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Pro's and cons of programmed drums vs hiring a live drummer, session Drummers welcome
Old 25th June 2009
  #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steffmo View Post

I always found that bringing any kind of live feel to a drum program takes a huge amount of time and a real knowledge of how drums and drummers work. I really don't have the patience for it anymore.
Worth repeating. I was soo sick of writing parts that sounded good with programming rather than just playing what I wanted.
Old 25th June 2009
  #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
Absolutely.

I used Sean Pelton (instead of me) awhile back and I couldn't believe how easy he made my job. He easily saved me a week worth of work and production. These guys are so good that the track actually requires less production to sound finished. It's bizarre. I usually add a ton of percussion to fill in the holes but it just wasn't necessary.

Great studio players define the phrase "Hiring the best doesn't cost. It pays".

I know. It's corny.

Yeah, I just hired John Ferraro to replace programed drums in 5 tunes. Some of the tunes were already mixed and I figured I'd just slide him in. But having real drums changed the whole focus of the mix and I realized I'd have to rebuild it all around the drums. One tune didn't seem to be grooving, until I pulled out the conga loops, shakers and tambourine I'd added in a vain attempt to put some excitement into the programmed track. I ended up with a huge groovy drum track, a locked in bass, lead vocal and some ear candy around the edges. Sweet!

-R
Old 25th June 2009
  #33
Quote:
Originally Posted by PRobb View Post
What he said.
The groove and the sounds come very quickly with a great drummer. You can spend a whole day chasing your tail with an OK drummer (and the next day comping) and not get anything approaching what a real pro will give you in an hour and a half.
This is worth repeating a couple of times.




As I think I said, I'll take a robot (the right robot playing the right part) over a crummy drummer. And I think there are genres where a robot either makes good/better sense or at least makes little difference [those clicky modern metal drums come to mind on the latter].

But, as others have pointed out, a really good drummer, well selected for the project, will have the best chance of quickly coming up with parts that aren't just not-embarrassing [isn't that the standard we robo-drum users often go by? heh ] but that actually move the song forward and bring something that robots or a lesser drummer who has been gridified and sound-replaced into submission never can.
Old 25th June 2009
  #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RKrizman View Post
But having real drums changed the whole focus of the mix and I realized I'd have to rebuild it all around the drums. One tune didn't seem to be grooving, until I pulled out the conga loops, shakers and tambourine I'd added in a vain attempt to put some excitement into the programmed track.

I've had that identical experience as well, it's really crazy just how much a live drum groove becomes such a defining element in a previously synthesized affair, and how well that groove supports and enhances the whole picture with no added embellishments needed.

On another thread, the 'production pet peeve', my pet peeve was the predominance of machines/beats/loops/synths in modern pop, and the general lack of humanity in many of the styles and genres. So many pop songs, I hear them and the whole time all I keep thinking is how much more alive the song would be with a few talented session players rather than programmed 'stuff' layered to absurdity.

I know not every song needs the human factor, and some songs do as well or better with the programmed vibe. But the balance is way out of whack imo, and far too much music (and listeners) gets short shrift when computers and machines produce most or all of the sounds.


Gregory Scott - ubk
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Old 25th June 2009
  #35
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What about the middle ground, using a real drummer playing V-drums to trigger sampled drums in real-time? The purpose being to mitigate a so-so room by taking the mic's out of the equation.
Old 25th June 2009
  #36
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When using the term programmed, I think think that a lot of people get the misconception that it's automatically going to sound digital, and that it's soley based on loops. With today's software it's actually scary how realistic sounding these samples are. Especially when you have a drummer play on V-drums going through a sampler such as ez-drummer or BFD. Once you quantize everything you can add some swing to it to make it sound more natural. The main thing your missing is the different room tones you would get in a live environment, but the velocity sensitiviry has improved drastically.

I've done stuff in Ez drummer and played it against real live drums and had professionals guess wrong. It's all in how you program your drums and how you mix them. And mostly a lot of it's in your head.
Old 25th June 2009
  #37
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So it's conception vs. execution, or can often be.

Boils down imho to yet another reverse development of division of labour, starting with the portastudio-making all on yer own-one man "studio" bands.

That tends to be either dull or an endless futzification, since several musicians are able to pile up much more musical density. And more quickly, if conflicts are a common working exercise.

A dedicated drum programmer (or: "drummer") contributing to a bunch of 4 or more? That's a different story.

Anybody remember Heaven 17?
(Nothing to do fer sure with the OP's genre...OP???)
Old 25th June 2009
  #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Dee View Post
What about the middle ground, using a real drummer playing V-drums to trigger sampled drums in real-time? The purpose being to mitigate a so-so room by taking the mic's out of the equation.
Still awful. IMHO.

It's not the timing that people love. It's the sound.

And the spaces between the hits that samples can never replicate.

No matter how much you grid real drums, they'll always have more "life" than samples.
Old 25th June 2009
  #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
And the spaces between the hits that samples can never replicate.
Can you elaborate on that... I'm not sure what you mean.
Old 25th June 2009
  #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcm View Post
One more vote for a real drummer. Unless you are specifically going for characteristics that only programed drums can deliver, go for the real guy. There are so many great drummers out there and its really not that expensive to get them on records.
Ronan's right.. There are SO many guys out there(!) and not all of them are as expensive as Terry Bozzio!

Unless you are just a kick ass drum programmer with ez drummer (which in my opinion sounds awesome) hire a drummer. I drummer will bring life and an outside opinion to your songs. And its fun as hell to edit all those parts that you would have never thought of yourself!

I hired Brooks Wackerman and a slew of other awesome drummers for my record that I am making and while he was expensive, the other guys where cheap; all sounded good and all were worth it.

I you like music, get the drummer for no other reason than it being more fun than pointing and clicking. Take a second to choose the right drummer, but then dive in and have an awesome time. Its really rewarding.
Old 25th June 2009
  #41
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Dee View Post
What about the middle ground, using a real drummer playing V-drums to trigger sampled drums in real-time? The purpose being to mitigate a so-so room by taking the mic's out of the equation.
You don't need a great room to record great drums. If your room sucks, deaden it to the point where it's not objectionable.

There's a lot of nuance that goes into playing drums as a musical instrument that just can't be captured by samples.

-R
Old 25th June 2009
  #42
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Dee View Post
Can you elaborate on that... I'm not sure what you mean.
Sure.

A drum set (much like a guitar) is a group of sounds. Not just individual drums added together. Each drum shakes the rest of them and makes it sound like a kit.

In between drum hits the drums make noise very differently when continuously played vs. stopping to let them ring out on each hit.

And the drummers energy is in the hits, the "confidence" of those hits and the spaces leading up to the next hit.

There's no way of fooling the human ear into thinking someone is playing a kit by sampling individual hits.

It can be (and probably will be) done eventually by combining many performances of a great drummer playing a fully multi-miked kit and patching them together thru midi. I just don't think we're there yet.
Old 25th June 2009
  #43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by knittingram View Post
Ronan's right.. There are SO many guys out there(!) and not all of them are as expensive as Terry Bozzio!

Unless you are just a kick ass drum programmer with ez drummer (which in my opinion sounds awesome) hire a drummer. I drummer will bring life and an outside opinion to your songs. And its fun as hell to edit all those parts that you would have never thought of yourself!

I hired Brooks Wackerman and a slew of other awesome drummers for my record that I am making and while he was expensive, the other guys where cheap; all sounded good and all were worth it.

I you like music, get the drummer for no other reason than it being more fun than pointing and clicking. Take a second to choose the right drummer, but then dive in and have an awesome time. Its really rewarding.
And if your room isn't great, you'll at least have a decent Overhead sound that you can combine with samples that will still sound much better than samples alone.
Old 25th June 2009
  #44
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Either way is a crap shoot.

Go live and you deal with with the following possible cons:

Crappy/mediocre/uncreative drummer
Bad engineer
bad room/mic/front end
Bad drums/limited drum choice
You don't get the exact part/beat/fill you hoped for

Go programmed and you deal with the following possible cons:
Crappy/stiff/un-detailed programming
Limited variation in sounds and drum interaction (this can pretty easily be mitigated with the right library)
A drummer might go hungry


The pros are basically the opposite to all the cons. I like programmed drums because I always get the part I want and can edit parts easily. They also pay for themselves with a tiny portion of one project. I have never had a client or engineer say anything about programmed drums except how much they like the drums.

I think live drums are more magical, but a lot of things have to fall in place to get that magic. I find that I can create a track that has a good portion, if not all of that magic more consistently with programmed/sampled drums. It's more of a sure thing for me.

To the OP, if you're hiring someone else to do this stuff, take the advise of many here and hire the best real drummer you can in the best studio you can afford. It will take less time and money. That seems to be the best option for your project... having no clue about you or your music except that you mentioned live drummers and indie music, which for the most part are a natural fit.
Old 26th June 2009
  #45
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For those who say that programmed drums sound terrible, have you guys heard Bela Media's Studio B drums? I can't use them because they only work with Kontakt 2 (and I have Kontakt 3, which oddly isn't backwards compatable on this particular product). Each drum is not only sampled multiple times at multiple velocities (like everything is today) but recorded with full bleed-through on a fully mic'ed kit. Each microphone can be assigned to a separate output and processed however you want. There are samples on the website and it sounds really good to me.

I would post a link, but I'm in the lab right now and I'm running an old version of Redhat Linux with an outdated Mozilla browser that can't handle their website (or most websites, for that matter).
Old 26th June 2009
  #46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VitaEtMusica View Post
Either way is a crap shoot.

Go live and you deal with with the following possible cons:

Crappy/mediocre/uncreative drummer
Bad engineer
bad room/mic/front end
Bad drums/limited drum choice
You don't get the exact part/beat/fill you hoped for

Go programmed and you deal with the following possible cons:
Crappy/stiff/un-detailed programming
Limited variation in sounds and drum interaction (this can pretty easily be mitigated with the right library)
A drummer might go hungry


The pros are basically the opposite to all the cons. I like programmed drums because I always get the part I want and can edit parts easily. They also pay for themselves with a tiny portion of one project. I have never had a client or engineer say anything about programmed drums except how much they like the drums.

I think live drums are more magical, but a lot of things have to fall in place to get that magic. I find that I can create a track that has a good portion, if not all of that magic more consistently with programmed/sampled drums. It's more of a sure thing for me.

To the OP, if you're hiring someone else to do this stuff, take the advise of many here and hire the best real drummer you can in the best studio you can afford. It will take less time and money. That seems to be the best option for your project... having no clue about you or your music except that you mentioned live drummers and indie music, which for the most part are a natural fit.

As far as live drums are concerned, its only a crap shoot IF:

You don't know good drummers.

You are a lousy engineer and not smart enough to know it.

Don't have a good room or know where to find one.

You can't tune a drum set or know someone who can.

Don't trust this excellent drummer to hear the parts.


Honestly, its not rocket science. I've cut great drums with an Allen and Heath Mix Wizard and 1500.00 dollars of mics. Its all about the people.

As I said beforeI did do a gospel CD last year with V Drums and was very surprised it was as workable as it was. Of course, the drummer was killer.
Old 26th June 2009
  #47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AZeitung View Post
For those who say that programmed drums sound terrible, have you guys heard Bela Media's Studio B drums? I can't use them because they only work with Kontakt 2 (and I have Kontakt 3, which oddly isn't backwards compatable on this particular product). Each drum is not only sampled multiple times at multiple velocities (like everything is today) but recorded with full bleed-through on a fully mic'ed kit. Each microphone can be assigned to a separate output and processed however you want. There are samples on the website and it sounds really good to me.

I would post a link, but I'm in the lab right now and I'm running an old version of Redhat Linux with an outdated Mozilla browser that can't handle their website (or most websites, for that matter).
It doesn't matter how much you sample or how many mikes you use, if it's not a performance captured (like a drum loop) then it doesn't sound realistic.

Those demos sound as real as any other product I've heard before. FAKE!!!
Old 26th June 2009
  #48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steffmo View Post
As far as live drums are concerned, its only a crap shoot IF:

You don't know good drummers.

You are a lousy engineer and not smart enough to know it.

Don't have a good room or know where to find one.

You can't tune a drum set or know someone who can.

Don't trust this excellent drummer to hear the parts.


Honestly, its not rocket science. I've cut great drums with an Allen and Heath Mix Wizard and 1500.00 dollars of mics. Its all about the people.

As I said beforeI did do a gospel CD last year with V Drums and was very surprised it was as workable as it was. Of course, the drummer was killer.
As I said, that's a lot of "if's." One of them goes wrong and the project can be compromised.

I'm thinking if I posted a number of tracks with programmed and live drums and had a "you pick it" kind of thing, many of the hard-liners here would be very hesitant to make the call.
Old 26th June 2009
  #49
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso View Post
I think you should start looking for a full time drummer for the band now.
I also think you should hire a studio player to do the album.
There are amazing drummers who can cut it in the Indie genre.
Some very well known too like Matt Chamberlain.
You'll have an enhanced backing track, and although their fee might seem high at first, they would be able to do an album in a couple of days if needed, perhaps a day.
Although I have my own programmed drum product in the market, I think Indie music is a difficult area for programmed 'realistic' drums. Indie music has a few rough edges, and sometimes quite a specific feel. there aren't too many 'indie' appropriate drum sample products out there.
I would suggest programmed indie drums should stay within the loop/machine realm, like the drum sounds on Radiohead or Beck, and not try to sound like a drummer.
+1. I think you should consider that Indie is more about being in a band and being cool in the public eye rather than the coffe shop acoustic guitar player. Give the kids some excitement by giving them the band.

Get your songs out there and get your tour support from the label and record your songs with maybe a well known drummer from a band on the scene you want to join... for Kudos and to impress your new drummer that wants to live up to those shoes.

Peace,
cortisol
Old 26th June 2009
  #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gideon352 View Post
Hey Kenny, have you heard this :
https://www.platinumsamples.com/JoeBarresi.html
(especially "Demo 2")
??
I only ask because it's the most realistic sounding virtual drum product that I've come across (to my ears) so far.

Oh ya, I believe the demos were played on a keyboard too (not even a
Roland kit or anything).
Demo 2 sounds pretty damn good but…

Will every possible beat sound just as good or is that demo just well thought out?

Don't want to be nit picky but that's what always drove me crazy. You had to tailor the drum part to sound realistic. On a real drum kit, everything you play sounds realistic.
Old 26th June 2009
  #51
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
On a real drum kit, everything you play sounds realistic.
That's a really good point. Crappy or great it sounds real. Unless CLA mixes it.
Old 26th June 2009
  #52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
It doesn't matter how much you sample or how many mikes you use, if it's not a performance captured (like a drum loop) then it doesn't sound realistic.

Those demos sound as real as any other product I've heard before. FAKE!!!
It's interesting how drums are the one instrument on the planet that can't be sampled convincingly, or how they're the one instrument where playing on a midi keyboard/drumkit doesn't count as a real performance.

I play the piano--and I've played my entire life (since I was two and a half) and I cannot tell the difference between a good sampled piano and a real piano. Playing it might feel different, and coming out of speakers a live performance may not sound right, but a recording of a sampled piano can sound perfectly realistic to me.

I garauntee you, every movie you've seen in the last couple years with an orchestral score has had, at the very least, the orchestra supplimented with sampled instruments in places, if not a completely sampled orchestra in much of it. Most TV shows that sound like they're using a real orchestra aren't, and anyone would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

There are limits to what you can do with sampled instruments--and one thing to remember is that they can't necessarrily be used to mirror their real counterparts exactly, but sometimes are better treated as a unique instrument of their own. I just don't see what there's this attitude of "no sampled drum can ever be convincing, at all". I mean, that's certainly not true for any other instrument.
Old 26th June 2009
  #53
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The question for me is not whether someone can program a kit in such a way as to fool the majority of listeners; it's whether that same set of programmed tracks will hold up if I then record the real thing and drop those into the mix instead.

They never do, not ever. God knows I've tried enough times.

Every drummer has a pattern to their timing inconsistencies, their right foot will tend to (e.g.) land 3-5ms early on 16th grace notes, their left hand will drag 5-10ms on every other snare hit, they'll come out of a fill and land 15-20ms early. The cumulative mathematics of these "errors" make up a big part of each player's feel, the fingerprint of their groove. Even the best players in the world exhibit this, some to a surprising degree.

It's not enough to randomize things to introduce timing errors into programmed tracks. It's not enough to move notes around in predictable patterns either. The timing stuff, when taken as a whole, has a musicality and personality that don't lend themselves to being constructed one note at a time; they spring from an ongoing, realtime series of events. They also reflect the state of mind of the player, the connection to the song, the influence of the others playing at the same time.

Add to this the quality of sound a player evokes from a drum when he's playing a groove; it's different from a statically played, single hit. This is where every library I've ever heard comes up massively short, they all sound like someone (often a someone whom I suspect is not a drummer) hitting a drum once. But when a guy is playing, that drum is still ringing from the last hit and he hits it again; this produces a sound which cannot be replicated with samples. Moreover, that drum and every other drum and cymbal in the kit is vibrating in sympathy with everything else. And likewise the room itself, it's singing and vibrating with the non-stop barrage of percussive energy. All these overtones and resonances create a song unto themselves, and are a major part of the signature 'tone' of a given player. Know matter what the kit and what the room sound like, I always end up making them sound like me when I play. You cannot play to the room when programming drums; every great drummer does this instinctively.

Hell, the kit doesn't even need to be well recorded, one crappy mic in the middle of the room will have more balls and mojo than 16 tracks of meticulously programmed samples by the world's most adept programmer.

And while it is customary to say that your mileage may vary, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that in all likelihood it won't.


Gregory Scott - ubk
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Old 26th June 2009
  #54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AZeitung View Post

There are limits to what you can do with sampled instruments--and one thing to remember is that they can't necessarrily be used to mirror their real counterparts exactly, but sometimes are better treated as a unique instrument of their own.
Well I'll agree with that. Programmed drums are great if you want programmed drums. To me it's a different thing. Like an acoustic guitar vs electric guitar.


Quote:
Originally Posted by AZeitung View Post

I just don't see what there's this attitude of "no sampled drum can ever be convincing, at all". I mean, that's certainly not true for any other instrument.
It's not an attitude. It's just my experience. But I am a drummer so I'm probably more sensitive to it.
Old 26th June 2009
  #55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steffmo View Post
I'll have to pile on and agree with everybody else.

I spent years playing session drums before I went to this side, and I programmed a huge number of drum tracks for folks.

I always found that bringing any kind of live feel to a drum program takes a huge amount of time and a real knowledge of how drums and drummers work. I really don't have the patience for it anymore.

Its simp;y so much more fun to get a great guy in to do it. Had Matt Wilson in not too long ago...on a singer songwriter gig. Totally smoked it. Pelton is another.

And yes, if time is money a great live drummer will both save money and elevate the trackx.
There a good point there - to be able to do any decent job of programming drums you pretty much have to be a drummer yourself......
Old 26th June 2009
  #56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by u b k View Post
There are so many ways that programmed drum tracks come up short, I don't know where to begin. Wait, yes I do.

Every drummer has a pattern to their timing inconsistencies, their right foot will tend to (e.g.) land 3-5ms early on 16th grace notes, their left hand will drag 5-10ms on every other snare hit, they'll come out of a fill and land 15-20ms early. The cumulative mathematics of these "errors" make up a big part of each player's feel, the fingerprint of their groove. Even the best players in the world exhibit this, some to a surprising degree.
If, rather than "programming" the track, you use an actual drummer playing a midi drum kit/real kit with triggers, or even, to a lesser extent, a midi keyboard, the timing issue takes care of itself.

A lot of times the midi data does end up getting quantized, but there's no reason that you HAVE to quantize it.

I know this thread is about hiring a real drummer vs. using samples, but lets ignore that for the moment and say we have a real drummer generating the midi data that we use, but generating nothing BUT midi data.

Quote:
It's not enough to randomize things to introduce timing errors. It's not enough to move notes around in predictable patterns either. The timing stuff, when taken as a whole, has a musicality and personality that don't lend themselves to being constructed one note at a time; they spring from an ongoing, realtime series of events.

Add to this the quality of sound a player evokes from a drum when he's playing a groove; it's different from a statically played, single hit. This is where every library I've ever heard comes up short, they all sound like someone (often a someone whom I suspect is not a drummer) hitting a drum once. But when a guy is playing, that drum is still ringing from the last hit and he hits it again. Moreover, that drum and every other drum and cymbal in the kit is vibrating in sympathy with everything else. And likewise the room itself, it's singing and vibrating with the non-stop barrage of percussive energy.
That's entirely possible, but I can't believe that every drum library would do this. I mean, you don't see that on sampled string libraries. They never have some guy who isn't a violin player come in to play the violin when they sample it. And there's a LOT of nuance that goes in to violin playing which can be captured reasonably well in some libraries. Again, it's not the same as the real thing, but they're able to do a good enough job for a lot of purposes. But it doesn't necessarrily HAVE to be the same thing as a real violin, either, to be a good and useful instrument.

Quote:
So the question for me is not whether someone can program a kit in such a way as to fool the mojority of listeners; it's whether that same set of programmed tracks will hold up if I then record the real thing and drop those into the mix instead.
I suppose that depends on your definition of "hold up". Will it sound exactly the same? Maybe not. Maybe some of that difference is just due to differences kits/engineering and you assume that the differences in the real one are better, simply because it's real. And even if it sounds un-realistic for a drum, maybe a real drum isn't even the best sounding thing in the world, anyway.
Old 26th June 2009
  #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny Gioia View Post
It's not an attitude. It's just my experience. But I am a drummer so I'm probably more sensitive to it.
I don't want to argue too much, since I'm not a drummer and I haven't spent a huge amount of time looking into drum libraries, but if they all sound as bad as everyone seems to think they do, then it seems like people could probably do a better job sampling them, or the approach isn't right, or something, because all of the instruments that I actually do care about finding good sample libraries for can at least be sampled adequately.
Old 26th June 2009
  #58
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Great post UBK.

One other thing to consider, (and I know you'll appreciate this):

I don't want to spend my time trying to fool the audience. That's not fun for me. I want to make music. Great music.

I don't want to listen back to the mix with the paranoia and the insecurity that it might not sound real. Just because it sounds good while you programmed it, doesn't mean it will sound real at the end. You have to carefully balance all the mics to sound realistic. Like how a kit would.

I don't have to do that with a real kit. In fact, it's hard to make real drums sound imbalanced with a decent drummer.

It's like the difference between having real hair on your head vs a toupee.

You can look in the mirror and it might look neat. Or messy or whatever. But it's still your hair. If you wear a toupee, you need to constantly and consciously check it to make sure you don't look ridiculous. That's just not fun to me.
Old 26th June 2009
  #59
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A pro session drummer can definitely save you time and money and elevate the quality of your project.

But, the most important thing to consider is that live drum tracks and programmed drums are two distinctly different things. BOTH have their place. So, if you feel a track calls for one or the other, take that approach.
Old 26th June 2009
  #60
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AZeitung View Post
I don't want to argue too much, since I'm not a drummer and I haven't spent a huge amount of time looking into drum libraries, but if they all sound as bad as everyone seems to think they do, then it seems like people could probably do a better job sampling them, or the approach isn't right, or something, because all of the instruments that I actually do care about finding good sample libraries for can at least be sampled adequately.
I'll agree that a lot of instruments do sound fine. Piano. Strings. Organ. Even though I own a real Wurlitzer I usually just use the one in Reason.

But it's not true with all instruments.

Guitar? Both electric and acoustic.

Bass guitar too.

And for me, Drums.

If you have the patience to do it and your happy with the results, go for it.

But besides my own personal taste, I don't hear many records being made with drum machines in place of drummers. And loops don't count.
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