I've now read your "You Fire Drummers" article (which makes it sound like 50% of all professional recordings have subbed drummers - wow). And what I own of your discography, the drums DO sound stellar. So the drummer is *super* important...
So what is a good drummer?
For instance, I'm not a trained drummer at all, but I played in a band and recorded myself for several years. I learned over time how to "play to the mics", plus lead the band. So my current conception of how to make ME sound good, is to control how hard I hit the cymbals, vs. the drums.
I also need to keep the same basic pressure EACH TIME I hit. And everything needs to hit at the same time, i.e. kick and hat, hat and snare, etc.
And in general, play with Confidence.
That's the limit of my knowledge/experience. When YOU have a guy come in, and he just KILLS it, what are the things that he consistently does (or doesn't do?) that makes him *great*? I'm talking Jazz and Rock, and anything else. What makes one guy just not quite good enough for a major label recording, even if he and his band have gotten popularity, etc?
Also, thanks for these Q&A sessions (to Michael and Gearslutz), these have been very eye-opening and interesting...
There are a few different criteria which are applicable (to me) in this case, but I think foremost is probably confidence. Drums are the foundational aspect of any recording (even if they are added later), therefore, it is reassuring to have a drummer who "knows" he can play the songs with authority. Having this feeling- this awareness, puts weight and conviction behind a drummer's performance. A drummer who is not competent (or any other musician) generally comes into a recording prepared to fail. They actually exude defeat or an air of not wanting to try as hard as possible and do a great job.
The rest is a often a matter of preference. I tend to like drummers who can play with a groove, hit hard (but accurately) and keep decent time. I'm not fond of drummers who play like machines and whose performances line up perfectly with a click. None of this matters as much if a band's drummer comes into a recording with the intent to do an amazing job and ...they do it.
Recording is about making a document of something (which can be subjective and not always taken literally)- where a group of creative people were at in one point in lives or the result of what they did together, but also about everyone in the process leaving a piece of themselves behind. A great drummer will come in and do this- whether he plays in the band or is a replacement.
ones that can sing the song while playing the drum part while it sounds great with just those two going on, are usually pretty handy. whatever way they achieve that though really. basically the way they orchestrate the track. a good drummer often does that. a great drummer does that to the nth degree.