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From the Boiler Room: February Update

drum_comboThe drum parts for all of the original songs are now complete, as are the bass parts. There may be some tweaking of the basslines as the arrangements develop, but they’re there or thereabouts for all songs. The drums are mainly the EZX Indie Folk and Americana kits, (a 50-50 split), but I couldn’t find the right parts for “One More Time”. In fact, anything I tried, no matter how simple, seemed too busy or just leaden, so I’ve opted for some simple (EZX) Latin Percussion on that and it’s just enough to provide some movement without becoming a distraction.

I had thought to use elements of the EZX Twisted Kit on some songs, but that hasn’t worked out so far – the direct and simple approach that the Indie Folk/Americana combo offer has given me a nice vibe and I’ve ended up with a set of drum parts that complement each other quite well. I’ve actually used some of the patterns from the Twisted Kit’s MIDI library on “Goodbye (For The Last Time)”, so it will be making an indirect contribution to the end product.

The one song that isn’t done is the cover version. I wanted to wait until the other songs were fleshed out before looking at that one, particularly as it has a large number of short verses and I want the dynamics to rise and fall to reflect the story of the song.

Groovy, baby

With the drum and bass parts done, the next thing to do was to improve the sync between my manually played keyboard parts and the professionally played drum patterns. I added a video about the Match Quantise feature in Cubase, which is what I used to line the bass up with the drums. It’s not a perfect process and you need to take care that bass notes don’t randomly flirt off in completely the wrong direction, but the end result is very pleasing and definitely musically tighter. I also found that the same process added life to the simplest percussion part, putting movement into a static tambourine.

Adding Colour

With the rhythm sections sorted, it was time to look at the rest of the instrumentation. For some songs, the drums are not constant throughout and I had developed piano parts using EZKeys for some, but not all, to provide a structure with some movement, rather than the block chords from the Chord Track. That said, I have used the click-and-drag facility of the Chord Track to get me started on the string arrangement for “One More Time” and the horn parts for “This Close (To Falling In Love)”. In each case, I’ve been experimenting with driving the Animator function in NI’s Session Strings and Session Horns, using automation to toggle the Animator on and off, but it’s not been plain sailing. The timing of when you toggle the Animator “off” in Session Strings is critical to avoid notes holding on and you can’t have legato notes when it’s transitioning to “off” – there has to be a distinct break. The Animator in Session Horns is also problematic – at the moment, toggling it using automation is muting the output and I haven’t cracked how to get round that.

Freeze or render?

Having said that, Session Horns is a beast in itself – fully loaded, it consumes 1.32GB of available memory and brings my old desktop PC to its knees. My laptop may be a beast and can handle it, (Core i7, 6GB of RAM), but it doesn’t need to carry that kind of overhead into a mix. The only question is whether I should use Cubase’s Freeze facility to retain the part in case I need to edit it prior to starting the mix, or whether I should render it to an audio file and have done with it. I feel a video coming on…

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