There have been some huge advances in electronic drums over the past 10 years, they’ve certainly come a long way since the infamous Roland TR-808 drum machine of the 80’s.
You may be surprised to know that electronic drum have actually been around since the late 60’s. But while they may have been technologically cool, these early e-drum kits didn’t really offer a great experience for the listener or the player.
Thankfully, advances in technology mean that drummers, producers and engineers alike can now experiment with, and use electronic drums as a serious alternative to acoustic drums.
What’s wrong with acoustic drums?
There’s nothing wrong with acoustic drums, and electronic drums are never going to fully replace the traditional drum set. However, there are a ton of advantages especially for beginners, and home-studio owners with a small recording space.
Some benefits of electronic drums
Volume: The most obvious benefit for beginners (and parents of beginners) is volume control. It’s no secret that acoustic drums, cymbals in particular, operate at a volume that is not particularly comfortable for our ears. By comparison, the drum pads found on most electronic drum kits make very little noise, and with the added ability to use headphones, it’s far easier to play drums at practically any time of day without upsetting your family, housemates or neighbours.
Practically unlimited sounds: Although on-board sounds can range from awful through to exceptional, depending on how much you pay for your drum kit, almost any electronic drum kit can be connected to a computer by USB or MIDI and used to trigger a variety of sounds including virtual drum software like EZDrummer, Addictive Drums, Steven Slate Drums and many more. But it doesn’t stop there, they can also be used to trigger almost any virtual instrument including orchestral strings, brass sections, synthesisers and cinematic sound effects, this makes them extremely versatile, and a workhorse instrument for any producer or sound designer.
Recording: Just as guitarist have begun using virtual amplifiers and effects, drummers and studio owners are discovering the benefits of having a variety of sounds at their disposal, without having to spend a small fortune on an arsenal of different drum kits, snares, cymbals and microphones.
To properly record an acoustic drum kit, you need quite a lot of space around and above the kit to keep that natural ‘live’ sound. Ideally you want enough room for the transient (the sound of the instrument) to dissipate without bouncing back off an adjacent surface which can lead to phase issues, and a ‘muddy’ sounding recording. When you’re recording an electronic drum kit via the drum module line-outputs, USB or MIDI port, you don’t need to worry about the size of your studio, acoustic treatment, mic placement, phase issues or drum tuning. You simply have far more control over the sound, and in most cases this means you spend less time during setup, and in post production. And when you save time, you save money.
Do electronic drums really sound that good?
In my opinion, yes. But don’t just take my word for it, the album “room for squares” by John Mayer uses an electronic drum kit. Radiohead have used e-drums extensively in their records. Phil Collins used electronic drums in two Genesis albums (Genesis and Invisible Touch), and the list goes on: Coldplay, Primus, Linkin Park, Rammstein, Devo, and many, many more.
If you’re still on the fence, here’s the processed MIDI drums from ‘I Need You’ by Inner City Traders. Drummer Brian Hosking, played all three tracks for the EP on a 5 Piece Roland TD-9. We recorded the MIDI output from the kit and used it to trigger EZDrummer.
In my next post I’ll go through my process for recording my Yamaha DTX8, and how I process the MIDI using Logic Pro’s Kit Designer, EZDrummer or MODO Drums.