–Kimmy P. from Hollywood, California via Facebook
Glad you’re enjoying the album, Kimmy! I performed the majority of my new album, Finally Getting Nowhere, on my electronic V-Drums kit. It was custom-designed for me by Roland. It consists of 8 toms, an additional eight-pad SPD-20 trigger, snare, bass drum with a double-bass pedal, & the following electronic cymbals: 10” splash, 12” splash, 16” crash, 18” crash, 18” China Boy FX, 14” hi-hat, & 22” ride. I used the SPD-20 mostly for triggering samples and electronic percussion noises.
For this album, I bypassed the indigenous V-Drums brain, & triggered sounds instead from the nascent Reason 6 ReDrum library, along with many third-party patch downloads (I started on Reason 4, and upgraded to 6 halfway through production). The only frustration was that the Redrum computer only allows ten drums, so I had to use anywhere from 3-5 different Redrum computers to accommodate all of my drum sounds (18 drums, 7 cymbals, 10 percussion sounds, and depending on the song, 10-30 additional samples).
Every song had it’s own highly customized drum set & soundscape. For example, for a given song I would select a snare from an anarchy drum set, mix it with a Euro house bass drum, & add Frankfort toms. Even the cymbals were customized. For example, on one song I used a “Sexy” closed hi-hat & a “Dentaku” open hat, something you simply couldn’t do on an acoustic kit. I custom-EQ’d every drum & customized the degree of dampening, shell depth, type of drumhead, microphone position, room size, and the type of material of which the room was made.
One nice thing about electronic drums is that I can have a completely different “set” for each song on the album, in a way that is both time- and cost-effective, and only takes up the space of a single drum set. That’s another thing you can’t do with an acoustic kit (unless you have ten different acoustic kits, and even then there’s no way to get all the electronic sounds unless you’re triggering them).
With this capability, I set about designing a different custom drum kit for each song on the album. Each song’s drum kit required 1-2 weeks for me to electronically design. For example, on the “snare day” for, say the song “Hornymoon,” I would audition approximately 3,000 snare sounds, take notes, narrow it down to the top ten for how I envisioned the snare to sound for that song. Then after selecting the final primary snare, I would mix in 3-5 additional snare sounds to create a composite sound. For example, one snare would provide a “crack” sound, one a “thud” sound, another a “clank” sound, still another a “pop” sound, etc. This is much the same as the way Hollywood movie sound effects engineers create sounds for movies like Star Wars or The Matrix. When Spielberg says, “I need a sound for an X-Wing fighter,” nobody has ever heard one before, so they have to create it from scratch by mixing together seemingly odd elements, which singly might sound strange or dorky, but when blended together sound perfectly awesome. Similarly I took drum sounds which by themselves didn’t necessarily sound appropriate for the song, and I would then sub-mix the different snare sounds to create a composite snare sound that had all the elements I envisioned in the proper proportions for that song. The final sound was as close to “perfect” as I could get it for that song. Then I would custom EQ that composite snare, add compression, reverb, etc.
I would repeat the same process the next day for that song’s bass drum: auditioning thousands of bass drum sounds, narrowing down, blending together, sub-mixing, and adding effects. For example, one bass drum would provide a deep “boom,” one a shallow “punch,” another a “thud” sound, and still another a “pop” sound, etc. By themselves, none of those bass drum sounds inspired me, but played together at the same time, they provided the sound I wanted.
As the week progressed I would do the same for the toms, the cymbals, and the percussion instruments. I sometimes substituted “space” noises or “found” sounds in place of cymbals. In addition I programmed samples of live sex noises, 8-bit arcade game sounds, bed springs, champagne being uncorked, and zippers being unzipped, which I triggered either from synthesizers or the V-Drums.
I then took time to “homogenize” each highly-customized drum set for each song, making sure it sounded like an integrated whole as opposed to a disparate collection of parts. Then I ran effects on the drum set as a whole, before sending all of the drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments out to a drum sub-mixer.
For each song it took me 1-2 weeks to get the drum set designed before I ever played a note. This is because I work “sonically”–that is, I create only when I am inspired by a sound. Until the sound is right, I don’t start playing.
I also made use of panning on the cymbals and toms. In the studio we added many more effects to the drums, changed the timbre and pitch, and added even more nuances. For example, we added additional snare sounds and bass drum sounds to the already complex sound for each of these instruments for each kit, since we were able to draw from yet additional libraries of sounds in the studio.
Once I got the main rhythm worked out and recorded for a given song, I would perform sections of polyrhythms. I also tend to design a drum part with sections and fills that build on a theme, and become progressively more complex as the song moves forward. This was largely the case on Finally Getting Nowhere.
On “Kama Sutra,” I used vocal sex samples in place of the traditional snare, bass, and hi-hat elements. On the same song, I sampled bed springs and used them to provide rhythmic structure. On “Snake Charmer” I used vocal samples in place of standard percussive elements as well.
I also created “patterns.” For example, on “Video Game” I played out a 16th note pattern, using the toms to trigger some cool electronic sounds in Reason. Then I performed and recorded that pattern two more times. I quantized the three recordings to make them sound exactly the same rhythmically. Then I shifted the pitch of each of the performances so they were in three different octaves, and modified each performance differently, deleting a note here or there to create unique nuances for each of the three. I applied different effects to each recording to sonically differentiate them. Finally I blended the three performances together, looped the product, then brought in or dropped out the loop at different places throughout the song to create texture, and to keep the track from becoming “stale.” In “Video Game” you’ll hear that pattern kick in half-way through the first verse. It’s subtle, but provides an important nuance.
Finally, I strategically overdubbed some royalty-free stock loops that I particularly liked to give the album a more electronic sound, and, as I like to call it, “sparkle.”
I also played live percussion on the album. Mostly tambourines, finger cymbals, etc.
“Summer Party” is the only exception to the above process, because I played it on an acoustic drum kit. I used a 5-piece set with a double bass pedal. The engineers buried the bass drums in the mix because they felt I was overplaying the part a little bit for the genre, which I totally was, but I couldn’t help it because I was having way too much fun! LOL We applied some dampening to the drum heads. I used the following Zildjian cymbals: a 10” splash, a 16” crash, an 18” crash, an 18” China boy, a 14” hi-hat, and a 20” ride. I had fun on that song playing double bass, and playing the 16th- and 32nd-note patterns on the ride and snare.
Thanks again for your question, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the album!