Five tips for recording your drums

Planning to take YouTube by storm with your drumming skills? Want to listen back to your groove to see if you’re on the money? Penning the next Stairway with your band mates? Then you’ll need to record yourself playing drums. Follow our guide and you’ll be well on your way to getting the perfect drum sound.

1. Do I record with acoustic or electronic drums?

Recording drums can be a technological minefield. There’s no right or wrong way, but for the majority of drummers wanting to record their playing, the ‘best’ way to record drums is clear: achieving the best result, as simply as possible, quickly. Whether you go for acoustic drums or an electronic drum kit, the aim is the same; to capture the drum recording so that it can be treated or edited.

Recording acoustic drums is a science in its own right. When you consider the cost of decent mics, preparing a live room, then the hours of post-production work to perfect the sound, it can get expensive and time consuming. And that’s if you know what you’re doing. For most people, it pays to hire a studio and engineer who can do this for you.

Recording digital drum kits has several advantages; there are several ways to record (more of which later on), there’s no need for microphones or a live room (keeping costs down), the set-up is less of a headache than mic’ing up acoustic drums (for example achieving separation; separating cymbals from drums with no audio bleeding across the microphones), and best of all you can achieve a result that equals the best drum recordings. In the professional recording industry, recording electronic drums is becoming more and more common for all of these reasons.

2. Do I trigger a module, MIDI or software?

Here, there are three choices; record the performance and sound directly from the module; record a MIDI performance and add drum sounds later, via software; trigger sounds in computer software (such as Toontrack’s EZ Drummer) as you play. Generally, the choice comes down to the amount of control you want to have over the drum sound and the drum mix.

  • Recording directly from the module lets you choose the instruments you want to play, edit them so they sound just right, and then record your performance as an audio track. Depending on the module you use, you’ll be able to record a stereo track or record each drum and cymbal as an individual channel. This is perfect whether using a multi-track recorder, analogue mixer or DAW software in your computer and gives you a similar level of control as having each part of the kit mic’ed up separately.
  • Recording MIDI allows your drum performance to be recorded in your computer as MIDI data, although no actual sound from the module is recorded. The MIDI file can be edited and played through drum software, or through the module (if that module has MIDI inputs and outputs) so that the sound is recorded separately from the performance.
  • Triggering software allows you to trigger software as you play the drums. The drum sounds from the software can be recorded at the same time.

    3. Choosing the right module for you

    The choice of module will determine what you can and can’t do. For example, the TD-1KV V-Drums kit has great drum sounds, but they can’t be edited and there is just a single stereo audio output. The MIDI out connector means this kit is a prime candidate for recording MIDI data or triggering software in a computer. Triggering in this way uses the sounds or instruments within the software and allows them to be recorded.

    On the other end other scale, the TD-30 module has highly advanced tone editing with thousands of instruments on tap, complete control of the recording ambient environment (so you can select and experiment with different ‘rooms’ or spaces in which to record). You also have multiple ‘direct outputs’, so that every drum and cymbal has a separate channel in the recording software, mixing desk or DAW controller. In the drum world, this is like placing a mic on every individual drum and cymbal. This gives the ultimate control when mixing and for many drummers, the ability to edit their instruments and then edit the entire drum mix is the best result of all.

    The TD-30 module (or brain) also had MIDI inputs and outputs. This means that if you record a performance using MIDI, you can edit that performance in your computer (for example removing errors or correcting the timing via quantisation) and then play that performance back through the module to re-record the tones or instruments in the TD-30.

    In the middle of the range, modules found in the TD-11 and TD-25 V-Drums kits have many more instruments and tones available than the TD-1KV. You also have control of the ambient environment, and a choice of stereo audio outputs, MIDI and USB audio (stereo). This will record left and right audio channels straight into your computer. When recording stereo outputs though, you do have less control in mixing the drums, as all the instruments are blended in the final audio signal being recorded.

    4. Don’t forget latency

    Latency is the length of time between hitting a drum and hearing the sound. With electronic drums, consider what happens when you hit the drum pad. The pad senses that it has been hit and converts this into an electronic signal, which is then sent to the module via the jack cable. The module processes this signal, triggers the appropriate sound, and sends it via the audio output cable to headphones, a monitor or an amp. The greater the latency, the longer it takes between the hit and the sound being output. Latency is measured in milliseconds, and the lower the number, the better.

    Latency is bad news when you’re drumming. When you’re playing drums, if there is significant delay between playing and hearing the sound, it can really put you off. Latency makes your playing feel like it’s ahead of the beat, or the sound lags far behind your playing – which in turn affects your performance. In previous years, latency was more an issue than it is today.

    By recording the sound and performance directly from the V-Drums module, latency is virtually non-existent. You will simply monitor the drum track by plugging headphones straight into the module, as you would when practicing or playing live.

    When triggering software in a computer using MIDI, latency can occur. This can be affected by the power of your computer, the speed of the processor, the quality of audio and MIDI interface, and how many programs your computer is running at any one time.

    The latest V-Drums with SuperNATURAL technology has the lowest-ever latency of any V-Drums kits with the lowest latency available in the industry. So, when recording MIDI or triggering software using MIDI, latency is reduced to the point that it doesn’t really matter.

    5. Next steps

    It’s just a matter of weighing up which is the right way of recording for you. There are pros and cons with each method. But in any case, recording your V-Drums kit provides a range of options for multiple situations, and is by far the easiest way to lay down a reliable and solid drum track.

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