Review – MDrummer 5: The Future of Intelligent Drum Software, Part 1
Is this the drum programming game changer that the developer claims it to be? Suleiman dives in to find out.
by Suleiman Ali, Jan. 2015
Artificially intelligent music software, as well as algorithmic composition code, has been around since the mid-nineties, with many experimental programs generating MIDI content using some set of rules, for example, fractal generation, probability or cellular automata. The theoretical roots of these ideas are at least half a century old.
Despite the considerable age of the ideas and the algorithms themselves, commercially available software that gave users control over such a generator in an intuitive manner did not appear in the market until the second half of the decade beginning in 2000. At this point, we are shifting our discussion to drums and leaving melodic AI-based composition for another time (which is itself a book and a half for another day).
The first major contestant in AI drum software (and a true ground breaker) was Rayzoon’s Jamstix. It is now at version 3.5 and is essentially a virtual drummer that can generate unique beats for your song’s requirement based on the virtual drummer model and genre/style that you selected. Further tweaking is possible for individual song parts and playing style.
The second major contestant (and another ground breaker) was Melda Production’s MDrummer. Rather than modeling individual drummers’ signature styles, it combined genre based behavior with intuitive rhythmic tweaking options to generate and modify your drum track. At version 5.03, MDrummer has come a long way since then.
Given the rather huge scope and depth of the software, I will be doing this review in 2 parts. Part 2 will appear in the March issue of SoundBytes Magazine.
I used an i5-based HP Laptop with 6 GB RAM running Windows 8 (64-bit) alongside a Roland Tri-Capture audio interface. The DAW was 64-bit Reaper version 4.73 and the plug-in itself was 64-bit.
The Good News
Let me get some of the major selling points of MDrummer out of the way. It includes almost all of Melda Productions amazing suite of effects built-in. These can be used on a per drum basis or as sends. If you have tested out or used any of Melda Production’s rich set of effects, you know you are in for a treat with easy GUI’s and powerful functionality at your beck and call for all of your drums.
The second crucial item, so often missing in the major drum software, is the ability to import your own multi-velocity samples. So, should the included (and quite comprehensive) 6 GB of content not be sufficient, you put all your existing WAV libraries to good use by utilizing MDrummer as a drum sampler.
The third crucial feature is the ability to use multi-out on all the individual drum tracks to your DAW as well as direct all the MIDI data directly to another drum software of your choice, with MIDI mapping tweaking that is intuitive and save-able as a template (these are called output MIDI filters).
The installer is available online, and a reasonable internet connection is required to download the 6 GB of included factory content. Once everything is downloaded, the installation worked seamlessly and without any hiccups (the installation is offline). You can direct the path of the 32-bit VSTi, 64-bit VSTi, the content as well as the standalone version. The best bit of news in this regard that there is no dongle or complicated activation procedure.
One of the criticisms of earlier versions of MDrummer was the lack of a written manual. In this regard, they have finally issued some documentation in PDF format, which is a very welcome addition for new users and get you up and running within half an hour.
Note: Just in case you want to verify the smooth running of the software in your setup of choice, it is highly recommended that you try the MDrummer Small free version before buying the full version. It includes the features of the full version in a demo mode too. This is something that more developers need to do. It is a good model, and had me buying the software shortly after trying the demo.
You can try it here:
Getting Up and Running
Once you start-up the program (in your DAW or as a standalone), you are greeted with a nice clear interface that has seven window tabs on the top of the GUI.
These tabs are:
This is the best place for a new user to test out some of the default sounds and rhythms at on offer. Select a drum kit by double clicking on one of the available ones in the left side of the GUI (organized into clearly labeled categories such as Dance, DnB, Hip Hop, Percussion, Pop, Studio, etc.). After loading the drum kit of your choice, double click on a rhythm type from the right hand side of the GUI (again sorted into categories like Dance. Hip Hop, Pop Rock, Metal, etc.). This loads up a full set of intro, verse and chorus beats, fills (short and long) as well as outros. Pressing play will get the groove going and you will instantly be able to hear the chosen drum kit playing the selected rhythm style. There are a lot of variations available that you can explore by pressing the corresponding play buttons as well as varying the level bar. This is also where you can randomly generate hybrid kits and play them in different styles/genres. But be warned: this is quite addictive !
On this tab you ca set up the volumes and pitches as well as the send effects for each individual drum piece (bass drum, snare, hi hat, cymbals, toms, etc.). It is a relatively straightforward interface that will be familiar to most users. If you are using a stereo out version of the MDrummer VSTi, then you can use this tab to essentially mix your drums right here.
Here we have a very useful part of the program, since the sheer number and quality of the effects make MDrummer worth the price of entry by themselves. Some of the paraphernalia here is going to make your DAW sweat to compete. If you are using the multi-out VSTi version of MDrummer (16 stereo channels), you can set up a chain of effects for each stereo channel. This is called an effect pipeline. Or you can define an effect like a Reverb and a Compressor on Send 1 and Send 2 busses respectively and control the amounts you send to these two busses from the mixer tab.
This is one of the two methods available to arrange your song. You can either trigger patterns by using MIDI notes (in which case this song arranger should be disabled) or you can arrange your entire song right here. You can have up to nine different rhythm types which can be sequenced into different parts such as intros, verses, choruses, breaks, long breaks and outros.
This is the tab for the sound tweakers. It allows you to completely manipulate every single sound and layer of your drum kit to your heart’s content. You could apply any of the aforementioned effects to each individual drum sound here (especially if you are not using a multi-out version and want to completely control the drums within MDrummer). You can also assign different sounds to different kit pieces, mixing and matching your own customized kits. These can all be saved in a user directory for immediate recall. The ADSR is completely editable with a clear interface. The best feature for me was the ability to import and use your own samples which can be velocity layered. I tried up to 64 layers and it worked fine. Furthermore, not only is such manual assignation of user samples easy, you can also import and analyze your multi-sample libraries using MDrummer which will then generate the necessary components/kits from it. Furthermore you can combine these with the included (and pretty deep) drum synths for some truly unique sounds. This is what music software should do in 2015 !
Here you can edit the currently active rhythms to your heart’s content as well as defining or setting some behavioral parameters that affect how MDrummer performs these rhythms. The rhythms that your are tweaking here come either from the factory content of genre-based loops that you selected or from your own seed rhythms (which brings us to the gold heart of MDrummer, the Rhythm Generator tab).
This is where you can describe the basic beat of your song, alongside the ride/cymbal/hat behavior and let MDrummer do its magic: generating many unique parts that all conform to the basic seed rhythm you defined. This tab essentially gets you from zero to done drum track in less time than any drum software in existence.
The last two tabs, Rhythm Editor and Rhythm Generator, have a simple and quite effective drum grid for programming/editing the beats. It notates the drum hits via diamonds and the individual probability and velocity (amongst other parameters) of each hit can be set by the user.
This was just an introduction to this quite amazing software, and in the next part we will go in detail about what MDrummer does and how it goes about it.
We’ll complete our survey of MDrummer in the next issue of SoundBytes Magazine. But if you can’t wait and want to find out more immediately, if not actually acquire this marvel, then go here: