The Tool That Turns a Drum Kit Into an Orchestra

Sunhouse simply wants to let drummers be all that they can be—and the music industry's most talented artists like what they hear.

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Justin Bieber's drummer, Dre Bombay, tests out Sunhouse's Sensory Percussion software.

After studying classical piano as a child, Sunhouse co-founder Tlacael Esparza found himself jonesing to bang on some drums.

"I could thrash around on late-'90s alt-rock and nu-metal beats with my friends," he says, "without the stress of playing competitive Beethoven against the local child prodigies of Pasadena." He started drumming at around 10 years old, but things got serious for him behind the kit upon enrolling in the L.A. County High School for Performing Arts ("best high school ever") to study jazz drums.

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A move to New York City to attend Columbia University sent him straight into the heart of Brooklyn's burgeoning indie-rock scene. In the recording studio, he began to see all that digital tools can bring to the process of music-making. But live performance was a different story.

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Watch Kimberly Thompson, drummer for Beyoncé, jamming with M.I.A.'s drummer Kiran Gandhi.

"I ran into a wall when I tried to incorporate digital processes into my live drumming for tours," he explains. "Coming from a jazz background, it was jarring and saddening to have to turn a drum into a button that can't express any musical ideas beyond loudness."

"Drummers now have a viable option beyond acoustic drums that maintains the seed of the art form: hitting things in real life."

Sunhouse, the music technology company Esparza founded with his brother and sister in 2014, is anchored in a steadfast belief in the capabilities of acoustic instruments. "No matter how accurate or sensitive sample pads and button-based MIDI devices become," says Esparza, "they will always fall short of the complexity and expressive power of acoustic objects."

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He says they founded Sunhouse to advocate for the "musical rights of percussionists," and to bring electronic drumming into the modern era. To do so, they needed to create something both groundbreaking and intuitive, and their Sensory Percussion system—which turns the average drum set into a synthesizer of infinite possibility—is just that. "The interface allows you to drag and drop samples and effects into place," he points out, "so any drummer can quickly get started with it."

"From my perspective, there is a world of musical genius in the hands and minds of drummers that most people simply haven't heard," says Esparza. "We want people to hear it."

When Sunhouse ships out their first batch of orders in mid-April, they'll arrive with an expertly curated batch of sounds, thanks in no small part to the company's collaboration with super-producer Andre Harris (who's worked with Justin Bieber, Usher, and Jill Scott). "Drummers now have a viable option beyond acoustic drums that maintains the seed of the art form: hitting things in real life," says Esparza. The software is designed to allow musicians to tailor it to their specific needs—and it makes the drums capable of controlling any and all electronic processes, even lighting and visuals.

Questlove can't believe what Sunhouse has cooked up.

The way Esparza sees it, drummers are too often being boxed out of the recording process. "If you listen to the kind of rhythms represented on the radio, TV, and the internet," he says, "the majority of them are made in the studio, often without the help of drummers." He thinks it's time drummers are invited back to the table when it comes to matters of production, arrangement, and songwriting. "From my perspective, there is a world of musical genius in the hands and minds of drummers that most people simply haven't heard," says Esparza. "We want people to hear it."

For more on this groundbreaking technology, see sunhou.se.

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