Our drums are a compromise between a real drum set and a programmed drum system (like EZ Drummer patterns). The compromise is that the set plays differently than an acoustic set. The big advantage is that we can control the sound of the drums much, much more than you can with an audio recording of a drum set. We can record the drums in stereo, multi-channel, and MIDI. The MIDI recording can be used to play our large collection of software drum sets from Toontrack, Sonar, and Addictive Drums, which allows you to change the sound of the drums completely during mixing.
We have a set of DM5 Pro drum pads to go with our Alesis DM5 and Yamaha RM50 drum modules. The addition of a 2nd crash cymbal and a splash cymbal gives plenty of brass to play with. These pads have real drum heads on them with adjustable tension. The cymbals are actually made of brass so they feel like cymbals when you hit them.
The drum and cymbal pads each plug into an Alesis interface called a TriggerIO. Each input to the TriggerIO has programmable settings to allow you to fine-tune the response of the drum kit by adjusting sensitivity and response curves of the individual instruments.
The TriggerIO unit has two MIDI outputs. One is a standard MIDI DIN5 cable that runs over to the drum synthesizers. Their audio output goes into the board and is monitored through headphones when you play the drums.
The second TriggerIO MIDI output is on USB and it runs through a long cable into the recording computer. This is addressed as an input for the software, just like the audio, and is recorded onto its own MIDI track as we record the drum audio.
As previously mentioned, we can have very fine control over every parameter of the drum performance during the mix by playing software drum kits with the MIDI track. This includes adding or removing notes and fixing time issues if they exist. This is a relatively straightforward task, and it extends the abilities of the drummer by allowing their parts to be adjusted for errors.
Another huge advantage is that you don’t have to commit to a drum sound when you’re actually recording. We can change the room, the individual drums and cymbals, the tuning, and compression on the fly to fit best with the overall recording. This is possible with acoustic drums (using “drum replacement”) but why do that extra step when you can just start in MIDI? It’s a lot easier to edit MIDI than audio.
Another great thing is that when you record drums this way, there is no audio from guitar and bass amps bleeding into the drum mics. This is a problem worth eliminating.
The biggest disadvantage, IMO, is the diminished range of response compared to acoustic drums. The worst piece of it is the hi hat but all the cymbals are somewhat limited by this problem. The ride cymbal does have a separate bell channel and bow channel, which helps. The snare also has a rim and a head.
The pads were designed to be played with sticks, and there are some articulations (such as brushes on a snare drum) that you just can’t do. This is going to be a problem if you are trying to do jazz ballads and train songs. However, you can select different tools in the software (sticks, rods, or mallets) to change the sound of the set.
The Bottom Line
If your drummer can live with playing this drum set, and you can perform you music to a click track, we can create drum parts that sound pretty much as good as you can get for many types of recordings. Using this method of recording also saves you time and money and gives you the power to change your recordings at the mix stage.