A Tribute: PurpleDrums

Not many people know this, but I’m one of Prince’s biggest fans. Ever since first hearing “Dirty Mind” in the back of a school bus at the tender age of fourteen (Hi Tipper!), I've been a diehard convert. That album, “Controversy”, “1999”, and every successive record brought me immeasurable joy and inspiration as a young artist. And from infatuation to heartache to spiritual insights, Prince’s music became a huge part of my life’s soundtrack for over 30 years.

It's no secret that Prince carefully crafted his sound from a multitude of influences, like emulating the character of Jimi Hendrix's guitar playing or the screams and grunts of James Brown. For an example of something a tad more concrete, it’s worth mentioning that the first use of the term “Purple Rain” was actually a lyric from America’s classic 1972 hit “Ventura Highway”. Don’t believe me? Check out those lyrics here.

Like I said, I’m a mega-fan. And a detective. So whenever I heard something extraordinary from The Purple One, I took the time to determine the source(s) of his magic, often spending hours researching the exact synths and studio gear he used, then working tirelessly to recreate those sounds from scratch. In fact, every preset collection I’ve ever done, including the original factory bank for Xfer Records’ Serum, included a reworked version of the Oberheim Farfisa sound from “Let’s Go Crazy”. (If you’re a Serum owner, search for “Let’s Get Nutz”. You’re welcome ;)

So, after being thoroughly gutted by grief for the past week, I looked for a way to honor Prince’s legacy without ripping him off. I wanted to give musicians a way to learn how he created some of his most influential sounds – without infringing his notes or beats or anything else that could be copyrighted, because we ALL know how he felt about that (and as a fellow musician and business owner, piracy and theft are enemies of mine too).

The answer was in front of me the whole time: Prince’s legendary drum sound, which was based on the original Linn LM-1 drum machine and in later years, the LinnDrum as well. From “1999” to “Sign ‘O’ The Times”, Prince incorporated these drum machines, with specific sounds – like the Rimshot and Clap – wildly detuned to create giant clacks and booms. From there, he added compression and when feeling extra freaky, a flanger pedal, on the drum machine’s output. The resulting grooves became a hallmark of the “Minneapolis Sound”, utilized by The Time and Apollonia 6, as well as hits like “Oh Sheila” by Ready For The World. Prince’s approach to drum machines was just as unique as Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar work – and just as versatile an ingredient in other artists’ work.

So, to commemorate a genius and bring his production techniques to a new (power) generation of musicians, I’m releasing “PurpleDrums” – a recreation of his ultra-processed Linn as a free instrument download for educational purposes. As a college professor, this Ableton project will be an excellent tool for teaching the principles of electronic music production in my courses and serve to demonstrate Prince’s groundbreaking approach to working in the studio.

Some people are surprised that I’m not charging for this pack, but the last thing I want to do is cash in on the legacy of one of the most important musicians of the 20th century (and probably beyond). I respect him far too much to use his passing that way. This one’s for the fans and students.

So download the pack and learn his production techniques, just as he relied on his own influences – and if you’re hungry for more, I’ll be deconstructing and explaining the “Let’s Go Crazy” Oberheim sound in the July issue of Keyboard Magazine.

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