XLN Audio are the developers behind Addictive Drums, a popular music software that offers it’s user some of the most sophisticated drum sounds of any virtual instrument. They continue to expand upon it’s appeal with the release of recent packs like United Pop, and in connection with that I was recently able to sit down for a chat with their Project Director and Content Manager, Andreas Mood, to talk about the company and it’s recent releases.
Hi Andreas. What’s your story on getting started in the music and audio world?
I started playing drums at a young age, and in high school I got into the 90s hardcore scene, which resulted in my band touring in Sweden a lot. We didn’t make a lot of money of it though (laughs). My band was full of teenagers; I was sixteen, and our bass player was fourteen. So everyone had to tell their parents they were sleeping over at another band member’s house when we hired a driver to take us from our hometown of Karlstad to Sunlight Studios in Stockholm to record an EP.
I later signed to Warner/Chappell as a songwriter after a record deal with my band didn’t work out. We had presented them with music that we recorded with a producer called Anders Oredsson, and got into talks about signing a record deal. However, we started having issues in the band soon afterwards. Our bass player dropped out and we took that pretty hard, so things came to a halt. But since I’d played a big part in writing all of our songs, Warner’s publishing arm signed me and gave me a studio space at Kungsholmen. So I quit my day-job and tried my hands at mixing and producing for a year.
Around 2005, we got a new CEO at Warner who came in from Sony. He was working with the Cheiron team and wanted to create a collective at Warner. He chose me to be a part of the new group he put together. Unfortunately, I ended up walking away from it due to problems with our team leader, and the entire team dissolved after six months, though some of the same members are now a part of Wolf Cousins, which is Shellback’s and Max Martin’s current production team.
I see. So what kind of role do you now have at XLN Audio?
When I first started working at XLN, my primary job was to be the “Content Manager”, which involved managing our creative team and projects, as well as creating content. In recent years, I’ve taken on another title, which is “Project Director”. I’m in charge of bigger projects, like when we did “Addictive Drums 2“. I’ve hired a producer to handle the production side of our expansion products, which takes some of the load off me, but I still have executive say in which ADpaks we do and when they get released, though I don’t handle that myself; I involve my team in those discussions, and we talk about what packs we want to do next.
I noticed from the “Fairfax” and “United Pop” release videos that XLN went to American studios to record the drums. Can you talk about that process? How do you collaborate with the studios and their staff to make a pack?
If we’re doing a new pack, we aim to work with the studio’s best people, in addition to ours. We let them do what they’re good at, especially if the studio is known for a specific sound. Most of those people have been working there for many years, and know what their equipment sounds like. In the case of Fairfax Recordings, (formerly Sound City) we were very fortunate to be able to get in there, since it’s no longer a public studio. It’s now used as a Fairfax label studio. The owner, Kevin Augunas, is signed to the same New York management company as Dr Luke. So there were a lot of legal issues that we had to work through to get in there. But it’s a part of my job, to solve things like that.
Was it similarly difficult to get into United Recordin Studios to create the “United Pop” pack?
No, that was simpler, because we didn’t have to go through management. United Recording are owned by Sunset Gower, a TV and movie company owned by Hudson Capital, who have a of lot studios throughout Hollywood. They bought United from Allen Sides, when it was called Ocean Way Recording. When Hudsen bought it, they changed it back to “United”, which is what it was called when Bill Putnam Sr owned it. The rooms are unchanged since 1958 and they sound amazing too.
Were there any notable drum kits that were used during the recording at United?
Are you particular about the recording consoles you use when make ADpaks, or are you happy to use what the studio provides?
We use whatever desks the studio has, since we’re after their sound anyway. Most of the engineers we work with don’t use processing when recording. They spend more time tuning kits and placing mics properly. In some cases, we’ve had multiple room mics, and used a compressor on one of the them, but that’s the limits of our processing.
Have you ever recorded an ADpak to tape?
We’ve recorded to tape once, with the “Indie“, which was a while ago. It was hard though. I chose to do it more as an experiment to see if it was possible. Two-inch tape has a noise level that’s pretty high, which causes problems when playing ghost notes on snares. Those notes are so quiet and quick, which brings the noise up to a ridiculous level. So I had to take precautions. We split the patch-bay into the two parts and sent one signal to the tape machine and the other to Pro Tools. We ended up using the tape recording though, which is something you can actually hear, as the “Indie” pack is bit noisier than the other ones.
The more I talk to engineers in vintage studios, the more I hear that using tape is rare. They only turn to it if they’re asked to achieve a specific sound by a client.
A popular discussion in the drum world is whether you can make a drum plugin sound like real drums. “Addictive Drums” is obviously impressive, but do you think it achieves this feat?
Absolutely, and I’ve actually confirmed that. When we record our packs, we always have a film crew with us who shoot everything, from the soundcheck to the Pro Tools recording, so we can use the footage to learn for our future endeavors. I’ve also programmed beats that our drummers played live, and A-B’d between the beats and the real drum recording – you can’t hear the difference.
The way I see it, “Addictive Drums 2” isn’t just for making acoustically accurate drum sounds. You can use pitch envelopes, distortion and other processing to make it sound like a lot of different things.
We have a lot of people who use it for electronic and hip-hop stuff too. Nine inch Nails have used the Studio Kits on “Addictive Drums” on albums like “With Teeth” and “The Slip“. On some tracks, you can even hear what presets were used. There’s an Eminem album that has a lot of “AD” usage too, though I can’t remember which one it was right now. Movie composers use “AD” as well. I met Harry Gregson-Williams in LA a few years ago, and he showed me his soundtrack work for the 2010 movie “Unstoppable“, which features an aggressive drum composition from “Addictive Drums” during the action scenes.
It’s hard to keep track of everything that “Addictive Drums” gets used on. I hear it in so many things.
I see that you’re now using the XLN Online Installer which wasn’t in “AD1”. Does that affect the way you guys deal with piracy at all?
No, we’re using the same copy-protections system we’ve always used. We reached a point where we had to find a way to manage our growing number of products. When I came on board, we had only eight products. Now we have 70+. Installing all of that on one computer is a hassle, as well as authorizing all of them. So the Online Installer was a solution for that. You can use it to view all your products and patches, as well as download updates.
We’ve had a cautious approach to dealing with piracy, because we know that people will always find a way to download and crack your software. We did a survey many years ago, and found out that many people who pirated “AD” eventually became paying customers. When they realized how much they liked it, and reached a point where they had to take the next step in their music careers, they preferred to buy it. Piracy isn’t to be endorsed, but we understand how it converts into paying customers. We’d rather spend time and resources on making new, cool stuff than to overly combat that.
I’m going to touch on a few ADpaks that I like, and you ask you to tell me something interesting about the making of each of them.
Blue Oyster: I wasn’t a part of that. When “AD1” came out, they came with the “Studio Rock“, “Studio Pop” and “Studio Prog” packs that were recorded at Decibel Studios. After that, it took over a year before XLN released additional expansions. Since “AD1” had three default kits, the company felt that an expansion also had to have three kits. So they went to 301 Studios in Solna to record the “Blue Oyster”, “Black Oyster” and “Retroplex“, in addition to “Jazz Brushes“, “Jazz Sticks” and “Funk“. All six were recorded at the same time.
Black Velvet: I wasn’t a part of that either. But what I can say is that it was the first kit XLN ever recorded. It was meant to provide usable sounds for the prototype version of Addictive Drums 1, and was recorded at a studio called Kingside, which was started by the crew from Polar Studios. It has a huge gym-sized room where XLN recorded “Black Velvet”. However, something went wrong during the recording process, and they only ended up with the kick, snare and four toms, with just about enough samples for it to be usable. They didn’t have hi-hats, cymbals or percussion. I received the prototype sounds when I arrived at XLN, and felt strongly that we needed to complete them. Prior to me arriving at XLN, they had recorded Zildjian cymbals for the “AD1” kits, but got into a trademark issue with Zildijan, and couldn’t use their image or names the plugins. Because of that, they had to re-rerecord with Sabian cymbals instead, which we used in the “Studio” packs. So when XLN brought me on, I had a meeting with Zildijan’s Product Manager at MusikMesse. I’d only been on board for two weeks, but he was really nice, and he helped me get clearance to use the names. Some years later we took the decision to release the Kingside recording along with the Zildjian cymbals as “Black Velvet”.
Vintage Dry: That one was fun to record. The studio we worked at is called INGRID, and was built in 1969. I was formerly called KMH Studios. The team of people who work there now have done a great job of conserving it’s 70s sound. The desk is an API Legacy, with a mix of 550a’s and 550b’s, and 512–like pre-amps. We were aiming for both the dry pop-rock sound heard on Neil Young records, as well as the disco sound from the 70s. INGRID had great drums for that. We used an old ’68 Silver sparkle Ludwig kit, and a really thick 70s Sonor kick and snare. We felt like the tom matched both breakables, so just by changing the kick and snare, we went from a Neil Young sound to an ABBA sound.
I’d have to say that the engineer, Nille Perned, was the most interesting part of the process. He could hear things that were beyond normal. He spent a lot of time with the drummer to get everything perfect.
What’s your best-selling pack at this point?
It’s the “Fairfax Vol 1“. I love that pack myself, so it’s not surprising.
Wrapping up, tell me a bit more about the newly released “United Pop” kit.
It’s made in the same style as the “Fairfax” kit, but sounds a bit bigger and more lush. Wesley Sideman was the engineer, and he’s the best guy I’ve worked with. He’s in another league of engineering.
(XLN Audio at United Recording, working on the “United Pop” pack)
I just remembered that I never asked anything about “Addictive Keys“. Sorry about that.
No worries. We have so many different types of users that use “Addictive Drums”, but “Addictive Keys” only seems to attract the high-end pros. Those customers email our support to say how much they love it. But we kind of knew from the beginning that “AD Keys” was a niche product, because you need to be able to play keys or program very well, as opposed to “Addictive Drums”, which comes with MIDI packs.