I recently posted an article online about how I use drum machines in Ableton Live and a good friend commented “Use a real drummer” Of course, I agree that a real drummer or percussionist is always going to sound better than a synthesised substitute, but there are good reasons why we sometimes make use of digital alternatives
If you want to use a real drummer you are going to need two things – time and money. And of course access to a drummer who can play the way you want him or her to play. You are going to need time to rehearse with that drummer and time to set up and record in a proper recording studio environment – which is where the money element becomes a factor.
And a drummer can only do so much with two arms and legs. The time/cost factors rise exponentially if you need to use more than one percussionist.
If you are talented and lucky enough to have secured a generous recording contract, then these issues are not a problem, but for many of us these are unaffordable luxuries.
Time is also important because it allows the musician to try things out – at times that suit them. So the pressures that face musicians such as Frank Zappa or Pink Floyd when working with orchestras are not there for King Crimson when they opt for a mellotron alternative.
Landing a recording contract requires a measure of luck as well as talent – being in the right place at the right time. We all know of many talented musicians who are unable or [increasingly] prefer not to choose this route. Digital music making provides rewarding new ways of working for them. And some great music is being made by digital musicians who can record in their own homes in their own time – and then go on to distribute online. OK most do not achieve the same levels of success as the superstars, but small scale working can be just as satisfying. That feeling of being in control of your music making is an important trade-off for many of us.
New ways of working, bringing new opportunities for more people wanting to make music can only be a good thing! But we do need to think carefully when we use synthesised percussion. There are real challenges. If we try to emulate a live rock drummer we are always going to come second best. But there are also opportunities. Can we find ways of making and using percussion sounds that might not be possible or practical with acoustic percussion? Would Kraftwerk have sounded better with a drummer instead of a box of electronics? When I was devising and recording “Days of Sun & Days of Rain” these were considerations I was bearing in mind. I suggest watching my YouTube videos such as https://youtu.be/kCAzDaeULIQif you want to find out more about how I work.