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Taylor

Taylor
October 14, 2011

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.

Performance

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.

An acoustic kit being converted to electric with triggers.

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.

The Future

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.

Robots Playing Robots: The Future

My Opinion

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.

Comments

  1. [...] the second part of this blog, I dive into electronic drums for performance, the future of electronic drums, and my [...]

  2. Ben says:

    Hey Taylor, I totally respect your opinion at the end regarding MIDI triggered drum samples. Obviously a real drummer on a real acoustic set is preferably, I get that. There are, however, a few very appropriate times for an electronic set, IMO:

    1.) House of worship – in services, the band isn’t the focus. The vocals are much more important in order to help the congregation sing along. So we always use the electronic set (a Roland TD9) in services. When we play outdoors, our drummer brings his acoustic set with some awesome Zildjian custom cymbals, a Yamaha maple kit with Remo heads, and he bangs on them with some sweet rods etc, but it’s just too much for a sanctuary made of brick. Sound rattles around, even with the plexiglass partition. We tried, but this just cured it so much faster.

    2.) home musicians who just need a drummer. I found plopping down $80 for EZDrummer to be one of the best investments in my home studio. I like to write, record, and arrange as a hobby and I don’t want to mess. Is it the same as a real acoustic set? Of course not. Is it good enough? You bet. They can sound great. Not “real drummer” great, but my productions aren’t being held back by my sampled drums, if you get what I’m saying. ;)

    3.) Aspiring drummers. A friend of mine has a kid who started on an electronic set. It’s just convenient to put on a headset at home and enjoy the silence as he practiced.

    But for serious gigs, you bet. Real drums all the way, baby.

    1. Taylor taylor says:

      Great comment Ben!! I couldn’t agree with you more on all three points. I have been to many churches where the electronic kit is the go to for acoustic necessity.

      For a practice tool, getting some song ideas down, or just saving your neighbors ears are all great reasons to play on an electronic drum kit.

      My goal here was to get the conversation started about electronic drums and sampling versus an acoustic kit from an auditory standpoint. You have definitely done that here so many thanks to you for commenting.

  3. Mark says:

    I’m planning to get a drum set for the holidays. From what I can tell as an individual about to start playing the drums, acoustic drums are the best type of drums. Unfortunately, I have many neighbors, including my tenant, who are definitely not fans of the instrument. So I’m investing in an electronic drum set. So far, my preferred set is the Alesis DM6 4- piece set which costs around $250. I have a tight budget and the maximum amount of cash I’m willing to spend is around $400-$450. As I said before, I am a beginner. My question is: would you recommend I buy the 4-piece first and eventually add on pieces, or buy a larger set with all the needed components to play most of my preferred music out of the box? Thank you.

    1. Taylor taylor says:

      Great question Mark. If you are someone who likes the feel of acoustic drums then I would recommend something like the Alesis DM8 Pro. We have a video which demos a lot of the features.

      You will probably want to add that extra pad sooner than you think once you start getting more comfortable with playing so I would recommend a 5 piece kit like the Alesis DM5 which is about in your price range.

      These are just a couple that I have played on recently. Check out our website where we have a huge selection of electronic drum kits.

  4. Kevin Lorance says:

    Ben is spot-on with his instances of when electronic drums could be of a benefit. Particularly house of worship. I am the main engineer for my church, which uses an acoustic kit, and it can certainly be a challenge to keep overall sound levels reverent while getting an effective blend with the drums, in spite of the use of a drum shield.

    I have performed in bands with drummers who played on both types, and while the control over an electric kit is great, there’s a “feeling” that you get with acoustic performances that just can’t be emulated on an electric kit. At least in my experience. I’ve seen a lot of drummers who seem to be completely absorbed and “in-the-moment” while playing on an acoustic kit. I’ve never seen it on an electric kit.

    1. Taylor taylor says:

      Nice reply Kevin. I agree that the feeling of an acoustic kit is unmatched by any electronic kit on the market today. With the advancement of trigger technology, many pro drummers are still going with that processed sound on an acoustic kit.

      This is where I have some reservations with the technology. I don’t need my kit to sound perfect and I don’t expect it when I go to a live show either. If you tune them right, and you have a great engineer behind the board, you can get an awesome sound on acoustic drums.

      1. Taylor taylor says:

        On another note, the kick drum of almost 100% of today’s metal bands are triggered. Its impossible to get power out of the bass drum when you are playing that fast and it just sounds like mud. To facilitate, they use triggers to get that punch.

        I understand why they do it, but it always ends up sounding over processed to me in a live situation.

  5. Mike S says:

    Nice post Taylor – got me thinking and then read Ben’s comment – he nailed my sentiments exactly.

    To me, the place for electronic drums is for practice, easy laydowns, and even in some concerts where precise control over the sound is needed and the drums aren’t the focal point.

    When I listen to rock bands (yes, I’m stuck in the ’80s), the awe of a drummer going wild on a full drum set won’t ever be replaced by electronics.

    1. Taylor taylor says:

      Totally agree Mike. The creativity that can come from electronic sounds is impressive and has its place. I have seen many bands trigger samples with pads in great ways and unfortunately not so great ways.

      It really depends on what you want out of your live experience. There is a whole host of bands that have used and will continue using samples in creative and engaging ways.

      But for me, nothing beats seeing a band in a small club where you can feel the kick from the drum itself more than the sub. Its that feeling of real power that gets me excited about percussion which electronic kits can never replicate.

  6. Josh E says:

    Excellent follow up article! I’ll have to agree that electronic/programmed drums and other instruments have their place in production and some performance venues but overall people still enjoy and want to experience the true organic sound of a live acoustic drummer. Like I said in the last article neither one will dominate and kick the other one out. It definitely comes down to tastes and how you implement it. Anyways keep up the great writing/research!

  7. Mike Connor says:

    Great article. I started playing drums in the late 50′s – backed up the Big Bopper, Frankie Avelon, Fabian etc in Rock & Roll show in Boston. Played in every Frat house in new England during the 60′s – even did C&W at dude ranch in NY. I stopped for a while – thanks to the US Navy & discoverd electronic drums in the 80′s. Played them for a few years, but didn’t like the lack of dynamic range.

    I retired 4 years ago and have gotten back to serious drumming. To play small venues I tried using stomp boxes for the bass drum – but again the dynamic reange wasn’t there. I am now exclusively accousitic playing blues, country and old time R&R – back to my roots…

    I mic my snare than bass and play almost exclussively with brushes. The texture you get with brushes can’t be achieved with sticks or electronics. And people seem to like to be able to have a conversation when the band is playing – lol

    I try an advise all the young drummers to give brushes a go – it’s a whole new world to explore. And there are some great videos out there on YouTube – one of Steve Gadd playing brushes on a cardboard box.

    For me, and the style of music I play acoustic is preffered.

    1. Taylor taylor says:

      Great Comment Mike! It is really great to hear a perspective form a veteran and fellow touring drummer. Interesting idea about brushes. That may be a great alternative for the drummer who wants to continue playing acoustic but minimize noise.

      I will say that the dynamic range of electronic drums has opened tremendously in the last few years. Drum modules allow for customization of sensitivity and responsiveness and are very accurate even when playing ghost notes.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.