The Technicalities of Creating a Drum Tutorial WebsiteJanuary 11, 2011
After designing the logo for Grow and creating a website for the Grow Community Team, it was time to focus on my major project again. This post will look at the steps I took to research, organize and experiment with the equipment required for the project.
I was at a stage were I knew what I was going to do and roughly how I was going to do it. The time had come to become more specific and start looking for the equipment required for the project and how I could integrate it in a way that had never been done before. The foremost issue that concerned me was the audio quality. I could teach the drums alright, but I decided the audio quality of the drums needed to be better than any other company out there. To get the best possible sound, I knew I needed to hook the kit up to the computer in some way.
Linking the Drums to the Computer
I have an advantage over most other online drummers, as I will be using an electronic kit. The material on the heads is known as mesh and the cymbals are a black rubber. The sound produced is clear and can be listened to through a set of headphones. The problem I faced was linking the kit up to the computer. Upon several internet recommendations, I ordered the M-Audio MIDISport, which is a MIDI Interface with 2 MIDI inputs and a USB output. It was important that the device had two inputs as my drum kit uses two brain modules – the devices that all the drums link to. The brain then triggers the sound to be played. Most electronic kits have one module, but as I have so many cymbals, I use two. Two 10ft MIDI cables were also required to link the M-Box to the Brains.
The tricky part was to make the computer play a sound exactly when the drums were hit. The drum modules would usually play these sounds but they didn’t offer a recording and editing facility, which is why the audio needed to go into the computer. I stumbled across two programs that drummers can use to trigger sounds when they hit the drums. The first was Addictive Drums by XLN Audio and the second was EZ Drummer by Toontrack. I was nervous to see whether either of them would work with a macbook. I was also very curious about the sound quality of each. I watched countless videos and reviews on YouTube and even downloaded the trial version of Addictive drums. I was impressed at how easily it integrated with Garageband for Mac but couldn’t get the sounds to trigger once connected to my drums.
After a bit of research I discovered how the drum programs work. They take each drum as a note on the digital keyboard of garageband and relate that note to a pre-recorded drum sound. For an example a “C” could be a Tom hit whilst an F# could be a snare drum hit. I brought up the keyboard in Garageband and hit each drum individually to see what note would play. Upon hitting a crash cymbal a tom sound would play and everything got very confusing, so I noted down what notes were coming in and what notes they should have been.
I couldn’t figure out a way to change these notes in Addictive drummer or Garageband. I checked if they could be changed on the drum modules and I hit jackpot! After configuring each drum to the right note, Addictive drummer worked great. I was only given a limited number of sounds though as it was a demo. Next, I took the plunge and got EZ Drummer, based on reviews.
I found EZ drummer much easier to configure and work with. There was a large number of sounds to choose from, and the “drumkit from hell” kit seemed perfect for my project.
Sound Quality Tests
I realized the power of EZ Drummer as it made my playing crystal clear (even the mistakes). The great thing about it was that these mistakes could be easily corrected by moving the note backwards or forwards slightly on the timeline. I felt this should be kept to a minimum, as using the computer to edit the timing wasn’t giving a true representation of what was being played.
I did a number of tests to compare EZ drummer with the stereo sound I would have been getting, had I not been using EZ Drummer. The sound files below are badly played but you will get an idea of the different kind of sound EZ Drummer gives
Pure stereo out, no EZ Drummer
Drums with EZ Drummer, cymbals stereo out
Pure EZ Drummer sound
I decided that the best option was to use EZ Drummer to record my cymbals and drums. The next step was to test the audio in a song-type environment. I recorded the drums and added guitar in Garageband. The song is “Hellish” by “This or the Apocalypse”:
As the branding is very dark, I thought this mysteriousness had to come across in the videos. Gabriel at UUJ imagined a black setting with huge spotlights coming down on the drum kit. I shared his vision and I went away to see what was possible.
Gabriel Recommended Calumet photographic on the Boucher Road, which was a great call! I went with an open mind to see what sort of lighting they offered. I was met by a friendly sales rep called Angus. He was very helpful and demonstrated the kinds of lights he would recommend.
The first was the Paglight C6, a portable light that’s often used in interview-type scenarios, to light up the interviewee.
I was impressed by the portability of the device, but it wasn’t bright enough to illuminate an entire drumkit. Angus then reached for the Bravo V300 300W light and gave me a quick demo.
The Bravo was certainly better than the Paglight and actually cheaper. I was informed that Calumet only rent out Photographic lighting and not continuous lighting, so I would have to buy the lights. I was a bit shocked as the lights were fairly expensive. I decided the best idea was to go home and search the internet (I went on to purchase two 750W softboxes from a recommended seller on eBay)! Before leaving Calumet though, the materials on the back wall caught my eye and Angus showed me over for a closer look
To fit the sleek branding of Deadbeat Drummer, I felt a black backcloth would be necessary, to take the attention of the walls and divert it to the bright white drum heads! The muslin drape below comes in 10 x 12ft or 10 x 24ft. I decided to leave it and left the shop buzzing with ideas.
A few days later I went on search for a cheaper black backcloth. The first stop was the Spinning Wheel in Belfast. The second was Paragon in Donegall Pass. Both were ridiculously expensive for the size I required.
With the sound sorted and the lighting in progress, I did a quick test to see how the audio from EZ Drummer would match up with a low-quality video from my FUJI Finepix Z100. The result was good, but the static camera lacklustre. I used pink drumsticks in the video below for no other reason than visibility, I can promise you that:
A Different Approach to Video
I thought for days about how I would get the best camera angles possible for drummers to almost see what I see on the drum kit. The idea hit me of using a point-of-view camera attached to a helmet to do this. A bit of research led me to the Contour HD helmet cam and the GoPro Hero HD. Both are used primarily for extreme sports, skydiving and motocross.
Using a head-camera to teach like this had never been done before. An hour later and I had received an email from an eBay seller acknowledging my payment. I took a few snaps at my drumkit to see how much of the drums I could get in:
The helmet camera wasn’t going to be the only angle I’d be using, as my previous test with a static camera had proved how boring a standalone camera could be with no other shots.
I took a few pictures of the angles I thought students would find most beneficial:
Camera and Lighting Setup Ideas
With softboxes on the way and a camera (from loan of a friend) guaranteed it was time to sketch out the positioning of some of the angles I hoped to achieve. Putting the lights in the wrong place could make the video worse rather than better. I thought about the different viewpoints and jotted down my favourite ones, were the lighting isn’t facing directly into the camera.
The plan had been to use my Granny’s garage to record the videos. However, the freezing cold winter had knocked out the electricity in the garage and I need somewhere else. I phoned about and setup a viewing at Own O’Cork Mill off the Beersbridge road and at a worksop in Craigantlet. The Owen O’Cork Mill seemed more like a haunted house and the caretaker admitted that the winter weather had caused a few leaks and burst pipes. Alarm bells rang in my head, as the amount of electricity I’d be using plus water did not make a pleasant scene in my head. I took the Craigantlet workshop which was spacious, dry and affordable.
Wire-framing the Site
With the Major Project Proposal due within days, I began wire-framing the site to show how the site would be laid out. You can see the wire-frames below.