29 October 2012

Home Studio: EZ Drummer 1.1.6 and Pro Tools 8.0 LE


This is a revisited entry already published in my old Spanish version of this blog that I found interesting to share again here. Information is related to April 2009.

Why EZ Drummer?

If I could, I would record real drums for sure but, the real thing is that I have not a drum kit, I have no space for it and, I am not a drummer so, simply no way.

Next step was to buy some loop libraries. I bought some Smart Loop and all Drums On Demand available packs. Smart Loops allow you to include the loop as multi-track, therefore you have a better control over every instrument of your drumkit but, the main issue is that those loops aren't sorted in a way that can make them easy to use. Additionally, the same loop was recorded with 3 different drumkits, being one of them a Dry (unprocessed) one. They result me difficult to work with so, I searched more alternatives in Internet and, finally, I went to Drums On Demand loops.
DOD loops are better structured and sound good enough. It's easier to find a loop that can be closer to what your are looking for your song but, the organization of loops is a bit inconsistent. By example, for one "song" (that is the way how they are being ordered) you can find an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, fills and endings and, even alternatives for each one but, such a structure isn't the same for each song and, for some songs, you can have really very few parts to play with.
One more issue is that all the drums are already processed and, equalization, compression and other studio settings change from song to song and, more specifically, from library to library. Therefore, if you try to get some part of one song and mix it with some parts of other songs (because they better suit your song), results can be very frustrating, because of the differently processing for each song.
Also, the available styles are very limited. If you find a song that fully suits your project then, DOD is really useful. The main issue is that you have no independent control over the different instruments of the drumkit, so you cannot change the settings of plates are high or low, by example, there is nothing else you can do to correct it. Also, the drumkit is already equalized and compressed and, it can suit better or worst to your song's settings.
I was using Session Drummer 2 in Sonar 7. Very easy to use and with the possibility to route every instrument to an individual track and, with some loops really useful but, as in the case of SL loops, the structure and organization of such a loops was very chaotic. Also, the available drumkits were poor and with low sounding quality (hi hat, crashes and rhythm plates sounded specially bad). But, that program saved me a couple or three times, by using the loops already available or, creating myself my own loops.
So I focused my search in a similar program but with better quality.

At this time, everybody seemed to agree that the only possible alternatives were BFD2, Addictive Drums and EZDrummer. A version Lite of BFD is already included with Pro Tools Factory so, I had the opportunity to personally check that software. Probably, BFD is deeper, allowing me to control everything to reach the sound I am looking for but, because of this, it's really complex to handle and far away of my idea of "easy to use" so, I quickly discarded BFD2.

I reviewed some videos about Addictive Drums, as well as others related to BFD2 and EZDrummer, to have a global idea o each product. I've found Addictive Drums as an easy to use program but, I didn't like their sounds and, specially their plates.
I also discarded the big brother of EZD, Superior Drummer, since it seemed to me as complex or even more than BFD2 so, I finally decided to go for EZD, as the best compromised solution.

Installation (first)
So, I've installed EZDrummer over Pro Tools 8.0 (upgraded from 7.4) and, I choose one of my songs with sequenced drums and pending on some arrangements.
The  Drag and Drop option of EZDrummer to the track of Pro Tools DIDN'T WORK!!!.

I went to EZD and PT forums, to see if someone else had issues and... surprisingly YES!. I wrote a mail to the technical support of PT, asking for a solution and, I am still waiting for some answer! (what a shitty technical support that PT has!).
The answers in EZD forums weren't of help, also. For half people, everything worked fine and, for the other half things simply didn't work. So, I've started to thing that, maybe the installation order could fix the issues.
After installing EZD, I completely erased PT 8.0 and re-installed it.
Since this instant, everything worked silky and, I can drag and drop midi samples from EZD to Pro Tools' tracks. So, you better install EZD before Pro Tools!.

Updated info at  July 2010

Those installation problems were occurring just in the case that you installed first Pro Tools 7.4 and then, the upgrade to 8.0.
If you start a brand new 8.0 installation, all those issues disappear.

Working with EZDrummer

EZD comes with an user interface really easy and direct. You have a basic drumkit represented (hi hat, snare, kick drum, 3 drums, rhythm plate and crash plate) and, about 4 to 6 alternative for each instrument. From those alternatives, I liked more the ones coming as default.
So, you select first every instrument (if you don't like the default one) and that's all. You can directly hear how the alternative patch works just pushing the mouse over the drum or plate.
There are still two more things that you can do in this user friendly interface: to select a loop and to access the mixing board.
Loops' organization is reasonable. You have a basic style and, whitin each style, several loop patterns (basically, snare and kick drum patterns change in tempo along the different patterns). For each of those patters, you have several variants (with open hi hat, semi-open hi hat or closed hi hat, with crash plates, with rhythm plate, etc.).
One more interesting thing is that any of those loops can be heard with their original tempo, or at double or half tempo and, you can mix them in your midi track in any of such a formats.
Any loop can be drag and drop to your midi track and, you can edit it to your taste.

The mixer allows you to individually control: kick drum, snare top, snare bottom, hi hat, tom 1, tom 2, tom 3, plates and ambient. Each bus can be independently routed to a different output track (track 1 to 8) so, you can record each of its 8 outputs in a different audio track in your DAW. The only controls that you have available for each track (output) are: volume and panoramization, that's all.

In Cakewalk Sonar, it's really easy to use. You just insert EZDrummer as a Sequencer and, when you insert it you select to create the track for the midi input and 8 mono outputs. You arm the automatically created 8 tracks for recording and, you start recording the loops you dropped in your midi track.
In Pro Tools, the work is a bit harder. You need first to create an Instrument track and to assign EZD as the instrument for that track. That track will be also the midi track (where you will drop the loops), as well as the first audio output (output track 1 in EZD), usually the kick drum.
After this, you need to create 7 more Auxiliary tracks and to select as their input the EZ track, from the Instrument Group. You will be able to individually control each EZD track with the Auxiliary tracks but, you will not be able to record anything in those auxiliary tracks. Therefore, you will need to create 8 more audio tracks to be able to record the output of the Auxiliary tracks and, to do that you will need to route the auxiliary track outputs to some internal bus and, the audio tracks will have as input such a bus. That means that you will hijack 8 internal buses just for the drumkit and, this is a real issue, depending on how many do you need for other tasks and how many are available for your PT's version!.

And how it sounds?

Well, the sound is acceptable but, nothing that can replace a real drumkit, you know. Loops have some "feeling" so, they are useful.
At least, you have an individual control over the kick drum, the snare, the hi hat and toms. You don't have separate control over plates, instead. The last track (output) of EZD is the Drum Room. That output has a mix of the rest of instruments, processed with some reverberation, that emulates some mics getting the ambience's sound.

At least, you can always leave there the same drumkit and, readjust later any compression or equalization parameter, from project to project or, whitin the same project, if you change your mind at any time.

What am I missing?
It would be very interesting to include some homogeneous structure in their loops and that, all them included intros, bridges, variants with plates, etc. Even that it is easy to add some midi notes to change which plate should sound (crash instead of rhythm, by example), you will never be able to get the feeling that the drummer gives to the endings, by example.

One more thing I am missing is higher variety. Available loops are very few, even taking into account that can be multiplied by 3 if you play with the double and half tempos.
I know that they are selling separate libraries that will increase the loops, as well as the available drumkits.


I think is a good alternative or, at least, one more weapon. Its user friendly interface allows you to quickly determine if there is some available loop that you can use in your project (you can hear the loop at normal, double or half tempo, to help to decide). You can always retouch the loop midi that sounds closer to your needs, until it suits your project.
It is quicker than look for audio loops in any of my loop libraries and, I have the possibility to adjust the sound to my taste (compression, equalization, reverberation, echo, flanger...), something that you cannot do with an already processed loop.

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