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Playing Live With A Drum Machine...


Kramer Ferrington III.

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Do they always sound like crap?

 

Maybe this belongs in some of the other forums, but here goes...

 

I've never been able to understand it. You hear a proper drummer and the sound is three dimensional, whereas a drum machine sounds as if all the drums were lined up perfectly flush with each other. There never seems to be any depth to the sound, which is always thin and empty (by comparison to the real thing)

 

And the drum machine always sounds as if it's off in a corner doing its own little thing. I'm not talking about interaction with the band, it's just not the same big, enveloping sound like a kit gives you.

 

Which is odd, because once you mike up the drum kit the drums are basically coming out the same speakers as the samples on the drum machine.

 

Is it just my imagination or do they sound different? If so, why? Is there any way around it? I was thinking that you could perhaps pan certain drums to smaller speakers (kinda like wedges) which would be scattered around the stage. Well, that probably wouldn't work either, would it?

 

I really like the older, analog drum machines (TR 606s, 909s and so on) because at least they sound fake and make no bones about it.

 

Have any of you got any tips for a decent drum machine sound, live?

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I think part of that is natural ambience and actual location of said "real" drums in "real" three dimensional space, relative to the room acoustics, your ears, and any mics.

 

If you want a little more natural, 3-D sound from e-drums of various sorts, you might try placing the individual drum-voices (if the given machine alows for it) in various spots panned one way or the other across the stereo spread.

 

This would likely involve either a fairly sophisticated drum-machine (not terribly familiar with 'em, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any that did this), or a fairly sophisticated drum-machine AND a mixer...

 

...then feed it all into a decent sounding stereo reverb/room-simulator...

 

(This all assumes that you will have a stereo capable PA at the gig... )

 

Then you might get more of that dimensionality that you're missing.

 

This is all from my own SPECULATION, with some very little (but not much) experience with these...

 

I've noted that people often still hire drummers to program their electronic drums for recording sessions, too!

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Originally posted by O'Shite Christmas:

This would likely involve either a fairly sophisticated drum-machine (not terribly familiar with 'em, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any that did this), or a fairly sophisticated drum-machine AND a mixer...

Oh, panning is standard these days. Some of the better 80s ones had individual outputs for each drum too.

 

Interesting idea about the lack of stereo in the PA. Maybe that's it. It's been bugging me for a while.

 

The room simulator is a good idea too, but you're still stuck with the one dimensional sound, only reverbed :)

 

All that technology, all that R&D and they still can't reproduce the sound of drums properly, and they're the simplest and most primitive of all instruments out there. :evil:

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Oh for sure know exactly what you mean Vince... yes it is one dimensional sounding.

There is a guitar player and bass player here the I know that use a drum machine but run it through a tri-amped PA and into the house overheads too and it sounds very very good! but the run of the mill quick setup does sound unworldly (is that a word??) :D

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It's less about the sound from the drum machine than the programming. If you quantize notes to eighths, sixteenths and the like, without adding back some swing, it sounds robotic. And I've yet to hear a set of drum machine cymbals that really sound good when played as anything other than a simple hit. (I.e. rolls, chokes, etc.)

 

I've been using an SR-16 since it first came out. It sounds fine so long as I program the swing, but most people don't take the time. I don't use it live, though. I have messed around with it through PA's before the band arrived and had a great time playing to it. Unfortunately there are tweaks I'd like to make to the sound of the drums on the SR-16, but Alesis didn't include that kind of editing. The amount of tweaking available on pretty much every drum machine made since then (1989) is amazing, but again, most people don't delve into it, which explains why the SR-16 remains one of the most popular drum machines available.

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Originally posted by fantasticsound:

It's less about the sound from the drum machine than the programming. If you quantize notes to eighths, sixteenths and the like, without adding back some swing, it sounds robotic.

What I've done on some occasions (when I've had an analog tempo control) is to actually speed up and slow down the drum machine as it gets to the choruses. Only by a couple of BPMs. Drummers tend to get a bit frisky when approaching "the big fill" and if the drum machine doesn't mimick that, the music doesn't feel the same.

 

I think one should also play a bit with the snare, change the eq ever so slightly every now and then, because you have to be a pretty good drummer to hit the snare in EXACTLY the same point every time. In fact, that's one of the quickest giveaways when listening to a recorded drum machine: the snare sound is always the same.

 

Mind you, that'd be a bugger to do live. Maybe one could record the drums onto a CD or something.

 

 

Originally posted by fantasticsound:

And I've yet to hear a set of drum machine cymbals that really sound good when played as anything other than a simple hit. (I.e. rolls, chokes, etc.)

Yeah, and that sweet, belllike sound of hitting just the cup of the cymbal! :) I suppose you could get around the problem by sampling a ride (say) while being rolled and use that as one entire drum voice. Perhaps. If you have a sampling machine.

 

The SR sounds interesting.

 

 

Ellwood: TRIamped? **sigh** is THAT what it takes? Where's that "too hard" basket?

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The problem I hear with synthetic cymbals is that the sample starts over from the begining everytime you trigger it(getting that eck-eck-eck-eck thing digital samples make when you do rapid repeats on them), and cymbals don't. When you hit them they sustain, and the next hit doesn't interupt the envelope of the sound the same way triggering a cymbal sample does. IF someone could nake a drum machine that doesn't interupt the envelope of the sample as much, that would sound more natural to me.

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Originally posted by Picker:

IF someone could nake a drum machine that doesn't interupt the envelope of the sample as much, that would sound more natural to me.

Well, yeah. There's a "workaround" though.

 

If you have a drum machine that plays your own samples, you could record whatever you want on the cymbals (say a slow crescendo "shimmer" on the ride, for example) and then use the resulting .wav as ONE drum.

 

Bit of a hassle, but after awhile you'd have a whole library of cymbal sounds and it'd become more workable. Mind you, you still have to have access to cymbals.

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One solution, ableit a costly one, might be to set the drum machine up with its own amp/PA and set it up behind you, as if the drums were actually where they would be if you had a drummer. Or mix a little into the main PA and have a little coming through an amp behind you for a little punch and dimension. You might get some bleed through a vocal mic, which might not be bad. I've never tried it, but I would like to.
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BTW - Vince, most drum machines made after the SR-16 have some measure of randomization of timbre, to immitate hits on various points on a drum or cymbal.

 

I'm still confused why no one created an affordable drum machine after 1992 with great sounds and the control surface of my Korg DDD-5.

 

The DDD-5 (and it's big brother, the DDD-1) were mid-late 1980's drum machines with the most durable buttons out there, a data slider for adjusting tempo, tuning of individual drums or other sounds (it had several bass guitar sounds), or volume level.

 

My buddy John showed me how to play the rhythm of the bass guitar sound for a pattern, then go back and use the slider to retune each instance to the correct note. It could retune over an octave. (As opposed to the SR-16, which is strictly drum sounds and retunes the sample, and only from a menu.)

 

The DDD-5 was early MIDI, and used a bunch of MIDI notes for other purposes, but it was a template for creating better drum machines that not only was not copied by Roland and others, but Korg abandoned the design by the beginning of the 1990's. Too bad.

 

I still use it for the robust buttons. 7 buttons with a toggle button for two banks of sounds for 14 sounds available. The DDD-1 had individual buttons for no toggle and to add flam and smooth rolls without programming.

 

http://www.vintagesynth.com/korg/ddd5.jpg

 

http://www.vintagesynth.com/korg/ddd1.jpg

 

Oddly enough, as bad as the sounds were compared to later drum machines, the cymbals were better for rolls than other machines. I think these machines automatically cut part of the sample on successive hits of the cymbal sounds.

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Originally posted by Picker:

The problem I hear with synthetic cymbals is that the sample starts over from the begining everytime you trigger it(getting that eck-eck-eck-eck thing digital samples make when you do rapid repeats on them), and cymbals don't. When you hit them they sustain, and the next hit doesn't interupt the envelope of the sound the same way triggering a cymbal sample does. IF someone could nake a drum machine that doesn't interupt the envelope of the sample as much, that would sound more natural to me.

with a "better" machine, you could put 2 cymbals in the drum set, then "hit" them alternately, so #1 sustains while #2 is sounding and vice versa
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That's not the problem, picker and badblues. Any modern drum machine has enough voices to sustain many hits at once and won't cut off the previous hit unless you program it that way. Drum machines solved this issue 20 years ago.

 

The problem is that the attack remains constant, whereas the attack on real cymbals can be obscured in how you hit the cymbal. (Use the shaft of the stick against the edge of the cymbal rather than the tip.) Most drum machines repeat the attack with each trigger of the sample, yielding choppy playback even though the sustain is there.

 

Putting the same cymbal on two pads won't help this at all.

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Kramer, maybe it's because I'm also a drummer but, yes, drum machines always sound like crap.

 

Seriously, I think for certain types of music (dance, industrial, techno, hip hop, some metal), drum machines are fine, although I personally prefer them to serve as background percussion supplementing a "real" drummer.

 

However, drum machines will always lack the appropriate feel for more organic, roots-type music, in which tempos and dynamics fluctuate (in a good way) to allow the music to "breathe". On top of that, a drum machine doesn't have the stage presence that a live human being and his instrument does.

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Originally posted by ihategarybettman:

On top of that, a drum machine doesn't have the stage presence that a live human being and his instrument does.

Oh, I know. There's something very visually satisfying about watching a drummer play. It really adds to the visuals because you can actually SEE the rhythm being made right in front of you, in a way that's much more obvious than it is on say, keyboards.
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BTW - I don't advocate the use of drum machines live, but I understand the need, on occasion.

 

Only because I've had difficulty finding good, available drummers and most of the good ones expect better pay than the bands I've been in could draw. :freak:

 

Besides, my drum machine never started noodling on its' own, interupting rehearsal. :D

 

The DM also never came up with a killer drum part, though. I'm no great programmer, but I know a guy who can really bring out the natural feel of a drummer on his DM. But again, we'd both rather work with a real drummer, under the best circumstances.

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I'd much rather play with a good real drummer than a drum machine. But I'd rather play a DM than a lousy drummer who can't keep time...

 

For a while it was just me on guitar and my buddy on sax and bass, plus singers... the drum machine came in handy in that situation.. largely because we were able to program it right, and the sound man was intelligent.. not always the case!

 

And I have a guitarist friend who does a lot of home recording. He uses the DM in a tasteful way and it isn't blatantly obvious it's not the real thing. Come to think, his acoustic rock trio used one, and it worked very well - except they couldn't stretch out, because the machine only knew what it was programmed! Computers aren't overly bright... except maybe at chess!

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Well, yeah.

 

I'd rather a real drummer too, but I live in an apartment and it's a drag having to hire a rehearsal space and all that just so I can have a drummer. I'd much rather attempt to make music that suits my circumstances and possibilities.

 

Now, I like the idea of drum machines (I'm a child of the 80s :) ) but the sound is a problem, it's just not convincing and well, it's not such a turn on as real drum are. The sound is not inspiring

 

Pads are an interesting solution/workaround, but I don't know anyone that uses them.

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Originally posted by Eric Iverson:

...Come to think, his acoustic rock trio used one, and it worked very well - except they couldn't stretch out, because the machine only knew what it was programmed! Computers aren't overly bright... except maybe at chess!

Well, that depends on the DM. I'm not suggestiong my SR-16 is intelligent, but they put an interesting feature on the footswitch. When you're in song mode, pressing and holding the second, optional footswitch acts as a hold on the pattern that's currently playing. So if you want to extend a solo, for example, you could program the drums for the chord changes as one pattern, then hold the pedal until that part begins again. You can do this ad infinitum. To move on, simply let go of the pedal before the end of the pattern and it will change to the next pattern programmed in the song.

 

That's been a part of the SR-16 since its' inception in 1990.

It's easiest to find me on Facebook. Neil Bergman

 

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