Many of you have small but capable home studios where you write, record, and mix everything yourself. Chances are you play one or two instruments (guitar, keys, vocals, etc) and then you fill in your arrangements with virtual instruments. No shame in that. But let’s take a moment today to talk about drums.
Drums Can Make Or Break Your Mix
No matter how great the rest of your tracks sound, if your drums sound weak or amateur, your entire mix will sound weak and amateur. It’s just how things go. But drums are hard to record well. Seriously they are. Even the top pros spend way more time on drums than almost anything else because it’s such a complex instrument to record and mix well, and the payoff of a great drum sound is worth the effort.
But many of you either don’t have a drumset, drummer, or the confidence to record one. So you turn to loops, virtual drummers like Strike or EZ Drummer, or simply banging out beats on your keyboard controller. If you don’t have access to anyone who can play drums, then using “fake drums” (as I will call it here in this article) is really your best bet. I’ve done this before. Nothing to feel bad about. But if fear of not getting a great “real drums” sound is what’s holding you back, then we need to address something.
Real Drums Do More Than You Know
Plain and simple, a decent recording of a real drummer playing a real drum kit can do WAY more for your mix than a perfectly polished virtual drummer can do. It’s hard to measure, but the intangible feel, vibe, and energy that is created in real life gives so much validity and nuance to your recordings. The trick is to get a balanced and punchy sound of course, but that’s not nearly as hard as you might think.
Did you know that you can get a quality drum sound using only one microphone? Yep, even if all you have is a simple $100 studio microphone you can capture an entire kit and add life to your mix. Granted it will be a mono drum sound and you can’t fix many timing issues after the fact, but man it can sound great.
The big idea here is, even though we tend to think that a perfect sample will sound more professional in the mix, the truth is your average listener (who will ultimately be the judge of how good your mix is) will likely “connect” with and jive to the feel of a real drum kit more. They won’t know or care that you didn’t record it in a professional studio with 20 microphones. They will care instead that it has energy, excitement, and it moves them musically.
What Have You Got To Lose?
At the end of the day, the art and craft of recording is truly one involving trial and error. If up until this point you’ve only been using loops and sampled drums, today should serve as motivation and permission for you to try recording a real drum kit on your next project. Don’t have one? Track down a drummer, have him/her learn your songs and then mic it up as best you can. You have nothing to lose, honestly.
Do you use real drums or fake drums in your recordings? What are your thoughts?