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Thoughts on acoustic realism…...

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  • Thoughts on acoustic realism…...

    I filled in with my son's progressive rock band last night. Sadly, the guys are going to be too good for me in pretty short order. Still, they were able to dig enough songs that didn't require crazy double bass, and didn't change time signatures every other measure, for the old man to play a one set show with them. I played my DTX 790 and everyone thought that the drums sounded fantastic in the mix. I was using the Birch Custom kit preset with very few changes. I do have my trigger settings set for a pretty wide dynamic range. This forces me to lay into the drums pretty hard if I want max volume, but that is how I play on acoustics. When the energy builds I lay into the drums harder and you can hear the difference. Anyway, what struck me is that I kept hearing two comments repeated again and again. People kept commenting on how "real" the drums sounded, and all the musicians commented on how they really "cut" through the mix. Now, I love my Yamaha drums, but it got me thinking about what realism means in different settings.

    As drummers, we all love to geek out over really rich fundamental tones in our drums that ring forever. We like complex sounding cymbals that have lots of colors and decay forever. However, what happens when you put those long decaying tones in a mix. It gets muddy, really quick. It's no big deal if you aren't micing the drums. Those long sustained tones don't make it past the Marshal stacks and the more fundamental sounds cut right through. Now, I'm talking rock volumes here. For jazz drumming, you want all that color and you have to have the technique and discipline to control and utilize it musically. For rock, however, all that color tends to turn into a wash once you add microphones. So what happens then. Well, if you have good drums that are tuned well, maybe a little bit of moon gel here and there….and a touch of tape on a cymbal or two….and I guess the bass drum sounds better if it isn't completely wide open…. More often, you are going to add a touch of compression here and there…just the right amount of reverb…a little gating doesn't hurt things any either…. Then what do you have? You have a processed drum sound, all in the name of getting things to "sit in the mix" properly. I submit to you that at that point, at least acoustically, you are now playing electronic drums. The only part that is still truly acoustic is the response, feel and immediate physical feedback you get from mylar heads and metal cymbals. Okay, real drums look pretty damn cool, too.

    Anyway, back to my Yamahas. When I trigger a sample library (AD or BFD), I immediately love how "real" everything sounds. Again, if I'm playing e-drums in a jazz setting, I try and maximize this. However, if I'm playing more commercial music, I start messing with mic placement, room settings, compression, reverb, curves etc… all over again. If I am recording a track, this is more subtle than if the intent is to play live. What do we tell people if they ask about using e-drums (usually meaning Roland) live?….Cut the decays short a little, remove most of the reverb and all chorus, add a touch of compression or use a slightly less dynamic curve and get a clean simple fundamental tone that "cuts through the mix". So, this is where I think Yamaha has really nailed it with the 700 (and to only a slightly lesser degree the 502) module sound sets. When you play kits that are based on samples of Yamaha's own Maple, Birch, Beech or Oak custom kits, they sound (for the most part) fantastic out of the box. Side by side, they don't sound as "real" as the best sample libraries. However, they sound like a really well mic'd, balanced kit with a great sound guy running the board. Everytime I have new guys come over to jam, they comment on how well they can hear the individual drums. Now, that is obviously partly due to the fact that I can turn myself down and stlll play dynamically. However, it is also a testament to the sounds that the engineers chose to emphasize when creating the various istrument samples.

    Anyway, it strikes me that what others think of as "realism" oftens means a well mic'd and processed acoustic drum sound. I think that this is very achievalble with as few as 5 sample layers that are well mapped (10-15 for acoustic jazz). However, it helps things tremendously if you start with the right sample to begin with. The old Ddrum 4SE proved this, and I think the new Yamaha modules bear it out as well.
    Last edited by Jovato; 11-05-13, 11:09 AM.

  • #2
    This is exactly what I've been on and on about, well done sir! I'm curious tho...what high powered monitor system are you using that lets you "cut right through" the rest of the rock cacophony?

    K ;-)
    My bands: Alter Ego, Arcanum
    E Kit = Roland TDW-20s kit // Roland SPD-S// Pearl Demon Drives//
    A Kit = Tama Swingstar 5 pc (1981) w/roto toms (orig owner!) //Zildjians
    A Kit = Natal 6 pc with Paiste 2000 & Zildjian/MidiKNights/DrumSplitters

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jovato View Post
      Then what do you have? You have a processed drum sound, all in the name of getting things to "sit in the mix" properly. I submit to you that at that point, at least acoustically, you are now playing electronic drums.
      Nope. You are not playing electronic drums yet, but simply amplified & (heavily) processed acoustic drums!



      So, this is where I think Yamaha has really nailed it with the 700 (and to only a slightly lesser degree the 502) module sound sets. When you play kits that are based on samples of Yamaha's own Maple, Birch, Beech or Oak custom kits, they sound (for the most part) fantastic out of the box.
      Hey, I won't argue with you about the very nice quality of Yamaha's sample library. Even down to their mid-line 502 kits!


      Anyway, it strikes me that what others think of as "realism" oftens means a well mic'd and processed acoustic drum sound. I think that this is very achievalble with as few as 5 sample layers that are well mapped (10-15 for acoustic jazz). However, it helps things tremendously if you start with the right sample to begin with. The old Ddrum 4SE proved this, and I think the new Yamaha modules bear it out as well.
      That's maybe because we are used to the sound on records; in Rock music, these tend to be more or less processed.
      For an 'unprocessed, un-synthetic' sound, it certainly helps to have the right samples!
      .
      .
      Greetings from Switzerland,
      - Dänoh



      "My best friends' name is J-SON. They used to call him 'Mr. Parse.' He has an 'Error'..!"

      http://www.vdrums.com/forum/core/cus...ar33631_4.jpeg

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      • #4

        Jovato,

        I'd agree with everything you posted.

        Once you close-mic a drum you do have a processed drum sound. No question. Nobody in their right mind listens to a drum with their ear an inch from the head so you have immediately removed a large part of the overall kit sound, the room it is in.

        You've also noticed that a majority of e-drummers seem to seek out the elusive mixed/processed sounds that they would hear on a recording. Myself, for some reason, I'm always trying to find the sounds that still have some sustain, some ringing, maybe a little growl, all those little things that get lost, muted or gated out in a close mic'ed acoustic drum recording.

        Why is John Bonham's drum sound so highly regarded and Googled to this day? Rarely was his kit close-mic'd and it wasn't tuned anywhere near what people instinctively do or want these days, (just above wrinkle and muffle everything? :O ), and then they wonder why that great drum sound is so hard to achieve?

        Those sounds will also get lost in the mix, like you say, in an un-amplified acoustic drum set situation. The only person that hears that stuff is the drummer. The funny thing is, all that ringing and resonance is what the kit needs to properly project out into the audience when there are no microphones. A dead, loose, muffled kick is going to sound like crap 5 feet from the kit without a mic.

        I don't expect a processed sample or replica of a mixed kit to work in a mix, it doesn't work that way for me. For example, and I've said it before here, I love the sound of Neil Pearts drums on Rush recordings but to try and play a kit that is is a replica of the sound on the recording is no fun at all. It's been processed for a particular situation and to fit into that particular mix. It doesn't sound like the kit he was sitting behind when it was recorded.

        I sometimes wonder if these things could be a root of the problem some drummers have with getting their e-kits to sound as great as they can, live or in live recordings. Like you, I prefer to have a wide dynamic range on the entire kit. I hate compression if it's not necessary and I want my kick to not only be a different level but I want it to sound different when I hit it softly or bounce the beater vs laying into it an muting the head.


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        • #5
          Originally posted by Kenster View Post
          This is exactly what I've been on and on about, well done sir! I'm curious tho...what high powered monitor system are you using that lets you "cut right through" the rest of the rock cacophony?

          K ;-)
          Line Six Stagesource L3T on top of a L3S. 2600 combined watts of e-drum love. I can't say enough about this combination.

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