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Drum Heads: Genji Siraisi: Layering Live And Electronic Drum Sounds

12/1/2008

Artists as diverse as N.E.R.D. to Portishead typically combine live drums with programmed Akai MPC (or equivalent) loops, seeking the ultimate fat beat or impossible-toperform- live effect. With all of Genji’s live/programmed, acoustic/electric information on his plate, who better to ask about mixing live and programmed drums for production satisfaction?

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

“You have to decide whether you’re going to use live or programmedsounding drums—a ‘live’ drummer or a ‘super’ drummer. Even something as simple as altering the snare sound with a sample overlay changes everything; sometimes I’ll take a live loop and mix in a sample underneath, because the live snare sound will change as you hit it in different spots. Adding the sample will make it more consistent, without losing the element of having variations among hits.

“Dance or electronic music is built on the idea that the sound will hit the same way, every time. It’s frustrating to make a sampler sound like a live drummer—but trying to play acoustic drums to sound like a drum machine is equally frustrating, which is why I like Alternate Mode DrumKAT. Drumagog [drum replacement software] is very useful too.”

FIND THE RIGHT SOFTWARE TOOLS

“Drum sound software like XLN Audio Addictive Drums is good . . . or FXpansion BFD, the live drum emulator. It makes it easy to add a programmed snare part with the live one. Addictive Drums lets you keep the nuances and is designed to introduce certain amounts of variation, so even if you hit the MIDI note at the same level, it will add some [sonic] variations. Addictive Drums has a very natural feel—it’s a good augmentation for live dates.”

MIC DRUMS WITH ENHANCEMENT IN MIND

“If you know you’ll be using replacement software with live audio, then you want as much isolation between each drum as possible. But don’t forget about the room mics—the one trash mic in the room might be the sound that you want. The distance you move the mic back will create a more delayed sound; the sound will spread, and the drum decay will last longer. A smaller room reduces everything, as there are more early reflections, standing waves, and unpleasant artifacts.

“That ambient room mic is the one thing you will not get from the sequenced sound. You can always emulate the sound of a tightly miked drum with a sequencer, but it’s harder to emulate the way the drum reacts with the room.”

CLOSE MIKING

“Even a [Shure] SM58 will work if you’re not whacking the drum. I don’t like the mic right on the head; pulling it back even an inch or two changes the tonal quality a lot, depending on where you’re pointing the mic on the drum. It’s that lost art of adjusting the mic to get what you want.”

DRUM TUNING

“The playing and the part is important, but the head and the tuning—and the room in which you’re recording the drum—is more important than the drum itself, or something like the shell material.”

TO COMPRESS OR NOT TO COMPRESS

“If you compress the room mic, the character really changes a lot because the decays are so much longer. You want to adjust levels before you compress, though; don’t take the easy way out. The attack and release parameters are just as important as the ratio.

“EQ is also important. Sometimes with a sharp EQ you can bring up the tone in the bass drum 8dB. As a different example of EQ, I might take a stereo mix drum loop, then split it into three sends, all pre-fader, and each with a filter: highpass, lowpass, and bandpass. I’ll turn down the main level control and set the filter crossover points to split the signal into low, mid, and high bands, one on each track. That gives you a lot of options. You can really control the kick drum when you process each band separately, and it has a mixture of frequencies.”

ABOUT DRUM REPLACEMENT SOFTWARE

Several software programs can analyze an audio file and generate MIDI data for triggering samples. SoundReplacer is an AudioSuite plug-in that can pick transients out of a file, then split them into three velocity zones for triggering multisamples that get mixed back into the file. An RTAS realtime option, TL Rehab, works as an insert and allows realtime auditioning of samples. Its principle of operation is similar to Drumagog, a cross-platform plug-in that works with VST/AU/RTAS systems.

Drumagog works best with multitracked drums having separate tracks for snare, kick, etc. It includes excellent samples for replacing existing drum sounds, or you can create your own Drumagog-friendly drum sample sets. To replace a drum sound, you insert Drumagog as a plug-in, then adjust its controls for reliable triggering. There’s also filtering if you need to isolate the drum from bleed—it’s even possible to use this feature to pull a drum sound out of a mixed track, although the results depend on how “buried” the drum is in the mix.

Drumagog also offers some advanced features, like a “ducking” option (e.g., if your “old” snare sound remains in an overhead mic track, you can duck the snare sound in the overhead track when the “new” snare hits). Drumagog can also generate a MIDI out for triggering a soft synth or hardware synth with drum triggers. —Craig Anderton

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