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Songwriting: Drum Machines (or Screw the Computer)


By next week (or late this week if it arrives early), I'll be in possession of a used (at a really good price I might add) BOSS Dr. Rhythm DR-3. That's a drum machine. I bought it for two reasons. First, my old Ensoniq SQ-1 Plus workstation synthesizer, which is over 20 years old, is wearing out. Second, I can't stand composing anything on the computer.

There is a distinct difference between recording and composing.

Concerning recording, my first mulitrack machine was the 100% mechanical cassette-based Tascam 424 (as in the original first-generation 4-track which was light-gray colored and not the "MK" series which had a darker gray and had more tracks). Yep, we're talking linear recording here. I learned everything I needed to know about basic multitracking from my 424 days, and used it so much I wore it out and had to buy another one. When multitracking for the PC became available, yes I switched to that because it made complete sense and it was easier. As a recording device, the PC or Mac is top dog. No question about it.

When it comes to composing however, that's a different story.

Music arranging and sequencer software is not songwriter-friendly and never has been. From a DJ or producer point of view, sure, software is the only way to go. But I'm not looking to emulate a full studio environment here. All I want is a stupidly easy way to create drum tracks, and the DR-3 is it.

The DR-3 is built for one thing - drum patterns. That's it. That's all it does. It doesn't do anything else and it never will. It is a device made for a very specific purpose and is designed out of the box to be easy. As a songwriting tool, easy devices like the DR-3 allow me to write songs much faster.

I'm fully aware that producers see drum machines such as the DR-3 as "toys". But I see it as the fastest way to create drum tracks when I'm writing songs.

I'm not saying that the way producers compose is wrong and that my way is right or vice versa. I'm saying that the way I compose is more songwriter-like than producer-like, and I will use tools better suited for songwriting.

On a final note, non-musician/non-producer people (as in your average music listeners) do not care where the drums came from in a song as long as they're in time and sound good. The DR-3 can be made to sound amazing; I know this and I look forward to receiving it so I can kick my songwriting into high gear.

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