While the AOR genre already had gained a big following in the late ’70s and early ’80s rock scene, what made it break through to the mainstream tier and not only conquer the worldwide airwaves but also the movies is largely attributed to ballads. Bands and artists like Peter Cetera, Journey, Foreigner and Toto all had massive worldwide hits with their ballads, putting slick, meticulously produced AOR on the commercial map in an all-new way. Now, rock wasn’t all about being loud, it was just as much about musicality, songwriting, craft and skill – all the common traits of AOR. Drummers became a central part of the sound of this era. Players like Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Jim Keltner and John Robinson would go on to inspire a whole new generation of drummers around the world.
This is where this collection of grooves takes off – with a strong foothold in classic rock, but with that “session musician” quality that often signifies the genre. Expect sturdy, timeless grooves with edge, nuance and finesse – all in tempos and feels perfectly suited for ballads. This MIDI pack gives you the ideal foundation for any rock track where you want the drums to have attitude and an extra ounce of sophistication – without getting in the way of the song.
Works with EZdrummer, EZdrummer 2, Superior Drummer 2 and Superior Drummer 3 (optimized for 1 kick, 1 snare, 3 rack toms, 1 floor tom, 4 crash cymbals, 1 ride cymbal).
Even though bands represented in the AOR genre were (and are) huge, the term is still somewhat confusing and never stuck with the general public. How come, do you think?
First of all, I think that the term AOR and therefore the genre itself is not as clearly defined as it is the case with for example blues, jazz or metal. Although these genres all have quite a number of sub-genres, it’s still very clear to everybody what is meant by metal or jazz in general. Another issue with AOR starts with the abbreviation itself. Some say it stands for “Adult Oriented Rock”, meaning that it is tailored to a more adult audience. Others say it means “Album Oriented Rock”. If we look at the many extremely successful bands and artists that are associated with the genre, they actually can sound quite different. The likes of Boston, Foreigner, Journey and Survivor with an obvious hard rock undertone to their sound on one end, while on the opposite end The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers and Toto all had a much more jazzy and fusion-influenced sound. In the end, I think it comes down to abbreviating a genre in a way too confusing way. It’s melodic rock with a strong emphasis on instrumentation, arrangement, production and to some extent, technicality. To me, all things that make up great songs!
The “drum hero” hails from the jazz era, when icons like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa got the center of attention. It seems the tradition somewhat died out a bit moving into the ‘60s but that it had a resurgence when AOR broke through in the mid to late ‘70s. Did AOR bring the drum hero back?
Yes, in a way that is true, but the development started earlier. A huge factor that is closely connected to the invention of the AOR genre is the rise of jazz-rock and fusion in the early ‘70s. In these genres, the skills of traditional jazz playing (stunning technique on the instrument, complex harmonies and melodies, more sophisticated song structures etc.) mixed with the more straight-forward and commercial influences of rock, hard rock and beat. Bands like Return To Forever or Mahavisnu Orchestra had a huge influence on the individual instrumentalists of that time. Drummers are a great example of this development. Greats like Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Jim Keltner, Bernard Purdie and John Robinson were immensely influenced by drummers from the fusion era (or they had been a part of it themselves, like Steve Gadd), and those again had their own roots in jazz and studied guys like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach and of course Buddy Rich etc. During the rise of the AOR genre, all this lead to the birth of the “session drummer”, who would go on to inspire the next generation of drummers (and still do to this day!). Even if we may not be fully aware of it because the still loose definition of the AOR genre, today’s music still benefits to a huge extent from this development and especially from these great individual musicians.
Back then, there was no internet and aspiring drummers had to rely on what they heard on records, could read up on in magazines or if they got their hands on an instructional VHS tape. Looking at skill today compared to then, drummers have on a general level come a long way. How important to you think technology and endless accessibility to online tutorials, drum videos from peers, bands and artists have been?
Quite frankly, we saw nothing less than a revolution happening in the last 10-15 years when it comes to accessibility of information and knowledge on many different levels, not only in music of course. We don’t even have to go back in time to the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, when AOR had its commercial peak. If I look at my own path of education during this era, as a young drummer taking lessons with a local teacher and also later at the Conservatory studying drums, all of this precious information that we see today on YouTube (instructional videos, concert videos, interviews etc.) simply wasn’t been accessible back then. I remember how hard we tried to find even one minute of video material or interview of some of the great players we wanted to study, but there simply was nothing there. So you had to go out and see people play, travel to concerts and listen to records, try to transcribe what you heard. Today the young generation of drummers is literally living in paradise when it comes to information and inspiration. The technical standard of young players today is greatly increased and I see that a lot of them use it to create new and exciting music. I think it’s great!
How’s your relationship to the genre and what has it meant for your own musicality, as a player and on a personal level?
I started to play the drums in the early ‘80s, so all of these great AOR songs were playing on the radio just when I discovered my fascination and love for music. As everything that you experienced during these early and important years in your life, these songs literally feel like “home”, and my musical foundation and understanding is deeply defined not only by the harmonies and the songwriting but also by the atmosphere, the sound of these productions and especially the drummers of this era. Of course I extended my knowledge later with diving deep into the jazz universe, but this music still feels like a solid foundation from which I draw inspiration in everything I do musically. And I guess the strong influence of drummers like Jeff Porcaro, Bernard Purdie or Steve Gadd has made a deep imprint on my musical DNA.
What was your train of thought when creating the grooves and fills for this collection?
As always, I would first try to listen through many popular – or even also not so well-known songs – of the genre to come up with an interesting and versatile selection of different feels, atmospheres, tempos and grooves. I’m then not trying to copy what the drummers on those productions did, but take their approach and playing as a reference for a starting groove, maybe a basic beat for a verse. As soon as I have recorded that and I like it, I would then start to think about variations around this basic idea and would try to “think musically ahead” what I as a drummer would play in the different parts of a song that had this source groove as a basis. Same approach with fills of course. For this pack I definitely wanted to include all of the quite different aspects of the genre – the more heavy and straight ballads of the hard rock and power ballad influences just as well as the softer and more complex pop stuff, and also some halftime, 6/8 and shuffled material, of course.
Seeing as this pack only has ballads, was it ever a challenge to not be repetitive?
Before I started to do my research on specific songs, I first thought that this might be a challenge, because you might think there’s only so much you can play in a 4/4 ballad. But as soon as you start to listen more closely to what those drummers actually play on the specific songs, you realize a wealth of nuances and variation in their playing that is so deep that it probably could cover loads of AOR Ballad groove packs! It was a great experience and so much fun to have the time to really dig deep into all of these amazing songs and performances.
How much attention did you pay to the AOR Ballads EZkeys MIDI pack when coming up with the grooves for your collection?
I think having double MIDI releases (drums and keys) is a great opportunity to provide extremely useful material for the user. Not that the MIDI variations should always match perfectly, but still the material is created with the same mindset and musical approach, which makes both very usable in real-life songwriting situations. We always talk about specific songs only very loosely before we approach our recordings, but still I find it fascinating that in the end we tend to come up with kind of like the same ideas and influences in the specific songs, something users greatly benefits from when creating their own music from the MIDI.
Name: Norman Garschke
Location: Konstanz, Germany
Need some keys to go with your Drum MIDI or vice versa? AOR Ballad Grooves and AOR Ballads EZkeys MIDI work just as well alone as they do in tandem. Instant inspiration!AOR BALLADS EZKEYS MIDI