Bart, first off I want to thank you for setting up this Q&A space for me here. How cool…it’s like I have my own little drawer or shelf or something at the Drummer Cafe…
Though little did I know that you, yourself would be starting this section off with a big multi-part question that will take me forever to type the answer to… Just kidding! Though it has been awhile since I’ve even thought about this. Hmmm…
I’ve seen the hardback thing listed before, but nope. “How to Make Your Drum Machine Sound Like A Drummer” was a spiral bound book with an accompanying cassette tape – and originated from a workshop series I taught at the now defunct “Grove School of Music” in LA.
The class was basically teaching drum machine programming to non-drummers. This included, of course, the basics of using drum machines – creating patterns that then strung together to form a complete drum performance for an entire song. But more importantly the class was about shedding light on what drummers play, and why they play it – without at all focusing on the physical techniques involved with being a drummer.
When confronted with programming drums from scratch, it was surprising how many players and writers just had no idea where to begin. So it was a lot drumset 101 musically – the BD/SD downbeat/backbeat ideas – the use of the hihat or ride as rhythmic “glue” – starting from there. Then onto fills, open/close hats, cymbal crashes, etc. Then more “realistic” stuff – fills and crashes as played realistically versus overdubbed – syncopation and how to incorporate accented “figures” – etc. Obviously – different styles – pop/rock, shuffles, reggae, country, etc.
The point never really being that only way to program was “as a player would play it” as obviously at the time there was great innovation coming from drum machine programmers and they were very much adding to the rhythmic landscape of popular music. But even most quirky, leading edge programming that “worked” all seemed to have some kind of grounding in the drumset playing that came before. The programmers seemed to be building on a tradition – not just starting from scratch as though the drum machine and drumset were two entirely different instruments musically.
The class – and the book – was for those that needed assistance filling in their “sense of drumming tradition”.
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For any drummer/programmers here, probably the most useful stuff, that I still am mindful today (when either programming or even using plug-ins like Stylus RMX) is being mindful of consistent dynamics and avoiding problems with them by doing as much of a “create/copy/edit” workflow as possible.
Basically this means that instead of creating all the different sections or patterns one needs for a song individually from scratch, I’ll, for instance, create a verse pattern, then copy it to create a chorus pattern – erasing, moving, adding notes as needed – but still building off of at least some of the specific dynamic levels that were already there. Same goes with any variations. Fill from the verse into the chorus – copy the verse pattern to a new pattern, modify it to include the fill, erasing notes that are in the way, or strictly adding the fill as an overdub. This new pattern will now flow right out the preceding verse pattern with no bumps in the already established groove.
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The other thing I got from working on this material – and it’s something that applies to playing as much as programming. For all the talk of the stiffness that comes quantizing or putting notes right “on the grid” – I found when programming that getting the accents “right” had far, far, far, far more to do with establishing a groove than doing subtle variations in the timing of notes.
The idea that something has to be somewhat “inconsistent” in order to groove and feel human just hasn’t held up for me. In fact, consistency seems to be a great part of great feeling drumming. I’ve put recordings of guys like Vinnie or Erskine up in the computer and have been amazed how consistent they are from bar to bar, beat to beat with the rhythmic grid they’ve previously established.
So back to programming – things can be very “on the grid” and really groove, if the accents are right.
BTW – this though doesn’t mean the grid itself should always be 16th’s alternating at exactly 50%. No, all sorts of “lopes” very much effect the “groove” – I’m just saying that great results can be had while slavishly staying on one basic grid, whatever it is.
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The business part of this: Lorenz Rychner, now editor of Recording Magazine, at that time head of the Grove School synth department is who hired me to first teach the 10 week workshop series. Which after I agreeing to, then scrambled throughout the first series to stay close to my general outline and get each weeks material prepared for the upcoming class.
Lots of ill-prepared scrambling for a while there.
It was a couple of rounds into this that Lorenz introduced me to Alexander Publishing, who ended wanting to publish the class in book form, if I put it together. Which worked out great, if for no other reason, that the book became the textbook for the class, saving me from all the handouts, handouts and more handouts. Alexander was also publishing a bunch of model specific synth programming books – this was in the heyday of Japanese imported synths having the most poorly translated manuals imaginable. Plus even when they were good, they were still manuals, not “how to’s”.
So that evolved in me re-writing the main book into, I think, eight different model specific versions as well.
Financially – it was sort of a disaster. Alexander’s business model was horrible flawed and Chapter 11 eventually ensued – bringing whole lessons about secure and in-secure debtors. Basically the lion’s share of what money was there went to Xerox and Sprint (the copier lease and the phone bill) – author royalties being way down the line. Though not a total loss – I made some money, it led directly to me writing articles and product reviews for Rhythm, Electronic Musician and Recording magazines, etc… and its still on the resume as something someone might ask me about 20 years later. Like here, now.
Also it inspired to buy a Mavis Beacon typing program – eventually bringing me to the use of all of the four or five fingers when I type. But before the book? OMG.
Anyway, thanks for asking…