Your Keyboard Sounds Pretty Gay

I was over at Miss Info‘s blog, and she posted this new (or old) Cam’ron song called “Owe Me.” Now normally I wouldn’t give two fucks about some random Cam’ron song, because well, it’s Cam’ron…. and ya’know, that guy is pretty terrible these days. Talk about someone needing a career makeover. But anyway, the song is surprisingly listenable, and actually pretty decent.

But one thing that really struck me about the track, other than the fact that it samples a show tune or some shit like that, is that everything except the sample– which really only leaves the drums– is from a drum kit preset in the Motif. I get it that this whole track was made on the Motif.

As with most Cam’ron music, you have no clue who produced it, so I can’t throw a shot at the producer. And I wouldn’t anyway, cause it is what it is.

It must have been at least seven or eight years ago when preset drums became acceptable in rap musc. When everyone cracked open these ready-made keyboards that had all these sounds in them and just said fuck it, we’ll run with what we got in here. I think Swizz really started the trend back in the late 90s when he was raping the Trinity/Triton drums for all that Ruff Ryder music. There was one snare in that board that I swear I heard on every single Swizz track for at least five years straight.

But the most blatant example of jacking presets was The Neptunes usage of the shittiest Triton drums in the world on The Clipse’s “Grindin.” Before “Grindin,” nobody in their right mind would touch that shitty fake 808 clap and that hollow kick straight from the Triton sound set. But credit The Neptunes’ genius for making those sounds en vogue, and actually pulling off a damn near classic single with them. Seriously, they murdered that shit.

Still, I can’t help but feel like stock drum sounds are what fuel today’s resurgence of 80s-inspired nostalgia acts. Should it be no surprise that new producers and artists are aping the 80s, when a bunch of 808s and electronic drum sounds are what come with these new pieces of gear and software?

I don’t know about you guys out there, years ago I used to spend days on end reading musical instrument catalogs. A Sam Ash catalog might as well have been XXL to me. I’d read that shit like a magazine.

But when the groovebox culture became the norm, these little boxes with drum sounds built in, you could get up and making music as fast as possible. Never mind the fact that these sounds sucked, it was all about getting something going ASAP.

And when you can pretty much make anything, put it online or on CD and promote it relentlessly… in this day and age, that’s what you get. A bunch of artists and producers making music with whatever sounds they have right in front of them. And so here we are, the 80s all over again.

Just my observation though, keep that in mind. But I watch new producers, guys who are just getting into making tracks, and all their shit sounds like Cool Kids-type beats, cause they just don’t know any better. They’re just being resourceful and trying to make something happen, which I can’t hate on.

It’s the same for established producers. When they need to make a record on the drop of a dime, they just grab the first sounds they can get their hands on, which are usually a bunch of presets. And the artists don’t know the difference. They aren’t technical people with knowledge of this sort of stuff. As long as the melody is cool and the drums are big and loud, it’s cool with them.

I think it’s kinda wack though. How about you?

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  • jmill1224

    MPC user here, never been a big stock guy, the drums that came with my mpc 8 years ago, i used for about a month, til i put it in the car and the beats was so damn dry. So I sampled alot of drums and built up my catalog that way. Now I get some of those diluted sets of drums that are sold on the net, and just half to layer the fuck outta them. Alot of beatmakers, producers,etc. wanna make their shit this minute and now. And with FL being so damn cheap, alot of people got it, and are using the same shit. I aint knockin nobody, music is heavily synthed now and that aint my style. Good post.


    I don’t know about drums and shit……so dont know what the fuck you was talking about. But I like Camron shit. That niggggggggga will smaple any fucking thing.

    • Phil

      Yes, it’s very, very apparent what you don’t know.

  • Justice4All

    Actually creativity is the key, you can take some wack drums and tweak them to sound like some real jump off. You can change pitch, punch, velocity, release and just the plain color of the drum and make it sound like some realness, only problem is most producers just leave it alone and roll with it. That’s wack. You can take a sub 808 or 908 change the pitch on different drops, and it will sound perfect, but again-creativity is the key. There are established producers that have produced gold and platinum acts that have used the same stuff for years, they just tweak their sounds and master what they have.

  • Bobo D

    I’m gona go a bit off topic.

    You’ve all probably heard Eminem’s new track right?
    Well at the beginning of the song there is a voice-over, I know I’ve heard it before, and I think it comes from the PC game Dungeon Keeper (or Dungeon Keeper 2).
    But I can’t confirm this since I no longer own the games.

    Does anybody know where the voice-over comes from?

  • diggsy

    A lot of people use preset sounds these days, but the jokes on them because most of it’s wack anyway. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them if that’s whats needed for the song. Beats can be like clothes. It’s not so much WHAT you wear, but HOW you wear it. By the way, the sample for that Cam’ron joint is from the new Mercenaries 2 video game commercial.

  • Lancelot

    pre-set hit records on Keyboard = none

    pre-set hit records on garage band = 1?

    • Silva

      I think Swizz had 2 hits in 98-99 with presets

      • Lancelot

        Your right – i forgot about the ‘demo button song’, song.

  • Dub Sac

    I totally agree with you. When I listen to something, of any genre, there has to be some kind of mystery to me.

    If I recognize the sounds from a machine I have, or chords or melodies from other songs, then its over. I can’t listen to it. You gotta tweak that shit – compression, reverb, distortion, eq – SOMETHING!

    Be original! Stop being lazy!

  • Trouble

    i feel what justice4all was saying. its not the sound itself, its how the composer tweaks and syncs the sound, that makes a difference. Fruity loops is a perfect example of a application that allows you to do so much altering to a sound, and also adding generators, effects and what not. Then putting it in Protools for more alterations. im the type of composer that will spend a day on one sound trying to get it right, some producer just roll with the factory sound.

    Gooch, whats your favorite sound bank ?? im anxious to get the korg oaysis sound bank.

  • Silva

    This post is on-point. Listening to a song with preset drums ruins it for me. I remember in the earlier part of this decade when everyone was using them Triton stock kits. How many beats had that “hoo hoo” sound (think: Made Men/Lox “Tommy’s Theme”) in em? N.a.g.l.

    Every now and then, like your example of “Grindin”, it works. But for the most part, cats need to cut that preset shit out. I just found me a sealed Skull Snaps in the Village last week, it’s bout to be on

  • Mikey T

    you can take any pre-set drum and make it sound fresh. if you take the time and run some effects and other sounds to them… it can hook them up.

  • Mutada al sader the king

    Yo good to see Scratch is still alive in some kind of way ! Ya’ll had the best mag on the stands for a sec… Till you started featuring more rappers on the cover than producers.

    We forgive ya’ll can ya’ll discuss the sound quality of records today ? The over compression, lack of dynamics and terrible mixes ? Go listen to a DJ quick album for example Rythemalism or Chronic 2001.. Those were great sounding records. Now aday’s especially in the south and east records sound like trash !!!!!!!!!!

    Rule number one for hip hop or R&B is no stock sounds 808 – 909 and vintage druma machines are the only exception. You can get away with percussion sometimes. The Hitmen in early bad boy used that Roland 1080-2080 – Shake, Triagle and the Triton Bell tree to good effect. But anything else..that A NO NO..

  • oskamadison

    The first thing evry aspiring producer needs to buy when they get their equipment is the Ultimate Beats and Breaks series, all 25 volumes. They sell them altogether now, even in doubles for the OG dj’s out there. After that, dig for more drum sounds.
    I understand using what you got, especially if you’re a broke dude such as myself, but you gotta get creative with those presets.

  • Conan

    The sample’s actually from Mercenaries 2. Video game… not a show tune. Kinda a funny thought though. The original’s by the Wojahn Brothers.

  • AZ

    Great post Gooch, the convenience over quality mentality of today has played a big role in the overall devaluation of the music as a stand-alone product. Good to see you bring it to task from a production pov.

  • wax

    another angle:

    guitarists dont get it like the synth dudes do. The guitar makes its sounds, but the groove and music you get from the skill of the player/composer. I dont see much difference between that and using presets on a synth to make your tracks – its a musical instrument. Not everybody is gonna be a sound-designer or get off on programming. some folks just want to make music.