Humanizing Drums with Greg Tomaz




Producer, DJ & Label A&R - Greg Tomaz is on the forefront of the Indian progressive house scene. His flair for deep progressive & melodic techno leaves a lasting impression which can be heard in his well crafted DJ sets and the music he produces. His production can rightly be described as deep with a definite share of the underground which has him signed on some of the top labels globally such as Juicebox Music, Particles, Soundteller, Stripped Digital, 3rd Avenue etc. to name a few. His aesthetic sense of music has also allowed him the opportunity to share stage time with some of the best artists in this space like Nick Warren, Cid Inc, Cubicolor, Roger Martinez, Dousk, Tim Engelhardt, Ben Coda and the likes.




Greg produces his music on Ableton Live and we had the pleasure to speak to him and get an insight into how he approaches his projects.


“One of the things I focus on most while producing is the groove. Especially for progressive house, this lays the foundation and strengthens the core of the entire track. You can have a killer melody but if your track's groove isn’t tight it won’t make the impact that it should.”


"I use loops as a reference to come up with groove ideas but I don’t like using the loops directly in my tracks. These loops will have some great percussive sounds and rhythm to it but it’s already heavily processed and I may have to re-process them to fit into my track better. If I do this, it will mess with the overall mix of my track. 


What I do instead is to open up another MIDI channel with Ableton’s Drum Rack or Impulse and load up one-shot samples that are similar to the one I have in my reference loop. I then program it exactly like the loop. This allows me to fine tune every sound I use and gives me more flexibility to play around with the rhythm, giving me new results and a better overall sound mix."




"It is also important to have your drums and percussions to sound organic in your arrangement. I play around with velocities and quantization of my midi notes to give it a swing and a more human feel. I also make use of polyrhythms to give it that unpredictability."




If you're not familiar with Polyrhythms, you can learn more about it here - https://www.musical-u.com/learn/making-sense-of-polyrhythms/


"Sometimes I also use the groove pool on Ableton to add swing to my percussion and drum loops. This is a super handy feature on Ableton if you don’t want to spend a lot of time adjusting your quantization or velocities manually."




"You can just drag and drop a swing preset from Ableton, preview how the swing works and if you like it, all you need to do is just hit the ‘Commit’ button under the groove settings on your clip.


This is also why I don’t use loops directly on my track as you can’t control or change the velocities, you won’t get the organic feel out of it."


"One of things that I do for percussion hits is this - I select multiple percussion one shots that I like and are in tune with my track, I load it up in Ableton’s Drum Rack. I then add a long reverb on the same channel. On my MIDI clip I start by writing 2 x single notes that fit into my existing groove and duplicate that for 4 bars. I then play the track and rearrange the hits every bar so that each time it hits, it feels like it hits randomly and is a different sound each time. This keeps things unpredictable in your arrangement."




"Another trick I use to come up with ideas for the percussion groove is to load up a lot of samples onto a drum rack and use the Arpeggiator from Ableton’s MIDI effects. This will generate a lot of different ideas, grooves etc. I also sometimes throw in the Random plugin from the Ableton’s midi effects to randomise the hits once in a while. Once I find a pattern I like, I record this into an audio track, play around with the loop till I’m happy with how it fits with the rest of my track."




"While I have all of this going on, I also tweak my Kick drum pattern for every 3 bars. I either add a double kick or remove kicks based on how my groove is going. I do this again to keep things unpredictable and reduce monotony. 


I try to imagine how a drummer would play live and accordingly try to program and sequence my drums. Apply this same concept with the velocity of each note as well and that’s what helps me keep things more organic and humanised."




"As the drums keep changing I also automate my other elements, even the smallest changes will make it feel like the track is growing. This is also something I spent a lot of time on to make sure when I automate that organic feel still stays intact even on all the other elements apart from the drums.


So even if I have a simple chord progression or melody, the track still sounds like it’s evolving with these variations and it doesn’t get monotonous."




"These are the most crucial parts of my production process and why I spend so much time on it. Because if you don’t work on programming your drums and your main elements, it will feel like there are things missing in your track and you’ll keep adding more and more things which you very likely don’t need..."

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Huge thanks to Greg for taking the time to do this for us.


If you’ve liked these methods and it has helped you in your own production process, do drop a comment below.


You can follow & listen to Gregs's music on the following links:


Greg Tomaz on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gregtomaz/

Greg Tomaz on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/1idzhWTAvwVwS86kZMh58w

Greg Tomaz on Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/greg-tomaz/668557369




Less is more with Stalvart John.




DJ, producer, label owner, radio show host and founder of Dynamite Disco Club & Ngoma Collective, Stalvart John has proven time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with. He is known for his deeper take on dance music and his unconventional attitude has made him the frontrunner for the house and disco scene in India.




His radio show (on Boxout.fm) and club event format - Dynamite Disco Club is a hit across the country gaining him ardent followers in all the major cities. Starting out as a radio show host, Stalwart built himself to the talent he is now and his impeccable taste in music got him producing records in no time. His tracks are supported by some of the biggest names in House & Disco worldwide. 


We had the chance to speak to the dynamite personality himself and get some insight on his production process on Ableton.


“Recently I realized, maybe over the last year or so, that less is more and I apply that to my production process because of which my tracks right now are very simple, very clean but musically better.. “


“Back in the day when I started producing music, I used to start with a kick, drum parts, bass and build from there. But over the last 6 months my process has changed. I first find the lead element to a track, especially in disco it’s based around vocals. I select vocal samples that I find interesting and that will fit into the verse and chorus sections. Then I make the chords around it.


I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of music theory so I use the Scaler 2 plugin to build my chords. This plug-in is next level if you’re not too well versed with music theory. It’ll help you learn and build your chords and melodies very easily, you should check it out.”




“Once I know the scale of the track, I input the scale on Scaler 2 and start messing around while playing the main vocal loop and build my chord progression around that. For me this is the most time consuming thing and Scaler 2 helps me do this with ease. Scaler 2 also has a performance mode where I can play around with the rhythm of my chords. Once I’ve found a rhythm, then the next element I bring in is the bassline. 


“I use the base notes from my chord progression and chop it up in a way that it fits the groove of the track. I also use the chord notes as my reference to build all the other musical layers in a way that the frequencies don’t clash. After this I work on the melodic parts - that could be guitars, pianos etc.”




“For bass sounds I go with classic synthesizer VSTz like the Arturia DX7 for wobbly basslines, IK Multimedia Modo Bass for guitar bass sounds, and also the Waves Bass Slapper for bass sounds that give the ‘live’ feel.”


IK Multimedia Modo Bass Plugin:



Waves Bass Slapper Plugin:



"Apart from these I love the synth bass sounds from the Arturia packs, Korg legacy pack and also the u-He Diva which is a super powerful plug-in."


Korg Legacy Pack Plugin:



u-He Diva Plugin:



"For guitar sounds I love using the Rob Papen RG plugin. It’s perfect for those nice disco riffs." 


Rob Papen RG Plugin:



“The next thing I work on is building my string section. I sometimes use the preset sounds from scaler 2 itself, apart from that the NI Kontakt library is also a favourite for string sounds. I use Kontakt instruments a lot in my tracks. I try to avoid as much digital synth sounds as I can, to keep things sounding natural and organic.”




Native Instruments Kontakt Library:



“Now we move on to drums. I start with the kick. I use samples from loopcloud. That’s my go to source for all my sample needs. It has a great filtering system so I use that to get exactly the kind of sounds that I need.”




“Once I build the kicks I start bringing in the hats and other percussion. Here to avoid frequency clashes I either chop up my percussion samples or use a gate plugin. Let me show you this really interesting gate plug-in that I use - The RX 950 AD/DA convertor.”




"I remember seeing this plugin in one of the masterclasses and I’ve been using it on my percussion ever since. It compresses the sound a little bit and adds a little bit of colour that I like.


Once my core sounds and structure are ready I then proceed to add the backing vocals and any other fillers I need to finish the track. I then go into doing my mix down."


"As I said earlier, my process has completely changed in the last 6 months, even when it comes to mixing down my tracks. Earlier I used to mix on the go while I produce each part of my track. Now I don’t even touch an EQ during the production phase. I make sure when I layer each sound in my tracks that there are no frequency clashes between each other.


This is where choosing the right sounds for your track is very important. If you have the right sounds, with high quality, you won’t have to do much during mix down. Just the basic EQ’s, compression, saturation etc.


I do add reverbs/delays on certain sounds so that it adds to the vibe. I use return tracks for this. I already have this set in all my sessions, there will be return tracks for long reverb, short reverb, long delay, short delay & parallel compression."




"I do this one specific thing for my reverbs. I set the decay time based on the bpm of the track.

I calculate this using the formula - 60000/bpm and multiplying it by 2. This gives me an approximate value for setting my decay and pre-delay times."


You can read more about this method here - https://www.homestudiosimplified.com/p/reverbdelay-calculator.html


"This gives me a very clean reverb and it doesn’t mud up my mix. I use the stock Ableton reverb and delay itself on my returns. And for parallel compression I switch between Waves SSL G glue compressor or the CLA 76 compressor."


Waves SSL G Compressor Plugin:



Waves CLA-76 Compressor Plugin:



"On my Master channel I use the Waves VU Meter. There’s a trick I learnt from the Waves Masterclass - when your kick alone is playing, the VU meter should hit -3dB and when you add your sub and/or bass the VU meter should hit 0dB. This is a good Kick to Bass ratio you can start with and bring up the levels of the other elements with this as the foundation. You can do this method with any analog modelled VU meter as well."




"For Spectrum I use Voxengo Span. This is my favourite spectrum analyser. I also use a s(M)exoscope to see the waveform of my sounds. I can check for unwanted peaks and trim them down."




"And that’s it, this is how I keep my mix downs also simple and clean and then send it off for mastering."

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Huge thanks to Stalvart for taking the time to talk to us and show us how he approaches his projects. As you can see Stalvart also sticks to the less is more approach, something he’s come into with years of experience as a producer and swears by it.


If you’ve liked these methods and it has helped you in your own production process, do drop a comment below.


You can follow & listen to Stalvart's music on the following links:


Stalvart John on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stalvartjohn/

Stalvart John on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3sWYkQ9F0l2Mto9NFOhY8Z

Stalvart John on Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/in/artist/stalvart-john/id982135157


You can also tune into his monthly radio show ‘Dynamite Disco Club’ on boxout.fm. It airs every second Wednesday of the month at 6 PM IST - https://boxout.fm/residents/stalvart-john/episodes