Three questions from a newbie.

August 12, 2010 8:55 AM

Various questions from a newbie- 1. How often should I post here? 2. Anyone interested in collaborating? 3. How do you deal with drum parts in home recording?

I discovered MeFi Music a few weeks ago and I've really enjoyed hearing the variety of music and songs you folks put out. I have also enjoyed hearing feedback on my own stuff.

One question I have is that I'm wondering how often you folks post. I have a lot of stuff I produce each week but do not want to overstay my welcome or jam up the boards. One of the things I like about this place is the variety, like I said.

Also, I'm interested in collaborating with anyone who might want to do so. Here is what I have/play instrument-wise in my little home studio:

Full MIDI Keyboard (use Ableton)
Guitars - Les Paul, Strat, Acoustic
Toy Piano
Toy Accordian
Various Hand Drums and Shaker

My last question was to get your thoughts on using drums in home recording without the ability to use a real drumset. I play can play drums but live in a small apartment, so it's not an option. Loops are good but oftentimes feel restrictive and compromising.
What is your best solution for beats? Lately I've found myself playing the beats on my keyboard MIDI.

Thanks everyone,

posted by tunewell (12 comments total)

Welcome! Always nice to have new folks around. There's no specific rule for posting, other than you can only post one song per day. But yeah, if oyu post every single day that might be a bit much.

There's a list of people interested in collaborating on the wiki.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:01 AM on August 12, 2010

I think that if you post every day, there are diminishing returns in terms of comments, because people can't keep up.

I would love to collaborate--I really like your stuff a lot. I'm really busy with the beginning of the semester right now, but maybe we could work on something in a month or so. Feel free to MeMail me about it, or to send me a couple half-finished ideas to give me a chance to hear what you are thinking of doing.

I agree with you regarding drums. It's tricky. I've done loops on some songs, drum machine programming on others, combinations of sampled loops and live percussion, and now I'm starting to play live drums a little. I did what you mentioned, playing the beats on my midi keyboard, on this song, and I like how it's a little scruffy and sounds less like a drum machine. Hopefully uncleozzy will explain what he does, because he is amazing at programming drums so that they don't sound programmed, and sleepy pete has done some really interesting things lately combining programmed drums and live drums.
posted by umbĂș at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2010

I think we all go through phases here. I've seen people posting regularly for a while, then not posting anything for a few months, then come back, etc. By "regularly" I mean one or two songs a month, which seems like very little, but a song often takes some time to get enough feedback or comments, so I guess that kinda dictates the pace.

But as InfidelZombie said, there are no actual rules. Not about posting songs, not about commenting on other people's songs, no rules, really.

About the drums: apart from uncleozzy and sleepy pete, check out edlundart's stuff. It's very different to the other two, but he puts a lot of care and attention into programming his drums. It gets really hard to tell if they are programmed or not (as opposed to sleepy pete's, for example, that are obviously a mixture of everything that comes to mind and leave you wondering how long he spent getting each of the sounds he gets).

I just heard the songs you posted for the first time (I've been awayish lately.) Your stuff sounds really great. Definitely keep them coming.

As for the collaboration, for some reason the "collaboration" tag here only brings up posts from Music Talk, not Music itself, so check out Music's collaboration tag some of the people who have done it in the past.

As a last bonus (also in reply to the question about the drums) one of my favorite songs from the site, which has a very distinct percussion track (drums + washboard, I believe) and which you might have not heard yet: Arboretum.
posted by micayetoca at 12:52 PM on August 12, 2010

By the way, and since you are interested in collaborating (and figuring out how to go about drums): I posted a thread the other day inviting people to add drums to an almost finished song, so, I'll link to it here in case you missed it. (and needless to say, don't feel obliged to, just posting it in case you didn't see it before).
posted by micayetoca at 1:09 PM on August 12, 2010

Did somebody activate the ozz-signal?

Really, though, I appreciate the compliments, guys. But honestly, my dirty secret is that I program drums on a grid. Well, not really on a grid--I use a hyperset in Logic, so that I draw little bar-graphs of notes where the height is the volume. That's it. Sometimes I'm lazy with it and it sounds lousy, and sometimes I'm careful and it sounds good. There's no secret, execept to treat virtual drums exactly like you'd treat a real kit. "Play" them the same way.

A big part of it--depending on how exposed the drums are--is just a good virtual instrument. For a "cheap" set of samples, I've said it before, I don't think you can beat Addictive Drums. Great articulation at a reasonable price. It's missing certain types of kitpiece (or maybe I just can't figure out how to get them to sound how I want), but it's versatile and tends to just get out of the way and let you work. Not that you can't get good drum sounds with other products (or free products), but AD makes it easy.

I've tried programming drums on the keyboard before, but I really hate it. It's hard to hit a key the same way you'd hit a drum. It's an entirely different skill, and for me, it really messes up the groove. I have recorded some drums with an electronic drum kit, and it was pretty good. Still not quite like drumming, but it didn't feel too bad.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:53 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I play drums on the keyboard (but just bought a real kit to learn on). What uncleozzy sez is exactly right -- I learned to program drums by buying a book about playing real drums and I always respect how many hands my virtual drummer has. I use the piano roll editor in Logic and make sure there's a bit of looseness in there, otherwise you get the rat-tat machine gun effect.

Addictive Drums are really good. I also like the Native Instruments Abbey Road 60s and 70s sets which are the most realistic sounding samples I've ever heard. They're fantastic for getting a warm in-the-room vibe, but you can also make them thunder.
posted by unSane at 6:13 AM on August 13, 2010

Some really useful stuff here - particularly ozzy and unSane - I've been meaning to post a talk question about drums, and you've pretty much dealt with it here. Getting a decent rhythm track is the biggest fucking pain in my musical life and has spoiled more than one of my efforts. Has led me almost to the point of giving up (oooh, do it, do it! I hear you cry....). In an ideal world I'd have a big room with a kit permanently set up, mic'd etc. chance. So getting some pointers on good software etc is cool. Thanks again guys.
posted by MajorDundee at 6:36 AM on August 13, 2010

My solution to rhythm in an apartment (aside from the fact that my drums are in the possession of an ex from whom I am ... hesitant ... to attempt retrieval) is stomping, clapping, and snapping. And shoddy beatboxing.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:41 AM on August 13, 2010

I'll add a couple of other thoughts on drums.

1. I use several midi tracks. One for the kick, snare and toms, one for the hi-hats and ride, and one for the crashes. This makes re-recording drum parts much easier. Since you often only want to replace certain drums.

2. I use multi-outputs in the sampler so that all the different drums come out on different channels, mimicking the way you would actually EQ the drums if you had recorded them live. The Abbey Road stuff is particularly nice for this is it gives you room, overhead and other ambient feeds, which really brings the mix alive.

3. A few little grace notes and slightly different fills really make a difference, as opposed to simply looping the same 8-bar sequence for the verse and a slightly different one for the chorus. Also, it's super tempting to put the velocities of the kick and snare right up there so they punch through but it leaves you nowhere to go, so a) make sure the unaccented beats are softer and b) leave yourself a bit of headroom to hit them harder during the chorus or a climax.

4. When you're doing rolls and fills, the little accents and crescendoes that a real drummer does are important. So for example if I'm doing a sixteenth-note snare fill, I'll decide whether its a paradiddle or whatever it is, then make sure the accents are in the right place, and make sure the velocities do something sensible rather than just blasting away at the same level.

One thing that makes this very easy is to put the snare on two different keys with slightly different samples (even just one having a slightly lower volume than the other) so you can play them with your right and left fingers. Some samples have this set up already but if they don't it's really worth getting in there and editing it so they do.
posted by unSane at 12:51 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

PS the Drums for Dummies book has a LOT of standard patterns and fills which are very useful.
posted by unSane at 12:53 PM on August 13, 2010

Since we're talking about drums, I did recently come across this video on the interwebs. If you've got a Rock Band drum kit hanging around, you probably have a cheap solution to start putting them into songs. I just discovered this, and it's thusly taking over my time more and more.
posted by SamuraiCarChase at 7:50 PM on August 14, 2010

Thanks for the mention, micayetoca. My method is basically to draw the drum patterns in (ie, programming note by note), while beating imaginary drums in the air to imagine a real physicality. In other words, as others have mentioned, I try to stick to what would be physically possible for a drummer, and I try to vary the velocity and timing of hits based on what I imagine would be realistic (as someone who has never hit a real drum in my life).

But beyond that rather frustrating process, I'd recommend experimenting with percussive sounds that are not drums at all. While I seem to fail at doing this almost all of the time, I think it just kind of makes sense to make percussive sounds with what you have rather than what you don't have (ie, real drums). The bonus is that this could lead to some really interesting and innovative grooves. I'm thinking knives and forks, banging on your guitar or a cardboard box, scraping something with something else, and so on. On a couple of my songs I've used wire clothes hangers for a "cymbal" sound. Which leads me to a final tip: If programming drums, blend in one real instrument such as a tambourine or a real cymbal (or replacement cymbal type sound), or woodblocks or triangle or something.
posted by edlundart at 9:30 PM on August 15, 2010

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