Arguably, no nation in the world has had a bigger impact on the sound and worldwide development of pop music than the UK. From the immortal legacy of acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones through pioneering groups such as The Police and The Clash to modern-day icons like Adele and Ed Sheeran, the UK has continuously paved the way and reinvented the sound, feel and approach of pop without ever steering too far off from its roots and core. In fact, for five decades the UK pop scene hasn’t peaked, it’s been on a constant high. This is the heritage and sound that the UK Pop EZX explores.
Recorded in London’s RAK Studios by acclaimed session drummer Ash Soan (Adele, James Morrison, Ronan Keating) and Grammy Award-winning producer Mark Taylor (Rod Stewart, Cher, Daniel Bedingfield), already from the onset, the UK Pop EZX summarizes three vivid cornerstones of the UK pop scene. In addition to the four drum kits, extra snares and cymbals that were handpicked for the session, it also comes with seven carefully engineered presets, ensuring that the widest possible palette of sound is covered. From the tight and deep allround tone of the main ‘UK Pop’ preset to the intimate and dampened Beatles-esque ‘Tea Towels,’ the rowdy ‘Carnaby Street’ that hints of T-rex, or the tight and snappy breakbeat-inspired ‘Bristol Eyes,’ the UK Pop EZX covers a broad facet of the British pop wonder.
These are drum tones inspired by nearly six decades of pop mastery, recorded in a classic London studio by two of UK’s most sought after professionals. Past, present and now – all rolled up for use in your future productions. Away to the UK!
Ash is one of UK’s, or possibly the world’s, most notable session drummers. His credits include anything from Adele and James Morrison to being the house drummer for Britan’s ‘The Voice’.
How did you get started in the music business and how come you ended up behind the drum kit?
I started at ten years old on the drums, just loved the feeling it gave me playing grooves and songs. I studied music in Manchester and moved to London when I was 21. I was fortunate to be recommended for the band Del Amitri by Pino Palladino and my career got off to a great start thanks to him.
Your first big break was Del Amitri. How did it go from there to becoming a household name in the session scene?
After recording an album with Del Amitri, more work came via that producer and my name started to get around, I guess. The studio is my favorite place to work. I love the creativity in making records.
You have recorded and performed in pretty much any thinkable scenario…but this was the first time you sampled drums. The process is very different compared to what you regularly do behind the kit. Looking back on it now, what are your thoughts?
It was an interesting process. The level you guys go into dynamics is great. From the lightest to the heaviest. I didn’t quite realize until working on the UK Pop package how much work goes into sampling. The beginning process working with Mark getting the sound is something we are used to, then yes – a new experience for the both of us from then on.
When selecting drums and kits for this session, what was the thought process like?
I wanted to get across the sound that I’ve actually used on recordings from Robbie, Adele and James Morrison etc., so my main kit I used on some of those sessions was used, also some special snare drums that were used on specific singles. We sampled the same hi-hats used on “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, for instance.
What is “UK pop” to you, sound-wise?
For me personally it’s a warm, almost vintage sound, with deeper snare tones. I think we have captured these sounds and I know they will be very useful for songwriters. The tones we sampled are exactly the sounds I get asked to find on sessions.
The UK has had a tremendous impact on pop, from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones through Adele, Ed Sheeran any many others. How is the scene today and where do you see it heading? Who’s or what’s the next “big thing”? I hope we can continue to produce good writers and artists that strive to be different in this huge world of pop!
As a drummer and performer, your playing seems effortless but also full of energy as well as engaging to watch and listen to. Tell us more about how your style developed.
I really like to play all styles of music and I’ve been fortunate to play jazzier styles, latin, pop, rock, reggae and metal etc… I’m a musician, so I play music. That’s how I feel about. A musician should be able to play with anyone in the world. It might not be perfectly in that style but you can add something to the music. I’ve just developed a way trying to get into the feel of many styles and hopefully add a little of my own personality into that.
Also, one of your traits is of course the low-tuned snare and your rather unique hi-hat sound. How did you attack this for the UK Pop EZX?
We sampled some of my go to snare drums that I have used on sessions. James Morrison and Adele for instance. Regarding hi-hats I have one main set of vintage A Zildjian’s* which again I’ve used on many, many sessions. We also sampled my lovely Vintage K hi-hats too.
What do you hope the end users take away from these sounds?
I hope the sounds we’ve come up with will inspire people to write some great feeling songs. I know the snare drums will work really well with vocals and the overall sound of the kits can add quality to the production.
Mark is a Grammy Award-winning producer based in the UK that has worked with the who’s who of UK’s – and the world’s – pop elite for decades.
Oh, did you know that he was involved in creating the iconic vocal effect on Cher’s “Believe”?
How did you get started in the music business?
I started playing the guitar as soon as I was big enough to hold it! And piano a little later. I got a job in a studio as an assistant/teaboy/gopher straight after I left school. I learnt from the artists, engineers and producers that came through and used to record my own projects and bands I was in at night or whenever the studio wasn’t being used.
Was there a specific production or artist that got you on to the next level?
“Believe” by Cher was without doubt the turning point for me, it was number one all over the world, sold millions of copies and I won a Grammy…
You have worked with literally everyone. Looking back on your career, name a few stand-out moments and productions.
The moment I discovered the vocal effect that seems to have become ubiquitous. Anytime I hear any random person singing along to a song I helped to write!
So, tell us the story behind the vocal effect on Cher’s “Believe”. How did it come about?
I was working with Cher on several songs for what became the “Believe” album. One day she had left the studio after recording the vocals and I had just installed Autotune. I looped the chorus vocal we had just recorded (which just happened to be the song “Believe”) and started messing around with the plugin. Of course to really see what something can do you have to take it to the max and when I did I heard what I thought was the most amazing sound. The sound we now recognize so clearly on the line “Do you believe in life after love”. The next day when she came back in, I very nervously played it to her wondering if she would think I had mutilated her vocal recording. I told her this is either really, really shit or it’s fucking amazing… She was blown away by it and we immediately went through the whole song finding which lines sounded best with or without the effect and completed the vocal master there and then.
You’re not only a producer, engineer and mixer, you’re also a composer. Is there one of the four you prefer over any of the other?
I love the journey with writing, in that you can have absolutely nothing, a blank piece of paper, no sound, nothing and then all of a sudden and almost out of nowhere there is the beginning of a song and then ultimately a finished song that can be played or hummed or whistled in the shower… And with production, I am completely hooked by the challenged of having a really great song that needs a home, a record that can do it justice and finding a way to present it in the best possible form for the artist recording it. It can be really intimidating! But that’s the fun!
As for this project with Toontrack, you really created a broad palette of sounds. What were your thoughts going in and did anything change along the way?
We really tried to give a large scope of sounds whilst maintaining the usability in real-world pop situations. The aim was to make something that could be used by composers and producers that would give an instant inspiring sound that could help them make some great music and ultimately a great record.
You’ve been a central figure in the UK pop scene for quite some time. Where do you see it heading? What’s or who’s the next “big thing”?
The business is more global than ever and seems to be getting settled into a world of streaming. There are more opportunities than ever before for new artists and new music, but I don’t think it is necessarily easier, you still have to dig deep and work hard to make music that stands out.
In a mix, where do you usually start – the drums, guitars, vocals or something else?
All of the above! I need to hear the vocal in the mix as soon as possible and I then drop it in and out as the mix develop. But getting the drums, bass and vocals working together is generally the first stage for me.
Is there any instrument you generally struggle with more than any other in a mix?
Every track is different and that’s the challenge! I guess the bottom end is something everyone can find a bit tricky, getting the kick and bass working well together is a common issue.
Finally, any tips to those looking to make a career in music production/engineering?
Keep going… It’s a learning process that never really stops!
Ever wondered where the likes of Adele, David Bowie and Pink Floyd recorded some of their hits? Welcome to RAK Studios. From when it was founded in 1976 by legendary producer and artist Mickie Most, the RAK rooms have been immortalized on countless classic records in UK pop history.
Meet the team and get a glimpse of what happened behind the scenes at the RAK Studios.
Three out of the seven presets included in the UK Pop EZX.
6 GB free disk space, 2 GB RAM, DVD drive.
A working EZdrummer 2.1.5 (or above) or a Superior Drummer 3.0.3 (or above) installation.