I got the following questions from Ed, who’s working on his dissertation at the London College of Music. These are great questions, so I thought I’d post my answers here. Please leave your opinions in the comments section. Let’s help Ed get an A!
1. How has your work recording drums and percussion been affected by the advent of good quality ‘virtual’ sampled drum tracks?
Since I primarily work out of a home recording studio, the advent of really good-sounding drum samplers has been a great tool for me. My home studio is not an ideal environment for recording drums, so drum software provides a great alternative.
2. Do you believe drum track creation by virtual instruments, sample collections, etc. (‘software’) is a threat to the traditional role of the session drummer? How does the quality of the software tracks compare overall in your opinion and are there specific scenarios where the quality is good enough in one project but not in another?
Is it a threat to the role of a session drummer? I’d say possibly. However, the bigger picture here is how recording technology as a whole is changing the game for big studios. It’s no longer a requirement for you to record your album at a high-end professional facility. The technology has evolved, and so should the industry.
Drum software is phenomenal for recording demos. You can easily put together a fairly realistic drum track to go along with your tracks. For pop music, I think you can, with a lot of work, make a virtual drum part that works well for the song.
However, for something like jazz or really anything that’s not mainstream, I don’t think the session drummer is going anywhere.
3. To what extent is drum track creation software suitable for creating high-profile commercial releases, in terms of quality, functionality and ability? Does the suitability differ in different applications, i.e. projects where simulating a human drummer is essential compared to projects where realising more creative percussive tracks is required?
I touched on this in #2. Straight out of the box, no, drum software can’t match a human drummer being recorded in a good studio with good equipment. However, with much patience, it’s possible to re-create a large percentage of a good drum performance with MIDI editing. This would take exponentially longer than it would to simply record the drummer, but there are obviously other factors involved.
4. To what extent do budgetary requirements influence the decision to go with / avoid drum track creation technology, over and above issues of sound quality and realism of articulation? E.g. employing a composer/technician to create the tracks, more/less time required over standard drum recording, etc.
I think budget is the biggest deciding factor for most home studio recording engineers. Would I rather record drums or program them? Of course I’d rather record them. Do I have all the gear needed to record them at home? Nope. Do I have a great room for recording drums at home? Nope. Can I afford to book a studio every time I want to record drums? Nope.
This is where drum software comes to the rescue. It provides realistic drum sounds for those of us who can’t get into a studio whenever we want.
5. In your experience, does drum track creation technology offer a positive compositional (rather than production) tool in a studio context?
Sure. Playing along with a real-sounding drum groove always helps me think up new parts for a song.
6. Do you feel there has been a movement in emphasis amongst music publishers in recent years to the actual production aspects required to realise the artist’s work, rather than the work itself? E.g. the budgetary / time requirements of producing an album of orchestral music using samplers over a live 40-piece orchestra – has this resulted in music being published today that would never have been possible or considered 20 years ago?
There have definitely been changes. The whole evolution of recording technology has caused what almost seems like a flip-flop of roles. Now an average musician can buy a laptop and recording software and record an album.
So yes, the advancement of technology has somewhat leveled the playing field. Someone like me, with the aid of software, can produce a very good-sounding album, for a fraction of what it would have cost 20 years ago.
7. Where do you see music creation technology and its impact on the studio recording setup in the future? Should budding producers and engineers still be given a grounding in microphone techniques, acoustics, outboard gear etc. or should they concentrate on programming realistic MIDI tracks, working VSTs/VSTis ‘inside the box’, Pro Tools techniques etc.?
Both. I think most people will focus on learning software, when that’s still only half of the equation. If you can’t get a good vocal sound with a microphone, or if you can’t use an EQ properly, then it doesn’t really matter how well you know the software.
My advice for budding producers and engineers is to go out there and do it yourself. Don’t wait around for a studio to hire you. Take the gear you own RIGHT NOW and start working with musicians. As you get paid, buy the extra gear you need. As you get better, you can charge more. Be entrepreneurial. Take it upon yourself to make it happen.
A passive producer or engineer (or even drummer) will never see much success.