In The Studio: The Effect Of Technology On The Role Of Session Drummer

This article is provided by Home Studio Corner.


I got the following questions from Ed, who’s working on his dissertation at the London College of Music.

These are great questions, so I thought I’d post my answers here.

1) How has your work recording drums and percussion been affected by the advent of good quality “virtual” sampled drum tracks?

Since I primarily work out of a home studio, the advent of really good-sounding drum samplers has been a great tool for me. My studio is not an ideal environment for recording drums, so drum software provides a great alternative.

2) Do you believe drum track creation by virtual instruments, sample collections, etc. (“software”) is a threat to the traditional role of the session drummer? How does the quality of the software tracks compare overall in your opinion and are there specific scenarios where the quality is good enough in one project but not in another?

Is it a threat to the role of a session drummer? I’d say possibly. However, the bigger picture here is how recording technology as a whole is changing the game for big studios. It’s no longer a requirement for you to record your album at a high-end professional facility. The technology has evolved, and so should the industry.

Drum software is phenomenal for recording demos. You can easily put together a fairly realistic drum track to go along with your tracks. For pop music, I think you can, with a lot of work, make a virtual drum part that works well for the song.

However, for something like jazz or really anything that’s not mainstream, I don’t think the session drummer is going anywhere.

3) To what extent is drum track creation software suitable for creating high-profile commercial releases, in terms of quality, functionality and ability? Does the suitability differ in different applications, i.e., projects where simulating a human drummer is essential compared to projects where realizing more creative percussive tracks is required?

I touched on this in #2. Straight out of the box, no, drum software can’t match a human drummer being recorded in a good studio with good equipment.

However, with much patience, it’s possible to re-create a large percentage of a good drum performance with MIDI editing. This would take exponentially longer than it would to simply record the drummer, but there are obviously other factors involved.

4) To what extent do budgetary requirements influence the decision to go with/avoid drum track creation technology, over and above issues of sound quality and realism of articulation? (For example, employing a composer/technician to create the tracks, more/less time required over standard drum recording, etc.)

I think budget is the biggest deciding factor for most home studio engineers. Would I rather record drums or program them? Of course I’d rather record them.

Do I have all the gear needed to record them at home? Nope. Do I have a great room for recording drums at home? Nope. Can I afford to book a studio every time I want to record drums? Nope.

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