In some circles, purists scoff at the idea of replacing drums. As a drummer and a microphone addict, I understand. But the fact remains there are times when you need to augment or fix poorly-recorded tracks. (Speaking of stacking, you didn't really think those drums you hear on the radio are single hits?) Drumagog is a real-time plug-in for automatically replacing acoustic drum tracks with other recorded sounds. This is especially useful when the drummer had a good performance, because the software leaves intact the musician's intent; the recorded performance dictates where the new sounds land. Actually, come to think of it, it's the recording engineer who is being replaced-oh my!
A while back, I tried out Drumagog 1. I liked it, but it only ran under DirectX. That's in the past. With the release of Version 4.0 in 2005, Drumagog works with VST, RTAS, or AU (thus, on Windows or Mac OS X). And unlike another popular replacer, Drumagog works in real-time, so you can evaluate your choices in the proper context.
In fact, there are so many features that in order to discuss the core items, I'll use a real-life example. I needed to mix a track that a client recorded years ago. After listening to the files, we believed the snare drum mic was bumped in the middle of the session. (The band is long gone and so is the studio where they recorded, so we don't know for sure. My client is the singer. He doesn't recall). So, for half of the songs, the snare is out of phase and very strange sounding.
I pulled up the session and inserted Drumagog as an RTAS plug in the snare audio track. Since Drumagog can utilize user-supplied samples, I had the option of pulling "good" sounding snare hits from the earliest sessions. This would have been the quickest and most transparent solution (and in all probability, the right thing to do). But having all of this power corrupted me, and I am weak and easily overcome by technology.
The main interface (called analog) is graphical, with a sample-selection window, control knobs, and a drum-movie window. The first thing to do is select a sample you want to use. To reiterate, users can capture sounds, load files from sample libraries (Drumagog is compatible with WAV, AIFF, and SD2 files ), or purchase libraries created for Drumagog in GOG format. There are many advantages to using GOGs, which I'll explain in a moment. And don't worry, it's not a super-secret format; users can roll their own GOGs. (See the manual for more on that.) After choosing a nice maple snare, I was ready to start replacing.
As soon as you instantiate Drumagog, it starts evaluating audio and makes automatic replacements. In many instances, the default values work really well. But I wanted to tweak, so I explored Drumagog's three pages: Main, Samples, and Advanced. The visual triggering view in the Main tab brings up a scrolling graphic display. Hits flow left to right, just like in most DAWs. The taller the waveform, the louder the source hit. A user-adjustable horizontal line serves as the sensitivity threshold. Hits below the line are not replaced. This helps avoid false triggering from mic bleed or ghost notes you wish to leave alone. Incoming hits that exceed the threshold are rendered with a white dot, making it clear which transient was replaced. I dragged the line to a level that was optimal to my ears, and we were in good shape. Then, I moved to the Samples tab where you have two sub-options. In the Groups sub-tab, dynamic groups are set up. This is a scrolling window where you can establish multiple replacement thresholds for each sample. The GOG I was using provided up to eight different dynamic velocity levels, which was way more than I needed for a rock track. (Compare that to the limit of three levels that many of us are used to with other titles.) The next sub-option is the sample page, where a matrix shows the various samples that are set up in the GOG for the selected drum. As I was playing audio, Drumagog illuminated the appropriate grid box that represented the substitute sound. Since I had enabled all kinds of multi-sample variations, the grid was lighting up all over the place.
Speaking of these variations, it's time to discuss the real power behind this application-multi-sample processing. To me, Drumagog's handling of multi-samples (Dynamic, Random, Positional) is what makes it an indispensable tool for contemporary music production. A Dynamic multi-sample is a collection of samples of a drum being played at different volumes. In the samples that come with all three Drumagog editions (Basic, Pro, Platinum), most snare drums have as many as eight samples dedicated to center-of-head hits. This more accurately reflects the different sounds the same drum makes depending on how hard it is played. In use, Drumagog automatically chooses which dynamic-sample to use based upon the level of the input signal. Random multi-samples add to the realism by letting Drumagog randomly choose from a set of samples when replacing a drum. (Reason's ReDrum also features this brilliant feature.) When a real drummer plays a drum, it never sounds exactly the same, even if it's hit in the same spot. From stick rebound to head fluctuations, the physics are complicated, but our ears are pretty good at discerning different hits. If every note were replaced by the same sample (even if it's louder to reflect the dynamics), humans will tend to perceive the drums as phony, stiff, or flat. To approximate a human drummer, Drumagog will randomly choose a different sample for each hit. Positional multi-samples take into account different articulations drummers use when playing. Continuing with our snare drum example, snare GOGs usually contain center hits, off-center hits, sidestick, and rimshots. Ride cymbals contain edge, middle, bell, etc. GOGs also have the ability to dedicate certain samples to the left and right hand. When combining Random, Positional, and Dynamic multi-samples, the resulting audio takes on a level of realism that is not attainable with competing applications. Instead of machine-gun drum-machine rolls, a Drumagog snare roll will consist of left and right hand hits, slight variations in dynamics, and an overall "human" feel.
One area where drum replacement can get touchy is dealing with the overhead mics. But Drumagog has a ducking feature to help with this situation. By enabling auto-ducking, the original snare from the overhead tracks can be attenuated and replaced with the new snare sample. This is especially useful when you don't want the original drum to come through. Ultimately, you'll have better replacement results if the hats and ride cymbals were recorded to individual tracks. So, go buy more mics and preamps, and make sure you do that from now on.
There are too many features in this application to cover in detail. For example, Drumagog is capable of no-latency real-time drum triggering, which has immense potential in live or triggered settings. Stealth mode and blend function allow you to let varying amounts of the original sound through. This is great for stacking sounds. There is also MIDI integration, making it easy to have Drumagog pull sounds from your favorite external sampler, workstation, or drum machine. Conversely, Drumagog can accept MIDI commands and serve as a dedicated sound source. The Platinum edition features integration with BFD and BFD2, meaning that users
can access both BFD sampled drum kits and use BFD/BFD2 controls (e.g., Mic Tools panel allows users to add room ambience) for additional control over the sound. And there is really a lot more functionality-sample rate conversion, pitch shift, etc. Check out the website for videos, examples, and more features.
Whether you always replace drums, occasionally augment existing tracks, or reserve it for emergencies, Drumagog is the best tool for the task. In terms of features, flexibility, and power, Drumagog is way ahead of its competition. Moreover, when supported by a good sample library, Drumagog is transparent, meaning you can't tell the drums were replaced. And in my book, that's pretty much the best compliment you could ask for. (Basic $199 MSRP, Pro $289, Platinum $379; www.drumagog.com)
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