Electronic Drum/Sampling (Part II)
In the last blog we talked about a very brief history and overview of electronic drums and sampling. I also delved a little into what I am familiar with when it comes to using electronic drums and samples in a studio production scenario as well as my own personal experiences. In part two, we will talk about electronic drums and samples in a performance setting, my projection about the future of electronic drums and sampling, and close with my own opinion on electronic drums and sampling in the studio and on the stage.
Some of the biggest acts in the world, even those with recorded drum samples, still have a live drummer performing with them. This makes for a great concert experience and shows the musicianship involved with percussion on certain productions. Many bands use drum pads with additional electronic sounds to compliment their live acoustic setup which you see across many genres.
What most people do not know (or perhaps know all too well) is that drummers often times are playing to a click track or metronome. This means that if there is a powerful moment in a song, the engineer can add hits to almost anything because the drummer is following a tight meter. Also samples can be played within a drummers performance controlled by the performer or an engineer. This is another example of things sounding just a little too good to be true.
Triggers are another feature that many performers use. These are response mechanisms placed within an acoustic drum kit to provide a programmed drum sound. This is reserved for stadium or large venue acts where the sound of the acoustic hits may not go much farther than the end of the stage. However I have gone to smaller venues and seen this used before. If you listen closely you can hear the acoustic kit and the trigger along with it.
I know drummers who use electronic kits in their performances and swear by them. No need for tuning, the sound engineer loves the control over the front of house, and the rest of the band enjoys not having cymbals or a snare crashing in their ears during performances. For a drummer who has to travel, an electronic kit helps to alleviate the problems of transportation and storage. In between gigs, a drummer can bring the kit to their home or apartment and be be able to practice without annoying his or her neighbors.
In my opinion it looks very underwhelming when you see a band rocking out and the drummer is playing pads. Some drummers think that setting up and tearing down an electronic kit is more of a hassle than an acoustic because of all the wires and connections to amplifiers and the brain of the kit. Most drummers worry about tom and cymbal placement not bum cables, faulty connections, or finding an outlet to plug in the brain.
So what does the mean for the future of drums? Are drummers obsolete or even more importantly, are acoustic drum sounds obsolete? Being a drummer myself, my immediate reaction is no and I think most people would agree. People want to see musicians perform, not just listen to a loop played with no dynamics. Plus its always great to see a drummer who does things live that they did not do on the record like an extended fill, a build, or any other dynamic addition to a performance.
With technology advancing quicker than any of us could have imagined, electronic drums are quickly becoming the go to move for producers, engineers, and drummers alike. For the future of studio production, I believe drum sampling or additional production to an acoustic performance via MIDI is going to proliferate. Producers will still want to incorporate live tracked drums, but making those acoustic sounds pop with samples is not different than a film editor adjusting color to a scene. The color was there, the editor just makes it stand out in a way that the natural color could have never done.
As a touring drummer for several years I can tell you that I am not crazy about this new breed of MIDI controlled drum samples and producers who do not want to take the time to capture a true acoustic drum sound. Music has been made for decades without the enhancement of over produced and sampled drum sounds. Its the song that matters, not the production. I have heard the most over produced garbage next to a poorly produced classic and the proof is in the songwriting. You get out what you put in, and that’s not always the production.
That is not to say that I am totally against the new breed of electronic drum machines and loops. A lot of successful artists have found ways to tastefully include electronic drum sounds into their production and performance. A sample or drum loop can be dynamic if a producer or performer is cognizant of how percussion can change the entire mood of a song. However it is disappointing to hear a track with drums that are clearly punched in with a MIDI keyboard in post production and being passed off as live tracking. But hey, to each his own. People really like the production on songs where the drums are crashing through the speakers at a level which is clearly not capable from a set of miked acoustic drums.
I will be writing more articles on this subject in the future, but I am just one drummer. Leave a comment below and let me know what you guys think about the future of drum sounds in music.