Jamstix 2 is a VST drum plugin that is more than just a drum machine. This plugin is an entirely customizable virtual studio drummer. You can get very precise if you want to work that way, but the more impressive aspect of this software is to use it more like you might communicate with a human drummer. Tell him the arrangement of your song and what style you imagine. Then just keep asking him to change the riffs here and there until you hear a groove you like. If you need drum tracks in your home recording studio that are more individual and more human than midi loops, Jamstix 2 is for you. Let’s take a look at what it takes to get a basic groove going.
Jamstix 2 configuration
While you can get very complex with Jamstix 2, all the way down to configuring each drum to an individual track of your DAW, we are not going to focus on those technical features today. This tutorial is all about getting the groove going. You can sweat the technical details when it is mix time. Try to keep the mood creative during this phase of production. Pop open your host DAW and load Jamstix 2 onto a track. You may be greeted with a Quickstart screen or you might load directly to the main interface (depending on your configured options). If you do see the quickstart screen, click cancel or ok enough times to get to the main screen. Don’t worry about choices you might have to make, we’re going to clear them.
Get Jamstix 2 into Jam – No Input mode by clicking the spinner buttons (Figure 1) and clear the song using the song menu from the green dropdown arrow (Figure 2). Your cleared song will probably be left with a single Verse part but don’t worry about that.
Now we are going to load a drum kit. Click the KIT button just above the jam mode. You can get pretty crazy assigning drums here (click a drum to hear it, right click a drum to change its sound) but for this tutorial we will load one of the prebuilt kits. Click the Load button, find and expand the Rock section, and choose the Big Kit by clicking on it so it is highlighted. Click the Load button (bottom right of the load screen) and you are ready (you might have to wait a few seconds for samples to load). If you look next to the watch icon (upper right of the drum kit) you will see how much memory the drum kit is taking up. At 273 megs, the Big Kit certainly isn’t small. High fidelity, realistic drum sample sets like this are the reason I like having a minimum of two gigs of ram in my home recording studio computer. Click around on some of the drums to hear what they sound like. Clicking close to the center of a drum produces a hard hit while clicking nearer the rim lets you hear a softer hit. When you are satisfied with your virtual drum kit, close the kit screen by clicking the ‘x’ button next to the watch icon.
Jamstix 2 song arrangement
Communicating your song structure to a drummer might go something like this:
“The intro riff is four bars long and we repeat it four times. Then we kick into the verse where the riff is still four bars long, but we repeat it eight times. The chorus riff is a short and sweet two bars long and is repeated eight times as well. We play a break that is the same intro, but only repeated twice, then we launch into the next verse. After that verse we repeat the chorus three times where the mix will be fading out on the last time.”
You communicate with Jamstix 2 in basically the same way. If you made a cheat sheet of that song for your drummer it would look something like this:
- Intro – four bar riff, four repeats
- Verse – four bar riff, eight repeats
- Chorus – two bar riff, eight repeats
- Break – four bar riff, two repeats
- Verse – four bar riff, eight repeats
- Chorus – two bar riff, eight repeats
- repeat the chorus two more times
That cheat sheet will plug right into Jamstix 2. Double-click on the Part Name where it says Verse after having cleared your song previously. You will get a dialog box to rename the part, call it Intro. Click on the 4 under the Bars column for the intro to open the Part Edit window. Change the Part Length to ‘4’ bars (Figure 3) and the Part Repetitions to ‘4’ according to our cheat sheet and click the OK button to confirm the changes.
Following the cheat sheet, add a verse part next. Open the part dropdown (green arrow to the left of Intro) and a New Part After This Part using the menu (Figure 4).
Name the new part Verse and give it a length of 4 with 8 reps. Keep following the cheat sheet to add and configure the rest of the parts. Now we have the basic arrangement fleshed out (Figure 5) and it is time to hire our drummer!
Choosing a drummer and playing style
Click on the Song menu (where we cleared the song) and choose Load Style. Activate the Preview button at the bottom of the style browser and start auditioning the styles by clicking on them (if the style has a plus sign then it is a category which must be expanded before you can audition one of the sub-styles). I have settled on the Mowtown Love style under the Mowtown category. Click Load on the stlye browser and you end up back on the main screen where you song now shows Mowtown Love in the Style column of every song part.
Click the Song menu again and choose Load Drummer. Have a look at the available drummers and make a selection. I’m going to start with Carter Beauford as I know he is a solid, well respected player who is technically gifted. Highlight Carter and choose Load. With our drummer loaded, click the Preview button to start the bar looping and playing drums (Figure 7). As the bar plays you will see the drum part filling in with visual indicators of drum hits. As the bar loops we can hear an interpretation of the Mowtown beat as Carter might play it. You might notice a bit extra high hat work or complex percussion accents (if Carter decided to play them as he composed the drum beat in real time). Listen to the beat a few times (leave it playing) and then click the Comp button (looks like a sheet of music paper a bit above the Preview button). Each time you click the Comp button, Carter composes a new variation of your chosen Mowtown beat. After Comp-ing a few times, I have decided Carter might be a bit too fancy for what I’m trying to achieve on this track.
Go back to the Song menu and Load Drummer again. Since Carter was too fancy, I’ll try a more basic Charlie Watts (of Rolling Stones infamy) as my next drummer. After previewing the rhythm and Comp-ing a few times, Charlie is just a little too bland for me. Let’s see how Phil Collins does on this beat. After checking out a few of Phil‘s grooves I am happy with the way his drumming is sounding. In lieu of convincing the human Phil Collins to come to my home recording studio, I have the next best thing. Turn off the Preview button to prepare for listening through our song.
Refine the drum part
Press play on your DAW and listen to the drum part as Phil composes it in real time during the playback. Pay special attention to the drum part as he composes it. You will hear a few extra little flourishes here and there. Phil especially likes to add some extra snare buzzes and high hats (you have control over this, but that discussion is for another tutorial). Watch the bar display at the bottom of the song arrangement. The little black dots that are forming there represent the drum hits present in each bar. Pay special attention as we approach bar 16, which is green (Figure 8). The green bar tells you there is a fill in this bar. Listen closely as Phil composes a fill for you. The fills and accents compose for your song are unique in feel each time they are composed. That means you never have the same exact accent or fill on any two songs. Each drummer has their own fill/accent preferences just like they have their own way of interpreting each groove. Drummers with a large rhythmic vocabulary will produce a wider range of drum parts than drummers with a smaller vocabulary. Jamstix 2 composes drum parts using an artificial drum intellegence designed to think like the drummers it models.
After listening through the whole song it is clear the drum part, while interesting and fairly human sounding, is very static and boring by playing the same underlying rhythm the whole time. That approach works for some songs, but doesn’t make for a good tutorial so we will change it up a bit. I don’t want the drummer to get too crazy on fills but we can afford to spice it up a bit during the intro and break.
Look for the Fills columns of the song display (Figure 9). This area has an R column and a T column. All of the T lights are on and none of the R lights are on. Activate the R lights for the Intro and Break sections of our song. A light which is on in the T column means the selected drummer will generate a fill when the part transitions to the next part. That means as the last bar of the Intro is playing, the drummer will play a fill leading into the Verse. This behavior continues right on down the line for every transition with its corresponding T light turned on. And the R light, that’s right, plays a fill at every part repetition. Turning the R light on for the Intro means Phil will play a fill every four bars, as he is about to lead into the next repeat of the part. If you want to get a bit crazy in the outro, you can turn on the R light in the last chorus to generate a fill every two bars during the fade out.
Playing the song now will show a bit more spice during the intro and break, but it is still a little boring to continue the same part for the whole song. Click directly on the Verse part to highlight it. Click on the words Mowtown Love on the highlighted Verse part to choose a new style for the verse. After auditioning a few styles I have decided to bring the verse down just a bit by using the 8th Rock style. To provide contrast with the lowered dynamics I am also going to activate the repetition fills on the verse. After a few listens and Comp trials I am convinced this is the right decision for the song. Since we have two verses we will copy our new verse part over to the second verse as well.
Click the part menu dropdown (green arrow next to the Verse part) and choose Copy Part (Figure 10). Click the part menu on the other Verse and choose Paste Part. Your second verse is now overwritten with the settings from the first. The break right after the first chorus is a great time to have a little fun. Change its style to Mowtown Hurry for some high energy shenanigans right before the second verse. The transition fill going from the break to the verse sounds especially cool.
Varying the Jamstix 2 drum fills
The drum fills Jamstix 2 has dynamically generated for us are already very good. We are still going to put a bit more personal touch on them in the verses. Highlight the first Verse part by clicking on its name in the song list. Switch the brain view to the Fill tab by clicking the Fill button (Figure 11). There are a lot of controls in the Brain area of Jamstix 2 and you can safely ignore almost all of them almost all of the time. Our verse is configured to play a repetition fill every four bars and a transition fill right before the chorus. Notice the three knobs labeled Length in the screenshot? Lets make the transition fill be very long while the repetition fills are shorter. Adjust the length of the R-beat fills to be about 20% (look at the Jamstix 2 status bar to see more precise settings) and the T-beat fills to 80%. Set the Vary control to 10%. What this generally means is that fills within the verse will be short and vary from about 10-30% (20% with 10% variance) while the final fill before the chorus could be almost a full bar (90%) long. The numbers look scary but you don’t have to think of them in terms of math. In musical terms this boils down to fills during the verse varying from as short as an eighth note to a little longer than a quarter note while the final fill is almost a full four beats long. Copy our newly configured first verse over the second verse again (just like we did around Figure 10).
It is worth noting at this time that the controls you see in the brain area of Jamstix 2 are highly flexible. They also depend on the selected drummer and the selected style. Certain drummers and/or styles have the ability to add or remove different elements of the drummers brain. Basically, don’t be surprised if you are used to tweaking the double hats accents of Carter but can’t find them on Charlie. Double hats don’t show up on Charlie because those embellishments are not part of his drumming personality.
Custom drum parts
That is the basic overview of how to create a custom drum part in Jamstix 2. The beauty of this plugin is that a hundred of my readers could follow this tutorial to the letter and they would still each have 100 different drum parts. If you followed this tutorial today and again tomorrow and made every moust click and command identically, you would have two different drum parts. Each time you follow the same steps you can get the same basic flavor, but the spices and performance will all be different. Jamstix 2 operates more like a real drummer in that every time he performs the same song he will play it just a bit differently.
Jamstix 2 is a very deep program that I haven’t even gotten to the bottom of yet. Absolutely start exploring the interface, moving sliders, and generally checking out how things work. Try creating some custom drum grooves by clicking right on the drum hit display and changin things around. Jamstix 2 even gives you control to alter the openness of the high hat. Try it! Go to a bar where there is a high hat hit and hover your mouse over the hit. you can grab the high hat and drag it more open or more closed (Figure 12) to continuously vary the sound for your groove.
I hope you have enjoyed my Jamstix 2 tutorial and have been enlightened by it. If you have never tried Jamstix you owe it to yourself to do so right now! Head on over to Rayzoon.com and get the demo. My home recording studio life has been a lot easier after finding this plugin. When my band’s drummer moved to New York (to become a Grammy award wining audio engineer) I was faced with a hard decision of where to get drum tracks from. I tried using loops on my first non-drummer session and the experience was miserable. Loops are so static, repetitive, and unmoving that I loathed every minute of working on that project. I vowed never to use drum loops again. Two months later, Jamstix was announced. I have been using it ever since. Another great thing about the Jamstix methodology is every drum hit is unique. Even a basic 4/4 rock beat has every kick, snare and high hat hit at a slightly different velocity and timing of attack than the hit before and after it. Jamstix drum tracks have so much life.
Just try it, your home recording studio will never be the same!