Converting programmed drum parts to acoustic kit

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Here's a weird one for you. I went for an audition last night, one of several drummers, Original indie music trio. TBH, I'm not sure if it went well or not (I expect I'll hear in the next few days). I was given some tracks to listen through last week. All recorded with programmed drums. To my own shame (time restraints) I didn't get the chance to try the songs on a kit before the audition, I just familiarised myself with the song arrangements & the grooves.

I'm first drummer in. We kick off with a couple of songs. They're quite difficult songs to get to groove, but I work through them a couple of times each, playing the drum parts pretty close to the programmed parts. They sound like crap, & I mean really crap. I admit, perhaps my playing had a lot to do with it, but the biggest issue was the programmed parts just didn't translate to acoustic kit. When you're listening to music with programmed drums, I think you're conditioned to the lack of dynamic, & the lightweight "skippy" kind of vibe sits well enough. Translate that to acoustic drums in a live environment, & it all sounds weak - something's wrong.

Anyhow, I soon realised this disconnection was making me sound bad, so I stripped the parts right back for the next two songs, & opened up the groove. That worked much better in that environment. I'm not sure how that move went down, as I essentially moved significantly away from the song writer's vision, & it's her act.

Anyone else here come across this situation? It's especially challenging in an audition environment where you've got no time to work stuff out, at least, it was for me :(
 

paradiddle pete

Platinum Member
I've tried recording over pre programmed drum tracks before. It doesn't work. Not for me anyway. At least we could realize the shortcomings and start from scratch with just an acoustic kit. Much better in my opinion. Acoustic drums are about the movement of the body , hopefully that's all you will need.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I've tried recording over pre programmed drum tracks before. It doesn't work. Not for me anyway. At least we could realize the shortcomings and start from scratch with just an acoustic kit. Much better in my opinion. Acoustic drums are about the movement of the body , hopefully that's all you will need.
Agreed Pete. The recorded (albeit low production/home recording) vibe just didn't translate. I'm sure a better player than me could handle the "translation" more appropriately, but for me, it was a struggle, & I wasn't prepared for it.
 

paradiddle pete

Platinum Member
If ever there is a place for a REAL Drummer it's in a 3 piece, lot's of room to play the spaces. Hope you get the gig. Screw the Robots.
 

Reggae_Mangle

Silver Member
More than anything else that makes an acoustic rendition impossible, programmed drums are quantised to fit with a grid. That's not natural for any drummer, since there's no way we can keep time like machines.

As a result, electronic drums on recordings always stand out like a sore thumb, imo, they just are too mechanical and not lifelike. There are some guys who go the extra mile to have their programmed drums sound "real", but imo, it's just something that's become big these days because a lot of drummers can't keep time playing to a click, or because it's difficult or expensive to record acoustic drums.

But all the best records have a real drummer playing real drums. Sounds nothing like the staccato vibe you get from a programming, because push-pull in music is a beautiful thing that largely comes from human inconsistencies.

That said, there are guys like Jojo Mayer that have devoted their lives to playing like programmed drums and sound pretty spot on. It's just that if you put that performance on a grid, it would never line up like machine timing.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
The biggest problem, isn't with the feel, but with the sound. Preprogrammed drum tracks tend to be much more trebly, because the toms use too much head room, and they have bass synths anyway. This is why drummers use jungle kits, small snares and a tom but mostly cymbals. Mic the bass. It also helps to understand standard drum processing effects chains. Limiting, compression, EQ, delay/reverb.
 

Reggae_Mangle

Silver Member
The biggest problem, isn't with the feel, but with the sound. Preprogrammed drum tracks tend to be much more trebly, because the toms use too much head room, and they have bass synths anyway. This is why drummers use jungle kits, small snares and a tom but mostly cymbals. Mic the bass. It also helps to understand standard drum processing effects chains. Limiting, compression, EQ, delay/reverb.
I disagree. Look at some of the Zildjian cymbals on their VSTs or a software like BFD or Superior Drummer. The sounds are there and as with any instrument, you can EQ or tweak it otherwise to fit in the mix. You can even trigger them from an e-kit, but I've found that has its own share of problems, thanks to the limitations of the aged midi standard.

But if you programme them, they lack a lot of the feel of a live drum performance, mainly because it's all too easy to confuse a quantisation grid as the end-all of keeyping in time.

To look at it another way, think about playing to a click. Many experienced drummers say they don't follow the click, rather they make it follow them. It's impossible to play exactly on the dot when using a click, but we can play in a way that the performance is synced to the click, but not constrained or limited to it.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
The biggest problem, isn't with the feel, but with the sound. Preprogrammed drum tracks tend to be much more trebly, because the toms use too much head room, and they have bass synths anyway. This is why drummers use jungle kits, small snares and a tom but mostly cymbals. Mic the bass. It also helps to understand standard drum processing effects chains. Limiting, compression, EQ, delay/reverb.
The sound, & to some degree, expectations of sound knowing how the parts were created, is a contributing factor, but not the biggest one IMO. Dynamics is a big one, as well as natural push & pull, but the parts themselves don't necessarily translate. Then there's the occasional issue of the program maintaining all elements of a groove whilst performing a two handed tom fill. An octopus, I am not! ;)
 

jornthedrummer

Silver Member
Even with a track with acoustic drums, there is often a shaker, acoustic guitar or 16th note delay or some other sequenced stuff going on.
Playing live, this is missing and it can be hard to make the song feel good.
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
It's a little hard to know what happened without hearing the particular parts, sounds, dynamics, and feel. But historically, sequences don't translate very well - or at all - to live playing.

If a song has a sequenced part, there's a reason (and no, it's not because they didn't want to pay a drummer!) The type of music either calls for the specific pulse of a sequence, or specific sounds, or the part is just too complicated for one drummer to play and cop the right feel (early '80s Linn tracks definitely pushed the limits there!) The exception would be where a part was sequenced as part of a demo, with the idea to have a drummer to come in later. In that case, the sequences are simple, or often just a 1-bar loop.

It's certainly not impossible to copy a sequenced part as one drummer with a standard kit, but there is a point after which it just won't work. It doesn't matter if you bring in Vinnie, sequences can do things that aren't humanly possible (and of course, vice versa.)

Bermuda
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
It's a little hard to know what happened without hearing the particular parts, sounds, dynamics, and feel. But historically, sequences don't translate very well - or at all - to live playing.
As I wrote this part, I realized that I am living proof of this process.

When I tackle a drum part on a Weird Al parody, and the original song is sequenced, that's what I also do. Why? Because the song wouldn't sound or feel the same if I decided to try and play it. Granted, we do things to the nth degree in this band, and we know that changing the approach to these songs means they won't sound the same (and our particular goal is to make them sound the same.) Likewise, if we're doing a song where the original drum part was played, then I do that, no matter how accurately I think I can make the parts sound and feel the same if I simply program them (which would sometimes save time and headaches in the studio!)

There is one recorded track where the original was sequenced, and for some reason, I played the part instead. I don't recall why that was, especially as we already had a machine on hand. It's The Brady Bunch, a parody of The Safety Dance, and while it didn't suffer much in the translation, it doesn't really have the same pulse or unrelenting dynamic of the original. If doing that song today, it would absolutely be sequenced.

When you want the original feel, it has to be done the original way.

Bermuda
 
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SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Even with a track with acoustic drums, there is often a shaker, acoustic guitar or 16th note delay or some other sequenced stuff going on.
Playing live, this is missing and I can be hard to make the song feel good.
Same goes for reducing a batucada part, to a set. There is often a cow bell, bongo, shaker, repinique. I've known people that would find traditional percussion arrangements and program them in a techno groove. Sounds great too.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Great observations & comments so far guys :) This is one track I really had to straighten out & get some attitude into the groove. The feel is much heavier playing live than this recording with programmed drums. If I get the gig, I'll have to really woodshed the groove I came up with for this, as it's a difficult (for me) 16's - 24's with a heavy 8 note pulse & challenging bass drum pattern. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9liZabGhoA
 

jornthedrummer

Silver Member
Great observations & comments so far guys :) This is one track I really had to straighten out & get some attitude into the groove. The feel is much heavier playing live than this recording with programmed drums. If I get the gig, I'll have to really woodshed the groove I came up with for this, as it's a difficult (for me) 16's - 24's with a heavy 8 note pulse & challenging bass drum pattern. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9liZabGhoA
I think that groove can be played in the beginning of the song, but it doesnt take it anywhere.

I would explore at some stage going from this halftime grove to full time with a simple 4 on the floor beat.

I think that might lift the song to the next level.
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
When an artist or band hands you a track with a programmed drum part, do not try to mimic it. Simply listen to the song and invent your own drum part that captures the spirit of what they're going for.
 

WhoIsTony?

Member
I get demos sent to me all the time with programmed drums

a lot of times the artist and / or producer wants me to play exactly what is there .

never had a problem

there is a whole wave of drumming happening right now that is based on man emulating machine and any drummer who wants to make his/her living playing drums should probably get up on that or quickly be left behind

in Andys case I do imagine it would be tough on the spot with no time to work it out
 
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wildbill

Platinum Member
....Anyhow, I soon realised this disconnection was making me sound bad, so I stripped the parts right back for the next two songs, & opened up the groove. That worked much better in that environment. I'm not sure how that move went down, as I essentially moved significantly away from the song writer's vision, & it's her act.

Anyone else here come across this situation? It's especially challenging in an audition environment where you've got no time to work stuff out, at least, it was for me :(

I wouldn't feel too bad about it. Listen, improvise, and just wing it as close as you can.

It's easy to program drum parts that are physically impossible to play.

And while samples can respond to velocity if programmed that way, you won't get the subtle nuances that you can pull from acoustic drums and cymbals.

You probably won't be able to get real close to the frequency spectrums of a given set of samples either.
Not even with a room full of gear and unlimited time to tweak it.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
When an artist or band hands you a track with a programmed drum part, do not try to mimic it. Simply listen to the song and invent your own drum part that captures the spirit of what they're going for.
I recommend asking what the artist wants before doing anything, and in lieu of any direction, do the part that's on the track. The last thing you want to hear after making the song your own is "didn't you listen to the track?"

Unless instructed otherwise, you're always better off playing what's on the track. Always. If they want something different, let them tell you. But don't ever assume drum parts are yours to do with as you please.

Bermuda
 

paradiddle pete

Platinum Member
there is a whole wave of drumming happening right now that is based on man emulating machine and any drummer who wants to make his/her living playing drums should probably get up on that or quickly be left behind.. there it is, the Musicians Laborer mentality..
 
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