Real Drummer vs. Drum Software | Which One Should You Use For Your Production?
Suppose you’re trying to decide whether or not to invest in drumming software vs. a live, session drummer for your next recording. In that case, the decision can quickly become complicated and confusing.
The solution to knowing which is suitable for you lies in understanding that each recording situation is unique. There isn’t one single answer that fits all projects or budgets.
However, we are here to help you understand how to confidently choose between these two options based on your specific needs at hand.
This article will explain the pros and cons of both options, as well as what they might mean for your next musical production.
Let’s get started!
Can the Best Drum Software Replace a Real Drummer?
The short answer is yes. There is no doubt that the realistic-ness of drum software has come a very long way.
Products like Toontrack’s Superior Drummer can create drum performances that sound indistinguishable to the average listener. If you have a solid vision for the drum patterns you want to use in your music, you can often get drum tracks for much cheaper than hiring a real musician.
However, this doesn’t mean that hiring a session drummer is always the wrong choice for your tracks.
There are times when using real drums will be significantly more beneficial to your production than using drum software.
Here are some examples of why you would want to use a real drummer over something like Superior Drummer:
- Drummers can often make spontaneous edits and adjustments, taking your ideas and making them better
- You’ll get a more dynamic and convincing sound in less time
- Real drummers will often make suggestions on the equipment they use to create different tones and sounds
- The years of dedication a drummer puts into their craft can’t be replicated by software
The Pros and Cons of Drum Software
Using drum software like Superior Drummer is an excellent choice for many songwriters and producers, especially if you’re working on a shoestring budget.
However, some of this software can have a high price tag. So, for some, the price of entry might not be worth it.
Here is a quick list of the pros and cons of drum software so you can decide if this option is best for you.
- You can change the tempo of your song on the fly
- You can audition multiple different sounds no matter where you are in the production process
- You can make edits to the arrangement at any point during production
- You can quickly create excellent sounding drum arrangements for your song
- You can trigger sounds with an electronic drum kit, adding in a more human feel
- It’s great for budget studios and laptop musicians
- The software is expensive
- There is a steep learning curve to the software
- You can waste lots of time auditioning sounds and patterns
- You will have to manually tweak settings to get realistic dynamics
- It can sound robotic if you aren’t careful with your programming
- Drawing in notes can be uninspiring and tedious
The pros and cons of a real drummer
As we stated earlier, there are many benefits to hiring a real drummer for your next production. However, it may or may not be the right choice for you.
Here are some of the pros and cons to hiring someone to play drums on your songs instead of using drum software:
- Get real-time feedback on arrangement ideas, fills, and playing style
- Rely on years of experience, training, and development
- Real drummers can record live with other musicians for a more organic vibe
- The drummer can suggest what equipment they use to get certain sounds (i.e., different cymbals or drums)
- They can provide their creative input on your song
- Real drums often require editing after the fact
- You can’t change the performance once recorded
- Recording drums can vary in quality
- It can get expensive if doing an entire album
- You’ll need access to lots of equipment to get a proper drum recording
Use Both if You Can
Did you know that professional producers often use both virtual drumming software and real drummers together for their recordings?
In my personal experience, I’ve found that recording with a real drummer and then layering in the virtual drums gives me the most flexibility and control over my sound.
You get the best of both worlds.
You can use the drum software to create a blueprint for the drummer to reference.
Then, you can leverage the experience and instant feedback of the drummer to perfect your drum arrangement.
Afterward, you can use software like Superior Drummer to layer in other drum sounds to give more punch, consistency, clarity, and tone to the overall performance.
Software like Superior Drummer even comes with a sophisticated feature that finds the transients of each drum hit and replaces each drum with a software sample. You can blend between the two, and it’s swift and easy.
The two together is a match made in heaven.
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Common issues when recording drums
Recording drums is not an easy task. First off, they are loud and, if not recorded in a properly treated room, can create many problems.
Problems such as:
- Ringing or resonant frequencies in the recording
- Accentuation of harsh frequencies
- Low-end rumble or boom-iness
Also, drums are often recorded with multiple microphones, so there are many opportunities for phase problems. Out of phase is when sound waves cancel each other out and create a sound with less depth, punch, and clarity, all things that are crucial to a great drum recording.
Lastly, live drums often need to be edited after the fact. Unlike software that uses MIDI, you are working with analog audio. Suppose you haven’t been trained to edit multi-microphone recordings properly. In that case, this task will have to be outsourced and cost you extra money.
Common Issues When Using Virtual Drumming Software
Virtual drumming software, like Superior Drummer, comes with drawbacks as well.
First, it’s a highly comprehensive tool that takes time to learn.
Suppose you don’t have much experience with music production. In that case, the time wasted learning, tweaking, and perfecting drum programming can take you away from your most important task – songwriting.
Also, in my experience, drumming software can create great-sounding drum hits but often lacks realism in the cymbals.
Cymbals are so dynamic that you need to tweak the velocity and timing to make them feel right. Cymbals that are too perfect are often a dead giveaway that you didn’t use a real drummer.
How to Decide Which is Best For You?
So, now that you know the pros and cons of each approach, which one is right for your music?
Only you can decide this.
If you’re a busy person that doesn’t have the capacity to learn everything there is to know about drumming software; then you should always invest in a real drummer.
Also, suppose you are a songwriter who is new to production. In that case, you should rely on the experience of others and not go down the production rabbit hole. You may find yourself wasting valuable years on production techniques instead of writing music.
On the other hand, it may be worth investing in virtual drumming software if you have production skills and learn the software.
You’ll have total control over your sound and drum arrangements. You can quickly audition different drum sounds and playing styles to find what fits your song and tweak everything to your liking.
Also, the answer to this question is genre-dependent.
Some music genres are built on beats, and using live drums could be overkill and unnecessary. A wrong choice might send you down the wrong road.
Buy beats that work for you and it might be all that you need to do.
What To Do Next?
As you begin to plan out your next recording, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Not only do you need to assemble the proper gear, but you also find time for your drummer and engineer to be in the same place at the same time. Then there’s recording, mixing, mastering, all things that can cost a lot of money.
So naturally, you may look for ways to cut costs and do everything on your own. This is where virtual drumming software can be a great choice as it helps alleviate the pressure of hiring others.
You Can Always Hire Professionals …
However, it can’t be said enough that relying on the experience of professionals is the fastest way to create great music.
So if you find yourself overwhelmed by the hiring process and don’t have lots of experience with production software, then reach out and connect with us at Supreme Tracks.
We have vetted and hand-picked the best drummers and recording engineers to help you create recordings that you’ll be proud to share with the world.