I’ve said it before, I’m a big fan of EZDrummer. More accurately, I’m just a big fan of all the drum software programs out there. Steven Slate Drums, BFD, Strike…the list goes on and on, and they all sound FANTASTIC!

You’ve undoubtedly heard EZDrummer if you’ve listened to any of my music. All the drums on Out of Indiana were done using EZDrummer and a mouse. I found a MIDI groove that I liked, then I would manipulate it, change it … [insert a few hours of programming] … and come out on the other side with a decent sounding drum track.

Does it work? Does it sound good? Sure. A drummer friend of mine even asked me who played drums on “Treading Water.” 🙂

While I love drum software, and while it’s awesome that anybody can have great-sounding drums for only a couple -hundred bucks, I definitely miss having a real drummer.

On my next album project (which I’ll tell you more about on another day), one of my big goals is to use a real drummer. (As I mentioned in 7 Things I Would Have Done Differently on my Album, I would have LOVED to use a real drummer on that album.)

Do I have regrets? Not at all. I learned a lot about drum programming and how to make them sound fairly realistic. And for a lot of you, drum software is your best option. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

More than a Drummer

It’s not that I believe having a real live human drummer will make my songs automatically sound better. Not at all.

What I’m looking for is bigger than that. It’s the chemistry that happens when a bunch of good musicians “lock in” on a song. Something happens, and you end up with a recording that is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s really hard to do when you overdub everything. That’s what I did with my last album. I recorded guitar, then programmed drums, then tracked bass, etc. etc. Everything was done one instrument at a time. When you record this way, it’s much more difficult to get the same energy and chemistry that you have when you track everything live.

You end up having to forcefully inject groove/feel into the song. It never sounds quite as good.

Is overdubbing everything wrong? Not at all. The last year or so I’ve gone from playing and singing primarily by myself in my studio to playing with a full band several times a month (with my church). That’s what I’m looking for with my next project. If the recording is a little sloppier, that’s okay. If it captures an awesome performance from everybody, I’ll be happy.

All this rambling to say…I’m hoping to have a big “tracking day” for my next album. Get bass, drums, guitar, and maybe even vocals laid down. Then overdub extra stuff. That’s the goal, anyway. I know way too many great musicians to not take advantage of their awesome talent.

3 Ways to Record a Real Drummer

Recording drums is usually the biggest obstacle for most home studio folks. It requires a lot of equipment to pull it off, and then it STILL may not sound that great. Here are some approaches for you to chew on:

Recording a Real Drum Kit

There are two ways to think about this:

1. Buy all the gear and do it yourself. This can be a lot of fun and a HUGE learning experience. Remember, though, if you’re drum room doesn’t sound great, your drums might not sound great.

2. Book a studio. There are few things better than recording drums in a GREAT room through GREAT equipment. This probably won’t be free for you, but it’s worth considering.

MIDI Drum Kit

Here’s a “hybrid” scenario for you. Get a MIDI drum kit, and have a drummer record on THAT. You get the benefit of a real drummer, and you get the great sounds of drum software.

It’s not a bad option at all. Check out the Roland HD1 Kit. Pretty affordable option.

“Outsource” It

I’ll be talking more on this in the future (it might actually be HUGE), but don’t overlook the option of “outsourcing” your drums. If you don’t have the people or the resources to pull off a drum recording, there are lots of drummers out there who will record them for you, in their own studio.

My buddy Travis Whitmore does this exact thing. You send him a mix of your song, he tracks drums to it, and he sends you back the multi-track drum files. All without ever needing to meet in person.

Check out his website: silverlakestudio.com.

Comment Time!

What do you think? Do you record human drummers already? Are you thinking about it? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

[Photo by david.dorban]

  • Oh, it’s really hard to create own opinion about this question. On the one hand, I am for real music, which is created by real human, real emotions. For another hand, it’s a new step in the music technologies, new quality of music, so maybe it can be useful for people. Maybe it is depend on a project, purpose, it’s really had to say.

  • Hey Joe,

    I just stumbled upon your site today, and love it. Awesome design and helpful content: thanks for that!

    And being a drummer myself, I agree with you that (thank God) no virtual drumming software can recreate the energy, the vibe, the fell of humans making music together. And using an electronic drum set as MIDI controller is certainly a quality budget option in that regard!

    Yet, I doubt that any serious drummer would record with the Roland HD1. This is/was (no longer available) more of a toy than a “real” electronic kit. The very cheapest useful option would be an Alesis DM6.

    In case you’re interested why I’m saying so you can check that out in this article of mine: http://www.kickstartyourdrumming.com/best-electronic-drum-set-reviews/

    In any case: keep up your great work!

    Best,
    Yannick.

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  • I am in between on this subject. I actually use both live drums and programmed drums for different projects. On one hand, my Superior Drummer just sounds amazing (after hours of tweaking to make it sound more “human”). The punch and clairty of the drums is flawless. On the other hand, the recordings I’ve done of live drummers have a “real” quality and energy that I simply can’t recreate using MIDI, no matter how much I tweak it. Now if I could just get my live drum recordings to have the same clairty and power that the Superior Drummer samples have, I would probably never program drums again. That is my goal. But until then, I will use both.

    (My website has examples. http://www.madstar.org click on “Music” All the samples are recorded live drums except for the Devil In A Tux song, which I programmed the drums using FL Studio samples, before I got Superior Drummer.)

  • Joe Rawls

    Well the Verdict is in! I recorded real drums this past weekend in my basement….. I dont think I can ever go back! They sound absolutly amazing…. I do hear a few issues with mic placement and so on but these are all things I can improve on the next session. The Drummer was worried about playing to a click track, but I had the vocals acoustic and bass all ready tracked (scratch tracks) He said it was no problem at all.

  • Will Beard

    This post and discussion got me thinking, so I tried an experiment similar to Astewart’s post earlier…

    Played a hi hat pattern on a drum practice pad, recording it via my macbook’s built in mic (never thought I’d use it for anything) then repeated for snare and kick pattern, all recorded to seperate tracks. Then used drum replacement to change the taps to drum samples (UltraBeat in Logic 9).

    Wasn’t expecting much, but the results are surprisingly good – probably helps that I’ve played drums since I was a kid – the hi hat especially had far more nuance and feel than anything I’ve acheived by ‘humanising’ MIDI.

    Had the advantage of being cheap, quick, quiet and easy – could probably even just tap out the parts on the desk with a pen.

    Give it a try sometime!

  • Bob Sorace

    It’s a “feel” thing with using a real drummer. Back in my band days I used to joke with our drummer that we could replace him with a machine… But the fact of the matter is this, he may not have wrote the songs, but he DROVE them, and helped shape them with his drumming.
    He would throw in a little fill that would change the way I played the riff, changing the dynamics of the song from where I originally planned it going. This may be a little off subject, but to me this is songwriting, sure he may have never written a note, but he changed the song.

    Drummers are quirky weirdos (just joking!), but they make all the difference in the world, and I would use a real drummer if I could, it really does help the song.

  • Very interesting topic. I am an accomplished drummer but stopped playing “real” drums a while ago but I fell in love with electronic music, specially dance music and became a programmer. Another factor that made me change my ways was the lack of space in my apartment. I do music because I like it, it’s not my source of income. Does a real drummer add value to any recording? I don’t think so. I particularly love the sound of drums of the 70’s like the ones you hear on Frank Zappa albums of that era.

  • Travis Whitmore

    As always, great post Joe. I appreciate the shout out as well. And a lot of interesting comments here. Of course, this topic is near and dear to my heart as I’m not only a drummer, but a home studio owner as well. I started offering drum tracks to other studio owners who just got tired of doing everything on their own. Joe Cushman is right- songs can turn into something more creative and dynamic than they normally would with just drum loops. Sometimes drum loops will actually sound amazing – but creating the illusion that you have a great song. I can appreciate drum loops and they have their purpose – However, I always lean on real musicians to bring the song to life. Again, my two cents! Thanks again for the post…

  • “I know way too many great musicians to not take advantage of their awesome talent.”

    That right there says a ton. I was so obsessed with doing everything myself when I first started writing my album just so I could say “I did everything myself” that it took me awhile to realize that all that was going to get me was people (if they were honest) saying “you really could’ve benefited from having someone else play drums”.

    So now I’ve got a friend of mine doing drums on it. This allows me jam along with him so he can learn the songs, and whatdayaknow…the songs are more dynamic than when I played them on the demos, and they’re just all around BETTER. And the beauty of it is, you can always trigger the drums after the fact if you’re not getting the drums to sound like you want.

    Cool post, Joe. I love the versatility and cost/space efficiency of midi drums…but I just don’t think you can fully replace the real thing.

  • Astewart

    I am not a drummer, heck I have tough enough time keeping on beat with a drummer, but nothing replaces a “real’ drummer. So, I am practicing drums, but in a not so novel way. I did not think up this approach, but saw it on you tube. I have some boxes, and under those boxes are microphones, and my drumsticks are spoons..lol. I route each drum to its own track, then load up a software called drumagog. It is amazing, to say the least. I just have to play better “boxes” to make it sound even better.
    If you have not heard of this software, go to you tube and do a search for it. The company that makes it, actually demostrates it live with what they call their “kitchen drums” all the drums per say are items you find in your kitchen.

    • I’ve read a lot about Drumagog’s latest upgrade and tried out the demo version. I’ve been very impressed with the reviews that I’ve read, and from what I could tell about the demo it’s a very good product.

  • In my studio, State of the Art:Studio in Devon, I use real drummers playing our Yamaha DTXtreme III live with the band to capture the midi. I then pump that into BFD2 and sit with the drummer to chose the kit pieces and get the exact sounds he’s after. We also edit the midi to correct any mistakes and adjust velocities on any hits that are deemed to light or heavy.

    The end result is a great ‘live’ drumming performance with the amazing sounds of an amazing kit recorded at somewhere like Air.

    Every track on my studio’s Facebook page has been recorded this way – check it out at http://facebook.com/SOTAStudio

  • Rick

    Being a long time drummer but recording in my home studio (small bedroom) I still wanted to play to the track. So I purchased Addictive Drums & a Roland TD-4 kit, midi it up & go. It’s easy & the drums sound great.

  • Daddydoo

    I actually perfer EzDrummer than hiring a drummer for economical reason and even though it takes a couple of hours to program the midi trax, you will spend the same amount time doing sound checks, rehersing, recording and mixing down the live trax. I also render each drum on their own trax to get a a much bigger sound along with a stereo mix of the kit running dry and another stereo mix of the wet.

  • Brandon Scott

    DUDE I hear ya on that! I love my Superior Drummer 2.2 software sounds, they sound so PRO I love it however I don’t play drums and so I’ve been using Travis Whitmore on my new “Love Stories” project and I tell ya it’s like we played together in the room…. it helps to have good songs that the person recording to it actually feels and falls in love with it too… and Travis is that guy… I love the guy he is an awesome drummer and the one I go to now for any and every drum need! 🙂 Next is mastering ……. 🙂 Joe I think that would be you. 🙂 lol

  • Cato Seldal

    Hello. I am recording a real drummer, playing on roland td 9 eletrickit. We have superior drummer 2.0 and i know people can get a fantastic sound thru that program..

    I am not one of them, i can get OK sound of the drums. But i’m learning something new every day.. 🙂

    Maybe Joe have som good turtorial using midi drums? know some good trick??

  • Williambeard

    I reckon I have a good compromise going on – I can play the drums pretty well (in fact it’s my first instrument) but I choose to program my parts from scratch… it’s time consuming but I enjoy the challenge of meticulously ‘humanising’ the midi and getting a track that’s 100% my style of playing without needing to set up and record a real kit (which I don’t have to option of doing anyway).

    Joe I thought you did great job with the drums on your album!

  • Joe Rawls

    I also have done everything to this point one instrument at a time. Last week I started a new project, I have the same idea that Joe talked about. I have contacted musicians and I am going to record it as live as I can.

    I am tring to figure out how to do the drums. I am leaning towards recording them at the same time as Bass, electric guitar, keyboards… all playing to a previosly recorded acoustic and vocal track. Everything will be miced except the keys.

    Drum idea: I am thinking a Hybrid drum kit.
    1. mic the cymbals and room mics (thru a mixer and recorded as a stereo input)
    2. purchase drum triggers ( http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/DDRSKit/ ) $100.00
    3. run the triggers thru my DM5 (I think thats what its called) into Groove Agent

    The next step will be Isolation…. I do have 3 seperate rooms to place the two Amps and a room for the drummer….. The problem with this is that the drummer will be isolated from everyone else

    • Great ideas!

    • Like you, I am working toward recording the Band as a whole versus one at a time. Interesting idea about using Drum Triggers; actually never heard of these, so thanks for the info. For my project, I am going to record from a Live session (ala Peter Frampton). Reason: Just feel like doing something different relative to recording.

      Since the Mixer has a USB out, I will simply record from directly from the mixer. So getting the stage Mix right will be critical. I am aware I will get minimal ability to make changes after but this is the first attempt. Longer term would be to have each channel go a separate channel in the DAW. However, I do not think I have the gear to do that yet.

    • I think you have a winning combination on your drum recording idea. The only hang up I have on midi drums is the cymbals leave a lot to be desired. I will be purchasing some real cymbals and record those live and use triggers for the drums. I’ve heard many people say that this combo works real well and is essentially very cost-effective.

  • I use EZDrummer – It’s simply EZ and works for my needs. That said, one of my goals for 2011 is to record more using a live drummer. I believe the feel of a song will likely come out better. I love the idea of outsourcing it but since this is a hobby and I am set on learning the skills of recording as many instruments as possible, I will have to call in favors and get Drummer friends to bring over their kit and donate the time.

    Good article as always….

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