I’ve been a drummer for 30 years, so I suppose I’m approaching this subject as much from a playing angle as a music producer one. But whatever my background, my job as both player and producer is to get the best result, as efficiently as possible, for the song or piece of music. So, with that said…
I’m guessing that a large number of you who read the title of this blog are expecting me to come down on one side or another. Acoustic drums or electronic-drums (e-drums) running a high quality virtual drum instrument. Spoiler alert… I’m not.
Here at my studio – The Recording Booth – in rural Suffolk, UK, I have both options available when recording drums, and use both regularly.
If you were going to cast me away on a desert island and I could only save one, I’d go acoustic, because I love the noise and feel. If you ask me which I use most in the studio right now, it’d be the e-drums, running in to Superior Drummer III. But thankfully, I don’t have to make the castaway choice.
Back in the 2000s when I got into recording drums seriously, I was strictly a ‘real’ drums man. It helped that my band at the time – The Floe – had a wonderful drummer (Simon Edgoose) with great acoustic drums.
Ironically, Simon is an e-drums expert, and it was he who introduced me to the huge potential of e-drums + virtual instrument.
In 2011 I’d just moved to Suffolk and built a studio in a very nice but rather small log cabin. Recording drums in the traditional sense just wasn’t an option at that time, but I still needed to produce drums. I’m a drummer, who wants to play properly, not sit with a keyboard tapping away, so I reached out to Simon to solve my dilemma.
Fast-forward through electronic drums ebay searches, Simon’s patient demonstrations of software (and many follow-up phone calls!) and I was up and running.
With the e-drums set-up I have a mind-boggling range of options, all of which I can access instantly. The drums you hear are all real, played by session drummers who really know their stuff and recorded in meticulous detail by top engineers in high-end studios. And I can sit there with my trusty Yamaha electronic kit in a humble room in Suffolk playing all these lovely kits and cymbals. Amazing!
So that has done the job for me on countless sessions. Great! But sometimes there are songs, sounds, moods that I just can’t capture with the electronic option. A brush snare, a perfectly smooth crescendo with soft beaters on a crash cymbal. Or simply a client who insists on recording drums in the traditional way.
So there is still a place for my very nice acoustic kit, my small but carefully-selected collection of cymbals and a bunch of relevant microphones (probably the subject of another blog).
And yes, occasionally I just like to put on some headphones, press play on a Dave Grohl playlist and thrash the living daylights out of my acoustic kit for fun. Just don’t tell anyone.