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Adding Electronics To Your Setup!

This post is mainly for drummers, but can pertain to any musician looking to expand their sonic abilities with electronics. It also features input from my friend and great drummer Zach Danziger, who uses electronics in his set up almost daily. This should help you sort out if this is something you should pursue and give a little clarity to your options.

The first question to ask yourself is, do you need electronics to accomplish the sound you are going for with the music you are making? For my purposes, I have been playing more pop music and have needed to replicate the sounds on the album that was recorded. I tried to do as much as possible with real instruments before adding electronic sounds, but sometimes you have no choice and need that voice.

Once you decide to make that move to start using electronics with your setup, there are four main avenues to go down. The first, and easiest route is to use of sample pads and percussion pads to blend acoustic and electronic sounds. These pads are basically mini drumsets by themselves and are easily manipulated to any turn any set up into a hybrid drum kit. A sample pad such as the has a bunch of sounds already built in, but you can also sample (record), import, and trigger any sound. A percussion pad usually  allows you to trigger the internal sounds within the instrument. Here is a video using those pads (and drum triggers, mentioned below): Percussion Pad/Drum Trigger video

The next way would be additional drum pads around your acoustic drumset. These come in different forms like mesh pads, rubber pads or bar pads which are used in conjunction with your sound source.

Another, would be using drum triggers. Like the pads mentioned above, these triggers also need a sound source. The difference with drum triggers is that the sound is mixed with that of the acoustic drum. This allows you to still feel the real drums, but you can mix in the sounds you desire as much, or as little as you need. Here is another video offering some insight to creating a hybrid drumset: Hybrid Drumset Video

One last thing you can think about using would be a loop pedal. This has come in handy for me when I want to keep something going like a shaker or tambourine, but don’t have enough limbs. I’ve worked with a bunch of guitar players who use these pedals all the time in a small band setting. They commonly loop the chords or a bass line and then solo over that. I’ve even seen some horn players use them to play harmonies with themselves. Here’s another friend Marcelo using a loop pedal with percussion instruments: Percussion Loop Video

PRO-TIP: Just as you would spend time working out the logistics of your setup if you added a new drum or percussion instrument, you should definitely figure out the navigation of your electronic setup, sound banks, and be prepared for everything to crash (prepare with having spare cables, extra hard drives, adapters, power sources, etc.)

I had a conversation with Zach and these were some really good points of information that he had to offer! Now if you don’t know who Zach is, he is an amazing drummer based in the NYC area, currently playing with Mister Barrington, Test Kitchen and Stix Beiderbecke. If that isn’t enough to spark your interest, he has played on an incredible amount of film soundtracks, and recorded on tons of albums (including the popular jazz album “Two Drink Minimum” by Wayne Krantz). Not to mention he is an avid coffee lover. Specifically espresso! Here’s a great vid of Zach doing what he does: Zach’s Performance Spotlight

DG: What is it you do and how do you use electronics?
ZD: I play acoustic drums augmented by electronics. I attach triggers (piezo pickups) to my drums and cymbals which can trigger drum samples, synths, and effects.

 

DG: Would you suggest other drummers/musicians incorporate electronics into their setups?
ZD: I suppose that all depends on the needs of the situation. I feel that there’s a lot of music that could benefit from a drummer incorporating these tools. That said, there’s a ton of music that may not really benefit from an augmented drum setup. I wouldn’t feel the urge to dive in just because it may seem like the current musical trend.
DG: Where is a good start when using electronics (looper pedals, triggers, percussion pads, etc.)?
 
ZD: There are so many products and routes one can take. If you own a laptop, that’s a good start. I’d get software such as Ableton Live, a decent audio interface and an inexpensive trigger/sound module. You’ll need a few drum triggers or pads as well.
DG: What are some pros/cons with using electronics? (i.e. current musical styles/wider range of sounds /film scoring vs. bands, etc.)
ZD: The pros would be that I can more faithfully recreate the sonic palate of songs that I’ve produced in the studio when playing live. A lot of the music that I produce incorporates a lot of electronic sonic and production elements and I try to maintain as many of those elements on live gigs. Having this capability can really expand the creative process and can even change your approach to playing your instrument.
The cons would be things like cost (if you delve in deep financially with the gear), a semi-steep learning curve, longer and more intricate setup/breakdown time, and definitely the “crash factor.” The electronics can oftentimes be finicky and you’re constantly playing the role of “computer tech guy”, which is daunting.
DG: Any other hints or tips when selecting or using electronics for beginners and/or pros?
ZD: I would say that one should not feel the need to jump in too deep, too soon. This whole thing can be a slippery slope and the technology changes so fast. You can do a lot with very little and expand as you need.
One last thing to consider is transporting, setting up and breaking down additional equipment (specifically your electronics). Anyone who plays with me knows how much I hate setting up and breaking down my gear. I would rather sell everything I have after the gig ends and buy completely new stuff the next day rather than break it down and pack it up. With that being said, calzone-type hard cases to safely house, store and transport your electronics may be a worthy investment. They make all sorts of sizes and shapes (normally for DJs) that can also keep everything in one place as well as make your set up and break down a lot quicker, much to the appeasement of the sound engineer. This will also allow you more time to actually “sound check” your gear rather than spend time plugging in wires and cables, and hoping everything works. The fact that these cases are really sturdy and secure will also help keep these pricey electronics from getting damaged in transport. Just think about how much a macbook or ipad costs. Good luck on your new electronic venture and see you down the road!