When you first open DrumJam it’s all a bit overwhelming. It’s a busy GUI and exactly how it works isn’t immediately obvious. Take some time to experiment and you’ll soon agree that Peter Lockett and Sonosaurus LLC have come up with a clever piece of app software – although DrumJam may not be exactly what you were hoping for.
There are two main sections of the screen, the upper Patch area and the jamming section beneath. DrumJam comes with a large collection of factory patches to start with, but to explain the program it’s better we look at building our own from scratch.
The square Patch editing section in Volume/Pan mode works on an X/Y axis. For example, place (by dragging) a set of congas inside the square and its position from left to right determines the congas’ pan setting, while from top to bottom relates to volume. So the top left hand corner would be an extreme pan to the left and very loud, or bottom right is full right panning and near-silent. A Filter mode allows some wild variations of traditional sounds – let’s not go there now – and a Mute/Solo mode is useful, if things become cluttered. Now change to the Parts tab and this is where DrumJam gets clever.
The Parts tabs put the congas on a horizontal line and its position here relates to the actual rhythm being played. Many of the instruments have up to twenty different rhythms available, but some that are understandably limited in scope or maybe just too boring to get in-depth like hand-claps have less. A BPM setting is global for the patch.
So you build your patch by dragging as many instruments as you want into the Patch area, setting their volume and pan, then choosing which rhythm for each. When you’re happy, Patches are saved in a User library. There are almost countless combinations of instruments and grooves, and when you remember that all the rhythms are recorded samples – actual recordings – it’s revealed what a mammoth task it must have been to create DrumJam.
At the bottom of the screen is the jamming section. Here you can similarly drag individual instruments or even drum kits onto the Pad section, which adapts to the required amount. So the Djembe creates five pads of different samples, while the Russ Miller (drum) kit provides a full eleven pads to accommodate kick, snare, hi-hats, etc… there’s no set formula really and you simply have to try each kit or instrument to see how many pads are made.
Now you start jamming.
You play your Patch with the transport controls and jam along with the chosen instrument on the pads. Those pads are more than just simple triggers. Single hits work, of course, but by dragging your fingers multiple hits are generated, too. Anyone used to programming drums in a normal MIDI-based DAW and using a controller or trigger pads will need to rethink your approach, or you can turn off the multiple hits if it messes with your style, but with everything turned on you can generate some brilliant – if a little unrealistic (meaning beyond the scope of human playing) drumming.
So far, so good. The next trick is to record your patch-plus-jamming, which DrumJam allows, too and you can export the wave file to another app or a document section for later use. This is where the developers missed what regular DAW users would figure as a given. You can set DrumJam to record a set number of bars or an unlimited amount (iPad resources allowing), but you only get one chance at recording something – there’s no Loop recording to let you layer your playing or add different pad sounds. If, for instance, your setting is for 4 bars then DrumJam stops recording after those four bars… and that’s it. You can’t even audition the recording to see if it’s any good. The only choice is to save the file, listen to it in the Manage Files section and delete the unsuccessful attempts, before starting all over again.
The point here is, if you were thinking of using DrumJam to make awesome, individual drum loops that include your jamming along to use in another app, the workflow isn’t going to be easy. Not impossible… but not easy. It does support Audiobus, so maybe directly recording into another app is the best way.
The issue is that, for the present, DrumJam is primarily a live performance app, not a studio tool, although judging from the forum comments and support emails the developers are beginning to see a studio user’s point of view. The quality of the patches and samples is very good and by using a decent iPad interface such as Avid’s new Fast Track USB/MFI boxes you’ll be able to perform live with huge sounds that rival – and maybe easily beat – a lot of popular drum samplers. The DrumJam GUI reacts very quickly to on-the-fly changes so you won’t hear any awkward drop-outs. Any significant changes are held-over until the beginning of the next bar/patch anyway, making it seamless. Audiences can – and will – be seriously impressed when you get your fingers trained.
Dig deeper into the settings and you’ll find effects, pitch and sensitivity parameters, plus plenty of house-keeping settings for file export and management. What you won’t find is a time signature other than 4/4, which will disappoint some readers here. Again, DrumJam is based on recorded samples, not MIDI (which could adapt to different timing signatures) and unless the developers decide to actually record samples other than 4/4 or completely restructure the software architecture to use MIDI – well, it ain’t going to happen.
The conclusion here is that DrumJam is damned clever and when you get your head around the app’s different workflow some very good results can be achieved. Just a few more tweaks, like that Loop recording, will make it much more accessible and appealing to recording musicians, rather than live DJ or dance performers. Fingers crossed that will be an update soon.
Fingers crossed? Hey, that gives me an idea…
Developer: Pete Lockett and Sonosaurus LLC http://drumjamapp.com
Cost: $8.49 (Australian App Store)