A WORD ON SAMPLES VS LIVE DRUMS

A WORD ON SAMPLES VS LIVE DRUMS

One of the debates that seems to be rolling around the internet that I hear quite frequently between professional engineers and enthusiasts seems to be focused around the growing shift to replace live recorded drums with samples or programs like Superior Drummer. Below is my take on the pros and cons of samples and the philosophy on why I came to those conclusions.

Samples

There are a lot of reasons for using samples when it comes to drums in music. Here’s the basic breakdown:

Pros

  • They’re relatively cheap in comparison to recording live drums.
  • They sound good because they are technically ‘real’ in the sense that they were played by a real person at some point.
  • They’re perfect every time. There’s no miss hits or stick flubs to correct.
  • They’re relatively easy to edit or mix and someone with absolutely no experience whatsoever can get really great results every time because they are essentially already mixed.
  • They’re fast. You can set up a program to playback the same track time and time again and decrease your production time in a significant way.
  • There is total isolation of one part of the kit to another.
  • Replacing poorly recorded drums is easy and cost effective.
  • No space is required to ‘record’.

Cons

  • They’re generic and are a totally canned sound. There is no uniqueness involved whatsoever
  • They’re ‘fake’ in the sense that a computer and not a person is playing the song.
  • They’re perfect every time and consequently are devoid of the emotional impact that real drums illicit in a listener. You’re actually much more likely to experience ear fatigue where you basically stop listening altogether and tune things out.
  • There is a huge tendency in the home studio/amateur realm to use poorly edited samples that you can actually hear when the sample starts and ends.
  • There is total isolation of one part of the kit to another which results in the lost overall stereo image of the drum kit as a single instrument.
  • No space is required to ‘record’, which in turn eliminates at least half of what creates a unique sound.

Conclusions

There are several conclusions that you can come to, and depending on how you feel about it I think you could easily argue for or against until you’re blue in the face. For me personally, I think there is a time and a place to use samples (i.e. fixing a bad hit or some other problem); but I also feel that the vast rise in samples use is due to a serious lack of striving for musical excellence on the part of poor or lazy engineers that don’t even realize what they are doing to the emotional impact of a song. Recording drums isn’t easy and requires some serious skills to do properly. Not everyone can do it nor should they. No matter what the reason, whether it be the cost, lack of space, lack of experience or some other reason, it really doesn’t make much difference because the end result is the same. For me, it ultimately comes down to a basic philosophy on how sound and music come together to move the listener. At the end of the day, I want to hear a real representation of a band or an artist that is unique, engaging, emotionally driven and that makes me not only feel, but feel intensely. After all, aside from love and sex, music to me is the most powerful personal emotional force that we as humans can experience. In the end, I can’t be moved or feel anything if I hear the same drum samples on every song I listen to; whether it be country, rock, jazz, folk, industrial, electronic or whatever. Eventually, my ears will become numb and I’ll stop listening altogether. Anyway that’s my take on music as an emotional force and why I prefer to use a real drummer whenever I’m able.

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