Drum production tool kit
gets a major update
The worst thing that can happen when the
creative juices are flowing is to get bogged
down by technology. Although there are plenty
of sophisticated software drum environments
capable of creating lifelike grooves, sometimes
you just want just get on with songwriting and
not bother with programming. The original
EZdrummer was created with this in mind.
|Click the Drum tab to view your kit and swap out instruments. Here, I’ve created a
custom kit from the includedVintage sample library and saved it as a user preset for this
EZdrummer 2 continues to provide a
musically intuitive tool kit for crafting realistic
drum parts, but it includes an updated GUI,
sound engine, and mixer, as well as clever
search and arrangement features. In addition,
you get a newly recorded sound library that
takes advantage of EZdrummer 2’s 24-bit playback resolution, while retaining backward
compatibility with earlier EZX libraries
through real-time sample rate conversion.
Toontrack provides a stand-alone version
of EZdrummer 2, as well as Audio Units, VST,
RTAS, and AAX plug-ins: I tested EZdrummer
2 in stand-alone mode and in Live 9, Logic X,
and Pro Tools 11.
Easy Flow EZdrummer 2 adds several
new features that help you build drum parts
quickly and without leaving the creative
headspace. In the new Song Track, you can
record your own grooves using a MIDI pad
or keyboard controller or assemble entire
song arrangements in the timeline using the
included MIDI groove files or ones you import.
Quantization and a click track are provided for
recording. You can loop and overdub one part
at a time if you need to, and then edit the groove
without worry—100 levels of undo are available.
Finding the groove you need, and then
picking appropriate drums, is simple. The
interface has only four main tabs—Drums,
Browser, Search, Mixer—and a Preset window
on top; numerous self-explanatory pull-down
menus are sensibly located elsewhere. The
Browser and Search tabs provide different
ways to find groove files that fit your project. As
you would expect, the Browser hierarchically reveals the contents of files in any Toontrack
EZX pack you have, and you can audition files
before dragging them onto the Song timeline.
The Search tab, however, provides several
convenient ways to scan the MIDI library
based on musically relevant criteria. The
Tap To Find function will reveal appropriate
MIDI files based on the pattern you play
into EZdrummer 2, using either your MIDI
controller or by clicking the drum pictures in
the GUI. Or you can drag a groove you like into
the MIDI Drop Zone to find other suggestions.
In both cases, the search results provide a list
of grooves ranked by how close they match the
beat you used in your example. These Search
features were designed to model how a real
drummer would figure out parts and variations
if given suggestions for a beat, and Toontrack
nailed it. Additionally, there are filters for
genre, style, ride instrument, time signature,
and so forth to help you locate (or avoid)
Song Creator makes the arrangement process
even easier. Simply drag and drop a MIDI
groove you like into the Song Creator window,
and EZdrummer 2 will offer suggestions for an
entire arrangement, which you can fine-tune
by grabbing variations of the groove sections.
Alternately, you may select one of the included
song-structure presets. From there, you can edit, add, or rearrange the grooves to taste. Song parts
are named Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Intro, and
so forth, suggesting how they can be used, and
variations are provided for each.
You can further personalize the
performance by changing the Power Hand,
an icon that you drag and drop over the
instrument you want used for the ride pattern.
Place the Opening Hit icon over a kit piece to
hear an instrument, such as a crash cymbal,
play on the first beat of groove.
You can dial in the Velocity and Amount—or,
more accurately, statistical likelihood—of each
kit piece and percussion instrument that’s heard
in the groove. Depending on which instruments
you choose and the Amount level you set for
them, you’ll get grooves that sound like a real
drummer played them, without having to record
or edit MIDI data. (Of course, if you want to edit
or overdub further, the tools are provided.)
Content Is King Under the Drum tab, you can
select from two Modern and two Vintage kits.
The Modern kits are based around a Yamaha
9000 and a Gretsch USA Custom, which offer
as many as seven drums, and five cymbals plus
hats. Additional snares and toms by Brady,
DW, Pearl, Sonor, and Tama are available here.
A ’70s-era Ludwig Vistalite and a Beatle-like
’60s-era Ludwig comprise the Vintage kits,
which are based around a four-piece with three
cymbals plus hats. Sabian and Paiste cymbals
are used throughout. Percussion samples
include tambourines, shakers, maracas, cabasa,
cowbell, hand claps and finger snaps.
|Fig. 1. The revamped Mixer, showing the effects that are included in the Tape Filter kit
preset. When you click on a channel’s fader (OH, in this case), the effect channel that it's
bused to (Reverb, in this instance) illuminates.
Click on the Preset tab to select a
specialized kit to fit the style of your music.
Basic, unprocessed kits are available, as well as
configurations with titles such as Tight, Metal,
DiscoPop, Levee, and LoFi Tape, which offer
tuning, instrument choices, and effects that
fit a specific vibe. When you select a kit, the
library is quickly loaded in the background as
you play. At any point in your production, you
can swap out kit pieces or alter the tuning and
volume of each piece, even as a MIDI file plays
and without interrupting the groove—nice!
However, these presets can be altered to
suit your needs: Each instrument has a pull-down
menu where you can swap it for another
model, as well as change its pitch and volume
(even during playback). Once you’ve selected
the drums and cymbals that best fit your song,
save them as a User Preset. Remarkably, you
won’t need the manual to figure this stuff out.
The library sounds great, overall, and
the attention to detail is obvious when you
audition the various instruments, solo them
in the mixer (the ambient mic tracks are
especially nice in a mix), alter the bleed in the
kick and snare tracks, and change a drum’s
decay. The only issue I have with the library
is that some of the crashes are choked before
they fully decay.
In the Mixer, you can mute, solo, and alter
the panning of each instrument and effects
track. (Click on a channel’s fader to highlight
the effects it is bused to.) A window below
each fader is used to set the output channel for
each track. EZdrummer 2’s mixer provides 16
stereo outputs that you can assign to as many
as 30 different outputs on an audio interface.
On some presets, an additional row of
effects, programmed to behave appropriately
for the track you are working on, appears
below the mixer (see Figure 1). My favorite
set of effects appears with the Tape Filter kit,
which has controls for Tape/Drive level, a
lowpass filter, tuning control over the drum
heads, and reverse reverb—perfect for cloudy,
lo-fi situations. As you would expect, you
can automate these parameters when using
EZdrummer 2 as a DAW plug-in.
Once your drum part is finished, you can
export the part as a WAV or MIDI file. (WAV
export happens off-line, faster than real time.) Toontrack makes things even easier by letting
you drag and drop the complete sequence into
a MIDI track in your DAW or onto the desktop,
without having to go to a menu.
EZdrummer in Use I attended a pre-release
demonstration of EZdrummer 2 at Mark
Knopfler’s London-based British Grove studios,
where the library was recorded by Grammy-winning
engineer Chuck Ainlay. This gave me a
chance to check out the drums, mic placement,
recording consoles (a Neve 88R for the Modern
kits, and an EMI REDD51 for the Vintage), as
well as get a glimpse into the intricacies of the
program. The developers promised plenty of
flexibility, and I couldn’t help but wonder if
EZdrummer 2 really would be easy to use.
My worries were unfounded. Every aspect
of EZdrummer 2 lives up to its name, from
installation through song creation to file export. I
didn’t even need a manual to get my first project
completed. Everything I needed was in an
obvious place and appropriately named.
More importantly, the instruments in the
included kit libraries are killer, providing a
wide variety of sounds that you can tailor to
meet your needs—if want to get that geeky
about it. But if you’re in the mood to write,
why not let EZdrummer 2 create a hassle-free
drum part for you, so you can do something
more useful with your creative time.
STRENGTHS Simple to use. Great
sounding library that loads quickly. Swap
instruments during playback. Drag-anddrop
MIDI groove export. Offline audio
bouncing. Intelligent search capabilities.
LIMITATIONS No keyboard shortcuts.
Some cymbals have too short of a decay
EZdrummer 2 $179; $99
upgrade from EZdrummer