Real Drums Verses Fake Drums

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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?


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141 Responses to “Real Drums Verses Fake Drums”

  1. Sad Panda

    I love real drums whenever possible, and collaborating with another musician is just plain great. It really can’t be beat. We use 4 mics – 2 SM58s on snare/kick and 2 Behringer B1s for overheads into a Fast Track Ultra and PT M-Powered 9. Yeah, it’s like $800 in equipment (counting the software, interface, and mics), but it works out really well.

    Still, the best $90 I *ever* spent on a plugin (not to mention, the *only* $90 I ever spent on plugins outside of what come with my DAW) is EZDrummer. It only comes with a handful of drums (basically 2 different kits, plus the “Cocktail” EZX) but they sound fantastic. It works in a pinch and it works really well.

    • Russell Szabados

      Almost all of what SadPanda says above applies for me as well with one small change. I use Toontrack’s Solo to load up their plugs EZDrummer and Beatstation. The latter seems to be the proverbial red headed stepchild for Toontrack; granted, it looks like someone was eating the fabled “brown acid” during GUI design. But under the Skittles/fever dream colors lie quick access to your MIDI files, virtual drum kits, samples and REX files with quick-syncing file players. The app comes with 3 proprietary themed collections of drum stuffs sold as “BTX’s” in keeping with Toontrack’s other collection types: EZX for EZDrummer and SDX For Superior Drummer.

      I’m just giving a heads up to Graham and anyone else reading this who might otherwise miss out on Beatstation thanks to Toontrack’s weird marketing. It’s analogous to EZD in learning curve, tweakability and it improves the workflow. But it’s not a game changer. If you already dislike Toontrack’s apps, Beatstation wont change yr mind.

  2. Matthew Knight

    I’ve moved from miking up a kit to using Addictive Drums and have found that I am getting a better sound with AD.

    In the past I’d hire a rehearsal space and mike up a kit with a few mikes (kick, snare/hats and 2 overheads) and, although I’d sometimes get a good sound, most of the time it was pretty bad. Mind you, armed with the knowledge from the video in your last post, who knows how they might sound if I revisit them now.

    Now I use Addictive Drums triggered by a “kit” comprised of a set of midi pads and a kick drum pad. I am a reasonably adept drummer but not a specialist and I’ve found that my drum tracks sound much better with this method. I can easily edit stray hits and even tweak velocities to make sure that everything feels right. I keep editing and quantising to a minimum so as to keep a live feel but they are useful tools if something goes awry.

    As for mixing, although you can split out separate channels, I tend to mix Addictive Drums “in the box” and just treat the instrument’s stereo output channel as a drum bus. All eq, compression, etc are done in the box although I tend to avoid reverb, chosing to keep that in my DAW to try and get them to blend better.

    All that being said, although think that the end result is much more professional sounding and less “made in my room” (although that can sound good too!) I still miss the sense of soundwaves hitting the microphone and still can’t quite capture that live feel and sound. I may try miking up my monitors….

    I suppose it comes down to taste. After all, Prince’s drums sound fake as heck but the tunes still groove.

  3. Justin Redemann

    I’m a drummer/guitarist, with a very modest basement recording environment (cant really call it a studio) and for the longest time i lived in apartments where playing acoustic drums was impossible. As a result I learned about electronic drums, triggering, drum replacement, software drum programs, and midi, by necessity. I think now that I’ve had the opportunity to learn both sides of the coin, both are really essential if you want to record a variety of musical styles. I own Superior Drummer, and a 5 piece Tama set and use both depending on the material.
    So, in a long winded way, I use both!

  4. Andrae Palmer (@draedarockstar)

    I use samples or fake drums from old drum machines to sequence drums and honestly it doesn’t matter. You can sequence your drums using fake drum as you call it and edit it for it to have the vibe of a real drummer and create the illusion with effects and so on so it’s up to producer at the end of the day. But for me being a drummer my self i’m working towards getting a kit in my studio just because of preference. Me being in the reggae industry where most of the earlier records were from drum machines as well as live drums it doesn’t really matter what matters is the end product.

  5. Trey H

    I use ezdrummer for my own personal preproduction tracks I do, but I almost always record real kits for any music I put out. One thing about ezdrummer, addictive drums, and other virtual drummer plugins that I’d hate to put in my music is that it’s still so easy to tell where the drums came from.

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear another guy put out a song with a virtual drummer plugin, I can immediately tell where it came from. Maybe it’s just me and my ear, but that’s what I kinda dislike about it. They have come a long way though.

  6. Colin

    In 2007 I was a guitarist looking to lay down chords to solo over so I got the Line 6 GuitarTracker/Riffworks setup. It was fun so I got a cheap mic started singing and recording songs, then a cheap bass, then started collaborating with my old bandmate in another city, swapping files back and forth. We did an album, self released it on iTunes through Tunecore. Then got a cheap set of drums and started sort of learning to play them. 4 years later I’m using using PT, a 5-mic set up through Fasttrack Ultra, and our stuff is sounding better and better and I’ve got 25 songs out there for the world to hear and even make a couple $ a month, all more than I would have ever thought possible in ’07. Disadvantages: working with a bad drummer (myself) is frustrating; recording them by yourself is awkward; so many recording options with mic placement, etc that it can be overwhelming; a song that used to take an afternoon now takes months; makes the neighbors miserable. Advantages: it sounds like drums and I know I played recorded edited (and edited and edited) and mixed them all myself. Isn’t always fun but it is rewarding. And of course the RR video tutorials have been a huge help!

  7. Travis Whitmore

    Fantastic post, sir. I agree 100%

    Of course, this is a subject that I care very deeply about. To me, it’s more than just using “real drums. ” Even EZ drummer and other drum samples are often ‘real’ drums. They were recorded on a real drum kit and embedded as samples. Obviously these tracks will “sound” great…

    But nothing can or should ever compare to a real human drummer playing with emotion behind their instrument. Or ANY musician for that matter…Every aspect (Mic bleed, toms singing, cymbals ringing, room flutter, etc) is what makes recording drums completely irreplaceable…

  8. David

    I’m primarily a drummer, but due to limited space and neighbors, my kit has been stacked in my closet for years. I primarily use EZDrummer when i’m recording; i either program the beats or trigger them on my Roland kit. It’s nice to actually play the sounds myself, though nothing beats an acoustic kit with proper mics.

  9. Paul Schaefer

    I agree. I always track real drums and enhance to taste depending on the genre. No way you can replace the hat and cymbal work of a real drummer. Enhancing the tones with plugs is necessary if you want a modern drum sound.

  10. Matthew Knight

    I’ve moved from miking up a kit to using Addictive Drums and have found that I am getting a better sound with AD.

    In the past I’d hire a rehearsal space and mike up a kit with a few mikes (kick, snare/hats and 2 overheads) and, although I’d sometimes get a good sound, most of the time it was pretty bad. Mind you, armed with the knowledge from the video in your last post, who knows how they might sound if I revisit them now.

    Now I use Addictive Drums triggered by a “kit” comprised of a set of midi pads and a kick drum pad. I am a reasonably adept drummer but not a specialist and I’ve found that my drum tracks sound much better with this method. I can easily edit stray hits and even tweak velocities to make sure that everything feels right. I keep editing and quantising to a minimum so as to keep a live feel but they are useful tools if something goes awry.

    As for mixing, although you can split out separate channels, I tend to mix Addictive Drums “in the box” and just treat the instrument’s stereo output channel as a drum bus. All eq, compression, etc are done in the box although I tend to avoid reverb, chosing to keep that in my DAW to try and get them to blend better.

    All that being said, although think that the end result is much more professional sounding and less “made in my room” (although that can sound good too!) I still miss the sense of soundwaves hitting the microphone and still can’t quite capture that live feel and sound. I may try miking up my monitors….

  11. B_P

    Great article. Excellent subject.

    Yes, of course – in a perfect world, everyone would record a real drummer layin’ down phat beats on a real kit. In a perfect world, I’m sure most of us would rather track 2″ on an old Neve or SSL board with all the old tube outboard gear (…then edit/mix down in PT, of course – I may be old school, but I ain’t crazy;)) but for the most part, that’s just not the case to the average apartment jockey.

    Right now, I’m using a combination of loops and BFD2 and just either bang it out on the keyboard (unfortunately, I “banged” a little too hard and broke middle F and F# keys. Wood keys. Weighted too. Awesome.) or I’ll do the never-really-sounds-quite- right “one MIDI note at a time” technique.

    But I look at my BFD’d tracks more as a blueprint which will, eventually, be played/recorded by a real drummer – making sure they add in their own ideas and licks and fills and whatnot – because I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of cool stuff a real drummer would do instinctively.

  12. Frank

    I use drum loops (apple loops), big fish audio loops, and EZdrummer. I rely on them 100% Would love to have real drums – it’s just not my reality any time soon. So, I’ve spent much time learning to work with what I got, and it’s paying off. In the past, i spent years trying to program drums tracks on my keyboard…the trade off was that I wasn’t making music. I’m grateful for these “fake drums”

    Graham, or anyone who cares to comment, I do have a question. I’ve been watching your jumpstart videos and wondered when recording/using MIDI drums (or any instrument) is it best to do the mixing on the MIDI tracks and then bounce as audio or bounce to audio prior to the mixing (volume, panning, eq, etc)? I’m kinda new when it comes to my knowledge of mixing, so I’d like to hear what the experienced folks think.

  13. bhooks

    Graham funny you brought this up. I am working on a song that me and my buddy
    recorded on a hard disk recorder a couple years ago. I used this old version as a guide track to setup an ezdrummer track. Then I recorded bass vocals and guitar. I made sure the bass lined up with the grid and got a rough mix on to a cd. I still like the original recording we did without drums better. When we recorded it we just through up a few dynamic mics and played through. later i added an egg shaker and an electric guitar part. Even though the new more polished recording with ezdrummer sounds great there is something about the
    original recording we did that just sounds better to me.

  14. Wiguan

    I use “fake drum”, but not loops.

    It’s ultrabeats on Logic Pro that I use currently.
    Since I know a little bit to play drum, I just make it sound like it was during our jamming session and live with real drums. By ears.

    It turns out that my listener thought it was a real drum. But it took a lot of more effort to create artificial sound than playing the actual drum.

    Every midi notes, I will choose the “logical” velocity for it.

  15. mark

    I use my own kit which I made in Native Instruments Kontakt, I sampled some real stuff and mixed it a little with samples and routed it to buses with room verbs and other stuff. However, I use this kit only to work on preproduction stuff, when we don’t need to waste our time to record a real drummer. So whether it’s demo or something temporary, it’s my “good to go kit”, I made it very neutral sounding so it can fit in better with different style of music.

    But if it’s a final record for EP or full length album, I would always prefer to record some real drums. I found that every mixing engineer can make so called “fake drums” sound ok when it comes to snares and kicks, maybe toms too. But in my opinion what makes it real its a feel. Feel of live drummer hitting cymbals, room ambiance and all that stuff. I can later add some samples if I want to, but nobody can’t emulate that feel of real drummer in the studio.

  16. Bob Sorace

    Like most on here, reall drums just aren’t an option right now. I use EZ Drummer, and the results keep getting better each time! I’ve had musician friends ask “who played the drums on that track?” and I’ve had musician friends who know I use EZ Drummer and say “it’s obvious they’re not real…” So, I think it just depends on the preconceived notion of what you’re hearing. I’d love to have a real drum kit, but for now EZ Drummer’s doing just fine. Also, both Sixx A.M. records were recorded with drum software, and I’m guessing most can’t tell the difference…

  17. Benny

    I have a pretty complicated process that took me a while to develop, but works well for me. I use BFD (the first one), Logic’s Ultrabeat, plus a few of NI’s Abbey Road kits. I sequence the drums in whichever drum program I’m using, then bounce out each kit piece, along with the room mic, into an audio file. I then sweeten (compress, EQ, etc.) each audio file, as well as create different busses (compression, reverb, etc.), so I’m essentially mixing multi-drack drums, even though they came from a “fake” drum program. I love having the flexibility of getting my choice of great-sounding, -tuned- drum kits, most of which I could never afford (a vintage Lucite kit? yes, please!). While bleed and mic/pre choice are definitely things that add to the flavor of a drum mix, it’s nice to not have to spend hours gating each mic. I agree that a GOOD drummer adds so much to a song, but given the availability and reliability of most good drummers, I’m happy to replace them with “fake” drums anytime.

    Also important to note, I start and end with the drums. My guide track is the first thing I lay down, then record the other parts. Just before I’m ready to mix, I’ll take the time to go through the MIDI drum track – which has usually evolved and been re-written several times up to this point – and adjust as many individual notes as I need to (for velocity, timing, etc.) to get the right “feel.” Sometimes this takes hours, but I’ve spent 8 hours miking a drum kit before, so in my mind, it’s a wash.

    This probably won’t work for everyone, but if you’ve got the time, it’s a good way to get some pretty killer results. A drummer that I used to play out with asked me once – enviously, I think – who the drummer was on an EP I produced, which I took to mean that I’m moving in the right direction with this technique. Your mileage may vary.

  18. Scot

    I agree with you Graham and Travis…nothing replaces the “swing” and feel of a flesh and blood recording on acoustic drums. That is my ultimate goal – to have the set-up room for a nice kit (I know – excuse). I have for now settled on a hybrid kit, pretty nice, actually. It started out as a Roland TD3, but I’ve replaced all rubber pads with mesh, including a good-size kick (with double pedal) and snare…I’ve added a real Zildjian A Custom 22″ Ping Ride, and A Custom Mastersound hats ’cause I hate hitting rubber cymbals (still do for 3 crashes). I mic the real cymbals with small diaphram Audix condensors (for recording). I trigger BFD2, specifically Andy Johns Classic Drums – great kits recorded by a legendary drum engineer. I play through a nice Simmons amp/sub on the floor right behind the kick, plus L+R Polk speakers on stands (aimed at my head) on either side of the amp, which is fed by line outs on my interface. All of my drum tracks are seperated in PT. The mics are live only when I record, of course, then I use headphones. There are trade-offs here. For the privilage of having multiple kits and set-ups available to me, recorded so well in the most primo of spaces with the best equipment, etc., and the endless ease of MIDI editing, I give up the 100% authenticity (articulations), feel, and “magic” of what a live kit in real time would produce. It’s a good compromise for now, but I do want that authenticity, and will have it eventually. The samples are REAL, and the kit reponds decently to my playing with low latency, but it isn’t perfect and never preferable to acoustic. My fave kit is my Bonham one…pieced together with the correct pieces he used most often, including an awesome 26 x 14 Ludwig bass drum – all recorded for BFD2 by the same engineer who recorded Bonzo on several Zep albums…it sounds so sweet when I play along to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (soundcard audio mixed into my drum amp from my Makie mixer)…
    Great post, great topic! I own all of your vids, Graham, and they continue to help me in ways beyond my capacity to type here (lol). Much respect to you as well, Travis – if only I had a smidge of your talent…take care all,


    • alex loda

      hello scott, et me know if would like to track some drums for my new album
      style progressive hard rock

  19. Rod

    This is soooo subjective. Reminds me of the early debates over “real” (film) vs. “fake” (digital cameras) in the photography world. The debate’s basically over now…the film heads are in the corner muttering to themselves…”well I think…..” LOL

    Once “real drums” are digitally recorded, digitally edited, pocketed, panned, processed by compression, EQ, gating, saturation, etc…etc. Then dithered, dathered and SRC’d and listened to through one of the range of playback nauseum…what’s so real about them in the end!? They’ve gone the same road as the samples.

    If we’re just talking about the subtle wrist movements of a drummer on a trap set vs, the same drummer on an e-kit with top shelf samples…the gap is growing narrower and narrower. IMHO


  20. Bertrand Grichting

    This article is a little bit to black or white for my taste. What are real drums and what are fake drums ? I recently did a song using midi files from the songwriters pack offered by toontrack. These are grooves played by a real drummer, not quantized with all the micro-timing and groove-feel that only a real drummer can offer. So what do you consider this to be ? real or fake?

    in my opinion it is not mainly about the sound of the drums but rather about the feeling of the drummer. I had to replace a real drum set, that was recorded pretty badly with drumtracker and used Superior Drummer for sounds. The result was pretty good. Some of us can’t track drums in their little studio so i prefer getting a drummer to play the song either with an electronic kit or real drums and i will then use my Drum library for either the whole kit or as a mixture between recorded drums and Superior. I prefer a library that was recorded in the best studios with really good drumkits, tuned perfectly, miked up with the best mics placed by an excellent engineer instead of having to use the sound of a kit miked up badly, detuned and sounding cheap.

    Superior Drummer has articulations galore that should suffice for most ot pop/rock recordings, the days of programming a drum computer with one sample per kit-piece are gone long time. Take a look at the Drumtracker video on the toontrack site where they replaced an entire kit played by a studio-pro with Superior Drummer. I think nobody can tell the difference between the recorded kit and the kit from Superior
    check it out:

    • Chris Dunnett

      I totally agree! In an “ideal” world, I could have Nicko McBrain, Neil Peart, or Robert Sweet (3 of my fave drummers) come in and do drums but I do not reside in an ideal world. I have EZ Drummer, Sup Drummer, BFD, Addictive Drums and several libraries and I get the best results when I have a buddy of mine who is a fabulous drummer come in with his Roland HandSonic, play to the song, and I choose sounds based on the track. This gives me the feel of a real drummer as well as a part played to the song, yet polished drums sounds. The key here also, as to not “sound” like the above mentioned virtual drums, is to process them in different ways. This is just my approach, not saying it’s for everyone but until I can hire my favorite drummers and have the space and gear to record them it will do :), cheers,
      Chris Dunnett

  21. John

    If it sounds good use it. If you have a good drummer and the right equipment record him. If you want to use e-Drums with samples do that. If you don’t have a drummer, use a midi controller and samples. To each their own. I don’t think there should even be a debate about this because it’s up to the individual artist/artists to decide what they want to do and if they dig the sound they get in the end then right on. Travis hates “fake drums”, I don’t… so what.

    Plus what Rod said is pretty accurate.

  22. Travis Whitmore

    Rod, the topic of cameras vs drums isn’t a fair or even logical comparison. Humans are still behind the camera, doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film. A human is stilll looking through the camera and taking the picture… The point is that a human is playing the instruments. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

  23. Neil

    I’ve been stuck in the apartment thing for a while, and therefore can’t play my acoustics. I use superior 2.0 with a Roland td-20 for recording in the home. I agree that real drums are the foundation, but the difference is getting narrower. With a super low latency recorded midi performance, you are capturing the feel. However, the way I am able to react and “pull” sound expressively from an instrument is only about 90-95% there on the electronic side. Obviously, i play acoustics live, with a little 808 trigger to my left to add some thump though. Check my videos out at Most of them were done with the superior 2.0 setup. The description will tell you which ones they are.

  24. Dominic Ameneyro

    I just released an EP in which we mix roughly 25% electronic drums with 75% “real” drums (real samples from Superior Drummer). I have been blown away by the feel I have been able to get from SD2 and I would challenge any average music listener to differentiate between the “live” drums on our EP and an actual live drummer. Of course, many engineers and musicians might be able to tell the difference (barely), but we’re not making music for them, now are we?

  25. Graham

    The big idea I wanted to push in this post was not that you can’t get a great sound with virtual drum plugins, but that you should try to record real drums.

    Most people feel that they can’t get a great drum sound in a house or apartment, but the truth is you can! I do this all the time. No treatment, no acoustically designed space. Just a kit in a room. Even with one mic.

    The point is, try it. You’d be surprised at how much it adds to your tracks.

      • Sleeper

        I do all kinds of production-related tasks in my apartment, with neighbours around me. The fact that I live in a concrete high rise rather than a wood walk-up helps, but basically you can get away with a lot depending on the time of day you do your recording/mixing/etc. at. It’s a limitation, for sure, but if you’re serious about this stuff, you’ll find a way to work around limitations.

  26. Jon

    That’s more of a comparison like recording to tape vs. digital. I think it depends what the genre of music you’re recording in the first place and what kind of feel you want for your tune. It’s hard to replicate the energy of a live drummer with plug-ins or drum triggers, but I think both are necessary. Compression can sometimes make this possible. This also becomes a tradeoff when you’re faced with a drummer with less than perfect “pocket-playing” ability, a poor drum recording environment, or even poor equipment. Samples and “fake drums” are perfect when you are dealing with overbearing bleed from cymbals or other instruments in the room. A human drummer will not be able to play PERFECTLY on top of a click track nor should you expect it. It all comes down to personal preference, but there is no real “right” or “wrong” answer here…especially since these drum programs are becoming extremely sophisticated…but you tell me if you can hear the difference when you listen to The Foo Fighters new album vs. most pop or rock records flying around these days. Recorded to tape and a live drummer…sounds extremely fat, punchy, and real!

  27. Rod

    I’m sort of playing the evil detractor here just because I like a lively…friendly debate. I think it can elevate our views. I love nicely recorded acoustic drums. Just the other day I was trying to create, with samples…something close to Manu Katche’s sound on Sting’s Soul Cages…:(..couldn’t get there. LOL

    Travis..The analogy does work if you’ll note that I’m talking about a human drummer behind an e-kit and good samples..or at the very least…a skilled programmer. Stock grooves and beats can get tiresome and bland, that’s for sure.

    Graham….bro, love the site, love the perspectives

  28. Travis Whitmore

    Agreed, Rod. I have no problems with ‘fake’ drums. My point is whether or not an actual human drummer has the opportunity to create verses a non-drummer trying to pretend. It’s sort of like a guitar player playing bass. 🙂

  29. Rod

    “It’s sort of like a guitar player playing bass”

    Ohhhooo! guilty as charged on that one!! LOL

  30. Robere Acare

    Back in 2005, I went to a million dollar studio recorded an EP album with 3 songs using real drums and spent $ 2,000 on recording + mixing. The final product, I didn’t like the way drums sounded, in short. In 2007, I read in a book that I purchased about managing your own record label the author wrote ” drummers would hate me for saying this. If you can use a producer or learn and program your own drums using various software or programs out there, you can come up with a better sounding drum track than a real drummer would play …” I took it to heart, started learning and developing my own techniques. Today I’m very satisfied using “fake drums”. I would only use a real drummer in a commercial studio if I have money to blow up. Til then thank God for “Fake drums”. Don’t take me wrong, I love real drums and real drummers. I also love what I can bring out of those “fake drums” I don’t even see the difference. You can check out my “fake drums” from my newly released song and see for yourself. Just a short clip.

    Much Luv

  31. Pete

    I think most on this thread don’t have a “fear” of recording a real kit. If we had the space, or could afford the equipment or studio time, we would probably prefer it. Even if some of us aren’t top quality engineers. Unfortunately, many don’t have this luxury. Plus, drum software has come a long way when it comes to sonic authenticity and is not as costly.

    I understand where Travis is coming from though. Drums are his instrument and I’m sure he puts a lot of sweat and soul into them when he plays. That can’t be replicated. To have put so many hours into practicing and playing the real thing only to have some software come along that many home studios use would annoy me as well. It’s the way I feel when I see adverts for a virtual bass or electric guitar on KVR. I play both instruments and would never use these as a substitute. They don’t have the same feel to me. But I know a lot of ambient, techno, dance artists only play keyboards and may want to use a bass or guitar sample. So, to each there own I guess.

    Truth of it is, it’s all about the songwriting. I can forgive a lot (cheap sounding drums, badly sampled guitars, tape hiss, etc.) if the songwriting is great. Sure I’d prefer everything to sound immaculate and I’ve heard a lot of recordings on different sites that sound pristine, polished, and ready for airplay. But I too often find that, behind this magnificent production, lies a weak song that no amount of chorus layering or loudness or real drums can hide. The Misfits were a great band that used “real” instruments, though it’d be hard to tell because the mixing and production is pretty bad. Yet I listen to them because, damn, that Glenn Danzig knew his way around a melody. For me, that’s what it comes down to.

  32. Bob Comtois

    I usually use my Alesis SR 16, sometimes just running a kick and adding other tracks tapped out in real time, which allows you you to take advantage of the touch sensitivity of the little drum pads.
    If I record a pre-programmed drum track I clone it and treat it differently plug-in wise.
    Recently I had the pleasure of trying out recording a drummer using the Glynn Johns, four mic method.

  33. Les

    I don’t think being able to spot the difference between using drum loops, samples etc. and recording a real drummer is the point being made, especially seen as recently it has become easy to make samples sound like a recorded drummer.

    The point being made is that with samples, you can make the song SOUND like it has a real drummer, but not FEEL like it. Theres a big difference between the 2: unless it’s plainly obvious that the track is using a “fake drummer”, then the people who are listening to the music in the background aren’t going to pay attention to it. But the people who listen to it a bit more carefully just won’t get the same amount of energy and vibe, 100% guaranteed. the FEEL of it isn’t something you can measure, or boost. It’s either their, or it isn’t.

    If you recorded a drummer, and did everything it took to get the drum track to sound as good as it can get, then used samples and made them sound as good as they can get, then played each version of the song to someone, one after the other, there will be a massive difference. Spending time on getting the drums to SOUND real doesn’t automatically give them feel, and can in some ways focus too much on the mix rather than the music.

    And their’s also an element of authenticity to recording your own drum tracks, and gives it a unique sound. It puts the drummers own stamp on the recording which can’t be explained, but you can just tell the difference. On top of that, it gives the drummer a better name for themselves. For instance, thousands of drummers have used triggers, especially in the death metal area, because it makes it easier to play. But the ones that are getting the most credit for their profession are the ones who aren’t using them. Even if you can’t tell the difference between one who does use triggers/samples and one who does, just by knowing that a drummer hasn’t used any of those gives off a vibe to the listener that the drummer is disciplined enough to play their parts accurately and precisely but still put in the emotion and the energy. Because at the end of the day, who’s better, the drummer who nailed his part or the drummer that used the “easy way out” of correcting his mistakes?

    Thousands of drummers use triggers and samples because its “easy” to do and even make sound GOOD. But the handful that don’t are the ones that sound UNIQUE as well as good, and they’re the ones at the top of the list, because they’ve dedicated their time to their instrument, and now they’re the ones that don’t even have to work, and they can spend all their time doing what they love to do best, which is making music. Just something as simple as recording the drums “real” can move a drummer a lot higher up the list.

  34. Nathan Dingle

    I’d like to throw a pertinent question into this debate…

    1 has anyone heard or used mixosaurus ?

    Because there’s drum samplers and then there’s mixosaurus..
    And I’m a drummer !

  35. Dar


    No disrespect to samples, but give me a real drummer every time! My drummer just happens to be my nephew 🙂 I’m not being biased (maybe a little!) but when I watch what he does with my music, he’ll be my drummer for as long as I’m able to use my God given talent to create music!

  36. Nydvar

    I use Steven Slate Drums with midi played by a real drummer as it is easy to achieve a reasonable drum sound. Also I am influenced by a UK band Anaal Nathrakh that use drum programming for recordings and oddly enough a live drummer for tours. With so many producers in metal and hardcore blending drum samples in with real recorded drums the sound people are hearing is largely trigger samples anyway. Recording real drums is a cool skill that helps with mixing the fake drums.

  37. Lars Wagner

    Being a drummer mysef, I ALWAYS use real drums. Even if the song calls for a ”machine-kind-a-sound” I usually dub a hi-hat, some shakers or some other hand-percussion, to add some live-feeling to the track.
    I’ve got my own studio specialized in recording custom-made drum-tracks, and everything is set up, ready to go. Mics on all drums, bottom mic on snare, sub mic on kick, stereo room mics, stereo ambience mics, the works!
    Just to give you guys the experience of having REAL drums on your song, I’LL RECORD DRUM TRACKS FOR YOUR FIRST SONG FOR FREE!!!!
    Pleas go to my website or send me an email

  38. Jeff Smith

    You guys should check out the first two albums/recordings by Sixx A.M. It’s my understanding that the drums are live triggered, as-in performance captured but the sounds are samples are from James Michael’s huge (custom??)library. Also Motley Crue’s Saints of Los Angeles was recorded this way, Tommy Lee triggered the samples on a hybrid kit he and JM developed–which makes sense for a consistency in kick and snare sounds. And… the guitar amps are all sims, PodFarm and Eleven. Pretty impressive sounds. I have been studying these three recordings a lot since I learned how JM recorded them.

  39. Eric Johnson

    While I look forward to the opportunity to record “live” (I prefer the term “live” over “real” in this context) drums, I generally can’t have them in my space. I use several different plug-ins. I use Superior Drummer most often. I’ve got all the MIDI packs from Toontrack and the Groove Monkee Studio collection so that I’m armed with many grooves played by “real” drummers. This has already been mentioned by others in this thread, but that combination of a good instrument and a good groove is what we’re all after.

  40. Ronnie Angell

    Ive used real drummers and real drums since the 80’s when my studio was a 16 track fostex on 1/2 tape.As much as I miss the great things that come from real drummers and real drums there are many things I dont miss.Microphone setups,tunning retunning and the mics always move from one session to the next.As Ive gotten older and short of time for all of the above.I love the fact that I can get tracks down when inspiration strikes and can add and tweek till Im happy.
    dont get me wrong I wish I had a great drummer to be around at the drop of a dime to lay down tracks in a great room.not many have that luxury.I use EZ drummer,superior drummer,addictive drums and even kit core does a good job.
    The biggest thing I miss is the way the song evolves when just jammimg the ideas.
    But without those drummer software programs there would be alot of waisted time and waiting to do what is more important than drums …..the song.

  41. Andrew Gaul

    I think there’s 2 different issues going on here:
    1) Real Drummer v. Programmed Drums (Performance)
    2) Real Drums v. Sampled Drums (Instrument)

    1) In my opinion, it is very difficult to get that ‘professional’ sound by Programming drums. I use real drummers exclusively; I’d hire someone before trying to program it myself. I am not a drummer, but even if you have a real drummer sit down and program his drums, A) it takes forever, because you’re building a performance hit-by-hit, and B) it’ll never be that fluid, creative performance that he might have done in 5 minutes if he’d *played* it himself (even if it’s on electronic drum pads).

    2) I still prefer a ‘real’ kit. But there is that hurdle of A) owning a drum set, B) getting it to sound great acoustically, and C) owning the equipment to mic it properly. I’ve conquered several of those, but the thorn in my side is that every drummer I work with has a crappy snare, try as I might to fix it. 70% of the time, I end up replacing the hits with a sample. In fact, worst case, I sampled all the shells – kick, snare, toms. Very difficult to sample cymbals; I’d hire a session drummer before using sampled cymbals.

    Anyways, I just thought I’d put that out there.

  42. Rob

    Look, there aren’t any rules, if you like the sound you get from programmed drums for your current project, knock yourself out! Not sure why there is even a debate going on here. At the end of the day, some random guy on the internet saying programmed drums sound horrible is simply wrong. It’s all a matter of taste. Your make the music, you make the decisions. It’s all about learning what you like and making it your own.

  43. Ronnie Angell

    I agree with Andrew,the one thing I forgot to mention in my last comment was I always use midi drum files.I am not a drummer and were never good at programming drums.At least with midi loops that have long measures maybe 4 to 8 sometimes and played by a real drummer so you get that performance and those little things that a drummer will naturally add and by working with midi,you dont like the groove that you thought you liked when you were building the song take it out and throw in another one to me thats the biggest advantage to midi drums.
    Thats as a songwriter anyway…a real band is another animal all together.

  44. Bertrand Grichting

    When i started recording 25 years ago, it was all analog and recording real drums wit 8-10 mics where standard. Did it several times and it was always fun and a good practice in engineering as well. But that was then and this is now.

    If i could still have a studio-pro drummer with a great and expensive (tuned) drumkit standing in an acoustically great sounding room miked up with great mics i would go for it. But these days most of the time i get the drum tracks already recorded sent to me online and i have no influence on the recording itself. I guess most of us are in this position and only a few chosen ones can still have the almost perfect circumstances i’ve mentioned before.

    Recording mono-miked drums ? C’mon, this is a little too much retro for my taste, at least make it stereo. Why should i limit myself by recording a cheap drum-set in a boomy and echoing living room with not-so-ideal mics ? And then next we are editing, eq-ing. beat-detectiving, compressing and transient designing the hell out of that track so that it sounds more like we are used to, right ? I’d rather get a good drummer and a decent e-drum kit, then use Superior Drummer or some other great sounding library and get the best result out of the drummers performance. There is no substitute for a great drummer playing, but there is for bad drum sounds. I call this Drum-Reamping, just like with guitars. Is this considered “not worthy” for a “real” engineer? We are constantly trying to improve our mixes, getting the best sounds in every possible way with gear and software, why should we now compromise if we don’t have to? Again, in my opinion it is more about the human feel of a drummer then about the sound of his drumkit (and not every drummer owns a “real” drum kit these days). If you like to record real drums, go for it, great experience and you learn a lot. But if you are not satisfied with the sound, don’t just hold on to it because it’s cooler to have real drums in your track, try to make the best of it, either way you can.

    Sometimes i get the impression that is has become a fashion to say “i’ve recorded real drums on this track like they did on the old classics”. That does not automatically make the drums sound better. Don’t get me wrong, i think limitations have their positive side as well, as also shown on the great “mixing with stock plugins” workshop Graham did. You have to make decisions, know your stuff and get it right from the start. Sometimes we get lost in all the possibilities of modern day recording, but at least i have the choice now if i’m not satisfied with a sound and i’m not stuck with it like we where back then. Those where great times, but i don’t wanna go back there (well, for most of the time;-))

    At the end, we all know that this is again one of the exclusive engineers-only discussions like in other topics, because the listener will not hear a difference nor will he care. And not to offend any drummers (love and appreciate your work, really), but usually the people on the streets are not humming or whistling drum grooves (fake or real), right ?


  45. Stian Sylta

    This is really interesting stuff. When we released our first single, 100% homemade, we played everything except drums because we didn`t have a drummer, and my home studio could`t fit a kit. While working with the song, we used EZDrummer, and it was great for laying down the other instruments. But when we were going to pay 200$ to Abbey Road for mastering, we thought, why not pay less than 100$ for one of the many service that offer web cooperation for musicians. We went with Travis Whitmore (Hey Travis : ) and the drum tracks he made for us really brought the song together. It felt so much more alive.

    Since then, we´ve found a drummer for our band, and now we use our rehearsal space to record one condenser mic, until we can get our hands on some proper drum mics.

    This is our latest song, and it`s not finished yet. But we wanted to record something from rehearsal to work with.The drums are recorded with a 80$ mic covering the whole kit. Far from perfect, but it shows what you can do with one single affordable mic.

  46. Andy

    I can’t believe that no-one has mentioned ‘Jamstix’ – a truly amazing VST drummer that plays either it’s own samples, or those from AD, EZ-Drummer or SSD etc. It creates original, humanized drum beats in seconds – the best music software I have ever purchased.

    • Smurf

      I hear this all the time, and got a chance to sit down with someone who has owned the program for awhile, and was not impressed at all.

      Yea, it was better than stagnate loops, but it impressed me about as much a MDrummer did….which was not that much…

  47. Ghreg

    I agree to an extent and i disagree to an extent. Fake drums dont sound EXACTLY like real drums because the ARE FAKE! Maybe in future software they’ll be able to go deeper into why real drums sound the way they do, and be then be able to mimic that exactly, but thats not happening now (although they are getting alot closer).

    Being a drummer myself and a drum programmer, i feel that its very possible, however, to but alot of emotion into programming your drums. i dont have easy access to a drum set or to a good room, so real drums are not always easy to record. When it comes to programming drums, i use Superior Drummer and i am very particular about every drum hit. I dont just punch in rhythms and then quantize. I dive in and record hits at the velocities i would play naturally. i program the drums with dynamics and soul.

    I dont think we should be so quick to brush off vst drums because you can really get them to sound great. Yea it takes a bit more time, and its never gonna be the same as the “real thing”, but if you put a little heart into it, it could sound pretty darn close.

  48. Joe Bucci

    I’m using an inexpensive Roland TD-3 kit and Superior Drummer 2.0 for my drum recordings. The samples are great and the Roland Kit allows me to have a real drummer play, for the “feel”. I can then quantize just certain parts of the performance if I need to and the overall sound is much better than programmed drums or loops. Not to mention the entire process is fast compared to using a piano roll or keyboard controller!

  49. Alan

    Hey folks, let’s not forget about Drumagog. Record real live drums, and then fold in samples to reinforce or replace the instrument sounds on what you captured. You get the timing, feel, and dynamics of a live performance plus the clarity of good samples. Best of both worlds? It does start with a real drum performance, though–not MIDI sequences or loops.

  50. Eric

    Even though I’m a guitar player, I’m really obsessed with drums. For my tracks, I used to use Battery or Halion samples that I made myself. But now, I use Battery or Studio drummer for preproduction and than record a real drummer for the final track. Even if I used to spend hours on getting the ultimate track using samples, it just doesn’t come close to the sound and feel of a real drummer playing on a good sounding kit. So to me, samples are great for preprod, but to bring your track to life, there’s just nothing like the real thing.

    As Alan said, Drumagog can do wonders on a modestly recorded drum track. The only downside is that replacing samples takes times and is heavy on the CPU. But it surely is an alternative.

    Nowadays, there are a drummers that offer real drum tracks online. It’s so much easier than finding a drummer, with a good drum, in a good room with good mics. Of course, it cost a little more, but once you’ll try it, you’ll never go back! I know I won’t.

  51. hillelKAPS

    I happen to use Ezdrummer more and I’ve even triggered sounds playing on a Yamaha DD-55. (Its an experience). If I would want to start using real drums but I’m recording with one mic mainly, would you recommend using the technique in your video about micing drums with one mic? or at least to mic it in stereo? I feel like people are too involved with being able to manipulate every piece of the drumset by using drum mics but I’m curious if I’m completely wrong and maybe I should be attempting to record drums more like that

  52. Morten

    Great article, would be nice with some tricks to make “fake” drums sound more “real”. I use EZ-drummer, Session Drummer 3 and Abbey Road Modern Drummer. AR Modern Drummer is great, with the new SSL-channel mixer. Properly some of the closest to a “real” drum sound I’ve heard. I track either with my e-drumkit or keyboard. I quantize a bit (75%) due to my timing :-). But in fact a lot of engineers use drum samples triggered by real recordings to perfect the sound. A lousy recorded session can indeed be spiced up using samples. Love to have my songs in perfect timing, just make things a lot easier… Track on!

  53. chris porro

    i’m not a fan of programmed drums unless you have a very good programmer and very interesting samples. personally i find programming drums a bit tedious but that might change.

    as a drummer (took up 6 years ago) i’m starting to realize all the subtle things in a talented drummer’s performance. dynamics, sense of swing, and the complexities of real drums.

    what i currently do is record an a-kit with about 6 mics. snare, kick, left close (left toms), right close (right toms), and 2 overheads. i convert the transients to midi notes. then i replace all drums with BFD. i’m paranoid so i always check for phase problems. then i fade up the overheads which usually have so much high frequency content i might not have to do any eq!

    so long as the snare work is not super intricate this is pretty easy as far as converting transients to midi goes. i keep the overheads because they capture the cymbals and cymbals are impossible to replace and sound natural imo. i mean, you can replace them but it’s not like the actual performance.

    if you choose you can always fade up the original drums and mix with samples.

    it’s a sound. you keep the performance. you have great sounding drums via BFD. you have some flexibility. oh, almost forgot… alot of times i maintain all the original dynamics so the kick doesn’t sound like a clubby club kick.

  54. chris porro

    opps, one more thing. i use 6 mics because it makes transient selection easier. you could use fewer and spend more time adjusting thresholds. no thx.

  55. Brian

    I use a combination of sample loops and Cakewalk’s SI Drum. When programming drums, I either trigger with a small usb keyboard or “play” live on a Yamaha 8 piece drum machine via midi. Unfortunately, my drumming skills are… nowhere near my guitar or keyboard skills, but ironically, the one track I have released where I play all the drums on the Yamaha I get the most positive comments -=about=- the drums, even though any musician here can clearly spot the timing errors and flaws. No matter how hard I try, my canned drums often get “your guitar sounds awesome, but the drums…”

    I think this -=proves=- Graham’s point entirely. There is a clear difference between what a “real drummer” will play and what a programmed midi or sampled loop will play. A real drummer will never hit the snare exactly the same way in every measure of a song, and I think our ears can spot the “fakeness” level of canned drums.

    That being said, I’m still a long way off from doing my own drums, and don’t have the space to set up a kit if I brought somebody to my studio. I am working on seeing if I can get the output from my church’s audio board into a DAW on my laptop… that might do the trick for getting real drums on my songs, and I play with some very awesome drummers at church.

    • chris porro

      you should be able to. just run the board into some line level inputs on an interface. but you need an interface with many inputs.

      would be cool to get the room mics from a church. hello bonham.

      • Brian

        Yeah, our church drums are set up in a plexiglass cage with 8 mics mixed into four channels before heading to the sound booth. I have an M-Audio Mobile Pre (2nd gen) that will take 2 channels, though if I have too many tracks in the project, the M-Audio can’t keep up… I also have a TonePort DI Silver which is one channel, and keeps up great. I’m pretty sure I can mix the drums down easily enough from the system board to get them into the laptop, I’m more concerned about getting the track the drummer will be playing to into his headphones… Lots to work out there.

  56. DC

    I really believe that something’s been lost in this thread.

    As Andrew stated, there are two different issues here: Performace (Feel) and Sound (Audio Quality). Many of the posts above confuse or combine the two. If a real human drummer is tracked on an acoustic kit, a MIDI kit, or a set of buckets and ice coolers, the FEEL should be the same from that drummer. If you capture this PERFORMANCE it shouldn’t matter what he was hitting his sticks on. The PERFORMANCE is the PERFORMANCE. If you re programming a drum part on a keyboard or pressing buttons on an MPC, then one should expect the feel to be different (slightly or vastly depending o the skill of the programmer) from the feel of a human drummer playing with four limbs in real time.

    The SOUND is another matter entirely. EZDRUMMER is Toontrack’s ENTRY LEVEL program. It works and does a good job, but it is not the gold standard for virtual drum sounds (again we’re talking about sounds not playing performance/feel). Superior drummer has ALL of the bleed, room ambience, mono bullet micing, etc than you can shake a stick at and it’s adjustable for EACH DRUM AND CYMBAL INDIVIDUALLY. Sonically, it (and other pro-level stuff like BFD2) crushes EZDRUMMER, STRIKE, etc, as well it should.

    Graham’s suggestion is spot on if you are using canned MIDI or pressing keys/buttons with your fingers. You’re getting a good sound, but may be sacrificing performance/feel. If you are or have access to a great drummer, and have access to a good MIDI drum setup, professional drum software, and KNOW HOW TO MIX DRUMS, then you will lose next to nothing recording your real human playing on a MIDI kit and playing back detailed pro samples from software. There is NO difference from this approach and playing an acoustic kit only to replace the sounds with rofessional samples after the fact, which is what happens on MOST commercial recordings.

    I’ve been drumming for over 30 years, and I’ve been producing and composing for almost 20 years. I’ve done tons of recordings on acoustics recorded to 2-inch tape, ADATs, DA-88s and DAWs. For the past five years or so, I’ve been doing the MIDI drum kit triggering software thing. I can record my acoustics anytime I want to, but I choose to do it this way, because it provides infinitely more options for the sound of the final product, WHILE SILL BEING MY PERFORMANCE (feel, emotion, etc).

    “Fake” drummers are not a replacement for the impromptu creativity of a real musician. Professionally recorded drum sounds will sonically blow a poorly recorded instrument away everytime. Skilled performer + pro-sounds= A WIN!

    My $.02

    • chris porro

      +1. totally agree except for one thing.

      a home studio and drums can’t compete with a program like BFD2, which i use. the platinum package for BFD sounds like god playing real drums. 😀

      but in my experience you still can’t capture everything with a midi v-drum setup. for one, cymbals are way to complex to model. also any nuanced playing is hard to model.

      if you think about a cymbal, for example, it sounds different everywhere on that 20″ radius. and there are many ways it can be hit. the tip, shank, glancing. then there is the sustain from the last hit combining with the current one. it’s complex.

      that’s why i record a real kit and then replace the simpler drums (or the ones people play simply) like the toms and kick.

      if you are doing a rockish performance it’s much easier to get a decent performance out of a v-drum. but try brushes, or jazz, that’s not easy. i don’t know if it can be done.

      also v-drums play different and i can’t help but think this will affect a performance. there are some kits….RET…that use real drum heads. i haven’t played them. every e-kit i’ve played did not feel like a real kit.

      • DC

        I agree: every e-kit doesn’t “feel” like acoustics. The thing is all acoustics don’t “feel” the same either. Pinstripe heads feel different than coated heads, which feel different than hydraulics, which feel different from dotted heads, which felt different than fiberskyn, etc… all of these heads have noticeably different rebound characteristics… and we haven’t even begun to discuss the differences that head tension and cymbal thickness contribute. Remember electric guitars and synth keyboards don’t “feel” like their acoustic counterparts, but great players are able to adjust their technique to get great music out of them.

        I think the issue is about adaptation. If you’ve ever done any gigging on rented backline gear or the “house kit” at some church or jazz club, you know how to adjust your playing to whatever is available. I think it’s a similar case with e-kits. Mesh heads have a different rebound than rubber, which differs from silicon, and they all differ from acoustic mylar heads. Then factor in the different types of e-cymbals…plastic, rubber, metal, acrylic, some swing on the stand, some don’t. You get my point. Spend enough time on the kit, and you can adjust and get great results. Just listen to some of the street drummers on the aforementioned buckets and ice coolers. That stuff definitely doesn’t feel like a “real kit”, but they are able to get good grooves and performances out of them, because they have adapted to the hardware.

        As far as the nuance issue, digital drumming has come a long way, but it’s not perfect. If I’m going for Vinnie Colaiuta or Dave Weckl levels of finesse on cymbals especially, acoustics win the toss without question, but for most “POP”ular styles today like Rock, Pop, CCM, Gospel, R&B, Country, etc. (which, let’s be honest, are the styles that what we most often get PAID to cover and represent the MAJORITY of what’s being done by people on this forum)a solid drummer playing a kit that triggers professional virtual drum software that uses multiple layers of randomized samples per drum/cymbal and even employs varied attack times when the same instrument is struck in rapid succession can fool the listener with no problem. Especially when each drum/cymbal is captured into multiple mics to get the depth that drum modyule sounds lack. Finally, bring it all together with skilled mixing and you can have a final product that’s virtually indistinguishable from an acoustic performance.

        Cymbals are definitely the final frontier. They’ve gotten MUCH better, but we still have some ground to cover before the digital versions can reproduce all of the articulations you mentioned using just a drum stick on an e-cymbal pad.

        • chris porro

          werd. for most stuff you can capture a great performance and trigger great sounds with an e-kit and drum sampler. and seriously, how much pop music has intricate cymbal work? 😀

    • john

      You nailed it, DC. If the performer (drummer) has a quality V-Drum kit and is a great drummer, the resulting MIDI files combined with a quality engine and samples (e.g. Superior Drummer) is a viable, flexible, and powerful combination.

  57. DC

    Lest some of you think that Chris and I are exaggerating, here’s a couple of links of a great drummer playing an e-kit and triggering the sounds out of Superior Drummer. Note that the feel is totally real… a live drummer’s groove and chops with studio quality drum sounds coming from the software…in real time!

    Remember ALL of the sounds you hear are from Toontrack Superior Drummer. NONE of this is coming from the Roland module. The module is just the trigger interface for the e-kit.

    You guys tell me what you would rather have on your next production, these “fake drums” or a potentially sub-par kit or mic job done in your living room.

  58. Chris Wesley

    Great article, but completely subjective. In 2006, I used Fruity Loops of all programs, to program the drum tracks for a metal track. The mixer replaced the snare with a Bob Clearman sample, but otherwise left it as was. Even some drummers were unable to tell whether it was real or fake. Note that I program with sincere love of drummers and how they approach a song building and/or easing tension with fills, silence, etc. gained by many hours of studying (listening intent on how drums contributed) to Zeppelin, Metallica, Dream Theater, Rush, Tool, a multitude of other drummers and percussionists across genres and so on. Having a real drummer would have been preferred, but wasn’t in the budget, so I used the far from ideal tool at hand, but treated the drum programming with care and passion. Real or fake, give me that burning need to express and elevate the emotional component of a song from the player or programmer, and I won’t likely ask for more.

  59. Jason

    I agree with graham. Iam lucky enough to have a home studio in my basement and I use my Gretsch Catalina club kit and it sounds great now that I took his advice and acoustically treated my 15’x16′ room. I use studio one 2 and it comes with decent drum loops but I use audix and a 57 on my kit and it sounds great! Anyway great article graham thanks for all ur advice I’ve learned a lot from ur tutorials and saved a lot of $ that I didn’t need to spend 🙂 ur right the music is what matters , not a piece of new gear!! Thanks again

  60. Songwriter

    I wanted to add drums to my songs, and getting tired of my drum machine (which I know is nowhere near today´s software samples/electronic kits) I finally decided to buy a cheap drum set and some nice cymbals.

    The bottleneck for me was to find somewhere to play it. The first autumn I managed to play it for three months in my penthouse corner apartment before the neighbors´ complaints came. I´ve lugged it to my family´s cabin in the mountains on a sled, which was not that tempting to repeat. But most of the time, it´s sadly been covered by dust in a basement storage room.

    Recently, however, I got the chance to use an old radio studio at my workplace. A small room, acoustically treated and everything. So I´ve picked up the drum recording again, and also got some good heads and even a tuning machine (didn´t know those existed, but saw it on the webpage when I was ordering heads).

    Drum recording is fun! I wouldn´t claim to be that good playing them, but hopefully it comes with practice and repetition. The biggest challenge now is the timing, and getting the instruments to align well. It´s a little hard… (I prefer not to use a meteronome/click track). Also I´m experimenting with mic setups and processing to get things to sound better. (I think I´ve found something I like now with an SM7B on the snare and a KSM141 over my right shoulder (and nothing on the kick, which surprises me…). And just a little compression…)

    Still, even though drum samples don´t have my interest (unless as a listener), I respect those who can program drums to sound good in a song. That´s an art, like anything in music can be artistic.

    And the thing which is the most rock´n´roll of it all? That everyone does it their own way!

  61. james hatmine

    The actual samples on superior drummer are REAL drums! And as someone pointed out, the midi samples from toontrack and etc. are REAL drummers so you get the REAL feel. When mixed into music I challenge most people on this forum to determine what are acoustic drums and what are real acoustic drums triggered by samples.

    • George

      I agree, James. I’m always surprised when people refer to EZDrummer as “fake”. Whether I record that snare hit or they do, in the end it’s still a waveform of a snare hit. The only difference is that they have WAY better mics and rooms.

  62. Rickard

    As most other articles of this kind they always focus on either a “real acoustic kit being played by a drummer” or the “usage of loops or programming drum beats in SDX/BFD/SSD, whatever”. Never any middle ground. I record drums to clients worldwide via my digital kit and by “playing the samples”. It’s the actual PERFORMANCE in REAL TIME that makes or breaks it. Noone cares how it is done except maybe those from the past century.

  63. Hillel

    I think there’s one thing we can all agree on that Graham tries very hard to knock into all of us,

    “If it sounds good , then its good!” I feel like that sums it up. Fake or not, plugin or real set as long as what you’re doing sounds good no one is gonna care too much about what is real and what isn’t

  64. Mike Mangeoglu

    I just want to add something about drum software. I agree that recording real drums with a real drummer is better, but for those of us using drum software: I have been using Addictive Drums and I love it. But a Big Ass Butt: You must practice playing beats with your midi a whole lot to make it sound real, its not just about tweaking the kit within or without. I found that if I picture a drum set in front of me and really play it like a drummer, with the right feel and timing it will sound great. Another thing I do not do is quantize, I would rather play to a click with good time than quantize, quantizing ruins all my songs. I go back and re-record the drums over to the bass and guitar or keys and make sure its locked in. sure you can’t do fill ins like Neil Peart, but if you practice to a metronome long enough you will pull it off. thanks to everyones posts on everything.

    • DC

      Hmm… I guess this thread has gotten so long that many haven’t bothered to read all the way through it. I would say that recording a real drummer is better… and then stop there. This “real drums” issue can get a bit convoluted.

      The “fake drum” discussion is not a one-size fits all. Playing the real thing is not NECESSARILY better, especially if the drummer, kit, and tracking are subpar. There are many issues to consider:

      Performance method (real drummer playing a kit or not), depth and quality of the sound generator (how does the software sound), and one’s mixing ability….in that order IMHO.

      Performance method is what keeps being overlooked. If you are playing drums by pressing keys or large square rubber buttons with your fingers, then your PERFORMANCE will not be the same as a real drummer on a kit. If your method is drawing in notes on a sequencer grid with a mouse, then your performance will not be the same as a real drummer on a kit. If you are a real drummer playing on a drum kit that can send MIDI (either an electronic kit or an acoustic kit with triggers) THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE DRUM PERFORMANCE/FEEL because it IS a REAL drummer playing with four limbs, in REAL time on a physical kit. The fact that he may be hitting mesh heads or rubber pads with his sticks and pedals is IMMATERIAL. If he has the chops and skill he can do ANYTHING he wants… Neil Peart fills and all.

      If your software’s soundset is sufficiently deep, then the SOUND you get from your software will be indistinguishable from a professionally recorded acoustic kit… BECAUSE IT IS A PROFESSIONAL RECORDING OF AN ACOUSTIC KIT. Sounds out of drum modules, like the ones on offer from Roland or Yamaha, do sound fake. EZdrummer has less sample layers than something like Superior Drummer, so you won’t get as many tonal variations an nuances, but you could still fool 90% of the population. If you record a great drummer playing an electronic kit AND triggering a deep professional soundset like Superior Drummer, what you hear on playback will be INDISTINGUISHABLE from a recording of that same drummer playing an acoustic kit in a great room. Period.

      If you mix your drums using presets in the software, then don’t be surprised if your drums have a recognizable “preset” sound in your final mixes. Also, the processors that are built in to your drum software are not on par with UAD or Waves stuff… usable, but not great. If you use the knowledge you gain from sites like this, combined with your own experience, you can get a drum sound that NO ONE would call “fake” or “inferior to the real thing”. Check the Youtube links I posted above for an example.


      • Rickard

        And four posts up, my only point was that it is the PERFORMANCE that is the singular most important thing. There needs to be a drummer playing a kit. Be it acoustic, or electronic, triggering the samples. I prefer the latter.

  65. Norman

    I find it unfair to compare the result a professional drummer with 15+ years of experience to the result of someone (most of us) who, inbetween school or dayjob is trying to divide his time and skills among songwriting, performing, recording, mixing and creating his drumtracks with samples, etc., and conclude that the live drums are better.

    As Sting says; “it takes at least 10.000 hours for someone to master any art”. This means at least five years, practicing 8 hours on a daily basis on your particular instrument.
    This applies also when you want to master programming drums or any virtual instrument.

    So, I’m sure that if we found a dedicated/exclusive drum programmer with the necessary experience and equipment, the difference wouldn’t be that great.
    Of course there would be a difference, the same as there would be a difference between top drummer A and his kit and top drummer B with his kit.

    But, I understand that this is not what Graham meant at all, but to just TRY the real thing, even in your less-than-perfect studio; you might be surprised by the results.

    Best regards,

    • Graham

      They totally have their place. But there is something they lack, which is imperfections and vibe.

      • Sue Rarick

        I use an electric kit as a trigger for Sonar’s SI Drums. I can tune each drum and use just a tad of reverb to match room acoustics on the set master. I play it just like an acoustic set and it seems to have all the character an acoustic set has. I think the trick is to keep it as simple as possible and to alter the basic sound as little as possible.

  66. John Barney

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Drums on Demand. They are real kits, played by real drummers in great drums rooms. They are loops organized by intros, verses, choruses, fills, bridges, oneshots, etc. Check out my music on my website, especially from my Best of Days CD. Virtually no can tell they weren’t played at the same time as the rest of the recording. They have “feel” since they were recorded with live drummers – and the organized sets make the construction of the songs easy and quick.

  67. MJN

    I’d like to have a real drummer but I think for songwriting and DIY, samples and loops are going to have to do. Listen to some of my tracks if you get a chance. I’ve enjoyed your videos and tips greatly! Thanks!

  68. John Lardinois

    I work with fake drums, real players. I very much prefer sampled drums over real. You can build any kit, any time.

    Then there’s the issue of phase – you’ll never worry about phase again with sampled drums. No two samples were ever recorded at the same time, so phase issues are simply non-existent.

    There’s the issue of sounding fake… sampled drums hardly sound fake if you know your way around MIDI, however they have a “plastic” groove to them if you use loops.

    So what I do is build a rough drum track using loops and let the band play over the top (minus the drums). Then I re-track the drums over the band, so the fills and lead-ins and solos are truly authentic to the song. You don’t have that monotonous ‘loop’ quality. Finally, to make the drums sound completely authentic, I move them roughly 2-3ms ahead of the rest of the band. As is natural in a live session, the band will follow the drummer.

    The key to good sounding fake drums, however, is to have a band that plays on time. Poor performances from vocals and guitars unfortunately creates the illusion that the drummer is off or is playing poorly. Careful, and carefully chosen, editing can fix this… if used sparingly and wisely.

    Using time-stretching plugins to intentionally make a tempo-tight band sway or hover around a tempo has great results, especially if you taper the tempo change behind the drums. It sounds like the drummer is grooving and the band is following the lead.

  69. Paul Swindells

    My last 2 albums were basically EZ drummer, and now its Real drums. Im nervous to say the least as to what the results will be, but Graham has guided me!

  70. Paul Antoni

    I tend to agree with some points.

    1. A real life drummer, a talented one, can more easily produce a groove.
    2. However, as I produce EDM a real drummer would be impossible.

    I might be wrong, but I think EDM works best with “fake” drums.

    :- ) god bless

  71. Rusty White

    One issue often overlooked when justifying “fake” drums is the fact that lose out on the personal talents of a living drummer, who will invariably play parts like the drummer they are, and not like, well “you”.

    Even if you have a live kit its pretty easy to hear when one person is playing all the instruments. A great example is Lenny Kravitz “Are You Gonna Go My Way”.

    Of course, he did sell 4 million albums so what the hell do I know.

  72. Smurf

    Wow, this thread was started in 2011!

    I had an interesting conversation with a friend a few days ago that disliked a comment I made, which was “No matter if you use a real drummer or a piece of software, if you use sample sounds that are already processed to the max then you BETTER make sure the rest of your production is just as shiny & finished sounding, or it’s garbage.”

    Let’s face it, EZD, AD, all of these great sounding drum programs sound GREAT, but how many times have your heard these million dollar drums in a track with fizzy guitars, flabby basses, and vocals that cold crack glass….and ALL of it at the bottom of the grand canyon!

    This is why I feel AD and Session Drummer using the Smart Loop Sample Sets are the best, because they can sound like a REAL kit recorded in a REAL room that blends with YOUR acoustics. The newest Drummix Rock 1 kit is the best every day kit I have used in awhile, really, and for only $30 it is a no brainer.

    As a drummer playing drums on a tracks is #1, but when I have those times where that is not possible I use realistic drums, not over processed…it just feels more real……

  73. Wires

    I demo with Addictive Drums now all the time; the drummer of my band plays live on a Roland kit midi’d into AD in Pro Tools. Man, it’s perfect for the demo process, I can go in and clean it up a bit, change the tempo no problem (that’s a big facet of demoing, getting your tempo’s right!) and then get a pretty convincing drum sound fairly quickly from a tweaked preset in AD. I’m talking to a prospective producer at the moment to record these songs ‘properly’ for an EP and he asked how I got such a great drum sound. He was totally fooled and he’s a multi award winning producer who records to tape. It’s totally possible to get ‘real’ drum sounds from these virtual kits, but really only if you use a live drummer to get the midi notes in there. Then it has feel. I used to struggle alot with midi loops or programming drums in with a keyboard. It just doesn’t have feel. Feel. is. Everything!!

  74. Adam Fiasco

    This is a really interesting post and interesting comments flying about. I record and mix mainly pop / chart style music and electronic drums are pretty much the only way to go for me. I use studio drummer from NI and it is great, it has a randomize function so that the timing is not 100% robotic and slight velocity changes, and differences in the timbre of kick, snare and hat hits. I do 100% agree that a real live recorded kit just has that feel to it that you don’t get anywhere else and something you can quite put your finger on, but I can’t help think that because in a LOT of modern day music even if real drum kits are recorded, they get run through beat detective to hell so they are dead on the grid and a hell of a lot of sample replacement, all of that live ‘feel’ gets sucked out of them anyway. So why not save a whole lot of time and go back to studio drummer where quantising the kit is an extremely simple and not very time consuming task! Sad but true!


  75. TDH

    Just found this post. Good info, I,m using SD2.0, with the NY Studios Vol. 2, Custom Vintage, Nashville, and Vintage Rock EZX librarys. And, I send the midi signal to an output on the interface, then into the line input of UA 610,s for a mono hihat and stereo tracks with Eq, and for mono tracks into a TG Channel MKII with Eq! And, record the track. I like the sound way better, the signal sounds more fuller and punchier, more like it did before the conversions, when it was orginally recorded live! If you have a good preamp or two, try running the signal through it and record it. Can,t hurt and your ears might like it, too!

  76. Gareth de-Witt

    I’m a bassist, thought I’d add that I use Addictive Drums to do my home recording. I use the loops as they are for me the easiest way to get a track mapped out. I love the sounds and they work for me, but nothing beats a live drummer. Lots of respect to the drummers I have played with and to those I have yet to play with

  77. chris

    There are a lot of posts and I didn’t read them all. Someone may have said this already, if so I apologize.

    The question that comes to my mind is this: how many people will know by listening to my track, whether I recorded “real” drums, or “fake” drums…

    Great topic!

  78. Dirk Radloff

    I have experienced both, the real drums and the fake drums and meanwhile I stick with the fake drums, because of some personal reasons: I agree, that a real drum-set can sound great with a little room and just two mics, but with no room and a family at home there is no way to do that. So you need a lot of money as a one-man-project to hire a drummer, to hire a studio and to hire an experienced engineer. The main problem for my own music is, that it’s very complicated. So a real drummer has to exercise a lot to play it right. The typical session-drummer is not willing to train first a few month to play the part. They have calculated their rates for playing to a straight playback in 4/4 and to get quickly good results. And I understand them, because I also don’t want to have double-work for the same salary. So if you want to realise something progressive, you have to find a drummer with lots of idealism or you better program.
    The big disadvantage of programming is, that it’s veeeery time-consuming, if you want to get good results and maybe you will never reach the realism of a real set, but for me the advantages outbalance.
    1. If you program, the drum-track will become exactly, how you imagine it
    2. You have all the time in the world to program and no studio-clock is ticking
    3. At every point you can still change everything
    4. You can finetune the interaction of the instruments: If you think at a later point of the production, that the drummer should accent this little 16th-note in measure 74 with a snare-hit, you can still do this.

    Imitate a real drummer
    1. The heaviest accent in a bar is mostly the first quarter.
    2. A drummer has two hands. There should be a sound-difference between the two hands, because they are hitting different areas of the drum.
    3. Use ghost-notes. If you don’t know, what this is, learn it.
    4. Don’t try to imitate special articulations like rolls with single strokes, if you can avoid it. It’s much better to use specialised samples. The best snare-roll is a samples snare-roll.
    5. Most drum-libraries show off their velocity-layers: “We have sampled this supadupadrumkit with 256 velocity-layers, so it’s the best library in the world. Don’t believe the advertisement. Will you ever use velocity 1-40, if you programming Rock-drums? But what’s about the upper velocity-regions? If you have their 100 samples recorded exactly at the same point on the drum it will still sound lifeless, because: What’s about the other regions of the drum? I think at this point there is still a lot of room for improvements in drum-libraries.
    I would like to have each drum sampled also at different places on the single drum ( so that you can wander with the stick from the center point to the frame). I ams till waiting for a lot of cymbal-swells and cymbal rolls in different dynamics.
    There is still a lot on my wishlist. But it’s getting better

  79. Rafael

    Put is simply folks, EZ Drummer, Superior Drummer, Addictive drums, etc,
    they ARE REAL drums. I don’t understand why people think those sounds are FAKE drums??? If you took a real drummer and recorded him, then created a WAV file out of it, whether it be a snare hit, kick drum hit, etc, It’s basically the SAME thing. However, having a real drummer is better for the creative process maybe, but having recorded drums sounds from some of the top studios in the world is HUGE. Those drum software programs are amazing, and because they are truly REAL drums that were recorded for us!! Use it!


      I think that most people get that EZD (or any drum software for that matter) is a collection of recordings of real kits played by real drummers. Unlike software based loops however, if you have a live drummer playing a mic’d kit, he or she will respond to what they are hearing from the rest of the musicians. Little shifts in meter, or dynamics etc… because these libraries are created in more or less a vacuum, the drummers performance doesn’t necessarily relate to YOUR song, and come across as sounding somewhat detached and/or “fake” in that regard.

      Overall though, I totally understand what your saying here. The debate does get pretty silly at times.


    Kit or Software? I use both, and it all depends on the project.

    For a kit I have a Sonor 5pc with close to a dozen Sabian cymbals to choose from. To record it, more often than not, I use a 4 mic set up, but occasionally I’ll go crazy and mic the toms as well as the hi-hat individually, along with an under the snare mic.

    In terms of software, I’ve been using ToonTracks EZD series with a mix of the Blues, Jazz, and a pair of the metal expansions.

    For my own writing I use EZD for song creation and arrangement. From that point, it either stays, or becomes the guide track for the project as other musicians lay their parts, and the drums get replaced with a mic’d kit. When working on something similar to say Kamelot or Nightwish, then EZD is perfectly fine. However if I’m going for the singer/songwriter Nora Jones kind of vibe, then I would choose to have a live drummer on a mic’d kit thats performance in responding to the other musicians so that we capture those subtle nuances that make it “feel” really special.

    Anyway that’s my dos centavos.

  81. tony

    There is a trick you should all know about. Record real drums, the quality of the recording isn’t that important, you just want to capture the performance; take that track and use it as a reference to construct an exact “imperfect” sampled replica. In other words: You use the real drums as a map and match the virtual drums to it. I forget where I learned this technique (maybe it was this site, which would be embarassing 😉 but it definitely works and, with a little work, can give you studio-quality drums at a bedroom price.

  82. Rav

    For years I have been a staunch purist when it came to recording drums in my small home studio. Had my kit properly mic’d up, all toms, top and bottom snare, kick , two stereo matched overheads along with a large diaphragm room mic. I’d lay down the 9 tracks then get to work on the EQ, Comp, Stereo spread ect… It was quite the task and slowed me down, also did a job on my CPU. This past Christmas I decided to go to the dark side and purchased a Yamaha DTX kit. Ran it through Superior Drummer 2.0 and was blown away. My recording experience has changed for the better. My drums are now on a MIDI track with real feeling and I do all my adjusting in the Superior Mixer.

  83. Woody Crockett

    For a home musician/songwriter/engineer/producer…..etc… incorporating REAL real drums into your work is a losing proposition–at best a waste of time and money. You will never attain the results that you can using drum samples that were produced in top flight studios. Ask yourself how many MA-300s, C12s, ELA M251Es, U87s, etc…you have laying around? Got Fairchild compressors? Pultec EQs? The list goes on…. This says nothing about the live room itself the drums were sampled in. Face it, there is NO WAY you are going to get the kind of results that you would get from using Superior Drummer, Addictive Drums, etc…. So why even bother? If you have to do your own drum tracks, use your controller of choice and go for it. Of course, playing live is a whole different story. I generally walk out from a venue if I don’t see REAL drums on stage. Or for that matter, real guitar players, bassists, percussionists, horns….etc…you get the picture. Bottom line, music is all about musicians and their craft.

    I’m a guitar player by trade and since I don’t play out anymore, I find myself using amps less these days and using AmpliTube and Guitar Rig more often. When your work remains in the digital realm, it makes a lot of good sense to utilize the tools and resources that were produced in there under the best conditions and gear anyone could ask for–not to mention all the expertise it took to produce the product. Finally, when I think about all the amps, effects, cabs, mics, cables, etc…I don’t have to buy AND all the space I save, it certainly makes me a happy camper.

    • Rafael

      Woody – Yup, my thoughts exactly! If you were to record live drums and then use the files in a DAW, it would almost be the same thing as using EZ Drummer. Only difference is, EZ Drummer and the like, were made in top of the world studios using the best rooms, equipment, etc.
      I would definitely rather use these software programs than try to record this stuff myself. Saves me a ton of time and money, and I have the best drum tracks available! -Cheers 🙂

  84. Mike Mangeoglu

    Speaking of drums, I just bought Maschine Mikro and I’m having a hard time getting a sound on a track as an insert. It works as a stand alone but when I pull it up in a session its silent. Should i just record the beats into machine and pull it into aux or stereo tracks in protools. Anybody have experience in this area? Thanks.

  85. gary priest

    Well, I do it two ways at the moment. I have a drum machine and I have an electric drum set. Yamaha.
    I start with the machine (Alesis) and then, leaving just the count off on one of the tracks, I play my real drums along with the music. I go back and add fills sometimes. I am not a good drummer but I am an efficient bass player and know what good drums should feel and sound like. The hardest thing for me is being layed back at the right times. …and getting those drums to sound right in the mix. Lately I am experimenting with laying one to two drums at a time and then mixing them together afterwards to create one full drum kit.
    I can always use some pointers and appreciate them too.


  86. Steve S.

    Realistically, I’ll never have the time, energy, or expertise to use real drums. And since I lack the patience to program drums, I invested in Maschine 2 and love it! It is the best feeling trigger pads for me. I tried several, too. Having been a desk drummer since grade school, this is a natural, ha, ha. Now I have way too many drums to choose from!

    Thanks Graham!

  87. Igor

    Hi, IMHO there is only one way to deal with this problem: be honest with yourself and your taste…
    If you are looking for some reason a more “inhuman (electronic)” sound for your drum part of the music you are composing or playing, one should go ahead with samplers, electronic drumkits and quantizing. Shure there’s some nice music made this way…
    On the other hand if you like the “real thing” (what is “real” now days?) please use an authentic drum set and a true drummer!
    All of those professionals who would like the “real thing” for their project but in stead use other equipment I think are wrong.
    The only reason to choose this way of working, is because it’s based on comfort (laziness maybe?) and/or an economical motive. There are no excuses. You are not a good drummer? Well, practise (I know, takes time), ask a friend or hire a drummer. You like the acoustic sound more? So look for or hire a nice sounding drum room, mic’s etc.
    If you don’t do it this way your sound always be an approximation to what is the “real thing”. In my opinion you are not honest, not professional.

    See you! Igor.

  88. Ryan

    I’ve been having a lot of luck with the new logic drummer and using elements like a steve slate kick with it. It has a very real session drummer vibe to it. It’s actually fooled a lot of my pro drummer friends.

  89. Rob

    Without having read any of the responses here, I will add in that I love the challenge of writing good drum parts on a drum machine or “fake” kit. I’m not a drummer myself, but I have a good idea of how drums are played, thanks to friends and experience, and I write my parts so that they at least represent the possibility of a real drummer playing an electronic kit of choice.

    I also know (and thus fully agree) that for many listeners and genres, nothing beats the sound of a good drummer on a good kit recorded well. The point of fake drums, for me, is mainly to write demo drum parts that complement or enhance the feel I’m trying to capture. I’d only call them final if they sounded really, REALLY good, or if I was doing a dance track or some other style that didn’t require a real drummer.

    With that said, I’ve heard a lot of good music with fake drums. Sometimes the real thing is beside the point. It’s a matter of taste.

  90. Todd

    I use a combination of things as a drummer/amature engineer. I play the drums, but as graham mentions… it’s difficult to get a really good capture of drums. I use Slate trigger in addition to Toontrack samples as a way to turn rough sounding drums into pure magic. I use my DAW to create single hit samples of various kinds of glancing blows on each drum. Once this is done… I simply open up the trigger editor in Slate and create a multi-layered trigger of each drum. Once you assign this triggered sample ro each drum within Trigger… it converts the transient (amplitude dependent) into a fantasticly real sounding drum. You can also mix this sample with your real recording as a way to bolster your drum with a more more professional sample. Very cool… I highly recommend this technique as an inexpensive way to improve your drum mixes (under $200 for Tigger and EZ Drummer, or Under $400 for Superior Drummer and Trigger).

  91. Jason

    Your acoustic guitar is also a drum. So is your floor, your hands, that bucket in the garage, and your glass of iced tea on the table. I use whatever I can bang on to get my tracks to pop.

    I’m primarily a guitar player and I do not have a drum kit and I feel that fake drums sound sterile and hollow. I record percussion with my guitar by hitting just off the sound hole with an open palm and my snare is a firm slap to the side of the guitar’s body (you’ve all probably seen this). Pair that with good mic placement, and there are all kinds of sounds you can get out of this. Ben Howard is my guru here (and Jon Martyn was his).

    I record two tracks and pan them wide (make sure to be in time) for a great acoustic drum sound that takes up little headroom, and has the same resonant frequency as your guitar! Throw in a shaker, a tambourine, and you have a percussion section that can hold it’s own. It takes practice to be consistent, and it sounds more comfortable in acoustic tracks, but I love it.

    For the pure kit drummers out there- it can serve as a scratch track for songwriting until you can mic a kit, and it can give the drummer a foundation to build on. Use it on the bridge, a breakdown, or combine it with your kit for some super happy fun times!

    • Todd

      Very cool Jason. Speaking of percussive guitar players… you should give Don Ross, Andy McKee and Ewan Dobson a listen. This percussive form of guitar playing is absolutely incredible and can expand your sound in so many ways.

  92. Tom Williams III

    Real drums really are good. That goes without saying. But as a drummer since 1966 I must disagree with some things here. First, again, real drums are great if you can record and mix them right in the right room with the right gear.
    I do agree on some of the digital drums that are no more than beat boxes or programs. I don’t like to record those either, as even with the “humanizing” effects that are meant to mess up the perfect rhythm of a drum box in very crafty ways mimicking a human’s actions and reactions, it is still a beat box.
    To discount the new electronic drums is an injustice. The samples they can be set up with are perfect samples of perfectly tuned drums in kits you can put together from many drums types and styles.
    Velocity is there to allow variations in drum hits as I would on a “real” drum set. The sample quality and quantity of different kits available is staggering. I have oveer 1200 drum samples with full velocity grading and all.
    The electronic kits of today can either be set up with drum sounds or can record to DAW in midi allowing many drums to be “auditioned” before choosing the “perfect kit”.
    I own two “real drum” sets and a nicely added to digital drum kit. I play them, just as I do my “real” drums. You will find that in most cases the digital sounds win hands down. In the other cases I record my “real” drums.
    Digital drum sets are here and now. I don’t mean a drum box, I mean the real kits, like Roland VDrums, Yamaha DXT’s and even Alesis better kits which are fully on par with the “unaffordable” Roland stuff now.
    If it wasn’t so I would tell you. I have no reason to lie as I own them all. And having recorded since the old Portastudio and reel to reel days, now DAWs since in 1985 or so.
    If you need a drum part email me, and we will see what we can do.
    Tom, who will be happy to help any of you determine what you may need, free of charge.

  93. kevin

    I actually like combining real drums with samples. I do this in two ways. The first way is I love the feel of a live kick a snare but sometimes it just doesn’t have the weight I want it to have in my mix. So i’ll double the kick and snare with samples to get the big attack to cut thru while still getting the body and fullness of the live drums. Sometimes I just double the kick with an electronic kick with some crazy sub freqs if its more of a pop/hiphop drum sound. The second way I like combing samples is to use the electronic drums more as a auxilary percussion part. This can create a feel like Linkin Park in a heavier setting. And it can add much needed energy. Pretty much I’d use this in place of adding tamborine or shaker to a chorus.

  94. Robert

    While I agree there is nothing like a real kit involving a real drummer, it’s all a matter of how you want your own music to sound. If you can’t get that “professional” sound you’re looking for, use a virtual instrument.

    I’ve been using Addictive Drums for quite some time, and while I sometimes can hear that they are “virtual drums” as opposed to a real drummer, not everyone else can…and I tend to get great compliments on the quality of the recordings I put out with it. It also saves me a lot of time in the studio. I can focus on the creative aspect of the song rather than the quality aspect. It’s also one less thing to worry about when it comes time to mixing.

    Personally, whatever you think sounds best to you is what should be done, be it analog drums or digital drums.

  95. Guy

    Acoustic drums, big room, decent mic setup…should be everybody’s goal, including mine. But it’s almost too easy nowadays to get a good drum sound in the box. I use EZD2 to write and SD2 to mix. Also have a Roland V-Drum kit for the real “feel”. If you spend enough time to “dial in” the separated multi-tracks of SD…play with the room and OH mic mixes enough to taste, you can really create a realistic drum room vibe with velocity control and all. Add a few tape sims to the drum buss to dirty up the perfect sonics of the triggers, and you have a nice realistic acoustic drum vibe. At least…that has worked for me.

  96. Daniel Ortega

    the one microphone works on every situation except on metal, that thinks is more than difficult to capture and maybe you can have a good equipment to record those drums but in metal if your drummer suck everything is going to suck too, no mother what, so superior for metal and on everything else the one mic technic.

  97. PFA

    I’ve played with a lot of drummer in a lot of bands and I’d only take a few of them in the studio. Drummers are often the weakest link and very often their kits sound like crap. A quality real drummer is a good thing but good luck finding one

  98. Jimmy

    I use a drum machine for my recordings (1) out of convenience– I don’t play drums or own a drum set, and (2) to maintain creative control. As the song evolves through the recoding process, I like to be able to go back and mess with the individual placement of each drum hit, especially the kick. Once I’ve got the finished product where I like it, I’m open to recording live drums, so long as they are exactly how I’ve got my track programmed. Since the kick and the snare are the most crucial to the rhythm most capable of fitting a rigid grid, I’m open to simply recording the cymbals, toms, and other percussion and mixing that into an otherwise completed project.

  99. Eddie

    90% of the time if you record an acoustic kit in your home “studio”, even if it sounds decent, it’s going to sound more like a kit from the 70’s, i.e. outdated. If you’re going for a modern sound, remember this, 90% of modern drums are samples or a combination/layered etc, anyway.

    After recording via triggering all the drum software for years, believe it or not I’ve started using the stock sounds on my TD-11 kit, you can edit sounds to your hearts content and make your own kits and get an extremely convincing sound that can rival drum software with a little pre and post tweaking and I guaranty you no one,.. no one, could tell they are electric drums in my mixes.

  100. Al

    The biggest problem with using electric drums is the mix. Go to you tube and take a listen to various E-kits by Roland and Yamaha.. in stock mode the cymbals are almost ALWAYS WAY too loud in the mix. I can never figure out why they companies can’t hear this. You’re playing a beat.. sounds decent… you do a fill and then BAM, the crash cymbal is like 30% too loud which makes the k,it overall sound crappy. Turn down the volume of those E-cymbals and that’s a first step in making your E-drums sound much better in a mix. VST’s are great, but they aren’t the end all and sometimes a stock or edited E-drums kit can fit in the mix like a glove.

  101. Scott Leacox

    I use both.
    Real drums result in the best quality. The freedom to place mics, pick and tune drums give the most dynamic result.
    Edrums change the game quite a bit. The largest limitation is the triggers them selves. No matter how good the Edrums are, the signal is bottle necked at MIDI. So lets look at one tom or cymbal.
    With Edrums using MIDI, a drum will have a level of 0-128 and a switch for the rim on/off. Not very dynamic…….bad term in this case. When you hit a real tom, you can hit it 20 different ways at many volumes each way. You can’t simulate that in real time playing. The big advantage however is the ability to edit the part like a word processor and when you play it back, all the cymbal rings and reverb tails are in tact correctly. No matter how cheesy the cymbals sound. From the writing standpoint. The ability to completely change snare and kick is a life saver.

    Lets say you use both. I’m almost there. Once I finish getting both Acoustic and Edrums exactly where I want them. I plan to combine them with a KAT DITI and on heads. The big boys use both live to tweek the mic sound easily towards the album samples.

  102. J

    You guys, come on! There’s a million applications here for both. Even layering real and fake – the pros do this all the time. It really only matters what sound you want, and how much work ($) you’re willing to do (spend) to get it. You might think your tracks are good enough with a looper and a sample pack. I urge you to think again

    1 thing is absolutely certain. If drums can make or break a track, it’s not so much about real vs fake drums. It’s about real vs fake drummers. Technology in the hands of serious pros can yield mind-blowingly realistic results. But tech CANT mimic the feel and nuance of a human drummer – no matter how good or expensive the loop library is. For anything outside of 100% purely synthetic and sampled music like straight techno or hip-hop, you NEED a real live human being making your drumming decisions. Even if that drummer is just programming the drums within the software, your best results come from someone who intimately knows and understands how a drummer feels music. It simply can’t be substituted without compromising the quality of your music.

    Even for the guy who just plays an acoustic and sings margaritaville for fun and beer cash at the beach cabana for the happy hour crowd. I know some session guys who will record your backing drum tracks for dirt cheap, and it’s a far sight better than the loops you got from garage band.

    Don’t settle. Make it better. Use a real drummer with whatever tools suit the context whenever you can. Rhythm is the spine of your music… nobody buys a fake spine and gets away with it.

  103. MarquisVonLion

    Fake or real, doesn’t matter to me, Anything can be turned into a beat, a washing, machine, a milling machine, all types of machines :>)…your own voice, pots , tin can etc etc…
    Why would you want to sound like everybody else? I guess to make some kind of commercially accepted genre of music.



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  4.  Studio Drummer Job Description | guide - job interview guide
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