Which recording method to choose for better drums?

Danny Yellow

New member
I am not a drummer. That's why on my first project all drums are made as a midi track. Because my music is not that electronic, I try to make them sound as real as possible. For my new project I want to bring the drums to a higher level. Mostly because people with trained ears will surely notice the midi drums as being not real, and secondly because I want to get more feel into the drums.

So currently I am using midi tracks. Here are the new options I have so far:
1. Hiring a studio room to record drums.
Pro's: good quality recordings, as real as it gets
Con's: every time I need drums it costs me quite some money, therefore less room for experimenting

2. Buying the tools I need to record drums and finding a place where I can record for free (just a suitable room of someone who I know or something)
Pro's: making the costs once, more room for experimenting, real drums
Con's: takes more learning time (although I am more a man of learning than paying), hard to get a good quality when not experienced in drum recording

3. Buying a good electric drum kit
Pro's: can be done at home because it's more silent, very much room for experimenting, easier to mix (I think), and bonus: I can teach myself some drumming (although that is a little off topic and just a future dream for me haha)
Con's: it's still working with samples, therefore less unique sound (?)

4. Using drumloops
Pro's: cheapest method, don't need a drummer to make it for me (maybe only a drummer for feedback), it's a real groove and a real feel
Con's: (I find it) hard to get a good suitable and clean groove out of it, feels like constantly compromising between the feel in my head and the feel of the drum loop.

What do you think is a good method? And are there methods I'm missing? I am also curious about your experience with recording with a good electric drumkit. I recently came up with that idea, and I know drummers who want it real, but also a lot of drummers who are enthusiastic about the development of electric drums, and see a lot of pro's. I mean, I am a pianist and if I can choose between real or stage piano, I would go for real, but because of the circumstances I am totally fine with recording with a stage piano.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject!

Danny Yellow
 

rhythmgj

Character in Spades...
Danny— Two things jumped out at me. 1) You never actually mentioned the primary genre/style of music you’re working with. This is important information vis-a-vis your question. 2) I notice you did not mention programming your own grooves via drum-machine or sampler and controller pads; any reason why not?


GJ
 

Danny Yellow

New member
Danny— Two things jumped out at me. 1) You never actually mentioned the primary genre/style of music you’re working with. This is important information vis-a-vis your question. 2) I notice you did not mention programming your own grooves via drum-machine or sampler and controller pads; any reason why not?


GJ
Thanks for your reaction!

1) I mainly make pop music with influences of funk/jazz. In my newer music, there are some African rhythms as well. Some songs are more on the electronic side (coldplayish), then I don't have this issue. But when all other instruments are clean and acoustic, the MIDI drums are quite clearly not real drums. If you want more reference on the style, I have an album on Spotify under the name Danny Yellow (the song World's Missionfield is a good example of MIDI drums, That Stupid Thing is played on a keyboard).

2) I am not sure what the difference is between using the midi function of the DAW, in my case Ableton, or using drum machines, samplers, and controller pads. But to clarify, I have the feeling that it's hard to impossible to get the feel of a real drummer when the drum is fully programmed. Although I just thought about Jacob Collier who I think uses a lot of programming, although he also uses real drums. In summary, at the moment my drums sound robotic, and I don't know if that is easily solvable within the borders of programming. What do you think, can programmed drums be sounding really professional in a song that only has played (like, not programmed) instruments in it? Or would it always be better to have real drums?
 

Danny Yellow

New member
Hi, 6 Steps for Recording Drums
  1. Tune your drum kit. Any recording engineer will tell you that the most important element to a great-sounding recording is a great-sounding instrument.
  2. Mic the kick drum.
  3. Mic the snare drum.
  4. Set up overhead microphones.
  5. Mic more individual drums (optional).
  6. Set a preamp and compression sound.
Thanks for this information!

Although my problem is not (yet) how to record a real drum kit with mics, but choosing a suitable method of getting drums in my records. I (possibly) have to make an investment to get better drums. Simply because I don't have anything yet to record drums. In my first post I put the options I have atm with their pros and cons. A fifth option came from rhythmmgj, by using drummachines, control pads or samplers. To repeat the pros and cons of real drums:

My pros are:
- it's real
- on the long term it's cheaper than hiring a studio every time I need drums

My cons with recording drums with a real drumkit and mics are:
- it's not the cheapest option
- it's quite a hassle because I have to find a room to record in and a drummer
- I have heard people say it's quite difficult to record and mix drums. I don't have experience yet with recording real drums and mixing them.
 

Danny Yellow

New member
I have the feeling I can make the question a bit more clear. So here in short my question:

The problems with my current drums are:
- Sound robotic
- Sound fake
- Don't have 'the feel' of a drummer
- Not a unique sound (because I use Ableton sounds)
(You can check out 'World's Missionfield' by 'Danny Yellow' if you want an example of my current drums)

What is for me a good next step to improve the quality of my drums considering the following factors?
- the costs in money, I do have money to spend, but which investment is worth it?
- the costs in time, I am aiming on releasing a new album next summer, the songs are almost all written, and I want to record the drums first. If an option is really a hassle to work out, it might not be worth it.
- the quality of the end result, in the end, I want it to sound professional, also to people who are drummers themselves.

I hope I have specified my question from my first post a bit!
 
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rhythmgj

Character in Spades...
Real drums and percussion are the best way to go for styles that require those things, IF you overcome many of the factors you have already described.

For many indie artists and young producers, samples/midi/programming is the only option. Can you make them sound “real?” Yes and no. Real drums, well recorded and produced, always sound better than “fake real drums.” Can you make them sound and feel better? Absolutely. Can you fool some people? It has been being done since the 80’s, so I’d say... “yeah.”

I don’t do Spotify. If you want to post an example or two here, that would really help to diagnose what you need. But here are some tips:

*Play simple patterns, with feel, that a drummer would play (resist the temptation to add 5,000 parts just because you can)

*Pay attention to sound selection

*Layer sounds (a real nice snare drum, for example, might be a mix of three or four different sounds)

*Try to play important “feel” parts “live” (like hi -hats on a hh pad), to get a more human feel than just stepping it in and quantizing

*Vary your patterns, slightly. So instead of just verse, chorus, and bridge parts for drums, have verse a and b (choices), chorus (a and b), etc., so you can mix and match

*Don’t forget fills. Use them as transitions from section to section, and make them
-simple, solid, and functional!-

*Try adding some live percussion tracks, like tambourine or shakers, to spice things up

*Pay attention to panning. Actually think about it and what it means to your finished stereo drum track. Most drummers are right-handed. But you can pan from “audience perspective” (meaning that right-handed drummer’s kit is heard from right-to-left), or, you can pan “drummer’s perspective” (which puts the listener in the driver’s seat, so they would hear that right-handed drummer’s kit from left-to-right)... which suits your music? Your style/genre, approach, and mix philosophy?

*Try recording the playback of your drum track in your room, from your speakers (in other words, set up a mike or a stereo pair and playback your drum track, and record that), then mix that new audio track in with your midi drums for some room sound

*Learn about and use appropriate effects like reverb, delay, EQ, and compression, just like your midi/sample kit was a real kit in the room...

*For some reference, listen to my jingle demo below (second Soundcloud track). The first cut is acapella. The rest have drums. No drum machine or programming per se, but several have me playing on an electronic kit, and one has Mick Fleetwood (from Fleetwood Mac) and another has Dave Abbruzzese (formerly of Pearl Jam). Those last two are through the courtesy of sample/loop packs. You can make almost anything sound good, if you are willing to put enough time in.

Hope that helps,

GJ
 
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Danny Yellow

New member
Real drums and percussion are the best way to go for styles that require those things, IF you overcome many of the factors you have already described.

For many indie artists and young producers, samples/midi/programming is the only option. Can you make them sound “real?” Yes and no. Real drums, well recorded and produced, always sound better than “fake real drums.” Can you make them sound and feel better? Absolutely. Can you fool some people? It has been being done since the 80’s, so I’d say... “yeah.”

I don’t do Spotify. If you want to post an example or two here, that would really help to diagnose what you need. But here are some tips:

*Play simple patterns, with feel, that a drummer would play (resist the temptation to add 5,000 parts just because you can)

*Pay attention to sound selection

*Layer sounds (a real nice snare drum, for example, might be a mix of three or four different sounds)

*Try to play important “feel” parts “live” (like hi -hats on a hh pad), to get a more human feel than just stepping it in and quantizing

*Vary your patterns, slightly. So instead of just verse, chorus, and bridge parts for drums, have verse a and b (choices), chorus (a and b), etc., so you can mix and match

*Don’t forget fills. Use them as transitions from section to section, and make them
-simple, solid, and functional!-

*Try adding some live percussion tracks, like tambourine or shakers, to spice things up

*Pay attention to panning. Actually think about it and what it means to your finished stereo drum track. Most drummers are right-handed. But you can pan from “audience perspective” (meaning that right-handed drummer’s kit is heard from right-to-left), or, you can pan “drummer’s perspective” (which puts the listener in the driver’s seat, so they would hear that right-handed drummer’s kit from left-to-right)... which suits your music? Your style/genre, approach, and mix philosophy?

*Try recording the playback of your drum track in your room, from your speakers (in other words, set up a mike or a stereo pair and playback your drum track, and record that), then mix that new audio track in with your midi drums for some room sound

*Learn about and use appropriate effects like reverb, delay, EQ, and compression, just like your midi/sample kit was a real kit in the room...

*For some reference, listen to my jingle demo below (second Soundcloud track). The first cut is acapella. The rest have drums. No drum machine or programming per se, but several have me playing on an electronic kit, and one has Mick Fleetwood (from Fleetwood Mac) and another has Dave Abbruzzese (formerly of Pearl Jam). Those last two are through the courtesy of sample/loop packs. You can make almost anything sound good, if you are willing to put enough time in.

Hope that helps,

GJ

Those are some great tips, thanks! I think I'll try some "fake real drums" and see what the maximum quality is I can get out of it (and if that quality is good enough of course).

I do have some audio from two tracks I am working on at the moment. The first one is in the recording phase. The second track is still a demo, but that's a better example of a more acoustic track (but don't give too much attention to the quality of that track). Feel free to react to those, you can also wait until I upload a track where I try to implement some of your tips. But that might take a few weeks :)

(and I don't know if it's possible to get the 'cover' of the Soundcloud clip smaller haha)

https://soundcloud.com/user-384684101%2F20210802-clip-singing-on-the-street%2Fs-YqG3aA5Iihw https://soundcloud.com/user-384684101%2F20210802-clip-life-in-between%2Fs-n9cAgkSCHML
 

rhythmgj

Character in Spades...
I like what you have done so far on both. Let’s hear what you do with what I shared. Any other drum tips? Please feel free to chime in, Future Producers!


GJ
 
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