Sound Design Workshop: Screamin' Drums

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Propellerhead Reason's Scream 4 is a distortion unit with a 3-band EQ and a cabinet simulator tacked onto the end. Although most often used as an insert effect, it is equally handy as a send effect for dialing in a bit of ambience on drum and percussion tracks. Think of it in the same vein as mixing different mikings in a sampled-drum library. Here, I'll describe a basic setup and some enhancements for processing Reason's Redrum drum machine.

The Setup

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FIG. 1: Use the mixer or Scream 4 sends to route individual Redrum channels to either of the two Scream 4 effects.

To make the setups portable and to facilitate saving Redrum patterns (which are not saved as part of Redrum patches), start by creating a Combinator. Inside the Combinator, create a Mixer 14:2, two Scream 4s, and a Redrum. Now flip around to the back of the rack and notice the automatic cabling. As you'd expect, the Scream 4s are cabled as mixer sends 1 and 2, and the Redrum's main output is cabled to the first mixer channel. Less obvious is the cabling of the Redrum's two send outputs to the mixer's Chaining Aux inputs 1 and 2. That makes the Scream 4s available as sends from both the Redrum and the mixer.

I like to leave mixer channels 1 through 10 available to service individual Redrum channels, so I move the main output cabling to mixer channel 11 — any uncabled individual channels will appear there. If you want to add this configuration to a Redrum in an existing song or to a Redrum saved along with its patterns in another Combinator, simply drag that Redrum into the new Combinator and cable it manually.

Configure the Combinator controls so that rotary 1 selects the Redrum pattern and button 1 toggles its Pattern Enable button. Route the remaining three rotaries to the mixer's channel 11 level and the first two aux return levels, respectively. Those rotaries then set the dry Redrum and both Scream 4 levels. Route the buttons below those rotaries to mute mixer channel 11 and enable/disable the Scream 4 modules (values 1 and 0), which, in effect, mutes them.

Dialing It In

Devote the first Scream 4 to the kick drum by turning up the Redrum channel's S1 knob on all channels that hold a kick drum sound. Create a new pattern that plays only these channels and, with the pattern running, set up the Scream 4. If the kick drum is a bit dull, start with a little distortion in the Damage section (otherwise turn Damage off). Overdrive and Tape modes make good choices with the Damage knob in the lower part of its range. Also adjust the low and mid EQ levels as needed.

Body is the most important Scream 4 stage in this context, and I find it easiest to set up by muting the dry Redrum and dialing in the mix afterward. Body types A and E work well with kick drums. Start with the Auto knob at full left (that takes the envelope follower out of play) and adjust the Scale and Reso knobs. Next, try backing the Scale knob off and turning Auto up so that you have the original tone at the peak with a little contour on the tail (see Web Clip 1).

I use the second Scream 4 for some combination of the remaining channels, often just the cymbals. I leave Damage off, adjust EQ to taste, and use the procedure just outlined to tweak the Body settings (see Web Clip 2).

Bells and Whistles

Adding effects to the remaining two mixer aux sends is a natural extension to this Combinator (see Fig. 1). For example, you might route the Redrum snare channels to individual mixer channels, and then insert an effect on aux send 3 to process them. A delay line (DDL-1) or an enveloped filter (ECF-42) both make good choices. Use either the mixer sends or the Redrum sends to route the snares to either or both of the Scream 4 modules. The returns (delayed or filtered signal) will not be Scream 4 processed, which makes for a nice contrast (see Web Clip 3). Alternatively, you might place an effect after one of the Scream 4 modules to process only that.

Reverb is another good candidate for one of the mixer sends. As with the delay, the dry Redrum signal will be reverbed, while the Scream 4 effects remain dry. For compression, insert a compressor between the Redrum and the mixer (not as a send effect). That will compress only the dry signal, which is probably what you'll want.

Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Web site