and these are clearly documented on the Hart website. Responsiveness was even across the head, with no hot spots or dead areas, and dynamics were very good. The drum had a realistic feel with the Magnum head and was eminently playable. Rim triggering was also good, as was cross-stick performance in Xstick setting. Responsiveness in brushes setting was excellent, with nice crisp hits and good sweeps.
The Hart triggered perfectly on the TD-3 in 125 mode, with no need to alter any of the parameters to get good sensitivity across the head and accurate rim triggering.
On the 2box, the Hart snare needed little adjustment from stock Pad12 settings, but rim triggering was problematic and even significant tweaking did not produce perfect rim shots.
The Hart is priced towards the top end, at $519, but it is a solid-looking instrument covered by a lifetime warranty, and the service department has been significantly beefed up to address past issues.
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Pintech 14” AcousTech
The 14”x3” snare is available in black or chrome, and the metal version I tested was a substantial drum, weighing in at 3.2 Kg. The hardware is also substantial, with 12 subtle lugs, and the snare sports Pintech’s black single-ply mesh heads on both ends. And while it may seem that more is better, the large number of lugs is not so appealing when you want to change a mesh head! It is shipped with a spare rim protector, a stereo cable and a drum key (one of only two snares that actually came with one!), but no instructions, so I tested it in stock 125 setting. On the TD-20, triggering was uniform and responsive across the head, with no hot spots (I guess that’s one purpose of the patch in the centre) and no dead zones. Dynamics were excellent and rim response was good at default settings. Good cross-stick response was achieved with Xstick setting. Interestingly, for troublesome modules, the Pintech snare comes equipped with onboard gain control which allows for both the head and rim trigger to be adjusted for more or less response. This came in useful on the 2box, where rim response was initially very weak. However, increasing the sensitivity on the module and dialling back the head sensitivity on the drum produced a slight improvement – although still not perfect. On the TD-20, the Pintech performed flawlessly, and there was no need to fiddle with the drum’s dials as it was almost plug and play in 125 mode. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
The Pintech sells for $486 and is covered by a full one-year warranty and limited lifetime warranty which provides for discount upgrades. One potential issue is that Pintech’s foam column is softer than other sensor cushions and can be damaged by vigorous play (hence the protector patch). But for those who do wear the part out in the first year, there’s a ‘no-questions asked’ replacement of the columns and they’ll generally throw in a few spares as well. The drum also comes with a spare mesh head – there’s a Pintech single-ply as the reso head and, in emergencies, you can simply swap them over – 24 tension nuts later! 17
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The new Roland pad was released a few years back as part of the revamped TD-20SX/KX kit. The sample 12” snare was supplied with an attractive woodgrain wrap which set off the chrome hardware and black rims. Of all the sample snares, the 3 Kg Roland was the most complete in terms of packaging: it came in a labelled box, complete with a comprehensive owner’s manual, a catalogue for additional custom wraps and a quality clear-covered cable. The snare is fitted with Roland’s patented dual-ply mesh head and rubber rim protector and a drum key is included. Plugged into the TD-20X and set to 125X trigger setting, the snare performs as if it was designed for the module. Wait a minute, it WAS designed for the module! The responsiveness was fantastic across the head, with subtle nuances easily detected. Positional sensing was spot-on, rims shots were excellent and when set to Xstick mode, cross-stick responsiveness was excellent. In short, performance was superb. The biggest surprise came when pairing the Roland pad with the 2box module. Performance with just a tad of sensitivity boost was astounding – potentially better than the native 2box pads. Sensitivity and responsiveness across the head were flawless, the only defect being a slight deficiency in rim triggering. The PD-125X was also excellent on the older TD-3, but I thought it was slightly less responsive than the Diamond – possibly something to do with minor tweaks to better serve the TD-20X module. 18
Obviously, the Roland is priced towards the top end of the scale at around $525, but there’s no doubt that the manufacturer has optimised the drum for its module and it delivers undeniably superior triggering. It is also a superbly styled drum, especially with the new slip-in wrap inserts that allow you to alter the appearance in minutes. Every detail of the design has been carefully thought through, from the stylish column lugs to the indentations in the rim rubber which accommodates the tension rods. www.digitaldrummermag.com
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The Taiwanese drum-maker has lifted its game with its new generation of edrums which are a far cry from the earlier versions with the sensor built into the head. The 12” snare, a lightweight at 2 Kg, is available in a variety of wrap finishes and comes with a dual-ply white mesh head on the top and a single-ply black mesh head on the bottom. The drum is well finished, with the sample sporting a textured black wrap and black hoops and lugs. There’s also a clamp fitting for Roland or Yamaha L-rods. One omission is rim protectors, with nothing supplied to dampen the rim strikes. There’s also no cable or instructions. The head trigger is side-mounted, rather than positioned in the centre of the drum, which obviously limits positional sensing (PS). Indeed, no matter where you strike the head, the TD-20 positional sensor shows an outside hit. This also means you don’t get the full range of tones that you would from a head with PS. The drum does, however, have good dynamics and even triggering, with no hot spots. Rim shot triggering is good – helped by the lack of rim protector, and cross-stick is also effective, when the module is set appropriately. The drum also performs well in brushes mode. The snare performed excellently on the 2box in very lightly modified Pad12 setting, with better rim response than most other third-party snares – partly attributable to the naked rims. But this is certainly good news for 2box owners looking for costeffective alternatives to the dedicated trigger pads. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
The XM was one of only two snares that required module tweaking on the TD-3, but, with two notches of sensitivity boost and a bit of threshold reduction, produced good dynamic triggering. Of course, without a rim guard, the rim triggering needed to be dialed back as well. On the downside, the mesh head is noisier than most, with a dull thud. But in its favour, the drum is among the cheapest out there at $275 on eBay, and is also compact and attractively styled. 19
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The bottom line With its rubber duck trigger, Pintech has demonstrated that you can play anything, and with parameter tweaking available on most modern modules, good triggering is available from almost any pad. So the secret of good performance is largely determined by the module. That said, all e-snares are not equal. There’s no doubt that the original is still the best. Roland’s PD-125X was not only the easiest to set up, but also the best performer on the TD-20X module. Surprisingly, it was also the best performer on the 2box, even though it’s clearly not designed for compatibility with rival modules. Diamond Electronic Drums was a stand-out among the non-Roland snares, not only for its looks, build quality and custom options, but for excellent triggering and response. The next bunch of triggers, the Drum-tec Diabolo, Hart Dynamics, the Drum-tec Pro and Pintech (in that order, but bunched very closely), were all good performers which would satisfy any drummer, and in all cases, reliable triggering is easily achieved with a bit of tweaking. Two triggers didn’t quite reach the same level on the TD-20X, primarily because of the absence of positional sensing – the XM and the Blastech Hybrid. Again, good triggering is achievable on both with a some module adjustment, but no amount of alteration will give tonal change across the head that comes with PS-capable triggers. Of course, positional sensing is less important to some drummers than others and not available on most modules. And on the issue of module compatibility, the brain will also determine choice to some extent. Some snares worked far better with “picky” modules like the DrumIt Five, while the TD-3 was far more accommodating. If you have a more basic module, you don’t have to splash out on a top-end snare to get good performance. There is a very big cost differential across the samples, with the most expensive coming in at double the price of the cheapest, and budget may be a determining factor for some buyers. Only one sample was capable of performing acoustically as well as electronically, so essentially, the Blastech offers two products in one. The downside is a requirement for more tweaking than with most rivals; the upside is that in a power failure, at least you’ll have one drum that works. And finally to absent friends: UK maker Jobeky has a strong following and Australian newcomer Alchemy also has satisfied customers – and both are probably worthy of consideration. But without having tested the current offerings, we can’t comment on their ! performance – or rank them. If we do get hold of review samples of either – or any others we!missed – we will certainly update our review accordingly. Since this issue was published, 2box updated Model Size Responsiveness Rim PS its operating system so that it is now far more Blastech Hybrid compatible 13x5 with 7 third-party triggers.4 No Diamond 14x5 9 5 Yes Those snares which performed poorly with the Drum-tec Pro 2box14x5 8 5 Yes are now far more usable, thanks to the Drum-tec Diabolo 12x5 8.5 5 Yes added tweakability of the module. Hart Dynamics 13x5 8.5 4.5 Yes Pintech 14x3 8 4.5 Yes Roland 12x4.5 10 5 Yes XM 12x4 7.5 4 No
Brushes 2 5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 5 4.5
Price $400 $390 $625 $335 $519 $486 $525 $275
Responsiveness is scored out of 10; all others out of five. All based on TD-20X performance. Price is expressed in US dollars, using the exchange rate on 01/10/2011.! 20
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Sitting pretty QUEEN POINTED OUT that “fat-bottomed girls make the rockin’ world go round”, but the band neglected to talk about drummers who are a little broad in the beam. Had they done so, they would no doubt have made some mention of a quality throne. I had the opportunity to try a couple of Pork Pie thrones (their main competitor, Roc n Soc, could not provide a sample for a head-to-head – or whatever you’d call a seat comparison).
The Big Boy Bicycle Throne The name is a euphemism and the throne certainly accommodates aboveaverage posteriors in comfort and style. But you don’t have to be oversized to enjoy it. The review version was a zebra-print velourcovered seat with a silver sparkle vinyl sidewall – and while that may sound like something you’d see in a pimp-mobile, it actually looked quite stylish. The throne is generously proportioned, at almost 45 cm across and 40 cm from tail to tip. It’s 10cm thick at its plushest, with the seat sculpted to accommodate the drummer’s contours. The seat section is positioned on an extremely sturdy double-braced tripod, the only part not made in the USA. The legs end in oversize rubber feet for stability and traction, and height adjustment is done by spinning the seat on its threaded stalk and clamping into place with the built-in hardware. No drum key or 22
other tools are required, so tear-down and set-up are a cakewalk – or a cake-sit. The truth of the pudding is in the tasting, and just a few minutes on this guy had me wondering what I’ve been doing on skinny-arsed thrones my whole life. The foam padding is firm but yielding and shapes to your body so it almost feels like it’s not there. But at the same time, there’s a great sense of support. The velour is comfortable and feels hard-wearing, and looking at the online forums, there are certainly no complaints about fabric failure – or failure of any sort, for that matter.
The Round Drum Throne The round version is a little less impressivelooking, but with its 36 cm diameter, it’s a substantial piece of sitting equipment. While the extra three or four centimetres make a difference to the surface area, the big bonus comes with the added depth of the seat – a full 12 cm. The foam is firm but forgiving and is uniform rather than contoured like the bike brother. The metal bits are the same as the bike version – double-braced tripod, chunky feet, threaded mounting post and the same tool-free hardware. While there’s no doubt this throne is streets ahead of my regular throne and almost in another solar system compared to the bottom-end (pardon the pun) cheapies, personally I found it less supportive than the bike version. But it’s a matter of personal taste, and I’m sure many people www.digitaldrummermag.com
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prefer the round seat which takes a bit less space and is marginally more versatile since there’s no back or front.
The ‘bottom’ line At around $170 (round) and $190 (bike), the Pork Pie products are not cheap – but they’re also not the most expensive. They are a bit limited in that they don’t have a backrest and can’t accommodate one, but I’ve yet to see a drummer laid-back enough to take advantage of the back support. Both seats were certainly comfortable and if you’re planning to spend hours at a time behind your kit, it’s worth putting your money where your butt is. Admittedly, I haven’t tried the major rival, but I’d have no hesitation dipping into my wallet for one of these, especially the bike version. During those four-hour sets, the purchase price will soon be forgotten, together with the throbbing lower back courtesy of those entry-level thrones. All Pork Pie thrones are covered by a threeyear warranty, but it’s not unusual to hear from people who have been using them for considerably longer. And if you’re fashionconscious and the extensive range doesn’t meet your needs, there are plenty of custom options available – and quick turn-around times if you’re in North America.
butt wait, there’s more ... Here are a few other options in the same price-range. The prices are indicative only and based on street prices.
G Ov ibr a $1 ers lta i ze r 99
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
R M ocot N$2 io S 10 n oc
D D WH ut e y a $2 15 Air vyLi ft
T R am id a $2 er Er go 20 -
P R ear o l $2 ads D2 20 te 00 r
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Drum pedals: the bass-ics
Modern drum pedals have various adjustments, and a few changes can make a huge difference. Duncan Mitchell gets on his hands and knees with a few tools.
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WHEN I WAS approached to write this article for digitalDrummer, I was fairly confident that after nearly 40 years of playing everything from ‘60s strap-style units held together with coat-hangers, (sorry, mum), to trying some of the latest and greatest pieces of engineering brilliance developed by space shuttle engineers, I could confidently write a simple article with all I had learned to help satisfy the needs of all drummers. However, upon investigating this subject online to ensure a fair and informative article, I discovered that: ► There are a lot of drummers out there unsure of what to adjust for what effect. ► There are a lot of opinions out there about what to adjust for what effect. So for the purpose of this article, I am going to go through what I believe to be the basic essentials for most pedals - regardless of age, model or cost. I am going to refer to single pedals as most double pedals have the same adjustments for both the slave and master: the rules apply for both and yes, they should feel the same. There are seven main points of adjustment on most modern pedals and I have listed them in what I believe to be the order of importance, or the adjustments that will have the most dramatic effect on your pedal’s performance. While some of these may not be available on your current pedal, most are available on a range of Pearl, DW, Tama, Mapex, Gibraltar and many other brands. Check yours before throwing it at your singer’s head ... you may end up being happy with it once you’ve tweaked it the right way. Beater Height has a major influence on both the sound produced and the feel of your pedal. The general rule of thumb is higher for volume and power and lower for speed and control. By having your beater higher, you are allowing it to travel further and therefore gain more power before striking the drum. This can make the pedal feel heavier or sluggish and requires more force from the drummer to project the beater forward. If you position it low, you obviously shorten the distance and increase the control you have over the beater. This is handy for intricate patterns, but you can lose some volume as a result and the pedal tends to feel lighter and cannot generate the same power. Of course, the volume factor is mainly a consideration for acoustic drums and moving above or below the centre on digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
your electronic pad can lead to loss of sensitivity, but you can make small adjustments and still get results. Spring Tension is a simple but crucial adjustment on any pedal and all of us have, I’m sure, given it a tweak or turn now and again to make ourselves feel better without really knowing why. It all relates to the speed with which the beater returns to a “neutral” position and, of course, how much power you have in your legs. If the spring is tight, you need more force to move it forward; but it also returns quicker, giving a sense of speed and strength. Alternatively, if it is too loose, the pedal can feel “light” or “unresponsive” as the beater is slower to return. It’s your pedal, so try small adjustments one way then the other until you feel comfortable. An interesting side-note: I once witnessed an international drummer playing double strokes on his double pedals with no springs attached at all to “warm up”. He swears it’s the best way to build power and technique in your legs! Beater Angle is something that is constantly overlooked as far as the efficiency of the pedal is concerned. It affects the previous two adjustments to the point where if you can get the combination off all three right, you can find any pedal’s sweet spot to suit your particular style of playing, and the rest of these adjustments are like fluffing your pillows just to ensure maximum comfort. The most success I have had is by starting at around 45 degrees from the bass plate or bass drum head, (think about it, lads!), and moving in or out from the head a little bit at a time and feeling the difference. The closer to the head you get, the quicker the response and shorter travel distance for the beater, but, again, less volume will result as this reduces the distance and power that can be generated by the beater. Remember also that the closer the beater is to the drum head, the less tension there is on the spring as it is not working or extending as much as it does with a greater angle. Therefore, you may have to tighten it a tad more as you move forward or vice versa to maintain the great feel you have just achieved with the previous two adjustments. Persevere, it’s worth it. 25
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Cams can be adjusted or totally changed for a variety of sizes and angles on pedals these days. Rounded and bigger cams give that linear, smooth feel, while shorter units can make the pedal “more aggressive” or even “faster” feeling to improve performance. Trial and error is the only way to find your ideal cam, but most manufacturers provide good information either with the pedal or online if the option is available for your model. Beater Type is essentially another optional extra these days with hundreds of designs, styles and materials being used to “improve” your pedal’s performance and/or sound. Obviously, apart from wear and tear on your pad and sensors, there is not a great deal of difference in the type of materials used for electronic drum beaters; the same sound will be produced. However, the size and weight of the beater can affect the feel or speed of your pedal. Smaller and lighter beaters travel quicker with less effort required from the drummer while bigger and heavier beaters will require more work but produce a bigger sound acoustically due to the overall mass. You can also add small weights at different heights on your beater shaft to increase weight and change the overall feel. Again, trial and error is the only way. One thing to bear in mind if you’re using a mesh head on your bass is to avoid using felt beaters. Generally, they eat into the mesh. If you do need to use a soft beater, make sure you apply a patch on the mesh head. Pedal Height is a small but crucial adjustment for today’s drummers. I know guys who play a lot of heel-toe stuff and mostly the consensus among them is that lower or flatter is better. If you want more power or usually keep your heel up, then it appears that the higher angle is the winner. At the end of the day, this adjustment doesn’t affect the overall performance of the pedal, but it is a big comfort factor for the individual and worth trying, if available. I sometimes change my pedal height from one gig to the next because it suits that style of music, or rather, the way I play that style of music.
these days are sometimes stronger than some of the chains out there. I was raised on strap, (not because of my bad behaviour, you understand), but went to chain when I could afford to because it gave me more confidence that the pedal would last through a lot more gigs. Every drummer from the ‘60s or ‘70s will have a story of slicing up a leather belt or screwing their watch strap to their pedal to finish the gig. However, times have changed and you can even have a solid piece of metal joining your beater to your pedal and they are very smooth, but does it dramatically increase the performance of the pedal? Personally, I find straps a tad light these days and like the solid feel of a chain, preferably double. There is also a little give on the return with a strap or chain that doesn’t come with direct drive, but again it is purely personal and a great player will move them all just as fast. Interestingly enough, the first two adjustments have been available on pedals since the early 1900s, the rest are “modern comforts” that have been developed to keep up with the demands of today’s players and give the ultimate set-up to those who require the best performance from every aspect of the pedal they play. There are obviously many different opinions out there when it comes to bass drum pedals, but at the end of the day, it is up to you as an individual to explore and investigate every aspect of your instrument to reach your full potential as a drummer. I’m not saying don’t go out and spend over three or four hundred dollars on the latest pedal from your favourite manufacturer; I’m just saying have a look at your current pedal and see what you can do to enhance its performance to suit your personal style of playing. You may be surprised.
Strap, Chain or Direct Drive is a matter of personal opinion, I believe, especially since the straps made 26
Highest quality 24 Bit sounds. 4gb of internal Memory. Use Mesh, Rubber or Real Heads. Edit all sounds on your MAC or PC. Create your own sounds from the software provided or upload from other sources via USB. Trigger different sounds from the rim or the head. Eight assignable outputs.
2BOX Kit shown with real Drum Heads fitted.
Individual items now on SALE separately.
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PHOTO: ROLAND US
way to the top 28
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Austrian-born Thomas Lang is a drummers’ drummer, known as much for his clinics and instructional videos as for his performances with Peter Gabriel, Nik Kershaw, Ronan Keating, Kylie Minogue and his own trio, StOrk. He speaks about drumming and e-drums with Allan Leibowitz. digitalDrummer: How did you get into drumming and when did you realise you could turn pro? Thomas Lang: I started drumming at age four. I saw a drummer on television and was intrigued by his performance. A few days later, I saw a drummer play live and stood right in front of his bass drum. As a four-year-old, I was about the same height as his bass drum and I was literally “blown away” by the sound and the power of the instrument. I started taking lessons immediately and at around age 12, I realised that “professional drummer” and “musician” were viable professions - and at that moment, I made the decision to pursue it with all my passion and ambition. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
dD: Your recording and performance credits read like a who’s who of the music industry. What are some of the most memorable collaborations and why? TL: I enjoyed working with Falco very much because I also wrote and produced music with him. I also enjoyed playing with John Wetton, Save the Robots, Schwarzenator and now I really enjoy drumming in StOrk. I also enjoyed the more “pop” artists I have worked with, but for different reasons, not for the playing aspect of it. I always enjoy working the most with people that I write and/or produce with or for. 29
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PHOTOS: ROLAND, MEINL
Lang uses a TD-20SX, Octapad, SPD-S and a heap of pads and cymbals. That adds another dimension to the work and it is more than just drumming. It becomes a more “wholesome” collaboration and it means more to me musically. Being a drummer and sideman is fun and I wouldn’t want to miss it, but I also enjoy the other aspects of making music and the most memorable musical situations I was ever in always were associated with writing or producing. dD: So, given your desire for writing and producing, how much input does a drummer like yourself have in the overall production? Can you suggest changes to the rhythm/feel or the drum sound in the final mix? TL: As a session player hired to perform live or in the studio, your job is to make suggestions and to deliver ideas and offer modifications and variations of the drum part. Your job is to be creative and add a unique personality or human touch to a production. You get paid to spontaneously compose and arrange within your “area of expertise”- which is drumming, and drumming ONLY. Of course, the way you play and your unique feel will change and affect the overall sound of the music, but you only have input regarding the final sound/mix of the record if you’re the producer. dD: Clearly, you’re well known as an endorser of acoustic drum and cymbal products, but you also use electronic percussion. Can you tell us about your e-drum journey – what was your first exposure and what have you played over the years? TL: My first drumset was a Sonor Concorde. I started with only a snare drum at age four and 30
added a single cymbal after a year. The next year, I got a bass drum. The toms came only after I had been playing for about three years. I then moved on to a Tama Imperialstar kit at around age 10, a Yamaha 9000 Recording Custom at around 15 and a Sonor Signature at age 18. I started endorsing Sonor drums at that time and played all kinds of different series over the years. I finally switched to DW drums in 2010 after 20 years with Sonor and I am extremely happy with the drums and the service. DW are hands-down the best drum company out there today. I started using electronics very early on in about 1990. I used the Dynacord ADD 1 and then the Yamaha DTX systems throughout the early ‘90s. As soon as Roland released the first TD-10, I joined Roland as an endorser and I moved on to the TD-20 and the TD-20SX which I still play today. Roland are simply the best in the world of electronic drums. I like both worlds, the electronic and the acoustic world, because they are so different and to me there is just no comparison. Neither is better or worse; they are just different and both need to be mastered and understood. I love being able to switch back and forth between the two “worlds”. dD: Besides the TD-20, what e-drum gear do you currently own and use – and how do you use it? TL: I use the TD-20SX, an Octapad and an SPD-S pad. I use some components live when I am touring, like the Octapad or SPD-S pad, off to the side of an acoustic kit. Sometimes, I use some components, www.digitaldrummermag.com
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Boot Camps give enthusiasts a chance to get close and personal with Thomas Lang
like just a kick pad and a snare pad, as add-ons to my DW kit, and I also use the complete electronic kit for some recording sessions and for solo drum performances.
dD: I’ve seen pictures from your boot camps where the “classroom” is filled with e-drums. What do you use for those and what benefits do you see from the use of drums in teaching?
I also use the TD-20 often to rehearse and to record at my home studio and I use it to practice on. It is an amazingly versatile working tool.
TL: The camp is only possible with - and because of - electronic drums. The concept of my camp is eight hours of intensive drumming per day. The concept is based on actual results that can only be achieved if everyone is actually drumming and playing along with me. In order to make it work and not exhaust the students’ ears, I HAVE to use electronic drums simply because I can turn the volume down gradually over the course of the day when people’s ears are getting tired.Being exposed to loud noise and high volumes for hours at a time is extremely tiring and stresses the mind and body.
dD: How do you determine when to use acoustics and when to use e-drums? TL: It depends entirely on the music and the situation. The music always dictates the sound and feel. I sometimes choose the V-drums because they are quieter than acoustic drums for rehearsals, and sometimes because the sound is just so much more controlled and cleaner than an acoustic set. For dance music or for industrial tracks, I would always lean towards the V-drums. For jazz, I would use acoustic drums and cymbals. For recordings of metal or rock, both types of kits would work and I choose depending on the circumstances and budgets. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
If I played on acoustic drums in a small classroom with the same intensity that the camp concept requires, the students would be unable to participate after about an hour due to painful exposure to high volume drumming. 31
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A frame from the YouTube video of the Dream Theater audition The students play on practice pads and only I play on the Roland TD-20 V-drums. When I want to “blend in” with the students, I turn the volume down. When I need to “lead” the class, I turn the volume up slightly. If everybody played on amplified drums, it would be a complete mess. Only I have an amplified kit, even when all the students have electronic kits as well; in that case, they listen to themselves with headphones while I am amplified for everyone to hear. dD: Speaking of boot camps, you have been described as the “king of clinics”, not just for the great content but also because of the number of clinics you run: how many do you usually do each year and what geography does that span? TL: Good question and I am very happy to clear this up: I do VERY FEW clinics every year. Maybe a total of one to five per YEAR! If it’s a busy year, I might do somewhere between five and 10 maximum. Usually, I don’t even do clinics per se, but drum festivals. One year - 2004 - I did a LOT of clinics to promote my DVD “Creative Control” and I played about 220 clinics that year all over the world, on every continent and in 30-plus countries. That clinic world tour got a lot of international press and attention. I think that was the first time a lot of people saw me play live or even heard my name and from then on, associated me with clinics and assumed that’s what I do. But it is actually the 32
opposite. I played professionally for about 15 years with very popular acts and high-profile artists before I even considered doing a drum clinic. It was - and still is - not a priority. Also, because I have released many instructional DVDs and books, drummers associate me with “clinics” and “teaching”, etc. Most of the solo performances I do are not even clinics but solo performances at drum festivals or percussive art festivals. My work is in recording studios and on the road with other artists as a sideman, band member or session drummer. The clinics and drum festivals are a very welcome break from the norm and only a tiny part of my activities. dD: What motivates you to keep on showing up in front of drummers of all skills and putting yourself through the demands of teaching? TL: My motivation is simply the demand for it and the fact that I enjoy to share my concepts if someone is genuinely interested. The boot camp is really the only teaching I do and it is in an environment that has a strong “testosterone-driven” group dynamic which is very infectious. It is not oneon-one-type teaching and it doesn’t feel like teaching to me; it feels more like jamming and playing in a group of many drummers. dD: Speaking of playing in a group, I have to ask about the recent audition for Dream Theater. Before we talk about that though, how long since you’ve been in a band? www.digitaldrummermag.com
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TL: I am always in a band because I have always got solo projects and my own bands. My current band is StOrk and our self-titled album is available on iTunes and via www.muso-mart.com. I also have a band named Schwarzenator in Los Angeles and I had a band named Save the Robots for many years. I also recorded various albums with my band Kyo Co. So, I have always been in a band. dD: So what about the Dream Theater gig? Were you disappointed that you didn’t make it in the audition?
TL: No, I wasn’t disappointed at all. They were looking for something different and I was happy to meet them and jam to give it a shot. I am pleased with the experience, not disappointed. dD: The audition, for anyone who doesn’t know, was compiled into a documentary and screened on YouTube. The process looked very stressful from the video. What was it really like, with the cameras and crew and all the pressure of putting on a good show for the video? TL: The process wasn’t stressful, but challenging and thorough. It was, of course, very intense and a high level of focus is required when you’re scrutinised and analysed in front of cameras, but I am used to this. I’ve been working in entertainment for 25 years and cameras are omnipresent and I don’t even see them anymore. I am often “put on the spot” in clinics and DVD shoots so this is not a new experience for me. I just tried to get to know the band to find out not only if they like me, but also if I like them. I wasn’t at all thinking about “putting on a show”, but instead I was trying to be who I am and nothing more.
dD: What do you think of your rivals and of the final selection? TL: I don’t see my friends and peers as rivals. We are all good friends and I am happy Mike (Mangini) got the gig. It’s a great gig for him and it’s what the band was looking for, so it’s a positive outcome for everyone. I love all the other guys’ playing and I have much love and respect for them all as my friends and colleagues and I would have been happy to see any of the other guys get the gig. The audition is not just about drumming; there are also many other, even more important factors to be considered in finding a new band member and their decision is a combination of all of these. Musically, they were looking for someone to exactly play the old parts from the record, not add personality and a new flavour to the songs. I made the decision to add my flavour and that was a conscious decision from the beginning and I am happy with the outcome because I am a creative musician and I always want to create, not re-create and the gig wouldn’t have been right for me in that sense. dD: To end on a practical note: most of our readers are amateur drummers who like the technology of e-drums as much as the music. What advice would you have for them in terms of using their gear to become better drummers? TL: I recommend concentrating on music, practicing, technique, expression, dynamics, personality, showmanship and creativity, NOT on equipment. Gear is always secondary. It can help to enhance your performance, but it is not a starting point to become a better drummer. As the saying goes: “You can’t polish a turd”.
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How I use e-drums From time to time, digitalDrummer will share the thoughts of professional drummers who use electronic percussion. This month, we hear from Rob Silverman. MY CONNECTION TO electronic percussion is primarily through the Zendrum, a MIDI controller worn like a guitar with 24 or more touch-sensitive, programmable pads containing piezo transducers.
Over the years, I have had some very special experiences performing the Zendrum, and it has opened so many doors for me that the drum kit never could.
My introduction to the instrument in 1995 was actually a big blow to my own efforts to build a similar instrument, the RP2000 Remote Percussion instrument. Ours was just at the prototype stage, and though it was a work of art to behold, the Zendrum advertisement made us realise how far behind we were from these two guys in Atlanta. Our eight-pad, guitar-shaped novelty was no match for the 24-pad, programmable beauty they were selling, and we set our project aside, gave them a call and I became an immediate endorser of the instrument.
For instance, I performed on a late-night talk show on the WBTV Network. The show started on a very tight budget, and they needed a band that could occupy very little space, and because it was live television, they needed it to be easy on the sound crew, who were juggling a lot of sound issues on the fly. The Zendrum fitted the bill perfectly, and along with my brotherâ€™s keyboard rig and electric bass, we did two-and-a-half memorable years of weekly live television, and I picked up tons of fans who could actually see me playing back there, instead of being
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stuck behind a wall of cymbals. We were also selected many times to open for our musical heroes, largely because we could get on and off stage quickly and not disturb the headlining band’s gear after they finished sound checking. These included two appearances with David Sanborn, the Yellowjackets, John Patitucci, the Rippingtons, David Benoit, Jennifer Batten, Al di Meola, Dave Weckl and many more. There have been some trying moments though. My brother’s wife found a case at a second-hand store that she realised was the same basic dimensions as my Zendrum, so she bought it for me. I had no idea what the case originally held, but it was a perfect fit
for one of my Zendrums, and I zipped it up and set it in my tour rig. Upon arriving at the airport security screening, I placed my two Zendrums on the belt and sent them through the machine. I was immediately ushered aside by several screeners and told the ‘instruments’ had come back positive for gun powder. Bottom line: don’t use a rifle bag to carry your Zendrum. All my instruments are now contaminated and I have to ship them separately!
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One of the common questions he fields at seminars and meetings is about the “busy drummer syndrome”. Carl Albrecht explains that this doesn’t mean keeping the calendar full of appointments, but rather the tendency towards “over-playing”. 36
PHOTO: MIKE OVERLIN
Drumming for the song
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OK, DRUMMERS, HERE’S the deal! Most people don’t want to hear a fill every two bars. They don’t care how hard you’ve practiced to play those 32nd note patterns or how you “nail” the solo from your favourite drum recording. They just want you to PLAY THE SONG! Keep the tempo steady, and play the tune the way you hear it on the recording, AND THAT’S IT! (The capital letters mean that I’m shouting - sorry, I mean “speaking with a strong emphasis”.) So, why is it that so many drummers don’t get this? It is a mystery. I always tell my students and clinic attendees to “Play music, NOT drums”. Serving the song and your team is your primary objective. If you think those things are supposed to serve you and give you a way to show off your “sweet drumming skills”, you’ve got it all wrong. Now, I know I’m making a big deal out of this, but it IS a big deal. Making the song sound great is EVERY musician’s job. If that is your guide in being a drummer, people will love your playing. If the music calls for a lot of activity, then go for it. But if it’s just playing grooves for tunes, then master that skill, as well. Every great drum icon I’ve seen and heard made the whole band sound fantastic. They always play for the song, and it is a magical experience. Drummers often think this requires too much restraint: “They must be bored out of their mind! I wish they could really cut loose!” But, you know, the “regular” people listening never think of it like that. The non-musical folks are just enjoying and experiencing the music. So, how do you keep from falling into the “busy drummer syndrome”? The first thing I do is just copy what has already been done. Listen to the original recordings and just do what they do. It’s that simple. And yes, SIMPLE is usually the operative word. Most songs are arranged very carefully. Check out any of your favourite artists or recordings and you’ll hear what I mean. Intros, verses, choruses, etc. - all seem to have specific musical ideas happening. Play it just like that. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking: “But Carl, that’s sooooooo boring!! I want to add some flash to it, put some of my own personality into it! Man, I’ve got to express myself!” Arghhhhhhhhh! Get over this attitude as soon as possible. Express yourself at home! Blow off that creative drive during your practice time. Otherwise, just play the songs. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
Doing a great job IS expressing yourself. It is the most mature thing you can do as a musician. Making great music and bringing the songs to life is what it’s all about. There is not one artist that I’ve worked with that doesn’t feel the same way about this subject. Another way to battle this illness is to talk to your band colleagues, worship leader or music director and ask if what you’re playing is working for them. If you’ve started with the recording as your reference, they’ll usually like what you are doing. But there are times they do want a little more activity just to add energy to certain songs. Don’t get carried away, though. This is not permission for you to become a “drum monster”. Yes, you must ask them. Sometimes people are afraid to talk to you about your playing because everyone knows how sensitive musicians can be. Recording your rehearsals and performances is also a great tool. Videotape it if you can, but do something so you can go back and check out how it went. Be honest with yourself and take note of both your good and bad moments. Let others review your recording as well. Then, change anything you need to in order to make your performance even better. Finally, practice groove ideas with a click track for eight bars without any changes. Only do fills at the end of an eight-bar phrase, and then maybe go to a variation of the groove for the next section. Do not even do fills in the 4th measure. This is an exercise in restraint. Not physically difficult, but it can be a real mental challenge. Do it! Listen closely to how consistent you are with EVERY element of your playing. Do the snare hits sound exactly alike? Is your hi-hat pattern maintaining a steady pace? Does the bass drum perfectly line up with your hands and sound solid? Put your playing “under the microscope” and perfect every element to the best of your ability. OK, so you say you’ve heard it all before, but are you doing it? Are you really honing your musical artistry? Do not become complacent or rest on yesterday’s accomplishments. Keep moving ahead. Improve what talent you already have. Playing simple great grooves is NOT as simple you may think. It takes a strong, mature player to do this. But the pay-off is amazing. The whole band is going to sound better. Your singers are going to love how open and spacious the tunes feel. And you should feel more confident and solid in your performance. Again, remember it’s all about the music. Play what’s right for the style of songs you’re doing and you’ll be honoured amongst your peers. 37
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--vst-Product review: Studio Drummer WHEN WE REVIEWED Native Instruments’ Abbey Road VST pack, I noted that NI had provided a heavily over-engineered host program in the form of Kontakt 4. Interestingly, NI’s latest offering, Studio Drummer, doesn’t actually run on Kontakt 4 and requires the new Kontakt 5 engine. But thankfully, it does run on the free Kontakt Player 5, which is a similar interface, without all the bundled sound libraries.
What’s in the box? Studio Drummer is quite large for a sample pack over 17 GB of 24-bit drum samples, around 3,500 grooves and fills (which you didn’t find with the Abbey Road products) and some high-powered mixing capability. At the core of the pack are three kits, each available in full format or a “lite” version.
The Kit pane allows for the editing of kits, while the Mixer pane has lots of options.
The big hitter is the Stadium Kit, a Pearl Masters Premium Maple kit consisting of a 22”x 8” maple bass drum, four maple toms and choice of two snares – a 14”x7” Sonor Hilite maple snare or a 14”x8” Masshoff Drums Big Chief steel cast snare. The cymbal line-up includes Masterwork hats, 22” ride, 18” and 20” crashes, an 18” Sabian China and 10” Zildjian K splash. The Session Kit is a Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute kit with a 22”x16” bass, four maple toms and two snare options, a14”x6.5” Masshoff Drums Avalon steel cast snare or a 13”x5” Mapex Black Panther. Masterwork dominates the cymbal pack, with 15” hats, 20” rise and 17” and 18” crashes, a 20” China and 10” splash. There’s also a Garage Kit, a A Sonor SQ2 Drum System with a 22”x20” kick, four SQ2 toms and two snare choices: a 14”x5.5” Masshoff Drums Poinciana steel cast snare or a 14”x6.5” Ludwig Classic Maple Snare. Besides two Paiste crashes and the 16” Paiste hats, the cymbal selection is mostly Masterworks. Each kit also has a dedicated tambourine, clave, cowbell and handclaps.
How it works The first thing you’ll notice when opening the pack in Player 5 is the familiar multi-window set-up with a Kit pane that includes a graphic representation of the drums and a few kit controls, including the ability to alter the pitch of each piece as well as tweaking the attack, hold and decay. Unlike many other VSTs, you can’t audition each piece by clicking on it - you 38
actually have to trigger it to hear the changes. One useful feature is an A/B tab on the snare which allows you to quickly flick between the two snare options in each kit. The Grooves pane contains the MIDI groove samples – 11 basic variations from Pop to Disco. Each of these has a bunch of different grooves at different speeds, and some fills. Each of those, in turn, opens more drop-down choices. There is a huge variety of samples and many of them are very good – good enough to create just a tinge of envy. The Mixer pane has more options than you can point a stick at – and certainly more than I’d ever use. There are the usual controls for mic levels on www.digitaldrummermag.com
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each drum, plus overheads, stereo room mics and a mono mic on the entire kit. If it’s too much choice, just select one of the mix presets. The tweaking options include a fourband EQ, bus compression, a transient master control, a tape saturator which simulates the harmonic compression of analogue tape, and integrated Convolution Reverb. I must admit I didn’t spend much time in this pane, preferring to flick between the presets where lots of variety was available. The Options pane is really an extension of the Kit pane, and allows for MIDI mapping, selection of note articulations, and options to select and refine randomisation. The mapping selection is fairly broad, with presets for all the major maps out there – from Roland TD12/20 to DrumIt Five and rival VST offerings like BFD and Addictive Drums. Interestingly, there are no custom maps for Alesis or Yamaha.
How it plays
I played the pack using both a TD-20 kit and a Zendrum, and found it responsive, dynamic and easy to play, with good sounds and lots of colour and shade through the various presets.
The verdict The choice for those beginning the VST journey just got harder. This is a serious contender along with Addictive Drums, BFDeco and Toontrack’s EZdrummer. Like Addictive, the kits load quickly. But unlike that product, Studio Drummer doesn’t require a separate host purchase – you can simply use the free Kontakt Player. It has about the same level of tweakability as BFDeco – more than EZdrummer. If you’re really into grooves, then it probably lags the Toontrack offering in that area. The major drawback is limited kit piece selection and you’re pretty much stuck with a kick, snare, four toms and the cymbal line-up (times three). Of course, you can tune the individual instruments, but there are fewer options than with the competitors which generally offer more kit piece choices.
The kits are natural sounding and different enough to justify the purchase. I like all three, but would probably play it safe and use the Session Kit as the go-to drumset. It was lively and solid, with natural tones and bright cymbals.
The other shortcoming is the kit limitation, with only three drumsets offered in the pack. All the rivals have a range of add-ons, and I suppose one could consider NI’s Abbey Road products as a sort of enhancement, although they won’t be able to access the grooves, nor the enhanced tweaking.
I liked the quick start-up and the easy switching between kits. There’s no extended waiting while the pieces load, and by the time I’d changed the MIDI input to ‘Omni’ (not sure why I had to do that each time I chose a kit), the pieces were all loaded and ready to go.
But the bottom line is that for $169, you get a great entry into the VST world with three very usable kits, more FX than your average home user will ever need and a bunch of grooves that will impress your band mates and possibly offer something to practice with.
I found the latency very low and perceptibly better than the Abbey Road product, perhaps indicating that the samples are a tad smaller. The responsiveness was excellent, including cross-stick and ride bell, and the only problem I encountered was overloading the system when trying to choke the ride. But that was a memory allocation issue on the computer which was easily rectified.
Specifications: Product: Studio Drummer Procuder: Native Instruments Requires: Kontakt 5 or Kontakt Player 5 (free) Format: 6.8 GB download or boxed Price: $169 (download)
For review suggestions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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Ditch the module WHEN MANY E-DRUMMERS switch to using VSTs, they simply use their drum module to generate the MIDI data. This, of course, is overkill since nearly all of the module’s capability is bypassed. A new software offering allows VST users to ditch the module and plug their pads and cymbals straight into their computer – provided they have the appropriate inputs. DSP Trigger processes the audio from drum pads just like a module, according to developer Robert Jonkman. “However, because it’s a software solution, it can draw on the enormous computer power of a modern DAW and is able to analyse and process the audio in ways that are not possible in a hardware solution.” The solution requires a VST host such as Cubase, Sonar or Repear. Users also need an audio interface with enough line-ins for each kit piece. DSP works with all triggers, from single-zone DIY drums to three-zone cymbals with chokes, but Jonkman says the biggest gains are available when using mesh pads or cymbals. “Regardless of the pad you are using, DSP gives you powerful control over the MIDI it produces. Independent velocity curve control allows you to fine-tune the velocity curve of each articulation, allowing you to get the perfect feel and responsiveness from your pads,” he says. “Just as drum samplers offer you more control over the sounds produced by your kit, DSP offers you more control over the MIDI that goes into your sampler.” The plug-in was born out of Jonkman’s frustration with DIY pads and the limitations of his Roland HD-1. 40
“The HD-1 only allows for a single articulation for each kit piece and, in pursuit of real-sounding drums, that just wasn’t going to cut it. That’s when I set out to do something about it. I figured if my ears can tell me if the pad has been struck on the head or the rim, then surely I can program a VST to do the same,” he recalls. He drew on his childhood computing experience and some programming classes at university to develop the application which has had a fair bit of positive response. “Feedback has been great and many people have been contributing their input to help make it a better program,” he says. Jonkman, a Canadian currently based in Taiwan, is conscious that his offering will appeal to a niche market, but he’s confident that in the near future, “drum brains will move out of the hardware world and into software domain as software processing offers so many more possibilities”. “I think we can expect drum brains to become small touchscreen devices with embedded software systems. So in that regard, I think DSP Trigger is on the cutting edge of something really big.” DSP Trigger is currently on version 1.3, with a free version also available for download. A Mac version was recently added and a 64 bit will be available shortly. And while Jonkman continues to tweak the application, his biggest ambition at the moment is to spend more time behind the kit than behind the computer keyboard. “I’m also a musician, so I’m going to keep working on music,” he says, pointing out that he’s “been spending way too much time sitting in front of my computer”.
VST VST VST VST
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E-drum guru John Emrich is back to answer more VST questions from readers.
Question: My laptop has a stereo mini-jack output, but my amp has a mono quarter-inch input. If I just get an adaptor, I lose one output channel. What should I do?
Answer: STOP! Using your computer’s minijack is going to open you up for a lot of interference and noise. It is OK to use headphones, but as soon as you add an amp, you‘re opening a big can of worms. I recommend getting a simple audio/MIDI interface. There are a few benefits. The audio signal will be at the proper level to use with an amplifier and it will be a better isolated signal that will keep interference out of the equation and allow for a much cleaner and nicer playing experience. You don’t need to spend much. The PreSonus AudioBox costs less than $150 and includes a version of their software DAW.
Question: I see the major VST makers are now offering pared-back versions of their main products. Are these starter packs enough to get me going, or will I need something else as well? Answer: Yes. Programs like BFD Eco and EZdrummer are slimmed down, but have more than enough features to get you up and running.
Question: I notice on the forums that people seem to be running their VSTs with a bunch of other applications, but I’ve just been using the engine that came bundled in. Why are other guys using things like ProTools, Reaper, GarageBand or Ableton Live?
Answer: The programs that you have mentioned are DAWs and allow you to use the same set of basic tools that are available to everyone in the world of live and studio music. Depending on the drum VST program, you might be required to have a host, unless the digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
program functions in stand-alone mode. Aside from that, using a DAW will allow you to not just play drums, but make music! Even if you are just playing along with a recording of your favourite bands, a DAW will allow you to combine that tune with your drum VST. At this point, you can even record yourself. Even if you are not going to become a recording musician, it is a great tool to be able to record yourself and listen back to what you just played.
These questions have a common theme that I would like to reinforce. In addition to a drum VST, it is a good idea to get your hands on a simple audio/MIDI interface. Besides making life a little easier for your computer, the benefits of better sound and introducing yourself to the concepts of working with a DAW, even a free one, is worth the extra little bit of money. Question: What are articulations and are they any use to e-drummers? What’s the point of a flam sound when I can just play a flam myself?
Answer: There are a lot of different articulations available as part of VST sample packs. Those are essential to non-drummers, but that doesn’t mean that e-drummers can’t use them to their advantage. A perfect example is using the snare “drag” articulations in BFD2 to play buzz rolls with a Zendrum. E-drummers are just now starting to embrace the quality and flexibility of VST drum programs. The rest of the music community has been using these programs for a lot longer and those articulations are crucial to programming a good part. As drummers, we can use those extra articulations to further enhance our performance and creative side. ○ Send your VST questions to email@example.com 41
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New products AD Jazz Songwriters Bundle xlnaudio has bundled its two Jazz Adpaks into a combined download product with a significant price discount. The pack contains a13-piece jazz kit, played with both brushes and sticks. The samples are based on a Premier Gen-X drum set and a Ludwig Acrolite snare drum famous for its rich sound and tone. The drums have been tuned up slightly for a Modern Jazz sound and played with both sticks and brushes, with two different bass drums - an 18”x14” and a 22”x18”. The pack consists of 600-plus live-recorded rhythms and 60 crisp production presets. The bundle represents a saving of around $30. Price: $99 Information: www.xlnaudio.com
Americana EZX Toontrack’s new EZX expansion pack captures the essence of the Americana genre - the raw, untamed and no-frills sound that defined the music that rose out of rebelling the mainstream country and rock establishment in the 1990s. The pack contains Fibes Maple and 1960s Ludwig kits with features like the wood hoop "snare off" snare drum, sizzle strip and Cross Crasherz FX cymbals, Zildjian sizzle ride and more. It was recorded at the renowned Congress House Studio in Austin, TX, under the guidance of seasoned engineer Mark Hallman (Carole King, Dan Fogelberg). Demo songs were recorded by André Moran and Mark Hallman, and mixed and mastered by Hallman. The pack requires a working EZdrummer version 1.3 or a Superior Drummer 2.3 (or above) installation. Price: €69 Information: www.toontrack.com
DRUMASONIC 1.5 Drumasonic has released version 1.5, which allows for mixer presets to be saved to a file or loaded from a file. The options page has been redesigned. The new version also features a “Random Velocity” control and six new “Random Pitch” controls for pitching up or down any instrument within a user-definable range. There’s also new mapping functionality with presets for various e-drum systems. The update also allows up to eight keys to be assigned to each articulation (instead of one). Hi-hat triggering has been further refined and a new snare “WiresOff” triggering option included. Drumasonic is a high-end sample pack download that contains a single kit recorded in two room settings. Price: €99 Information: www.drumasonic.com 42
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The right balance DRUMS ARE AN important part of the mix because they help establish the groove. Where I place the drums in a mix often depends on the genre of music. Generally, in my mixes, the drums are out front because I like to quickly establish a groove so the listener can quickly connect with the song on a rhythmic level. Drums also help create or maintain a certain energy level in the song. For example, in rock, country and pop mixes, drums are more prominently featured in the chorus than the verses. On the other hand, electronic/dance mixes feature driving drums throughout the entire song to maintain a consistent energy level. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making the drums sound just right in the mix: * Kick and snare should be the focus of the drum mix. * A lot of reverb and decay can be derived from the overhead mics and room mics.
Electronic drumming is not just about triggers and modules. Increasingly, thanks to VSTs, e-drummers are getting involved in music production and mixing their drums into music tracks. Award-winning producer Allen Morgan offers some practical tips.
And a few things to avoid: * Stop drummers playing between takes! Ha ha. * Avoid overplaying or underplaying - but this is really dependent on the circumstances. * A particular bugbear is overplaying the hi-hat. This bleeds into the snare microphone and really drives me crazy! * Nothing can kill a drummer’s momentum as much as “over-producing” a take.
* Keep a tight control over the bass of the kit; people tend to overcompensate by adding a lot of bottom to toms and snares and this eventually leads to drowning out the drums.
Ultimately, a great production is a sum of all parts, including the song, musicians, engineers, studios, etc. The drums certainly are a key element of a song, but improper mixing of the drums is a sure way to ruin a track. All elements of the track should ultimately support the vocal nothing should be competing. However, a vocal that is supported by a solid groove can really emphasise the song’s meaning and impact.
* Creative use of compression on overhead, room and drum buzz mics gives the drums more pop and presence when used correctly.
Allen Morgan’s Music City Presets was released as an add-on to Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0 system.
* I’m not a fan of using gates on drums; I typically spend a lot of time with the tracking engineer making sure that the bleed is minimal in order to avoid using gates.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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Just a sample
With the release of Roland’s updated SPD-SX, it’s a good time to look at sampling, and who better to do it than digitalDrummer super-tweaker Simon Ayton?
SAMPLER INSTRUMENTS ARE simply clever recorders that let you play back samples in a musical way. Anything that can be heard can be sampled. If your device has a microphone input, it can be as simple as connecting a mic and grabbing samples live or in the studio. You could also use the stereo line inputs to grab high-quality sound from DJ consoles or mixing desks, from an iPod, CD or tape. Mobile phones can be a great way to quickly create some lo-fi gems.
Filter or EQ ‘em Filtering can work wonders on hard-to-hear vocal 44
samples, for example. An individual’s spoken voice may only use a thin bandwidth of frequency range, so filtering out the unnecessary high and low frequencies will improve clarity. You could use a HPF (high pass filter) to let frequencies only above a certain value ‘pass’ through. Setting a HPF at around 90Hz for male and 120Hz for female voices is quite effective for removing rumble or heavy popping that rob valuable audio ‘power’ (loudness). If a noisy vox sample is a problem, you can use one of the many noise reduction plug-ins out there - but beware that they can also cause unwanted sideeffects that can sound unnatural. A softer, more musical option would be to use a LPF (low pass www.digitaldrummermag.com
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filter) to effectively block frequencies above a certain value; in other words, ‘passing’ lower frequencies below the selected value. You could also use EQ to hone in on the musical part of the sample to help it cut through the mix.
Top and tail ‘em In order to get a nice clean sample with no lag at the start, you need to make sure any excess sample data is removed at the beginning. It’s important not to remove too much. Even though a kick waveform has its fundamental attack when the beater has finally reached its final travel, for example, the data just before the main spike is very important for timing and to get the natural sound of the kick. The beater’s first contact with the head creates an initial vibration that, although quite low level, is fundamental to the sound of the drum. Trimming it can make the kick come in too early which creates timing problems and can upset the feel of the track.
is even all the way through. On loops you’ve grabbed from a record for example, you may need to cut and move parts of the sample to bring the entire loop into line as the original may not be in perfect time and that can cause problems. There are many ways of fixing; for example, with software that analyses the pulse of the beat and creates hit points which can be simply stretched to fit the beats of the bar.
A nifty trick when trimming the start of a sample is to play it back at a much lower pitch than the original as this gives you much more time to hear the gap at the start and also makes it easier to hear any clicks that may be present. The end or ‘tail’ of the sample should also be trimmed where the waveform flatlines. You may want to consider trimming a little more off the tail of cymbals if you don’t need the full 30 seconds or so of sustain. You can always use the ‘fade out’ tool found in your audio editor to fade the cymbal out over a time that suits how it’ll be played.
Loop ‘em When editing samples that will be played in a loop either one that starts with a hit, loops indefinitely and stops with another hit or a one-shot loop that you’ll be retriggering each time you need it - it’s crucial that you edit the sample with this in mind. Most audio editors have a looping function or even dedicated loop ‘cross-fading’ function that lets you move the start and end points so as to achieve a perfectly looping sample. Remember to enable a metronome click (if available) to make sure the loop
De-click ‘em Clicks occur when the start or end of a sample is cut where the waveform still has amplitude. The sudden ‘on’ or ‘off’ of the sample is what creates the click. This can be avoided by making sure you adjust your sample trim points to where the waveform actually crosses the X-axis. Most editing software programs let you ‘snap to zero crossings’ in the preferences to help avoid this problem [see above].
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Normalise ‘em Sure, you can select the entire waveform and apply ‘normalise’, but while this ensures that the sample’s peak amplitude is the same as another’s, it’s very important to note that this does not mean all normalised samples will necessarily have the same volume level. Human perception of loudness is not linear and dependent on the frequency of the sound. Harvey Fletcher and Wilden A. Munson did extensive research on this back in 1933 and tabled their findings in their ‘Fletcher-Munson Curves’ which have since been revised and are referred to as ‘Equal-Loudness Contours’. These demonstrate how frequency or ‘pitch’ affects perceived volume. If you have vastly different samples which you are trying to level, you may have more success normalising in ‘Average Level’ mode, sometimes called ‘RMS’ or ‘Loudness’. Still the best way to set up your samples for live use is to run your sample playback device through the venue’s sound system and adjust each sample to
suit the venue and musical context in which you will use them. Of course, this can be tedious, especially if you’ve skimped on preparing your samples first. Setting levels can be made easier by simply adjusting the individual ‘pad’ volumes on your device so that you don’t have to do any waveform editing and you can also save these unique volume settings as a ‘patch’ with a different name – say, for the name of the song or even venue so you can easily recall it and try different settings out at the show during sound-check.
DC offset Contrary to how it sounds, this is not some tax for District of Columbia residents, but applies to all citizens of the world. If a waveform is not centred or ‘biased’ around 0.0 on the x-axis, editing can be difficult. DC offset can occur during the recording process, especially with lower-end recording gear or when recording into a laptop’s audio input; for example, where there may be some processing or signal noise on the input.
SPD-SXtra features, Xtra cost Roland should soon start shipping its new SPD-SX, the revamped sampling pad replacement for the SPD-S. Perhaps the biggest upgrade is in memory – the SX has 2 GB internal memory, where its predecessor had 515 MB. The extra memory allows for increased polyphony – 20 voices (effectively 16) instead of eight voices on the S – and more recordable wave slots (10,000 on the SX; 500 on S). It also means 360 minutes of mono samples – up from 12 minutes in the previous version. The SX also gets 20th century connectivity through expanded USB functionality (USB mass storage, USB MIDI/AUDIO, USB memory). USB connectivity and the ability to add external USB storage is a far cry from the ageing CompactFlash Card Slot on the S. Users will also welcome the addition of the bundled Wave Manager software app that is used to import audio files directly from computer via USB, assign the samples to each pad, and organise the thousands of samples efficiently. There’s a beefed up large backlit LCD, while each of the nine pads now has a dedicated LED that illuminates to show the pad’s status. The LEDs even get brighter or dimmer according to audio levels. Another enhancement is the inclusion of three multi-effects units: one master unit and two units that are assignable per kit. Of course, these improvements and a bunch of other changes come at a price, with the new device launched at US$799 – around $250 above the street price of the older model. But already SPD-S owners are selling their current models and ordering the new one, so many clearly do see the price hike as justified. digitalDrummer will include a full review when production units become available. 46
- Allan Leibowitz www.digitaldrummermag.com
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You may want to zoom in on a silent section of your sample and check to see if the waveform lies on the x-axis. If it’s sort of hovering above, you’ve got a DC offset which you should correct by selecting the entire waveform and choosing ‘remove DC offset’ or similar from the edit menu of your sample edit program before resaving it.
Mess with ‘em I know DC offset removal and normalising are practical but dull, so it’s important to know that great audio savagery is to be had by applying all sorts of processes to audio to create entirely new sounds. Favourite manoeuvres are to apply heavy filtering, distortion, EQ or compression to drum loops, for example, but you can also create fantastic atmospheric sounds by simply stretching samples way beyond their normal length and then applying reverb or to create drawn-out but melodic weirdness by applying heavy noise reduction, then slowing them down. Experimentation with the built-in effects of your software can open your ears to new ideas and rhythms and you may even learn some fabulous tricks for your next musical masterpiece.
Batch edit ‘em The lazy person’s way of doing lots of things at once to multiple files, and also called ‘batch convert’, this feature of many editing programs can save huge amounts of time when you need to do the same thing to all your samples. You simply choose the types of processing you want to apply and then give it a ‘source’ folder where your files are (maybe on your hard disk?) and ‘destination’ folder where you want the final files to go (maybe on your sample playback devices memory card or USB stick?). Typical operations you could apply in one go may be: remove DC offset; HP filter everything above 50Hz (remove all below 50Hz); convert from mono to stereo; convert sample rate and dither from 96K to 44.1KHz and convert from 24 to 16 bit. Pretty much any processing function or application of any plug-in effect is possible. You can also save these operations so you can recall them again in the future, freeing you up to put more energy into working out how you are actually going to play all those samples while keeping the beat. That part, I’ll have to leave to you but I’m sure you’re up for the challenge! digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
Top 10 Tips #1: Always get clearance on samples taken from other people’s work! You may get clearance by finding out the work’s owner through your national performing rights association and sending the owner a letter requesting permission to use a certain length of their work. Sometimes, there may be a fee and sometimes they may just want a mention on your album - both of which could potentially save you from losing any of your smash hit’s revenue and more. #2: Stick to short and succinct naming of eight characters or less for your samples, starting with the category of sound, then type and number. This makes searching by category possible and groups all your similar sounds together. An example for a light record noise sample could be ‘rcrdnslt’ and a drum loop ‘drlpfnk1’. This makes searching for samples right before a show sooo much easier! #3: Trim any silence at the start of your samples so you get an instant start with no delay when triggered and be sure to get rid of extra long tails that could take up valuable polyphony and sample memory. #4: Use ‘RMS’ normalising on samples to better match perceived ‘loudness’ between samples. #5: Get a decent sample editing program and learn its functions well. #6: Save your effects settings in your software so you can easily repeat certain favourite effects. #7: Use your program’s batch converter to save time and your mouse click finger. #8: Back up your work to two separate locations. Be sure to save all your samples on a separate drive or memory stick that is stored safely. Saving samples onto a disk or USB stick alone is not a back-up unless they are in another location as well. #9: If you are unsure how you will use a sample, record it dry without FX. Modern sample playback units offer a wealth of possibilities to effect the samples later and mid performance. #10: Experiment with the different permutations possible by triggering samples on different beats of the bar, not just the down beats. You can create some very interesting polyrhythms this way. 47
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Tom holds a secret Usually, our DIY section consists of a reader question answered by our resident DIY expert. This month, however, our reader submission is actually a suggestion. EZIO FILIÈ FROM Rome, Italy has come up with a unique module housing by using some of the unneeded space inside a floor tom. Paired with his Diamond Electronic Drums kit, Filiè has converted a 16”x16” floor tom to accommodate a Roland TD-12 module, a computer, a 10” touchscreen monitor and Sony digital recorder. The innovative design sees the tom cut in two and divided into a main section and a hinged lid part in which the screen is mounted. The bottom section has the computer at the bottom and the module mounted above on a plexiglass shelf. Filiè used an older IBM Netvista computer with its casing removed and has had excellent results running the low-resource Addictive Drums VST. He’s found the 1.8Ghz processor and 1 GB of RAM sufficient for the application, but is not ruling out an upgrade to a more powerful PC in the future to run SD2 and BFD2. The converted tom is purely used to house the electronics and is not triggered. But with a Diamond kit that includes a 13”x5” snare, 10”x5” and 12”x5” rack toms and 13”x14” and
14”x16” floor toms, Filiè is not short of triggers. The module housing is covered in the same silver glitter wrap used on the rest of the kit. Diamond also supplied matching lugs and legs so that the module holder would fit in seamlessly with his kit. Filiè says the unit was built for personal use and he has no plans to make any more, but he continues to modify the design to improve ventilation and allow for better access to the wiring.
If you have a DIY question or suggestion, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win some Jman stealth components. 48
Leading the Performance Envelope
HART DYNAMICS, INC. www.hartdynamics.com
USA Toll Free: 800.769.5335
International: + 850.279.4738
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MyMONSTERkit This month’s monster is a DIY hybrid built by Timo Zenner of Merzig in Germany. Timo’s rail and cone system has been installed in a 1993 Tama Artstar Esprit kit. The 36-yearold has played metal, punk and gothic rock over the past 19 years and regularly posts performances on YouTube. Drums: 14“x5“ Drum-tec snare Two 22“x16“ bass drums 10“x10“, 12“x11“, 13“x12“ and 16“x15“ toms Cymbals: Roland VH-12 hi-hat Roland CY-15 ride Two Roland CY-14 crashes Five Roland CY-5s Module: Roland TD-20 Hardware: Gibraltar Rack Remote hi-hat 50
Accessories: Roland PM-30 monitor system Behringer Eurorack MX802A 8-Track Mixer (“and two pink baby shoes from my lovely daughter on the bass drums”) Timo’s story: I play the drums just for fun. The reason for switching from an acoustic kit to e-drums was Roland products. In combination with the TD20 module, my kit was the perfect solution for me to play the drums without disturbing my neighbours. I took my old 1993 Tama Artstar ES Kit and I built my own customised hybrid kit which looks like an acoustic kit and sounds really good. I started with rim-mounted external triggers, but the results weren´t good enough, so I began to build my own trigger bars, which are mounted inside the drums. Check out Timo and his kit on YouTube. www.digitaldrummermag.com
If you have a monster, email email@example.com
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Timo with his kit (above).
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
For their own safety, digitalDrummer advises impulse purchase-prone readers to avoid this feature.
The double-bass 1993 Tama Artstar Esprit kit has DIY internal triggers, mesh heads and an additional Drum-tec snare. The baby shoes are not triggered!
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gear Guide MESH HEADS
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gear Guide AUXILIARY TRIGGERS The Cowpaddy Electronic Drum Accessory The Cowpaddy is an Accessory Drum Trigger that can fit just about anywhere without having to rearrange your set. The Cowpaddy is made of a foam that is rubber coated, so it’s easy on the Wrists and Hands. With 1/4" Mono Jack Cable or the Optional Stereo "Y" cable, it can be used as the Main or Auxiliary Trigger from any Dual Trigger input on your Module. The Cowpaddy can be attached to any Rack Mount L-Rods or Cymbal stands up to 1/2" in Diameter. Choose between a single Cowpaddy or a special Dual Cowpaddy Drum Trigger Accessory, complete with "Y" Cable. And now the Hand Drum, Dual Cowpaddy Cowabongo allows you to have a Hand Drum incorporated with your Electronic Set. To order, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
Simply the best DIY just got easier thanks to the new Quartz Percussions harness-mounted trigger system. The dual-zone model includes a 35mm trigger mounted on an adjustable harness and a 35mm piezo connected to a ¼” female stereo jack. Mono versions and column -type shape triggers are also available for the easiest conversion of toms and bass drums. The harness system builds on the success of the reliable and popular Quartz cone triggers, precision-made for perfect triggering. See us on YouTube or find out more and place your orders at www.quartzpercussions.com
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gear Guide MESH HEADS
To order in Australia, click here
Acoustic elegance Stealth electronics Your ad here for less than $200
CLICK HERE www.digitaldrummermag.com
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--contributors-Let’s hear it for the band ... digitalDrummer is a combined effort, bringing together the expertise and experience of electronic drummers, industry professionals and experienced writers. Here are some of the people who made this edition happen ...
CARL ALBRECHT Carl Albrecht has been a professional drummer and percussionist for over 30 years, working on a range of Christian, pop, country, jazz and commercial projects. He currently lives in Nashville doing recording sessions, producing and writing, as well as continuing to do various tours and seminar events. His arsenal includes Yamaha electronic drumming gear.
SIMON AYTON Simon Ayton is the V-Drums and percussion specialist for Roland Australia. He began drumming in 1983 and trained as an audio engineer. Simon’s drumming can be heard on more than two dozen albums and film soundtracks, ranging from metal to electronic and folk, and he is currently working on two new solo albums. He shares his intimate knowledge of module-tweaking and amplification.
JOHN EMRICH John Emrich specialises in live and studio drumming, music production services, drum programming, original scores and arrangements, sound design and jingles, remote recording and event support, digital editing and mixing and product development, and has been responsible for many award-winning sample libraries for the BFD2 platform as well as sound development for drum modules
DUNCAN MITCHELL Duncan Mitchell is a director of Access Drumming, a Brisbane specialist retailer. He has been drumming since the age of five, starting in school marching bands. He joined his first rock band at 16, has worked for a number of music retailers, played in various original and covers bands and continues to swing the sticks when he’s not helping enthusiasts.
ALLEN MORGAN Los Angeles-based producer Allen Morgan owns “allenmorganaudio”, which mixes and produces for clients in multiple musical genres. He has worked on sessions for Art Garfunkel, Limp Bizkit, R. Kelly, Creed, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and producer Dallas Austin. He has produced a number of presets for Toontrack’s Superior Drummer series.
ROB SILVERMAN Rob Silverman is the author of several books for drum instruction, including the best-selling "Drumset 101" and "Secrets of the Greats." He also performs with the group "The Classical Jazz Quartet." Rob is endorsed by Zendrum, but also plays a Roland kit as well as acoustic drum kit. Learn more at www.robsilvermandrums.com. digitalDRUMMER, NOVEMBER 2011
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Missed a review?
Using the search function and the archive option, you can search back issues for any content, including our reviews and head-to-head comparisons.
Here is a summary of our reviews to date: January 2010
Yamaha DTX M-12
E-cymbals (stick noise)
Cymbal VSTs â€“ Bosphorus vs Zildjian
Comparatives: Amps and Powered Speakers
DrumIt Five 2box kit
Diamond Electronic Drums 12â€? snare
Crappy Triggers external triggers
Jman cymbal conversion kit Comparatives:
August 2011 Reviews:
Gen 16 AE cymbals
Native Instruments Abbey Road IV
External Triggers Racks
Virtually Erskine Comparatives:
Drop-in trigger kits
JamHub 682Drums e-conversion kit Comparatives: Double pedals Notation software
Your definitive guide to e-drum gear