Apr 06

Winterpark’s Matt Ridgway on crafting sounds for the screen

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

 

From being sung to in the womb by his mother and learning to drum as a young kid to joining an orchestra and studying trombone as a teenager, Melbourne-based musician and educator Matt Ridgway’s life has been a journey of sound from the very start. “Music has always been there,” says Matt. “It’s part of my identity.”

Currently releasing electronic music under the moniker Winterpark, Matt found a new musical path presenting itself to him several years ago via the unlikely medium of a cartoon show. “A pivotal moment was when I was offered to do some music for an animated TV series on SBS,” he explains. “I got paid a grand for that, which was more money than I’d made from being in a punk rock band for four years!”

Since then Matt’s done a whole bunch of music for film and TV as well as game soundtracks. “It’s the many hats of the musician!” he says. “Sometimes I’m a teacher and sometimes I’m a performing musician and sometimes I’m a producer or a composer – it’s all of those things.”

I sat down with Matt to learn more about his musical exploits, as well as hear about his Melodics course Cinematic Rhythms, which teaches musicians how to use pads to create compelling sounds for screens both big and small.

 

Melodics: When did you start writing your own music?

Matt Ridgway: After university I was playing in a punk rock band and I’d written a few things and had recorded them to four-track. I then got a second-hand computer from a friend and began recording and composing onto that. I started getting obsessed with sample-based music – it was around the time The Avalanches first arrived. A bunch of my friends were into electronic music so it just seemed like the natural extension of the band finishing and me continuing on. It was born out of necessity in some ways and I just followed my nose. I started Winterpark as a solo project which then became a band, and now it’s back to being a solo project again.

 

Melodics: You’ve had a lot of syncs on TV shows and ads. Are those existing pieces of music or do you compose to a brief?

MR: It’s a bit of both. A lot of the songs weren’t written to purpose. Some of the sync stuff I’ve done you get a very precise brief and you write to that, but a lot of other ones like the TV series Underbelly, they just picked an existing song because they liked it.

I love those kind of cinematic, expansive soundscapes. It’s my cup of tea. I like that texture and tone and in some ways the simplicity of it. It can just be a single note with a bit of reverb on it with a tone and texture that makes you feel something. I’ve always prescribed to the kind of music that evokes mood rather than technical skill or chops. 

 

Melodics: How did you decide what to cover in your Cinematic Rhythms course, which follows up your previous Cinematic Chords course?  

MR: The idea was to experiment with a few different types of cinema-style music. Sonically, I wanted to compose music in a variety of different styles. The idea was, “What sort of music would suit a big Hollywood film trailer?”, “What sort of music would fit a chase scene?”, “What may fit a quiet atmospheric moment?” But also, as I have experience in teaching young people drums, the teacher in me was always thinking, “How is this part going to work with what their hands are meant to be doing?” and, “What is a way in which I can make this more challenging to play?”

Most of the Cinematic Rhythm lessons have syncopated patterns that require the player to do different things with each hand. Patterns are often cyclic in cinematic music, and the sounds move in and out of step with each other over time.

Playing these lessons feels a little bit like you’re on a roller-coaster, there is always a feeling of forward movement as opposed to the laid-back swing of say a dub or a hip hop track. This is in part due to the sound design with some of the sounds being a bit larger than life, but perhaps also it is due to the syncopation and repetitive pulse of the rhythms themselves. 

 

Melodics: Tell us a little more about your work as a music teacher… 

I teach music at high school but I’m also an Abelton Certified Trainer so I’m able to teach and run Abelton workshops. I’m really interested with how music fits with young people and how they can feel connected to culture and to themselves and to others through it. It’s a really powerful, beautiful thing.

 

Melodics: How important is keeping up a regular practice routine?

MR: The more regularly you practice the better you get at anything, period. That can be practicing the guitar or a pad controller or keys. There’s something about the repetition of doing something over and over again that means you’re getting the muscle memory in your fingers to do it. I think it’s really important to regularly practice in whatever form it is.

 

Melodics: Any hot tips for those getting into finger drumming?

MR: I like the idea of trying it with different hands and in different positions. Whenever I’m practicing I’ll try it one way then will try it again with a different hand position. On the really simple beginner stuff on Melodics I like to use one hand and then swap my hands over to try and extend myself and just try things differently. It’s challenging your brain and your muscle memory.

I also do quite a few of the hip hop lessons and I like to see at what point I can push the swing of it. [laughs] Particularly the hi-hats. I see how far I can make it swing before I get off before where Melodics tells you should. It’s like you’re trying to trick it!

Open Cinematic Rhythms Course

Apr 01

Behind The Scenes Of A Melodics Lesson With Jeremy Toy

by in Interviews, Melodics

James Gadson has been the key drummer for every style of music you can think of since the ‘60s, with a playing style that above all else focuses on groove and musicality. He’s the perfect person to build a series of drum lessons around. 

Much like Gadson, talented New Zealand musician Jeremy Toy has long been a chameleon whose impressive work covers multiple genres, including punk, jazz, soul and hip-hop. Who better to distill Gadson’s work into a Melodics Course

Toy’s detailed understanding of what makes a James Gadson beat so unique was the starting point for creating the lessons in the course. In order to condense something as subtle as Gadson’s playing style into easily digestible lessons, Toy decided to deconstruct some of the classic tracks he played on in order to understand them. First he broke them down into separate pieces before putting them back together in his own way.

Toy took a methodical approach of converting Gadson’s drum loops into MIDI in Ableton, and then triggering his own drum sounds with that MIDI. Reprogramming his drums as best as he could, Toy essentially created his own virtual James Gadson. Converting these loops into a visual format on a grid allowed Toy to better analyse Gadson’s style and extract the groove from each clip. 

“To me the number one thing with James Gadson is the feel,” Toy tells Melodics. Creating a more tactile version of this vague idea meant Toy could find common themes in Gadson’s playing to incorporate into the lessons 

Although groove and feel by nature involves tempo being inconsistent or wavering, Toy began to notice exactly how Gadson manipulates his timing – specifically by keeping the swing of his hi-hats consistent, while the kick drum stays solid and on beat. “That actually happened quite a lot,” says Toy. “The more I analysed it I thought ‘this is actually a thing.’” After confirming in a scientific way that groove and feel is Gadson’s secret sauce, Toy went about making it a core part of the lessons.

While the starting point for understanding Gadson’s drumming at a molecular level is based on a sort of science, make no mistake these lessons are made by real musicians with aspiring musicians in mind. With the analysis done Toy, who helped write this, this and this, wrote and recorded the backing tracks you hear in the lesson. These backing tracks were then performed on by Gadson himself at Stones Throw studios, the recordings then condensed into the final product which is the lesson. 

Teaching groove is a challenging prospect as it’s fundamentally based on playing something not quite right – but still in a way that sounds good. It’s a skill generally seen as something that you just have or something that you very slowly build up over time without intending to. With the Gadson lessons Melodics are making this skill something that users can actually learn and track their progress on, which is rare for feel.

Transferring Gadson’s groove into the visual and dynamic Melodics format, Toy landed on a kind of galaxy brain idea of averaging out or condensing Gadson’s groove from each recorded track into a short loop which is then duplicated for the duration of each lesson. If the lesson was to try replicate Gadson’s moving groove exactly across an entire track not looped, it would be too hard for anyone including Gadson himself to consistently achieve and build on. With a shorter looped groove there is some consistency to the inconsistency, providing attainable learning outcomes. When users play along and attempt to hit the drums in time with the lesson, they are essentially playing with Gadson’s groove which is a little out of time, yet still playing in time with the lesson.

“It needs to be quantised in some way, to make it performable and gradable and markable and achievable,” says Toy, “so you end up quantising with feel, James Gadson’s lessons’ which is almost a no no”. In this case it’s not a no no, it’s very deep and the reason you can be funky.

The other core aspect of Gadson’s playing that Toy tried to incorporate into the lesson was again a fairly subjective idea of how Gadson’s style is essentially fun, or more that playing in his style is about playing with people. Toy remembers the story he heard from percussionist Lucky Paul who has worked with Gadson. “He jammed with James Gadson a few times and he said it’s not what he plays but it’s how he makes you feel when you jam with him. As a drummer, he backs you up. He makes you feel like a million bucks.” 

With this in mind, Toy tried to make the backing tracks and the lesson in a way where the drums feel “like you’re playing in the track”. At times the drum rhythms mirror the other instruments on the track, while other moments are juxtaposed to give the feel of jamming with a band rather than playing a repetitive beat. The drums are intertwined with the backing track as much as possible to make the user feel more like they are immersed in the track than practising a beat. 

Another aspect of Gadson’s style that Toy appreciates is his touch and how he’s able to vary the way he hits each drum – something that is perhaps a challenge for another day for Toy and Melodics. “You can’t represent everything in his playing, but we have to represent what we could which is the feel of the rhythm. There’s the foundation.”

Feb 13

Behind The Beat – The Drumming Style Of James Gadson

by in Drums, Interviews, Pro Tips

When drummers become somebody that everyone knows the name of, it tends to be because of one dominant aspect of their playing style that is so in your face you just can’t miss it. Keith Moon played in such a maniacal way that entire songs were often one big fill that never ended. Meg White has power that makes a two piece sound gigantic somehow. There’s always a thing

James Gadson doesn’t really have one ‘thing’ like those guys above. Yet he’s played on more hits than them and any other drummer you can name combined.

Gadson’s drumming style is both the reason why he may not be a household name and the reason he has likely been played in your household regularly for six decades. His approach is grounded in groove, restraint and a pure focus on making the song the best it can possibly be rather than making his part of it the most impressive it can be. 

A key aspect of Gadson’s style is his use of groove, a nebulous idea of playing certain beats in a pattern very slightly off of the quantised beat. He’s able to drift in front and behind the beat in a way that makes it sound more natural– and in turn more fun to move to. It’s a subtle way to bring a song to life, and an idea that would eventually be adopted by groundbreaking artists like J Dilla and Flying Lotus. 

“I can’t make you move if I’m not in control of what I’m doing,” Gadson tells Melodics. “I have to figure out how to make it human.”

In Bill Withers’ Use Me (above), Gadson’s kick drum is unwavering while his hi-hats and rimclicks are often fractionally behind or ahead of the beat.

In Grandma’s Hands, he dances around the beat constantly, giving the song a bounce that alters every other aspect of it. Not bad considering it would later be the key sample and inspiration for the greatest song ever written (see below)

Withers wrote some of the most depressing lyrics of the ‘60s but was still a gigantic popstar known for his catchy tunes. It’s all because of the groove, mannnnn

Gadson might focus on subtlety over flashiness, but make no mistake – he has chops. He just uses them to make a song the best it can be, something which sets him apart from his peers during a period of excess in music. 

To achieve longevity and consistently be the driving force behind artists from every era to achieve both pop stardom and critical acclaim, you must choose your spots with musicality in mind. With Dyke & the Blazers, we hear some of Gadson’s busiest ‘look at me’ drumming (see video below). There are the Keith Moon-like long fills and rapid-fire ghost notes but they are always the bookend to periods of minimal groove rather than the main course. 

Gadson doesn’t even use his snare drum for the first quarter of Marvin Gaye’s classic I Want You (below). Instead, he adds aspects to his drum pattern only as the song builds momentum. He also adds subtle fills to help the transition between vocal phrases, while his hi-hat accents emphasise Gaye’s embellishments. 

This approach to drumming and music in general as a holistic experience is what makes his style and the records he has been involved with so timeless. The influence of it can be heard everywhere from hip-hop, to jazz and even post-punk.

As Gadson himself says: “It’s not magic like a lot of people think it is. You can learn that.”

It’s attainable, based on shared experience and community. It’s also relevant in a time where groove is at the forefront of a lot of music once again and the perfect starting point for anyone learning the drums in 2020.

Has this inspired you? Check out the Melodics E-Drums course Gadson Groove creative in collaboration with James Gadson:

– Already have a Melodics account – click here
– New to Melodics? Click here to download the app first.

Jan 14

The Day I Ran Out Of Keys.

by in Gear

Is your 25 key controller curbing your creativity? Get inspired and release your potential by upsizing your keys.

Music has always been influenced by the tools we use. Classical music is a reflection of the arsenal of orchestral instruments available at the time, and modern music has been enriched by the use of electric guitars, synthesisers, and drum machines. Of course, music is all about creativity and expression, but it’s important to remember that the tools you use also have an important influence on how you play.

Compact keyboard controllers are among the best selling keyboards for beginners, and for good reason; they’re portable, affordable, and easy to use. But as you continue to develop your skills and expand your repertoire, you might find that 25 keys just isn’t enough anymore. Most music extends beyond 25 keys, and being limited to a couple of octaves could actually be stifling your development and creativity.

If you’re feeling tethered down by having a limited range of keys, or if you’re sick of hitting that octave-shift button every time you want to play a bass line, it might be time for an upgrade. Whether you need something compact, you’re on a tight budget, or you want something that will last you a lifetime; we’ve got a line-up of the best keyboards that won’t get in the way of your creativity.


1. Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32

More keys, same footprint.

komplete-kontrol-m32

One of the main attractions of a 25 key controller is its compact size. If portability matters to you, don’t worry, it is possible to get more keys yet still fit your controller into your backpack so you can practice with Melodics on the move.

The NI Komplete Kontrol M32 is a great micro-sized controller for traveling musicians. With its 32 slim keys, they’ve managed to fit more keys into the same footprint of a 25 key controller. Unlike a lot of micro-sized keyboards, these keys feel solid to play and the build quality is excellent while still being light enough to take with you.

  • 32 velocity sensitive keys.
  • Slim key size for portability.
  • Solid key feel and build.

2. Novation Launchkey 49

High in features, low in cost.
launchkey-49

If you’re wanting the best bang for your buck, look no further than the Novation Launchkey 49. As well as 49 full-sized keys, this feature-packed keyboard has eight assignable knobs and faders, and 16 velocity-sensitive pads so that you can practice your finger drumming and keys all on one controller.

The Launchkey 49 has all the features you need but it won’t break the bank, all while offering a solid key feel and reliable build quality.

  • 49 velocity-sensitive keys.
  • More affordable than other keyboards with similar features.
  • Heaps of features including 16 velocity-sensitive pads.

3. Roland A-49

Uncompromised keys.
roland-a49

For serious keyboard players, the Roland A-49 ticks the most important box of all: sturdy, responsive key feel. For years Roland has been producing some of the best feeling synths and keyboards, and the A-49 continues to deliver on that high standard.

Not only do the semi-weighted keys feel great to play, the A-49’s simple design means it’s about as compact as a 49 key controller gets. Roland has also managed to fit in a couple of useful assignable knobs, switches, and their D-Beam controller which is a joy to use.

  • 49 velocity-sensitive keys.
  • Excellent key feel.
  • Compact design.

 

4. iRig Keys 2

Melodics on the go.
irig-keys-2

If you prefer playing Melodics on iPad, we’ve got you covered. While a lot of controllers will work on the iPad, the iRig Keys 2 is designed specifically with that in mind. That means you don’t need an external power source, you don’t need to worry about buying extra adaptors, and it even has a built-in headphone output so you’re not stuck using your iPad speakers.

The iRig Keys 2 has 37 slim keys so as well as giving you more keys to play with, it remains lightweight and portable – perfect for when you’re on the move with Melodics for iPad.

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys.
  • Compact design for portability.
  • Designed for portable devices so great for practicing on the go with Melodics for iPad.

5. Akai MPK249

Quality and quantity.
5 akai

If you don’t like to compromise on features and quality, then the Akai MPK249 is the one for you. With its 49 full sized keys, 16 MPC style pads, and loads of assignable knobs, faders, and buttons, there’s not much the MPK249 can’t do.

But it’s not the amount of features this keyboard has, it’s the quality feel of the keybed, the responsive pads, and the solid construction that make the MPK249 a keyboard that could last a lifetime.

  • 49 velocity sensitive keys.
  • Great feeling keys and pads.
  • Excellent build quality.

 

Dec 18

Drum N Bass Quads with Spinscott

by in Fundamentals, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

Hi there!  I’m Spinscott, and I am a lifelong drummer, DJ, and music fanatic that has been obsessed with Jungle & Drum n Bass (DnB) music for over 20 years.  During this time, I’ve always thought of DnB as a “Producers Genre”. What I mean by this phrase is that while every style of music involves levels of creativity and updates/changes to the sound, DnB just seems to evolve and push limits at an accelerated rate.  In my opinion, it would be challenging to identify another genre of music that has more sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, spinoffs, clones, and variations to its sound while simultaneously retaining a listener base for just about all of its prior forms. Even with the common appearance of elements such as classic breaks like Amens (nod to my favorite genre, JUNGLE!), Think, Apache, bass (808, Reese, reverse, etc), and wonderfully recycled pads & vocal clips…, there is always an inherent drive to push limits and experiment with new applications of rhythm and sound.  

In addition to the music itself, many forms of DnB are about creating and manipulating energy for the listeners and people’s moves on the dance floor. Relying on much more than just a “drop”, many producers strive to maintain a flow of energy and impact at the track level, and throughout an entire set or performance.  Certainly these elements exist in other DJ related music genres, but they are quite prominent in DnB. As a “producer’s genre”, there is often a competitive and perfectionist nature that comes with making the music, with intense focus on not just the finished product, but on precision of rhythms, varying dominance in the mix, high sound quality and fidelity (sometimes lo-fi is preferred of course!), and endless new ways of using samples and new or classic effects. 

While there are countless rhythms utilized in the production of DnB , with new ones evolving and emerging constantly, there are certain primary rhythms that lay a foundation for the genre as a whole.  To be clear, I’m speaking of the rhythms themselves, not the sounds, because in production there is an unlimited array of drum sounds that can be substituted or layered into the same rhythms. Bringing things back to a fundamental level, I’ve broken down three essential rhythm variations into steps that will enable people to play them live as real-time performances, while learning how to differentiate between the beats. The nature of these beats originates from the methodology of splitting up a break phrase and using various start points, as has traditionally been done using sequences or partial sequences. As a drummer, I’ve always programmed the sampler using single notes, or “one shots”, and play them like one would play bongos or other hand drums. This enables real-time variations and freestyling that breaks the boundaries of using pre-defined sequences of notes.    

The DnB Quads course that I have created with Melodics, focuses on three rhythms (or beats) containing Kick+Snare+Hat+Bass sounds.  These beats likely have a variety of names in the industry, but I have always referred to them as “The Forward“, “The Step Back“, and “The Stomper“, so those are the names I’ve chosen to accompany the DnB Quads lessons.

Utilizing 16 pads on the standard sampler/drum machine layout split into four quadrants,  the beats are played sequentially through each quadrant, with bar one in Quad 1, bar two in Quad 2, and so forth, repeating the cycle.  One of the reasons I constructed the lessons in this manner is so that the player can concentrate on the rhythm, while the base notes change during each run.  

 

Dec 18

The Melodics Way

by in Melodics

People come first

  • Be human
  • Build strong relationships
  • Clear the path for each other

Perfection through iteration

  • Experiment with intention
  • Keep it lean
  • Flow

Leave things better than we found them

  • Enable and empower
  • Have an impact
  • Outcome over input

There comes a time for every company when you need to get things written down. In the early days, when you can all sit around one table for lunch together, you can talk about what’s important to you. You demonstrate it, over and over, through your actions. In some cases, your actions aren’t completely aligned with your values, but you talk about why the thing you just did isn’t ideal, and how you’d like to do it better. A small team, all working together on everything, in one room – it’s easy to stay in sync.

But then you get a little bigger. You start to bring in new people who weren’t in all those conversations. Things evolve. What worked for 5 people doesn’t work for 10.

That’s when you need to step back, and really work what your values are, what’s important. These are our values:

We believe that people come first – without our team, we are nothing. Without our customers, we have nothing. Melodics is here to make a positive difference to people’s lives. 

We build strong relationships. Externally, that is working with partners. We are very much a business of partnerships. We find ways to support the goals of our partners, so that they in turn will support us. That’s what partnership means to us. 

Internally, it’s how we treat each other – with kindness. That means being respectful and supporting one another, but at times challenging each other, and not settling for good enough. In debate, our mindset is to refine the idea, not to win the argument. We have strong opinions, but hold them loosely, and we are willing to change our minds.

We choose to be human. We each have strengths and weaknesses. We are open with each other. As individuals, we’re all awesome at some things, and not so awesome at others. The more open and honest we can be with each other about this, the better we can work together as a team.

We know it’s hard to get started with music. We know that there are barriers, people feel excluded, that music is for musicians, other people. We clear a path. We recognise those barriers are real, and help to break them down, to make music accessible to everyone.

We also clear a path at work. We strive to remove the barriers that exclude people, and stop them from bringing their whole selves to work. 

Clearing a path means being highly aligned, but loosely coupled. In command, but out of control. To be in command, clearly communicate intent, values, and standards. To be out of control, trust your team’s skills, judgement, and experiences (and get out of the way). In this way, we enable and empower.

We experiment with intention. We believe in perfection through iteration. We’re making a world-class product, and we know that the way we get there is by fine-tuning the cycle of deploying, learning and iterating. At our core is an experimental mindset. This means that many of the things we try will fail – If we’re not failing enough, we’re playing it too safe. We’re willing to be wrong. Failure is normal, to be expected – the value is what we learn from it. 

We keep it lean. When it comes to process, our mantra is barely sufficient. Enough to do the job, no more. No process for process sake.

Work is most rewarding when you are in a state of flow, flow is where challenge and ability intersect. We ask our team to do things they already excel at, and mix that with pushing people beyond their comfort zone, making space for learning.

The concept of flow is core to our company. Flow as a concept overlaps with so much of what we do. In education, this concept is known as the learning edge. In gaming it’s called challenge balance. The idea is found everywhere at Melodics – progress happens when you’re in the zone between too easy, and too hard. Challenged, but not to the point of frustration. 

We have a responsibility of guardianship – to leave the world better than we found it. We believe music is good for the soul and mind, and that our success will improve lives. 

We believe that outcomes are more important than input. We’re counting what we do, what we make, what we improve or resolve. What counts is our achievements. Not how many hours you work in a week. 

These are the values we aspire to hold ourselves to.

 

A little bit more…

We aspire to these values. We don’t always meet them. By putting these down in writing, this gives us something to point to, to say this is how we want to act, who we want to be. I invite everyone to challenge anything that they see us doing that does not live up to these values.

And as founder, there is something else that I personally feel very strongly about

We are a New Zealand company. Our country prospers by exporting our land

Rain falls and the sun shines on grass, which is eaten by cows, who make milk, which we sell.

We sell our scenery to tourists. 

I believe that this doesn’t scale… we can’t get more rain, more sun. We can’t accommodate 100x more tourists. 

It’s not sustainable. Scaling up agriculture puts even more pressure on our environment. Flying people in on jet planes is ruining the air. The future lies in exporting ideas

Part of my personal mission with Melodics is proving that this can be done, and done from here. We’re clearing a path for other kiwi companies to do the same. 

 

 

 

 

Dec 18

“Lean On Me” The legendary drummer behind your favourite records

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

Unless you’re the type of crate digger that actually reads the back of records, or like me had a subscription to Modern Drummer magazine during your teens, you might not know the name James Gadson. But you will definitely know his music.

That’s because Gadson has been making people move since the ‘60s as a drummer on upwards of 300 gold records. He’s played for everyone from Bill Withers to Paul McCartney to Herbie Hancock to Roy Ayers to freakin’ Jimmy Barnes (!). He also played on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and on a rare Pharoah Sanders album where every song is surprisingly less than ten minutes long. The number, variety and importance of the releases Gadson has been involved in is just staggering

Gadson’s path to becoming one of the most vital session drummers in the history of pop music is a serendipitous one rather than a master plan. Born and raised in Kansas City, despite his musician father’s hopes that he wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, Gadson’s first involvement in music was forming doo wop band The Carpets with his brother. As lead singer and songwriter, Gadson’s first focus in music was on songcraft holistically, an ethos which would go on to influence his drumming in later years. 

After releasing a few songs and auditioning for some key RnB labels, The Carpets’ success was ultimately stifled by their location (not LA), so Gadson up and left for a stint in the Air Force. When he returned to Kansas, he started playing the drums purely out of necessity, joining his brother’s jazz band as the drummer simply because it was the only position available. 

Despite never before playing behind a kit, and playing left handed on a right handed setup, it all came pretty naturally. “I didn’t have any knowledge of left handed guys moving stuff over,” he tells Melodics. “So I’d just sit down and play it the way it was and learn.” 

Gadson saw himself merely as “a jazz guy” when he eventually made the move to LA in 1966, but his thirst to play would land him drumming behind RnB guitarist Charles Wright. It was somewhat of a challenge considering he didn’t even know how to play RnB, or how to stay locked in a groove rhythmically and, at first, it didn’t go well. “He fired me 5 times!” Gadson remembers. His response was to simply keep at it. “You got to practice basics, 1 2 3 4, timing, so you can be in control of it.” 

Mastering timing with intent on playing around with it, rather than just presenting it like a metronome, would define his playing style and not coincidentally a lot of pop music from then on. 

Wright Sounds became the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and one of the most in demand funk/soul bands in LA during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many years later, the band would be sampled by artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, N.W.A. and Madlib. From here Gadson became Bill Withers’ drummer during his most commercially successful period and performed the title track on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, my favourite Marvin track and low-key a proto-house track when you look at it from a certain point of view.

The ‘70s and ‘80s were a lock for Gadson, when any genre with the dancefloor or groove in mind found him. There was disco with Diana Ross, boogie with Cheryl Lynn and slow jams with Patrice Rushen. He’s stayed busy in these genres while never being restricted to them. He played on a bunch of Beck albums (even the sad one), a Jaime Liddell album and also produced a UB40 album, which is pretty buzzy. 

In the 21st century he has been tapped for albums by shiny pop stars like Justin Timberlake (FutureLoveSexSounds) and Lana Del Rey (Paradise / Born To Die), while collaborating with more classic RnB leaning artists like D’Angelo. 

The story of Gadson’s involvement in D’Angelo’s Sugah Daddy is a kind of metaphor for his career and playing style. Unaware he was being recorded, Gadson was drumming and clapping with his hands on his knees – a habit that many drummers have without realising. D’Angelo immediately asked to use the recording of these clapping sounds and they became the basis for a highlight on an album we’d been waiting 15 years for from soul and RnB’s most important figure since Marvin Gaye himself. “I just started playing something… whatever I did, I don’t know what I did… (D’Angelo asked) ‘Mr Gadson, can I use that?’”

James Gadson is not bothered with what he plays, how he plays it or the level of recognition he gets for it. His discography is proof that all he really wants is to make people move and have fun.

Dec 16

Ben Barter on Hybrid Drumming

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

“Hybrid Drumming is basically using half an acoustic drum kit and half electronic drums at the same time.” explains drummer Ben Barter. A Los Angeles-based New Zealander, Barter is the tour drummer for Lorde and has performed with acts such as Broods, Jarryd James, Passion Pit, and Katelyn Tarver. He’s also worked as a session drummer, most notably with producers Tommy English and Joel Little (a Grammy Award winner), playing on songs by artists including K.flay and Kacey Musgraves in the process. Recently, Barter created a set of virtual lessons for Melodics based around the “Hybrid Drumming” concept, an approach which is fast becoming the norm.

“You can put triggers onto your acoustic drums so that when you hit them, they trigger an electronic sample,” Barter continues. “The idea is to make the live drums stay true to the original production of the record, especially if it’s a more programmed song with sample elements and drum machine parts. Then the acoustic drums add the excitement and punch under the electronic elements.” Given how common a heavily produced recording sound has become within contemporary pop, R&B, dance, and rap, and the ravenous audience demand for live performances by artists from within these genres, Barter’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, it’s not without its rigours. 

“Some of the challenges are playing parts that aren’t written for a traditional drummer to play,” he explains. It can be a bit of a mind-bender working then out. The other big one is the technical side to having a bunch of electronic pads that are triggered by vibrations. They can often misfire, causing all sorts of chaos. I have to make lots of little adjustments to the settings to stop that from happening.” 

The virtual drums course Barter created for Melodics is divided into six lessons. On a collective level, they are designed to teach you how samples can be incorporated into a Hybrid Drumming setup, before continuing to develop your hand independence as a drummer, and teaching you how to find creative solutions to shifting samples from their traditional positions. Helpfully, Barter has provided a few notes for us each of the lessons. 

Drumline: I was looking at locking in with a complex backing track, so playing a simple beat with a few off notes over the top of a drumline style beat on the track. Getting your stuff locked in with everything else going on is vital to making the whole show sound tight and punchy. It’s easy to be in your own world during a show thinking you sound great, but when there is other percussion on backing tracks, you’ll sometimes need to adjust your feel to match what else is going on.

Rollers: This one is about helping your kick foot really lock in with your hi-hat rhythm. It’s about playing quicker straight 16ths on the hi-hat, with a slightly complex locked pattern underneath. We also practice switching back and forth with a slower section to help you make those transitions smoothly. Practising the switch between fast to slow parts is important as it’s easy to get carried away in the energy of a big part, but you need to be able to control that quickly so that energy doesn’t run over into a quieter chill part if need be.

Discuss: I was looking at playing a faster 16th note hi-hat in a disco type rhythm, then a section with an open/closed hi-hat pattern. I find that when I play live, it can be handy in bringing extra energy to a chorus, etc. Playing hh patterns which open and close in electronic music can have a human touch which is nice but sometimes you need them to be really tight and consistent. So working out how much to open the hats is vital, you often don’t need to open them a lot for a tight, controlled hi-hat pattern.

Left Over: Here, we’re playing extra rhythm parts with your left hand. I always have a bunch of samples to my left, which I’ll play as I’m holding down the main pattern with my right hand and the kick drum. This is basically just independence; being able to separate your limbs to do different parts is a key to hybrid drumming. Being able to cover more parts and take elements of the tracks will make you a valuable asset for artists.

Diving Bells: This is a slow, simple beat. You really have to listen to the rest of the track to properly sit back and get it feeling nice. There are also some basic offbeat elements, which need to fit in smoothly with the slower tempo. Everyone has got a different feel, it’s really the beauty of summers, but often you need to be able to match what’s on the record. Playing along to different genres of music helps this a lot. And really listening to where top drummers place their notes has helped me a lot, being able to play the simplest beat and make it feel really good to me is one of the most important but underrated attributes a drummer can have.

Poppin’: Poppin’ is a kick pattern I find myself using on about 30% of the songs I play. It can be tricky to get it sounding smooth. It can often sound quite robotic, so it needs a very slight swing. In the lesson, you learn to play it over two different hi-hat patterns, which will help you with independence and tightness. Try experimenting placing the off note beat before the snare just slightly before and after the beat. You can get a feel of what suits the song and can get a little bounce going which people will respond to. I think one of my main roles as a drummer is to get the crowd moving; it’s amazing how easy a well-executed simple beat can do this.

 

Alongside developing our Hybrid Drumming course, Barter has been working with Germany electronic drum company Gewa to develop a new drum kit and module called the G9. He’s also been recording an EP of kooky disco songs inspired by ORM and Patrick Cowley under the alias BB Normal.

 

Nov 07

Rachel K Collier breaks down her live performances

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Rachel K Collier is a vocalist, electronic music producer and performer from Swansea in Wales. Coming from a background working in songwriting as a topliner (writing vocal parts over instrumentation), she is a die-hard Ableton enthusiast who loves finding fresh ways to perform her original tracks in a live setting. Whether performing solo or with live percussionists and interactive visuals, Rachel’s expressive, high energy performances are rooted in a multi-instrument based technical setup while allows her to bring the studio to the stage.

At the end of October, Rachel released her debut album RKC, and has just had her first Melodics lesson set ‘And I Breathe’ released on keys, drums and pads. On Tuesday 19 November, she’s playing a special headline show at The Grace in London. You can purchase tickets over on her website here.

 

Melodics: Is live performance the most important part of music for you?

Rachel K Collier: I’d say I’m 50/50 between producer and live performer. I feel like as an electronic performer, you’re either recreating parts you wrote in the studio in a live setting or stem DJing them. I feel like since you spend so much time in the studio crafting those parts, the most rewarding way to play it live is to actually play them live, rather than just having a band play those parts, or having everything set up as tracks. When you play live, you really get to show off your studio productions in the best way, and it’s kind of like taking the studio to the stage, but obviously with some compromises.

 

Melodics: Do you enjoy how recreating your songs live can add an element of danger to the performance?

RKC: 100%. There is room for human error, things are going to go wrong, and you have freedom. You can have big breakdown sections and be doing all these live effects, live manipulations, and it’s different every single time.

 

Melodics: How important is improvisation to you?

RKC: My productions actually start from improvisation, and when I perform without any pre-made stems or clips, which I do, I’ll just be starting there with eight empty channels. I’m basically creating a whole track from scratch, and there is something so liberating and amazing about that. I get to record myself playing percussion, vocal loops, key loops, trigger them, and I can change them up into any shape or form that I want to.

 

Melodics: It’s very rewarding when you get into a flow with this sort of thing, isn’t it?

RKC: Exactly. You get into a flow, and you might just do one extra note on a loop, but it’s really sick, so you decide to do it again next time. I feel like it is really important to leave a bit of it up to chance. I’m the type of person who gets bored really quickly. With this live set-up, I can constantly evolve things, which means it never gets boring.

 

Melodics: Would you like to tell us anything about your debut album, RKC?

RKC: When I was in the topliner world, I got very bored of writing generic pop lyrics, so every song on the record is a personal experience for me. If you’re a songwriter and you want to produce your own music, you should just go for it. Even if it takes time, you can do it, because I did it. I hope everyone enjoys it and gives it a chance because all the tracks are quite different.

 

Melodics: Could you talk about your live performance set-up?

RKC: I have two live set-ups. One where I’m alone, and I create everything from scratch, and one with percussionists and visuals. I use two little Yamaha Refaces. I’ve got the Arturia MiniBrute, Ableton Push 2, two additional midi controllers, a DJ TechTools Midi Fighter, an Akai LPD8. So I have three midi controllers and several synths. When I add my percussionists to my show, I have a KingKord synth on stage as well. Everything runs through Ableton on my laptop.

 

Melodics: How much time do you spend practising your live show?

RKC: I practice a lot. When you are practising for a technology-based set, as well as actually singing or playing, getting the notes right, there are always little tech amendments you need to be doing. I’ll do a little vocal warm-up, then I’ll try to do my set, but instead of programming and rehearsing at the same time, I’ll make notes about the programming changes, before having a break, and then practising again, but the next practice session will be a programming session. I separate out the technology rehearsals and the actual physical performance rehearsals. Sometimes I play Tetris in-between sessions because when you concentrate that hard, you need to take breaks. I can’t really have anything else going on that day. I have to devote days to practice. If I have to make a video or finish producing a track, I can’t practice as well.

 

Melodics: What can you tell us about your Melodics lesson ‘And I Breathe’?

RKC: It isn’t really a typical song type of thing; actually, it’s really odd. I’ll never forget how happy writing it made me feel because it represents a turning point where I realised I was becoming a really good producer. When we play it live, no matter the show, it’s always my favourite. There is a big synth solo at the end, a big percussion solo, and the song is about when everything gets too much, and the world feels crazy. It’s about the feeling of release you can get from music.

 

Melodics: How do you feel about having your song converted into a lesson people can play?

RKC: I think it’s really cool. Melodics can really enhance your production. It’s about more than just playing in time. Learning those grooves, chords and keys, that’s the type of stuff that can actually inspire you when you are creating music. It’s a lesson for you to get tighter at your finger drumming, and you can use that when you perform live, but for me, Melodics inspires me to create with different grooves. I like to go on Melodics for fifteen minutes before I start producing because it just warms me up and really gets me into the groove. Instead of just looking at the plug-ins on a song in a production tutorial, you can actually have a go at playing those rhythms. I think it is amazing and I am looking forward to sharing my lesson with everyone.

Try Rachel’s lesson I Breathe:
Keys
Pads
Drums

Oct 10

Introduction to Counting Rhythm (for Drummers – and anyone else learning music!)

by in Drums, Fundamentals

Why Count?

Rhythm and timing are arguably the most important elements of music! Listeners will often put up with spotty-tonality (Bob Dylan’s raspy-nasal out of tune voice “adds character” to his music), but it’s pretty rare for listeners to enjoy music that is performed in a sloppily-out-of-time-and-out-of-control kind of way.

A fairly simplistic and broad description of music that I like is “organized sound.” And I also like to describe “rhythm” as events happening in time (sonic events if we’re talking about music, like we are today!). Counting (one way or another) is really the only way I know of to help you keep track of time and understand rhythm.

How to Count?

Out loud! Yes, it can be embarrassing to add your voice to music you are working on, but it’s so important because it will help you internalize the rhythms you are practicing and play the music more precisely and confidently in the future. Eventually, you won’t have to count out loud every time you learn new music, but many musicians I know (myself included) count out loud when they are practicing particularly difficult rhythms.

A former drum teacher of mine used to say: “Some people have perfect pitch. Nobody has perfect time.” It’s true, some people can tune a guitar completely by ear, and name every single note in a chord, but – while some people have better natural timing than others – timing is something that musicians can continually improve throughout their lives.

Continue reading Introduction to Counting Rhythm (for Drummers – and anyone else learning music!)