Everything you wanted to know about Sonic Reality's Neil Peart Drums

An interview with Dave Kerzner, CEO and Founder of Sonic Reality

Back to Neil Peart Drums info page  

AndyO: First, tell me a little about Sonic Reality and its products.

Sonic Reality CEO and Founder, Dave KerznerDave: Sonic Reality is primarily a sound development company. We record the sounds of musical instruments, which is called "sampling," and then we make those sounds playable via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). We also record riffs and grooves of top musicians which are cut up into two bar loops that musicians can load into any music software to rearrange and use in their own music making. So the products we sell are mainly sample libraries of either multisampled instruments, such as a drum kit you can play from either a MIDI keyboard, or an electronic drum kit or loop libraries musicians can use inside any recording software. 


AndyO:  How do people usually use your products?

Dave: The use varies quite a bit. We have a wide range of customers from beginners to the top pro songwriters, performers, producers, and film composers.

At the most basic level we have play-along drum tracks and soon to be released full band play-alongs as well. That's like jamming in the studio with a drummer like Neil Peart — doing either a Rush song or your own music in sync with his drumming, and it's something anyone can do — even just in their iPod, iPad, smart phone, or computer's media player or inside any recording software.

But then a level of expertise up from that would be a groove sample library, such as the R.A.W. Artist Pack, which has loops in popular universal formats that work with today's recording software and samplers.

Then we have instruments where you have to play all of the parts yourself via a MIDI controller, like a keyboard or electronic drum kit. So, for instance, you can use the individual sounds of Neil Peart's drum kit — his snares, kick, the toms, cymbals etc. — and play any drum patterns you want with it. That takes a different level of expertise and requires more skills as a musician to use.

Neil Peart Drums Vol. 1: The Kit for Infinite Player But all three types of products are fun to work with. I find that even pro musicians enjoy jamming along to a full drum track because you get ideas and it's good practice, too. Plus it's just fun to play with someone like Neil Peart! All the twists and turns with fills and changes. Then working with his drum groove library gives you a virtual drum session with Neil Peart — because it is his actual playing, but you get to decide as a songwriter or producer what tempo you want it to be in, what order, and what choice of parts you use.

Then for total freedom to do any part in any style you have the drum kit, in products like Neil Peart Drums Vol. 1 The Kit, to play for those who are good at either playing drum parts from MIDI or at least are good at sequencing drum parts (for example you might play in a beat by layering one thing at a time such as just the hi-hat part and then the kick and snare. There are many different ways that musicians use these products and Sonic Reality's aim is to try to accommodate them all.  

AndyO: Tell me a little about the two Sonic Reality releases for Neil Peart, Volumes 1 and 2. How did this project come about?

Dave: Well, I had already met Alex Lifeson, because he uses IK Multimedia products like AmpliTube, and we've talked about it before. So, when I was at a studio called Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, California, working on a product called Ocean Way Drums, Rush was in the next room over mixing Snakes and Arrows. Alex and Geddy were walking by in the studio and Alex recognized me and said hello. I started talking to them about the latest products from Sonic Reality and IK Multimedia, which they were excited about.

Then when they went into the studio I talked at length with their A&R man Andy Curran about how the band could get some of the latest music software and sounds we had. I didn't even see Neil at all then, and I had never met him, but I mentioned to Andy that if Neil ever wanted to do a sample library to let me know. I was almost joking because I never thought he'd do it. Then one day I got a phone call from Andy asking me if I still wanted to do it! The answer was obviously an immediate yes before he could finish the sentence!  

AndyO:  Tell me about the recording process and who was involved.

Dave: Neil Peart was involved as it was his performances on his own signature drum kit that we captured. In addition to that, one of the stipulations of doing (the session) was that we had to involve Nick Raskulinecz, who is Rush's producer. So as long as he engineered the session, Neil would do it. Nick is an incredible engineer and producer who has not only worked with Rush but also Foo Fighters and many other hard rock artists. I had never met him before but I admired his work and it was a no-brainer-big-plus that he was going to be involved, too. It gave us that much more of an album quality deluxe production, which is what we were after.

Thanks to Don Lombardi, we recorded it at The Drum Channel studio, which is an audio and video studio. We rented a ton of mics and recording equipment from Ocean Way To Go. It was pretty insane. We went all out on this. But when it's someone who many consider to be the best drummer in the world you pretty much have to!  


AndyO:  What was it like working with Neil? Did you get to play on the Snakes & Arrows kit yourself?

Dave: Neil was totally cool. Really nice guy. Quiet and introverted for the most part, but I talked with him and he was very gracious, accommodating, and good spirited.

We even had a few technical hiccups in the beginning of the session, and even though Neil was notorious for keeping a strict schedule he was incredibly patient and cool about it. I had to think on my toes to speed up the process of solving the problem and then make sure Neil was happy. These are the other things you have to do as a producer besides worrying about how everything sounds. Managing the people and making sure they are comfortable.


Also, if you are working with someone famous you have to control the fanboy in you and chill out (laughs). I mean to a certain extent. Even Nick Raskulinecz is like a big kid who loves Rush and air drums all the fills. Neil knows we're all in awe of that stuff. But you just have to be totally pro and keep your cool. Get things done and you have his respect. Enough respect for him to let you play his kit! Apparently that rarely ever happens. But I convinced Neil and his tech Loren to let me do it so I could explain how we sample the drums, which you can see on YouTube.   

I took the liberty after (the recording session) to play a few grooves on it, but I didn't go crazy. It was surreal sitting there on his drum throne in the middle of that monster kit. I felt incredibly lucky and grateful to be there and enjoyed every minute of the session. 

AndyO: Let’s talk about some of the technical details about using Volume 1, Neil Peart Drums —especially for those of us who haven’t used Sonic Reality products.

Dave: Okay, well a studio recorded drum kit for a Rush album involves a lot of microphones around the room and one on each drum directly. So we have some versions of Volume 1 The Kit that let the user mix and blend the sounds of the microphones which gives you the opportunity make it more ambient or more tight and dry for example. The BFD and Infinite Player Kontakt versions are that way.

Then we have some versions of the drum kit where those mics are already blended together in stereo so you have an easier-to-use drum kit to work with that takes up less computer power, RAM, and hard drive space to run. Two examples of this type of kit product are the Reason Refill version and the Session Drummer 3 version for Cakewalk's Sonar recording software. There are also other versions coming for Logic, Garageband, and even right inside certain electronic drum kit modules from companies like Yamaha and Alesis. There are many ways to get the sound of Neil's awesome signature kit, whether you're a drummer or a keyboardist like me who likes to play and program drum kit sounds.  

AndyO:  Let’s say that I have an electronic kit (like  V-Drums) and a PC or Mac, how do I get started with Neil Peart Drums (Volume 1)? 

Dave: First you need to have an audio and MIDI interface for your PC or Mac. There are many companies that make them and it doesn't matter which one you get as long as it has both MIDI and audio in and out. That's how you would hook up your electronic kit to your computer to do anything MIDI or audio related — let alone play something like Neil Peart Drums The Kit.

Then you buy the format version of Neil Peart Drums that seems the best for you. It doesn't matter which one you choose necessarily because they are all good. But given the descriptions and some research you may have a preference. Also some require you to purchase a separate piece of software in order to run it, and some like the Infinite Player version don't. Even this interview might help you decide.  

AndyO: Can you walk us through some of the different versions of Neil Peart Drums Volume 1: The Kit?

Neil Peart Drums Vol 1: The Kit for BFD2

Dave: BFD is a very popular dedicated drum software for the Mac or PC which was created by a company called FXPansion. I know that the B and D stand for Big and Drums. The F though I am suspicious about (laughs).

But, anyway, this is the version I would recommend the most for drummers who use an electronic drum kit. You have a great visual of the drum kit pieces and it triggers great. You can even mix and blend the mics and more. To use our BFD version of Neil Peart Drums, you do have to own either BFD2 or BFD ECO first and then you install and load our sounds into it. So it could cost you a bit more to do it this way. However, since we’re also coming out with BFD format kits from Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, Rod Morgenstein and other great drummers and styles, you only have to buy BFD2 software once and then you can add our sound products with other drummers to it. A good investment in the long run and a very cool program.  

Neil Peart Drums Vol 1: The Kit - Infinite Player Library for Kontakt

Dave: The beauty of the Infinite Player Kontakt version is that you don’t have to buy any other software to run it. It comes as a stand alone program or works as a plug-in for all major recording software without the need to buy another piece of software just to get started playing it. The other thing that is great about the Infinite Player Kontakt version is that the platform is good for both electronic drummers and keyboard players. You can purchase other Sonic Reality instrument sounds — such as synths like the ones Geddy uses (such as Oberheims and Moogs or bass sounds), guitar sounds, orchestral sounds. Once you are on that platform it is infinitely expandable with Sonic Reality sounds of all types.

For anyone wondering why it is called the Infinite Player and not just Kontakt, this is because Sonic Reality has licensed an expandable player version of Kontakt in order to bypass the need for our customers to have to buy the full version of Kontakt first just to use our sounds. They can still buy the full version of Kontakt from Native Instruments, the company that makes it, and have more features like sampling your own sounds and deep editing. But it’s not required thanks to the Infinite Player license we did with them. So we save you a few hundred dollars and give you a player version of Kontakt for free that will work specifically and only with Sonic Reality sounds that are marked “Infinite Player.”

Neil Peart Drums - Reason Refill

Dave: As I was saying we also have pre-mixed drum kit samples that are easier to use and lighter on your computer’s power. It’s also an excuse to offer these versions for less money. These versions are a popular choice and the Reason Refill is only one of many of this type to come out this year.

But speaking specifically about this version, you first need to own a very popular music software package called Reason by Propellerhead Software. That is a complete studio in a box where you can record not only drums but everything else in one — it's a workstation software for songwriters, musicians and producers. So for anyone who doesn’t already own music software and wants to not only work with drum kits but also grooves and also build up the rest of a song’s parts then Reason 6 and the Neil Peart Drums Vol 1 and 2 would be a smart way to go. It can also work with keyboards or an electronic drum kit.

Now, if you prefer a different music software to use Neil Peart Drums in you can always ask our Sonic Reality support team if we support it or if we’re planning on it. We already support Cakewalk’s Sonar Session Drummer for example. Soon we’ll be doing other formats as well. The bottom line here is that as long as you want to play a virtual recreation of Neil’s drum kit or play with his actual drum performance with the grooves then we have a way for you to do be able to do it. Anything you pick will work but some will cost you more out of pocket than others and work a little differently depending on the software it was made for is all. It depends on what else you need.

AndyO: Can I download Neil Peart Drums Vol 1: The Kit?

Dave: Yes. This is downloadable from anywhere in the world from esoundz.com or select Sonic Reality dealers that carry download versions where you redeem a code on our downloadablesoundz.com website and can get it that way too.

AndyO: Once I have the version I need on my PC, how do I connect it to something like a v-drum kit? Do you start it on your computer and then connect it to  V-Drums via MIDI?

Dave: Yes, exactly. If you simply want to trigger the drum kit sounds then your computer and the software act as the drum brain. You need that interface between your electronic drum kit and the computer that has both audio and MIDI.

You connect the MIDI output of your electronic drum kit to the MIDI input of your interface. You have to go to the preferences of your software, whether it is BFD or Kontakt or anything else, and select that MIDI interface as the controlling input and also the audio set up with a low buffer size. I know that sounds geeky and technical but it’s important to know because if you want the least amount of delay, also known as latency — which is the tightness of the triggering time from when you hit the pad to when you hear the sound — then you need to lower the buffer size or lower the latency settings.

The only trick there is the more you lower it, the more CPU it takes up on your computer and that’s why having a new fast computer does help here. However, you can find a happy medium. I find that a buffer setting of 256 or a setting of 5-10 milliseconds is good and can be done on most computers. If you go double that it is still workable, but anything more than that forget it (Laughs). At least for me but I am picky about latency. So this is hopefully a good tip. Despite what the settings are, which vary between audio interfaces, you have to use your ear and judge when you balance how fast you can set it to versus how much your computer can handle before acting glitchy when it has maxed out its CPU. 

AndyO: Is Neil Peart Drums supported on Windows 7?

Dave: Yes. But keep in mind that Neil Peart Drums itself are just the sounds formatted to work with particular software such as BFD, Kontakt, or Reason. So any question of computer compatibility is more of a question about whether that software is compatible. If it is then Neil Peart Drums will be via that software. It will work on anything as long as the software it loads into does.

AndyO: Now let’s talk about Volume 2, Neil Peart Grooves. How do you use Volume 2? What do you need in terms of software?

Dave: Like Vol 1, we offer Vol 2 in a variety of different formats that people may want to use. These are drum loops so they’ll work in practically anything from recording software such as ProTools, Cubase, Logic, Live, Digital Performer, Sonar, Acid, etc.— to samplers like Kontakt or Reason and dedicated loop software like Stylus RMX and more.

AndyO:  What is a R.A.W. Artist Pack?

Dave: The Sonic Reality R.A.W. series is unique in that it offers three popular loop formats in one collection — all done with the same tempo flexible features which we create in a proprietary way so they mach up between the formats. The three formats are REX, APPLE LOOPS, and ACIDIZED WAVES. You only need to use one of these three formats, but you get all three to choose from. It’s truly a universally compatible loop library package.

We do also offer single specific format versions for a little bit less money such as the upcoming Stylux RMX version, which will only work with the popular loop software product Stylux RMX by Spectrasonics. We’ll also have a 16-bit Apple Loops only product that is ideal for Garageband. But for those who want the most options, the R.A.W. Artist Pack is the ideal choice.

The reason it is called an Artist Pack is because we have a series of artist titles with grooves done by famous drummers. We also have Style Packs that are done by top session drummers but in the style of Ringo Starr or John Bonham or a genre like Motown. Those are all available on esoundz.com.

AndyO:  It looks like there are 500 grooves in this product that Neil plays. What are some examples of grooves? Is “Tom Sawyer” in there?

Dave: Actually in the final version of the Neil Peart R.A.W. Artist Pak and RMX Pak that we’ve made available, there are closer to 600 grooves which is a lot to work with and really good value considering what it is (close to 600 different drum grooves played by Neil Peart that you can use in your own music writing, arranging or producing!).

"Tom Sawyer" grooves are not included in this volume of drum loops but that one and all of the drum tracks of the XYZ tribute EP will be available soon in the DrummerTracks product. Tom Sawyer drum loops will eventually be available as R.A.W. loops as well. That’s coming just a little later with the rest of the classic Rush grooves we've captured with Neil. The drum loop grooves of Vol. 2 are more modern rock grooves from Roll The Bones up to Snakes and Arrows. In some ways they are more ideal for use in your own songwriting because they have less recognizable drum patterns than something like "Tom Sawyer," which is very iconic. But that said, you can take any drum patterns out of context from the original song and it can sound different if used in your own song. The Sonic Elements "XYZ" EP shows that in action. You have both Rush covers and original songs written around those same groove patterns. A great example of what can be done even though it's only scratching the surface. 

 AndyO: Where can people hear examples of these grooves?

Dave: The best place to listen to the grooves is the same page where you can buy the library which is on the player on the left side of the page:

AndyO: Finally, how do I purchase Neil Peart Volumes 1 and 2? Can I buy it at Guitar Center? Amazon?

Dave: The best place to buy Neil Peart Drums in terms of reliability of it being available is from our web shop esoundz. However, certain Sonic Reality dealers can special order it if you prefer to get it through them.

We’re a vendor for Guitar Center so they can order it. But stores like Sweetwater, AudioMidi, Musicians Friend, West LA Music, Alto Music, and many others are able to order certain Sonic Reality products as well. As for Amazon and other stores like iTunes, we will have some new product releases available there as well such as easy play along DrummerTracks for any musician to play along to.

But, I’ll tell you about something that no one knows about and I’m not talking about a country farm. But at the same time I am. We’re working on play-alongs that include the full song done with a variety of musicians that play in different rock bands and Neil’s grooves are the drum track. We got guys like Rik Emmett, of another Canadian Rock Trio Triumph, to play guitar and sing on a Rush tune. Not only are we doing our own fantasy band Rush tribute album (Sonic Elements XYZ — A Tribute to Rush featuring Neil Peart Drums EP)  but a lot of the music on that album will be available minus the vocals so singers can sing over the instrumental track, or minus the guitar so guitarists or bassists could play along through something like IK Multimedia's AmpliTube on the iPhone, or minus the guitar, or minus the drums with a click track so that drummers can virtually play along and do their best Peart parts. They can even do that playing an electronic drum kit triggering our Volume 1 The Kit, or they can just do it by playing the minus drums mix in their iPod and jamming along on their acoustic kit.

So, as you can see this year we’re going to have a lot of different ways to get into Neil Peart Drums. Here’s a clip from Red Barchetta done with Rik Emmett.

Red Barchetta and XYZ EP on Pre-Order by sonicelements

AndyO: I noticed you have two websites, esoundz.com and sonicreality.com? What’s the difference?

Dave: We do. Sonic Reality is the actual sound development company and we have our own branded products. eSoundz.com is an online retail store that not only carries Sonic Reality branded products, but also products from other companies we work with such as IK Multimedia, Hollywood Loops with Scott Rockenfield of Queensryche, and others. So when you want to buy our products you either go to eSoundz or other dealers around the world that may carry some of them. However, no other dealer carries ALL of the Sonic Reality range like esoundz does. Plus esoundz often offers the products as either physical boxed DVDs or as digital downloads from anywhere in the world. 


Pre-order Sonic Elements XYZ — A Tribute to Rush featuring Neil Peart Drums EP