Have Drummer's Lost Control Of Their Sound?

This is a companion piece to last week's, What Ever Happened To Individuality? post.

Music today has become so homogenized. So much of it sounds the same because the same small group of producers/songwriters are making all the hit tracks. There often seems to be very little individuality left. This is especially true for the musicians playing on all these songs, but specifically drummers. Rather than controlling their own sounds/feel, drummers are increasingly at the mercy of producers. 

Since the advent of digital recording, and software like Pro Tools and Logic, it's possible to completely change a recorded drum track. Individual drum and cymbal notes can be moved in time and retuned. Recorded drums can be easily replaced by samples of other drums. It's to the point where you could do a session, and when the recording comes out, you've been completely replaced and reshaped by the producer. Your actual performance was really nothing more than raw data that was used to shape a new drum part! Think about that

A good example of total studio production would be Def Leppard's hit album, Pyromania, where producer Mutt Lange and his engineer built and sculpted the drum parts for each song:

The previous Def Leppard record, High ‘n' Dry[1981], was recorded with real drums. On Pyromania[1983] Mutt wanted to be experimental and leave the drums to the very end. He would keep changing the arrangements, so therefore the drum parts would need to keep changing. We had to figure out how to sync that up. It was on the cutting edge, but somehow we managed to put it all together. Take"Photograph,"for example. Like all the other songs on the record, the song's drums were all samples from the Fairlight [CMI (computer musical instrument) sampler]. There are no real drums. The cymbals are played, but the bass drum, snare, and toms are all machine.”
- Session engineer Mike Shiply in Tape Op magazine

The album sold over 10 million copies, but poor drummer, Rick Allen, had little to do with it. The follow up album, Hysteria, was recorded with Lange in a similar manner. It sold over 20 million copies. How do you argue with success?

The same can happen live, where drums are often heavily processed, and even replaced and/or enhanced by triggering samples. And this can even happen to other musicians who end up miming along to backing tracks.

What's A Drummer To Do?

Drummers need to take the time to care about their sound. They need to make sure that not only are their drums and cymbals sounding good, but that their performance is good. It also comes down to learning all you can about recording, so that when you are in a studio, you don't just sit there, not knowing what's going on around you. If you can talk to both the producer and engineer, with some knowledge about mics, processors, mixing boards, and recording in general, you stand a better chance of having some say in how your drum sound turns out. 

Every time I've been in the studio, when I wasn't playing, I was paying attention to what was going on around me. Things like, what mics were being used, how they were set up, or what sort of changes did the engineer make to the basic drum sound. And instead of wondering off, or sitting in the back not paying attention, when other musicians were recording their parts, I was present and watching how the producer and engineer worked with the other instruments and vocals. If possible, I'd ask questions about both the process and the gear being used. 

There are also a lot of great online resources, like recording blogs, YouTube videos, and a wealth of information from the gear manufacturers. I've learned a lot just by accessing those. In addition, there are a lot of different online courses you can take on every aspect of recording.

Paying attention and learning has had it's benefits. When I'm in the recording studio now, I feel better equipped to be a part of things and able to ,be more assertive about the sound that I want. It's also helped in putting together my own studio and recording myself. 

In the case of recording, knowledge is truly power.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


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