This past month of November was Toontrack’s Metal Month, a celebration that saw the release of five new products for metal production, including the Colin Richardson Made of Metal pack for EZDrummer 2 and the Metal Guitar Gods 2 pack for EZMix 2.
I got a chance to spend some quality time with those two products, and of course I jumped on it. If you’re on this site often, you know that I like to try new stuff, you know, to stay on the cutting edge of bedroom production so I don’t get passed up by tiny Japanese kids on the internet (we all know that’s a Sisyphusyean nightmare that will never end).
I also write a lot of music. In fact, I generally write a new, original song (however short) for every demo that I do. That means conceiving a song, recording the idea, tweaking for several hours, programming drums, re-recording, writing a solo in pieces, learning the solo in whole, then re-tracking the whole thing once I’ve practiced it, and playing the whole thing through several times while I shoot video.
Yes, it can be exhausting. But if you’re an artist of any kind, you know that it’s the exhaustion of satisfaction, and it’s an effort like giving birth – it’s hard as hell, but when you’re done you’ve created something brand new that has never existed and cannot be exactly replicated. So, running with this metaphor, imagine the EZ line from Toontrack as your new midwife or doula.
When you’re writing a song, you want to maximize your flow state. This is the state where you’re creating without distraction or obstacles, and everything is easy and flows from your most creative place. It doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult, it’s just continuous. The conception of a song is the most important moment in its existence, because everything that happens to it after that is a labor of love and an investment of time – the actual production and performance.
But you want the actual writing and often parallel demo process to be as painless as possible. This is where the EZ stuff shines. I own Superior Drummer 2 and an AxeFx II, both of which are – for FULL production purposes – vastly superior. But they also require a dedication of time and money, and the Axe doesn’t exactly fit in my carry-on. When I write a jam, I want plug-and-play instant awesome sounds. The last thing I want is this line of thinking – “Well, I’m inspired to write a song now, time to gate some toms!”. Insert any random production task that has nothing to do with songwriting into that statement, and that’s something you want to avoid.
I chose Thanksgiving week to try out these packs, because I knew I would be visiting my folks in Florida, across the country from where I live in LA, and I was only going to bring a skeleton rig for the simplest of productions, and I wanted to use the softward to it’s fullest potential in this sort of situation. I had my guitar, an iRig HD from IK Multimedia as my only interface, and my laptop with ProTools 11 and the Toontrack stuff. Everything you hear in the demo was recorded, mixed, and mastered using these things alone.
Each of the five kits in the Made of Metal pack is bangin’. You could drop any one of these into a metal mix and have seriously great results. They’re extremely lifelike and very low-maintenance, which is clutch when you’re not in the mood to be tweaking. Choosing between them will be your hardest task, and you can rest assured that there is no wrong choice. These kits are engineered to cut.
My personal favorites were the Pitched Dark and Steel Truth kits, and I frequently flip-flopped on which I wanted during mixdown. The Pitched Dark was as the name implies, tuned a bit lower, and I think it suited the mix just a bit more, but really if I’d gone with the other I’d probably be just as happy with how it turned out.
For the guitars, the Metal Guitar Gods 2 pack is an arsenal of heavy, screaming sounds, with a good smattering of clean, quasi-clean, and ambient sounds as well, with stupidly simple 1 or 2-knob controls. It’s once again a matter of a quick minute choosing between signature tones from Chris Broderick, Jeff Loomis, Ryan Knight, and Tosin Abasi, and then away you go. Because each one is essentially a simple IR of their rig, the potential for tweaking is minimal, but they also sound extremely accurate and tweaking would take you from the original intent, which is instant gratification and tones of your heroes.
I chose a variety from among the dudes, using the Jeff Heavy Rhythm for both rhythm guitars, the Chris Bright Lead Wet for all leads, and Ryan Edgy Rock Metal Bass, which I actually used to process the bass I programmed in Sampletank 3 to great effect. I found the Loomis tones to be very smooth and accurately modeled, comparing them to his sounds on his solo stuff and Conquering Dystopia. I preferred Chris Broderick’s lead sound, it just cut nicely without being irritating and had a nice delay/reverb on it that I liked.
I also put the EZMix 2 Metal Master Bus on (not surprisingly) my master bus for the final bounce to raise the level, plus whatever other magic it has on it (it only has one knob). It seemed to trim the excess fat from the mix with some EQ and compress it a fair bit, but when I looked at the final waveform it wasn’t brickwalled or peaking, it was loud but still dynamic. This, aside from setting levels, was the only mixing I did.
So what I’ve done now that I’ve created a usable mix, is set the Pro Tools session up as a template so whenever I feel inspired I can open it up and just go. My CPU still hums along just fine with the 6 or more instances of the plugins I’ve got on there, so that’s certainly not a problem.
It’s worth noting that these tones sound better in a mix than they do on their own. They’re designed to be finished tones, not raw sounds to be processed, so they sound a little odd if you play them out of context. As soon as you hear them in your song, though, it makes sense why they sound the way they do. I don’t feel like I would need to get every new pack that comes out, I imagine these will hold up for my demo process for a very, very long time, and subsequently save me hours of dialing and tweaking when what I should be doing is creating.
Making art should be a struggle. But save the real struggle for the production phase, and grease up your pre-pro with instant awesome from Toontrack.
Check out these packs and a whole lot more at www.toontrack.com.