Drum Recording: Grid Lock Rock
by Frank Gryner (as published in Recording Magazine)
With some focus on keeping everyone solution-oriented and somewhat creative, there are ways to get pro-sounding drum tracks from a semi-pro player without resorting to tedious beat-by-beat editing or sterile auto-alignment utilities.
Less Human than Human
I think this ranks number two on my list of Technological Advancements That Have Contributed to the Demise of Good Music. Grid-based recording systems make it so easy to navigate and edit that it's hard to imagine working without it, but there is a downside. It's hard not to be influenced by what a waveform looks like and where it's situated rother than how it sounds and ultimately feels.
Insecure or inexperienced editors often find it faster to fix something that looks suspect as opposed to leaving in what may be contributing to the groove and life of a particular performance. The cumulative effect of carrying on like this is evident in today's recordings, and this impacts the next generation of musicians that are being raised on grid-lock rock . As a result, there's currently an inhuman demand on drummers to keep up with these heavily manipulated tracks.
The Chopping Block
It used to be that you'd record a band live off the floor, pick the best of three or four takes, punch in on a bass line in a few spots and overdub vocals and a solo. It all hung together because it was played together. The push and pull of everyone speeding up and slowing down a bit was the natural pulse of the band and didn't ever need to line up to a precise tempo. Complete overhaul recording production has become the standard
-production where any element can be replaced or altered at any time. Using an isolated performance of a drummer out of its once rhythmically forgiving surroundings doesn't work with how records are made now. The almighty click track is the new boss and if little drummer boy insists on playing to the beat of his own heart, it's chop or be chopped ... or does it have to be? If your drummer isn't capable of delivering the necessary results that you're looking for, then you must get a little more creative than usual.
Doesn't Play Well with Others
I find that inexperienced drummers don't play their best when recording to a click track within the confines of a song. Depending on he complexity of the arrangement, it may be more beneficial to determ ine the basic beat and have him or her play to only an inspiring drum or percussion loop that shares the tempo and vibe of the song you're tracking. Get all variations of hi-hat and ride cymbal dynamics within that groove. Try some half and double time patterns and tons of fill variations.
Lastly, get some individual hits, of each of the drums-some with full cymbal decay, others with the cymbals choked. Without the psychological barrier of playing to the track within the structure of the song, a seemingly poor player can actually excel thinking he's just jamming. Basically you've iust acquired all the groovy pieces that you'll be able to assemble into the song.
Half Man-Half Machine
These days carefully programmed drums can virtually replace real ones, but where convenience, sonics and tonal flexibility seem to win the battle, it's usually at the expense of the feel, energy and interaction. When traditional drum recording is not
working or is just not possible, sometimes a hybrid of programmed and real drums may be the ultimate solution.
Sitting down with your dejected drummer in front of a program like BFD or DFH and working out the kick and snare patterns and the drum fills, recording via MIDI and then overdubbing him playing live cymbals (hats, ride and crashes) would not only save you
from hours of ridiculous drum editing, but also keeps the drummer creatively involved in the project. You get the live feel with rock solid timing plus you may audition different drum sounds all the way up until it's time to mix ... that is, if indecision is your thing.
Privilege to Rock
Lately there is this Guitar Hero-everyone-gets-to-be-a-rock star mentality that props up the deluded into thinking that they're entitled to be in a band. Hmmm ... it used to be that being a social outcast drove you to stay home and get good at your instrument. Now, with Pro Tools and the few plug-ins, we can bypass all that and iust sound like we have stayed home and gotten good at our instrument. Resorting to things like over-the-top drum editing, ghost players or even some of my suggestions is by no means a proper solution or a substitute for a drummer becoming proficient behind the
kit. It's a misrepresentation, one of which the audience is becoming intuitively aware, and the perceived value of music itself hangs in the balance. Let's all try to record responsibly.