Electronic Drums/Sampling (Part I)
Beginning in the 1970s and into the 1980s, electronic drum kits became a new innovation in production and performance for some of the biggest bands of the era. Duran Duran, Rush, and of course Rick Allen of Def Leppard with his hybrid acoustic and electronic kit, set a new standard in what electronic drum technology could do to musical creativity. Fast forward to the 21st century and electronic drums have never been more popular. Sales of electronic drum kits have risen greatly in recent years with more and more studios using them for production and artists using hybrid electronic and acoustic drum kits. Software like Toontracks, Ableton, and Battery 3 provide an endless array of drum sounds to pick from to be controlled via a MIDI keyboard or with an electronic drum kit.
I have spent the better part of my life playing acoustic drum kits and have recently been exposed to electronic drum kits and drum samples within production. I began doing some research into how the drumming community feels about drum technology and software dominated drum samples. I found that most drummers are not talking about this and we as a community of percussionists should be discussing how our craft is enhanced or threatened by this burgeoning technology. To get the conversation started I wanted to go through how electronic drums are used in the studio, on the stage, and finally my opinion and projection on the future of electronic drums.
Have you ever heard your favorite drummer on a record and wondered how they got the drums to sound so darn good? The answer may be that those drums are not coming from a real acoustic kit. I have worked with producers that track live drums in studio, but then go back through the recording and punch in all the drum sounds from their dedicated software. There are producers whose drum tracks sound the same across multiple records from different bands. This is because they found a sound they like, and in post production, punch in all those sounds with a MIDI keyboard. So what you essentially have is the drummers performance, but the producer changes all the live sounds into programmed drum sounds.
This is not the only way producers use electronic drums in studio production. You may be shocked (or not) to find out that many studio productions are absent of any live drum tracking. While much of hip-hop, electronica, and pop music is undeniably electronic, many popular rock records of the last few years are completely absent of any live tracking. If you ever hear a track with drums that are too good to be true, then you may have an electronic drum sound.
Musical purists may see this as a threat to the validity of their performance and feel animosity towards what some call “cheating.” To that I say it only matters as much as your taste in music. Some people enjoy the tight, expansive, and creative sounds that electronic drums, or overdubbed MIDI sounds, can provide. Others like the stripped down and bare bones sound of a band tracking live in the studio without additional tweaks to the drum sound. Even if your favorite band has been tweaked to exhaustion on their tracked drums, you can always go to their performance where the sound will be true. Right?
In the second part of this blog, I dive into electronic drums for performance, the future of electronic drums, and my final thoughts on electronic drums and sampling.