I bought my electronic drum kit to trigger samples on my computer. The sensors on the drum pads generate information about timing, velocity, and position every time the pads are hit. This information is encoded in a format called “midi.” The recording program stores the midi information and plays it back on command. Normally, the midi information is converted to sounds by a virtual instrument, which might be a synthesizer that generates sounds electronically with oscillators and filters, or it might be a sampler that plays back short recordings, or samples, of real instruments. Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2 is a sample player.
Perhaps the first sample playing instrument was the Mellotron, which you can hear on “10,000 Light Years from Home” by the Rolling Stones, or on “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues, and countless other recordings from the ’60’s. The Mellotron had tape loops of orchestral instruments and choirs. Press a key and the loop of a cello or a whole string section starts playing that note. It is a whole orchestra in an instrument the size of a piano, although a bit lo-fi. However, hundreds of little tape cartridges stored in a rack is a maintenance nightmare. If the speed was even slightly off the note was out of tune. I read of one incident in which a Mellotron was tipped the wrong way at the airport and all of the tapes fell out.
Sampling has come along way since those days. However, the lo-fi warbley, Mellotron sound is still available, now in convenient digital format.
Superior Drummer was delivered in a box containing all Toontrack products on various CDs and DVDs. I was sent a code that unlocked only Superior 2, the product I paid for. The other DVDs are sitting there tempting me to pay to unlock them. I am sure that is by design. It is a clever marketing strategy.
Do it yourself music making is a big business these days, and selling sample packs is a big part of it. A lot of mystique and mystery is involved in the marketing. With sampling, it is possible to recreate the sound of vintage gear, or instruments owned by famous players. Superior 2, for example, comes with seven snare drums including a Ludwig Black Beauty from the 1920’s, a Slingerland from the 1970’s, and several expensive custom-made ones. They all sound different and they all sound good. If I purchased the “Custom and Vintage” expansion pack I would have, it looks like, three more DVDs full of choices. And then there is “The Metal Foundry.”
This is all very cool, but one has to remember that it used to be that a drummer would have one kit, and would just play that kit. This technology makes it possible to swap out all the cymbals and floor toms, and kick drums and snares with a huge variety of vintage and esoteric gear, but it is easy to get so involved in selecting the elements of the kit that music-making becomes secondary. There is such a thing as too many choices.
However, Superior 2 sounds good, is simple to use, and I am having a great deal of fun with it.
Here is a link to a track where I used Superior Drummer 2 and the Ludwig Black Beauty snare:
I am afraid readers will discover the limitations of my drumming, but so it goes. The guitars all go through Native Instruments Guitar Rig 4 and the sax section and the organ are from Native Instruments Kontakt.
There’s a program called Drumagog my band once used: you record a live drum set with six or seven microphones to catch as many indiviudal drums as possible (tom, bass, snare, et cetera). Then you use Drumagog to replace the ORIGINAL drum sound with a crisper, pre-recorded tom, bass, snare, et cetera. We thought it was pretty awesome, but I wonder if there would be any final difference between a live set and an electronic set, since both can be run through similar software . . . I’m sure my drummer-buddy, Josh, would balk at the idea that an electronic drum set could, after post-production, sound just like his live set!
Yes, I know of Drumagog. Engineers use that to fix bad drum sounds, or to move the drum track from audio to midi so that it can be edited if the performance wasn’t in the pocket. I bought my electronic kit so that I wouldn’t have to record an acoustic kit because that is hard to get right, especially at home, and because I am not a very proficient drummer, so I am likely to have to edit some hits anyway. There are many ways to get it right and a thousand more to get it wrong.