Andy Selway: How I Use E-drums
I’ve been a member of electronic/metal/industrial band KMFDM for about 16 years. Strangely enough, for such a heavily electronic-influenced band, I have been beating the living daylights out of an acoustic kit at our live shows that entire time – apart from two weeks at the start of a tour in 2011. After several years of almost deafening the band members, myself, multiple sound, monitor and crew guys, and causing many live sound mixing headaches, we tried all the options to quieten things down. The use of screens in front of the kit, towels around snare drums and anything we could think of. Around this time, some bright spark came up with the idea of triggering.
I actually loved the idea of triggering a kit at first and was unaware of what a pain it can be! There was a steep learning curve for myself and our guitarist, while we tried to figure it all out. We enlisted the help of several well-known MIDI experts in the Seattle area when we started to get lost in the quagmire of e-drums. Funnily enough though, all we actually wanted to do was trigger a big, fat-sounding live rock drum kit – like I’d been playing for years – but with a volume control and consistency of sound from venue to venue.
I used one of my old kits, stuffed the shells with foam from eBay, with ddrum Pro acoustic triggers mounted on the rims and regular drum heads. I also had a set of electronic cymbals (which I shredded to pieces in about three shows), while triggering Addictive Drums from a laptop originally using a Roland TD-10, but switched to a TD-20. I tried to get the hi-hats to trigger properly through an Alesis Midi IO, but that was a disaster, so by the first day of rehearsals, I’d switched back to a real ride and hats. Over the first couple of weeks of the tour, my limbs were killing me from the padded shells and things were starting to go wrong on stage. By the New York city show, I was back to a full acoustic set. This was not a good start for e-drums!
Even though it was a rough start, e-drums still piqued my interest and I realised the potential. In our past recordings, I would do a lot of drum programming, which I’d rather play. I feel that there is something missing when programming instead of sitting behind the drum set and playing the parts, such as feel and dynamics. My next step was getting into sound replacing software. I would record my parts on my mic’d acoustic kit and then replace all the sounds with Slate, Addictive Trigger, or Massey DRT in Pro Tools, using whichever sounds I required, I found the issue with this method when trying to get real drum sounds was my recording space and the mics available to me.
My studio was not big enough and the mics were not good enough quality to give me the monster sounds I needed for artists like KMFDM, and others that I had been recording for. While messing around with Superior Drummer 2, and now 3, I realised the potential of this software for my recording needs, which took me full circle back to triggering again!
By this time, I realised that whether I wanted electronic sounds or real kit sounds, I was sound replacing everything (even cymbals at times). So, why would I mic up an acoustic kit at all to do all this? This led to my long search for the right triggers, MIDI controller, and mesh head combos that would work best for me.
This is when I got chatting to Steve at Magnatrack, as I was intrigued by what they were doing. We soon realised that we both had a common goal, which has led to us working together. After playing their triggers through a 2box DrumIt 5, and discussing my thoughts regarding the triggers with Steve, I have now decided to tour with a triggered drum set again! The next KMFDM tour, I will be playing on a custom-built acoustic/electronic conversion kit from Magnatrack and I could not be more excited about the prospect.
I am currently recording drum tracks for the next KMFDM album at my home studio, using some of their new prototypes and existing Magnatrack triggers on a converted acoustic kit with amazing results, and am loving the constant striving to make this the best experience it can possibly be.
My knowledge of e-drumming has come a long way since those first experiences on the road in 2011, and with Steve’s help, and with this combined knowledge, we are achieving some amazing results with a bunch of groundbreaking ideas coming thick and fast …
So, there you have it, full circle back to fully triggering in the studio and soon to be live too