Not drumless, but still useful

Saturday, 13 May 2017 12:54 PM

The quest for drumless tracks led digitalDrummer to a software solution with lots of promise.

SOMETIMES, YOU SET out to find something and you discover something entirely different. That’s what happened when I saw an online promo for ReFrame, a software application that can be used to isolate instruments in recorded music.

My first thought was this would be great to create drumless tracks for play-along practice. When I approached the developer, they did warn me that “drums are especially tricky (to isolate) since their frequency range is huge and they commonly share centre stage with vocals and lead guitar”. But it was worth a shot …

ReFrame is part of the Anytune software currently available for iOS, Android and Mac. I tested the full versions (the Pro version, in the case of iOS).

Anytune is basically a music player on steroids. It allows you to access your music library and mess with it in ways you couldn’t possibly attempt with iTunes or similar players.

It’s a learning tool which can access almost any music on your device and either play it from its original source or import it. Once you’ve opened a song, you see its waveform, much like the more professional players.

The features include the ability to slow down or speed up the music without altering the pitch – really important if you want to learn a part note for note, while also being able to adjust the pitch up or down without affecting the speed.

For drummers, there’s also a BPM indicator – sourced from the song metadata, but you can override that by setting the tempo manually.

While in waveform view, the software’s “mark” function allows you to tag parts of the song like the intro, chorus, verse, etc. These tags are saved with the song and can be shared with other band members, for example.

The software also has the ability to loop songs or sections within songs. And not only can you mark the loops, but you can also add delay at the start of each to give you time to prepare between attempts. Combined with the ability to slow down the playback, this is a great tool for learning difficult sections of a song – regardless of the instrument.

Anytune takes learning a step further, but adding a “live mix” function which allows you to add audio from an external source like e-drums to the song.

There are a heap of other controls like the ability to tweak the gain, pan and balance, and to finetune the EQ. There is also a lyrics view, where you can load the words and tabs for songs.

And all of this can be saved and shared, which is very useful for bands working on songs collaboratively.

 So, what about ReFrame? Well, this function works on stereo separation and allows you to “crop” the sound spectrum. It’s very effective for instruments on unique frequencies and recorded either in the left or right channel. It’s less accurate with instruments like drums that are panned all over the place and also play at various frequencies ranging from the lows of the kick drum to cymbals in the upper ranges.

The iOS app has a few presets that solo or mute bass or vocals, while the Mac version has more than a dozen EQ presets that isolate or enhance various parts – with varying degrees of accuracy, according to the frequencies and stereo image. None of them, however, will allow you to create a drumless track!

So, while the software failed in my primary aim, it is a very useful practice tool and one that has a lot to offer all musicians. The Mac version is available in a free trial or $30 for the full product. There’s a free iOS version, but to access all the features, like LiveMix and FineTouch EQ, you’ll need the Pro+ version for $15.