Tool almost removes drums

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 11:05 am

Drumless tracks are much sought-after by all drummers, especially e-drummers who are able to drum along to them and create that perfect mix in the module. And tools which can remove drums from mixed audio files are the Holy Grail.

DrumExtract from YellowNoise Audio sounds promising, going by the name alone. The VST plugin, which works with Cubase, Ableton Live, Reaper, FL Studio, Sound Forge, Audacity, Audition, Logic Pro and Studio One, among others, looks simple, but clearly has a lot going on behind the scenes.

Before we dive into DrumExtract, it’s worth keeping the developer’s explanation in mind: “an audio mix is like a baked cake: it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to recover each individual part of a mix”.

So, what’s in the box and how does it work?

As with most plugins these days, there’s no box: the product is available by download only for €49. Click on the buy tab and you go straight to a PayPal checkout and the download itself is tiny – 2.1 MB and done in a flash.

Once you’ve downloaded the plugin, you can open an audio track in your VST (I first tested it with Logic Pro X). Then you add the plugin, which you’ll find as an Audio Unit.

It opens to reveal a simple window dominated by a dial which goes from Percussive on the left to Harmonic on the right, with the original mix in the middle.

As you turn the virtual dial anti-clockwise, the melody and lyrics start distorting and disappearing until you are left with a rough drum track (plus some bits of vocals and other tones). Go the other way – clockwise – and the snare and kick start disappearing (together with some other instrument and vocal parts).

The plugin is effective – but a long way from perfect. Indeed, the DrumExtract website has plenty of warnings:

  • DrumExtractdoesn't work on songs with instruments with fast pitch changes, such as fast instrument solos or vocal parts.
  • DrumExtract is unable to separate voice from drums.
  • … don't expect DrumExtract to work on every song or on the full length of a song.

OK, it doesn’t promise to do much – so it’s not hard to overdeliver. And indeed, the plugin worked very well with some songs in my library – notably those with sparse, uncomplicated drumming. For example, it did a great job of removing drums from some Post Modern Jukebox songs, but with Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger, the dial had to be pushed all the way to Harmonic to eradicate the snare and kick sounds, but that also meant removing a whole chunk of vocal range – and it didn’t quite mask the cymbals and toms.

The other application – and probably one that gets more buyers interested – is isolation of the drum track. If you’re a producer and you hear a great beat, it is possible to sample that by dialling out the harmonics and leaving the percussive parts. Again, this is hit and miss – the structure of some songs lends themselves to the total removal of everything but rhythm sounds while others are so integrated that you just can’t remove enough of the melody to leave just the beat.

And, it must be stressed, you certainly can’t isolate individual percussion instruments like, for example, the snare or the hats.

Overall

To their credit, the developers certainly offer enough warnings that this is not a plug and play drum removal/isolation tool. They claim that DrumExtract “works better than pure EQ to extract drum samples” and that’s true. I also agree that “DrumExtract goes beyond traditional tools and offers state-of-the-art separation”.

To date, I have tried a few solutions including Anytune, and DrumExtract produced better results with more songs. I have also had some success using Superior Drummer 3’s Tracker function to isolate drum parts and then mute them. I’ve been told repeatedly that this defies the rules of physics, but have nonetheless managed to create some less-drums (rather than drumless) tracks.

So, does DrumExtract achieve Holy Grail status? Given the right type of song with the right mix of chords, vocal range and drum tracks, it can come close. But if your song is really well mixed and blended, there’s not much chance of removing or isolating the percussion part. Yes, you can possibly dial the drums back enough to play along with the track, but it’s not the same as going into the original recordings and muting the drums.

So, if you don’t mind a bit of hit and miss and have a spare €49, go for it. Otherwise, save your money for individual tracks from some of the Karaoke websites where you can buy custom songs minus drums.