Drums are a unique beast in the world of music recording. These days, it’s pretty common for even casual musicians to be able to record guitar, bass, or vocals in the comfort of their own bedrooms. With some software and a little knowhow, guitars can be recorded directly into your computer and manipulated to sound like you played through an amplifier. It’s much less common to have the resources to easily record drums. Drums usually need complex setups of (sometimes expensive) microphones, and won’t exactly provide the silent recording experience you would need to lay down some late-night grooves in your apartment complex.
But unlike guitars and vocals, drums are much more easily reproduced using synthetic methods such as sequencing and drum loops. And recording over a drum track played by a session drummer isn’t nearly as limiting to your creativity as hiring someone to play guitar–you can easily change notes and chords in your song without needing to alter the drum track.
So along with a few limitations, drums also come with their fair share of freedoms and options, as well. Now, what exactly are your options when it comes to making drum beats for your songs?
1. Play them yourself
There is, and will always be, the old fashioned way of recording drums: by playing them yourself. If you have a drum set, you’ll have to set up several microphones–typically on the snare drum, the kick drum, the tom-toms and “overhead” mics to capture the ambient sounds–and hit the record button! After you play, you can edit the beat if desired, and then mix the individual drum mics to taste.
Another option is an electronic drum set, such as the Roland V-Drums
. In this case, no microphones are required. You can simply connect the output of the electronic set to your recording interface and play away. This is a more viable option if you don’t have the freedom to make a bunch of noise any time you’d like.
If you don’t have access to your own drums, you can always rent out a recording studio. Many of them have in-house drum sets, and they always have high quality microphones and staff engineers who know how to set them up.
2. Use samples
The V-Drums that I mentioned above use “samples” to simulate a real drum set. Samples are audio clips of actual drums that are triggered each time you hit one of their electronic pads with a stick. So every time you hit the snare pad, an audio recording of an actual snare drum will sound.
Samples are incredibly flexible by nature. You can manually piece together drum samples in a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools
to create your own custom beats. Most DAWs also have MIDI capabilities, which allow your computer to communicate with external drum machines, keyboards, or other MIDI controllers to sequence drum samples into beats.
Samples are very versatile–they aren’t limited to “normal” drum sounds. Although you can use samples to imitate a real drum kit, many artists use electronic drum samples in their songs that sound nothing like an organic kit. (You won’t hear too many songs with “fake” sounding guitar parts!) One of the beauties of sampling is that you don’t have to commit to a sound while you’re recording; if you’re using MIDI, you can actually change the sounds of your drum set after you already sequenced the drum beat!
One drawback of sequencing samples is that it can be difficult to get a “natural” drum sound… It’s actually the little inconsistencies in dynamics and time that make a real drummer play something that sounds more “human.”
If you’re interested in going the sample route, you can buy sample libraries and CDs online.