Article written by Dan Joyce
As a drummer, when someone even begins to talk to me about recording a kit a shiver shoots down my spine, followed by the expectant dread of a tangled mess of cables, a mass of clumsy mic stands and the dry drawl of an irate engineer.
Don’t get me wrong though – I do love recording drums, but it’s most definitely the kind of relationship that runs close to the edge of sanity, generally fuelled by anger, confusion and frustration. Some may say that this is the best kind of relationship of course, but you’ll need the patience of a saint, the tact of a politician and the logic of a calculator if you’re going to get through this recording process alive.
As we all know, there are so many variables that can make or break your drum recording, and it can often take much experimentation, a great sounding room/studio and a lump of great gear to achieve the results you’re after. All of these issues should and will be discussed in another feature coming soon to the DV mag on recording drums; what we are talking about today is an easier, quicker and often far less stressful alternative to the traditional methods.
Simply, why not program your own drums using emulation software? There are hundreds upon hundreds of amazing-sounding kits to choose from, the options and editing capabilities are virtually limitless and you just need a computer. Simple right? Well, not entirely, but a little bit of hard work should pay off many times over.
I myself thoroughly enjoy creating computer based music, but I do however struggle when programming my drum tracks – stupid for a drummer eh? But my personal trouble is that I just want to be able to play them, and using my fingers on a pad or hitting buttons in a drum machine just doesn’t work for me, and doesn’t stimulate my primitive mind. I need to be physically hitting inanimate objects (don’t judge!) to understand how my rhythm and beat will be structured, and ultimately how it will work within the track.
Virtual drums are great in theory, then, but physically not ideal for a never-ending flow of tactile creativity (ahem), so the obvious solution is an electronic drum kit. Near silent and compact, with on the whole great sounding kits, and most importantly I’m actually physically playing them, which will help me get my head into a beat.
Simply taking an audio out and record straight onto my track is certainly efficient, but of course I then miss the flexibility and sheer choice offered by my drum software; editing is not possible to the same extent at all, for instance. If only there was a way of taking the best elements from both options and combining them in one glorious union…
So this may sound far too obvious, but in my time spent at DV the number of drummers who haven’t considered using an electronic drum kit running to their computer to trigger drum software or programme in their beats has led me to writing this article. I myself had the two firmly separated in my mind before I had the opportunity to give it a go and see just how easy and effective it really can be.
The equipment and method is as simple as running any midi-based trigger device to your computer, either with the midi out port of the drum module through a simple midi USB interface or indeed using the USB output that is often present on modern drum modules. Using midi learn/ midi assign within your software is a doddle these days, so simply set your pads to trigger the parts of the kit they correlate to, and you’re set. Essentially, you’re just using your electronic drum kit as a real-life, playable midi controller. Let’s not overlook the huge benefits of using drum software either – with the advancements in virtual drums poured into the mix you can now trigger any drum kit, with any configuration, any mic position and indeed any mic model, all from the comfort and sanctuary of your bedroom.
It’s also never been so financially viable it is today, with tons of great-value kits and software on the market that really won’t break the bank. So if you’re thinking about recording drums but practically recording an acoustic kit is going to be a logistical nightmare, or if your trigger pad and drum machine just aren’t giving you the real feel you’re after, I’d definitely recommend considering an electronic drum kit with some virtual drum software. It just makes sense: pianists and keyboard players get it easy and have done so for years, so why shouldn’t us drummers?
If the idea behind this interests you, then you can check out my next article – a practical guide to programming drums the drummer’s way – where i’ll be talking through my approach to using an electronic drum kit with virtual drum software. It’ll be up soon enough, but for now why not get in touch with a comment below and let me know how you’ve been figuring out drum programming in your own way?