Essentials – EZ Keys and EZ Drummer 2 by Toontrack
Future is finally here. Now you can hire a virtual drummer and virtual keyboard player to play and record in your virtual home studio. The end result is real.
by A. Arsov, May 2016
What a great songwriting tool we’ve got here, and I didn’t even knew about it. I own EZ Drummer Lite and Superior Drummer from Toontrack, and receive news about their new stuff, but somehow I missed what these EZ tools are capable of. That was until the day a producer colleague of mine pointed these products out to me. I was quite amazed how I managed to miss all that essential info about all the functions these tools offer. It is a bit sad how so many great tools are all around us and we are not aware of them just because we’re swamped with too much information every day.
So, let’s see what EZKeys and EZ Drummer 2.0 are all about. Drums first.
EZ Drummer 2.0 by Toontrack
This is actually a virtual drummer. It is also a drum instrument or library with great sounding drum kits and nice additional editing features, but it’s main power lies in its ability to help you, actually to allow you to compile the whole drum track in a less than five minutes. I didn’t believe it at first, but after spending some time with EZ Drummer 2.0 I discovered it is actually possible.
So, after loading EZ Drummer 2.0 in an instrument track, all you need to do is to open the Search menu in upper row of the main window. In the upper left corner you will see a Tap2Find button. Press the button and set quantization as desired. (I set it to None, as I had already tested it with some not so common rhythms – it works.) You will hear a metronome and now you can add kick and snare or even hi-hats simply by playing those instruments through a keyboard or by clicking on the appropriate instrument, adding hits with a mouse click. Press show results and you will get a bunch of matching MIDI beats ranked by percentage, regarding how similar they are to your beat. Now all you need to do is try some of them and find the one that suits you best. At the bottom you will see a Song Creator knob, press it and than drag your MIDI clip into the MIDI drop zone (you will see a big arrow pointing it out). After a few moments of calculation you will get a whole drum heaven of clips ranked into different rows: Intro, Verse, Chorus, PreChorus, Bridge and Ending, with plenty of variations. All you need to do is to try them and drag them into the big “Drag your MIDI song blocks here” window to compile a track with those elements. You can use that track with EZ Drummer or you can drag it to your DAW using it with any other drum source. No matter which electro genre you are in, those finished tracks can do wonders with your drum machine.
Of course MIDI clips that are in the main song “Drag your MIDI song blocks here” window, can be further manipulated. Double click on a clip and an Edit play style window will be opened. Here you can change the kit parts by dragging Power hand from Hi-hat to Ride or from Snare to Floor Tom and the Hi-hat part will be played with Ride and all similar combinations. There is also an amount button in the bottom row. Select an instrument and decrease or increase the amount and EZ Drummer will add or take some beats from that instrument, of course, according to the style and content of the MIDI clip. It worked better than I expected.
There are a number of additional MIDI packs at the Toontrack store. Copy all your third party drum MIDI clips into the EZ MIDI directory and EZ Drummer will recognize them and will add them to a browser along with additional MIDI packs, just as those that come with EZ Drummer 2.0. I also obtained a few additional MIDI packs, like AOR Grooves, American Rock, Funk, Basic Rock, Songwriting kit 1 and 2, Basic Jazz and Reggae and didn’t regret it for a second. MIDI packs will cost you €25 EUR, MIDI pack Bundles around €80 EUR. If you make a music on regular basis, then these additional packs are a definitely more than a good buy, especially if you’re oldschool, searching through MIDI libraries instead of typing in your rhythm (did I mention that EZ Drummer has a very advanced MIDI Browser where you can go through genres, MIDI packs, song parts and so on?).
With EZ Drummer 2.0 we get two different kits, Modern and Vintage, and each of these bring a whole palette of additional presets with different sounding kicks and snares. Both kits sounds very realistic and there is also a mixer part where you can edit every part of a kit, setting the volume, pan or even sending it to separate outputs, along with setting a general reverb and compressor for the whole kit.
You can get EZ Drummer 2.0 for €139 EUR.
More info on https://www.toontrack.com/ezdrummer-line/
ESSENTIAL for: A whole drum track within five minute, with intro, verses, fills and chorus parts.
EZKeys by Toontrack
Toontrack offers the whole line of different Keys modules, from Classical Piano through various Electric pianos and Pipe organs. Whatever you prefer. I went for the Classic Electric package that offers two great old modules: the Rhodes MK1 and Wurlitzer 200 A. No matter which one you choose, the songwriting procedure is the same. With these modules you just select the sound you like. Yes, the EZKeys line offers similar functions to EZ Drummer – it helps you write a piano based song even if you are not a piano player. All you need to do is choose some parts and combine them together using the original chords that come with the MIDI packs, or add your own chords, or even as a third solution by changing chords taking into consideration chord suggestions that the EZKeys chord editor offers. One way or another, you need to browse through various MIDI clips, choosing one, adding a chord progression, selecting your instrument and that’s more or less it. I found this to be essential for some electro, deep house songs that I’m working on. So, lets make a new song with EZKeys.
I presume you already have some basic backing, a guitar line progression, or a bass line, maybe even a drum line made with EZ Drummer 2.0, and you would like to add piano to your arrangement (assuming that you are a guitar player or even vocalist without any advanced piano knowledge).
As you open your EZKeys instrument, you will again see the familiar window “Drop your MIDI song block here”. There is a place where you can add chords by clicking the “+” button in the top right corner of this window or by simply pressing record and banging chords through your keyboard. I presume the first option will be your choice – so after getting a bunch of C blocks you just need to click this C, changing chords according to your preferences or with a help of the so called Chord wheel where you can see recommended substitutes for the current chord (don’t forget to select basic scale for your song under that main window), making your progression correspond to your prerecorded tracks. Select all your new clips and press “Use browser MIDI” near the “+” sign in upper right corner under the “Drop your MIDI song block here” window (OK, it is actually a Song Track window) and then just browse through various MIDI clips in the upper browser and the rhythm and style of your MIDI clip will change accordingly to the chosen style still playing your chord progression. When you are happy with results, just drag that MIDI clip to your DAW for further editing (if necessary).
If you need faster or slower options, you can always use the ½X or 2X options for halving or doubling the main tempo.
More or less, that’s it. I obtained a few additional EZKeys MIDI packs and they are quite a lifesaver if the basic ones that you get with your instruments don’t fit your playing style or genre. I especially like the Funk and Soul packs that I’ve added to my collection along with few other essential ones. It’s the same for EZ Drummer 2.0 – after some time you will want to expand your sound collection with various additional packs, as they all add a bit of fresh air to your standard arsenal of sounds and rhythms. Both instruments come with a nice collection of MIDI clips, but more is always more. 😉
There are a few more things that make this instrument even more appealing. In a note sheet under the instrument picture you can see the chord names for the chords that you are currently playing or are played from MIDI clips. In the bottom part of the main window we find a few additional controllers for fine tuning the general sound, like a button for applying reverb level and Line Amp for adding distortion to the signal. Wurlitzer comes with an additional two knobs for Tremolo rate and Tremolo depth, while Rhodes has buttons for Bite and Bass. Both Wurlitzer and Rhodes comes with a nice number of additional presets that bring some variations to the basic sound (Retro Funk, Clear Ambiance, Ballad and Classic and all other sorts of presets).
Actually there is not much more to say about EZKeys since it didn’t come with a host of controllers – this is not its main purpose. It is a songwriting tool packed with instruments, offering a complete solution for adding professional sounding key lines to your composition. I’m quite an average keyboard player and this one puts my keyboard lines on a totally new level.
More info, demo audio clips and video presentation at:
The price of any EZKey model is the same as for EZ Drummer 2.0, €139 EUR.
ESSENTIAL for: One session with a professional keyboard player will cost you exactly the same, so all further sessions will be for free with EZKeys. This is an excellent tool that will help you put your compositions on the next level – a professional one.
A Few Conclusions
Now I just need one more cool virtual vocalist and I can finally go fishing while my computer does all the rest. Just joking, it is a fantastic tool, but it’s up to you to write a good song.
EZ Drummer 2.0 and EZKeys are like a virtual pair of professional musicians, a drummer and keyboard player that you can hire to play those instruments on demand. It is totally the same offer you can get in any professional recording studio. They always have some professional players in stock. EZ Drummer and EZKey virtual instrumentalists will do their job professionally, as all professionals usually do, but everything else is up to you.