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Drum Tracks: The Human vs. The Machine

Do you typically track drums in the studio or do you find yourself doing a lot of drum replacement? Whatever your method, engineer Joe Gilder takes a look at your options.
This article is provided by Home Studio Corner.

You may or may not know this, but I’m a big fan of all the drum software programs out there.

Steven Slate Drums, BFD, Strike, EZDrummer…the list goes on and on, and they all sound great!

You’ve undoubtedly heard EZDrummer if you’ve listened to any of my music. All the drums on my last album were done using EZDrummer and a mouse.

I found a MIDI groove that I liked, then I would manipulate it, change it … [insert a few hours of programming] … and come out on the other side with a decent sounding drum track.

Does it work? Does it sound good? Sure. A drummer friend of mine even asked me who played drums on one of the tracks.

While I love drum software because it’s awesome that anybody can have great-sounding drums for only a couple-hundred bucks, I definitely miss having a real drummer.

On my next project, one of my big goals is to use a real drummer. However, do I have regrets? Not at all!

I learned a lot about drum programming and how to make them sound fairly realistic. And for a lot of you, drum software is your best option. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

More than a Drummer

It’s not that I believe having a real live human drummer will make my session automatically sound better. Not at all.

What I’m looking for is bigger than that. It’s the chemistry that happens when a bunch of good musicians “lock in” on a song. Something happens, and you end up with a recording that is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s really hard to do when you overdub everything. That’s what I did with my last project. I recorded guitar, then programmed drums, then tracked bass, etc. etc.

Everything was done one instrument at a time. When you record this way, it’s much more difficult to get the same energy and chemistry that you have when you track everything live.

You end up having to forcefully inject groove/feel into the song. It never sounds quite as good.

Is overdubbing everything wrong? Nope. In the last year or so I’ve overdubbed instruments individually as well as tracked with a full band. That’s what I’m hoping to stay with for projects in te future. If the recording is a little sloppier, that’s okay. If it captures an awesome performance from everybody, I’ll be happy.

Three Ways to Record a Drummer

Recording drums is usually the biggest obstacle for most folks. It requires a lot of equipment to pull it off, and then it STILL may not sound that great. Here are some approaches for you to chew on:

Book Time With A Real Kit: There are few things better than recording drums in a great room through great equipment.

MIDI Drum Kit: Here’s a “hybrid” scenario for you. Get a MIDI drum kit, and have a drummer record on that. You get the benefit of a real drummer, and you get the great sounds of drum software. It’s not a bad option.

“Outsource” It: I’ll be talking more on this in the future (it might actually be huge), but don’t overlook the option of “outsourcing” your drums.

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If you don’t have the people or the resources to pull off a drum session, there are lots of drummers out there who will record them for you, in their own studio.

An acquaintance of mine does this exact thing. You send him a mix of your song, he tracks drums to it, and he sends you back the multi-track drum files. All without ever needing to meet in person.


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