Guilty Of This Drum Production Bad Habit?

Published: 10/12/2016

On a fairly regular basis, bands interested in recording at my studio send me links to YouTube videos of modern metal bands that they aspire to sound like. These videos typically consist of cutaway storylines interspersed with live action footage of the band in question, and the usual on-stage antics and choreographed headbanging...

One thing that always strikes me as a great disparity when watching these videos is the footage of the drummer half-heartedly hitting his snare drum to the actual soundtrack of what seems to be a shotgun. You see kids, in this day and age, the generally assumed sound of a drum kit in recorded rock music bears very little resemblance to what a drum kit actually sounds like in real life.

In modern rock recording and drum production, it is pretty much always expected that a drummer will play to a click track, gets beat detected onto the grid, and then 70% of his or her kit gets augmented or replaced with super-processed drum samples, in a bid to make the drums sound like the second coming of the Lord! What you're basically left with is a bunch of very in time cymbals and a drum production that bears very little relation to the original performance. You may just as well have programmed the drums and saved yourself a world of pain in bothering to strategically mic up the kit (which will be another blog post soon!), while the drummer plays Xbox.

"So what?", you might ask. "That's what people expect to hear these days..." Well, from a purely luddite perspective, the above phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with the art and skill required in recording drums properly, and encourages extremely bad habits in the drummer themselves in terms of actually playing decent drum takes on the basis that it's all going to get fixed further down the line.

Yes, modern drum "production" sounds impressive, but at best it's creating sonic mythology and at worst, it's encouraging utter laziness. Listen to any record pre-1980 (e.g. The Police - Outlanders D'Amour, Led Zeppelin IV) and yes, the drumming may not have been perfect, and it may not sound like a 4th July firework display, but at least what you're hearing is what was actually played in the studio. Remember kids, the drum kit is an acoustic and very real instrument, and I for one think we could all do with regaining some of that core value.

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