It is undeniable that VST instruments have been playing a big part in the average studio environment in the last years. In my opinion, drum VSTs are certainly a godsend for all the home studio guys who can’t manage or afford to record drums properly or are simply unable to because they actually don’t own a kit or can’t find a drummer. I remind you that you need a good room, several good microphones, and well a good drum kit obviously to record drums professionally. So basically you’d better hit a pro studio, at this point. Hence the effectiveness of drum VSTs, which offer the end-to-it-all solution in an affordable package delivering instant pro-sounding drums, and give hobbyist musicians a chance to get their music out there without much trouble.
Looking at those software in a bigger picture however, and especially with respect to the trends in extreme music, the line between “godsend tool” and “evil cheating expedient” which supposedly “steals the job” to actual flesh-and-bone drummers gets more and more subtle.
First, nowadays it happens quite often to encounter programmed drums in professional mainstream albums, just for the sake of getting a quick recording process and an overproduced “perfect” sound. This is in my personal opinion a quite irritating case, since I’d much rather hear the actual drummer play on the record (also because the band will have him playing at live shows nonetheless, so really what’s the point for this?) and I don’t mind minimal flaws in the performance as long as it is acceptable. I don’t give a damn about super-polished recordings, quantization and so on, I’d just like to hear some drums dammit! I’d just want to hear and feel the sweat and passion, and that happens with a human performance! We’re at the point at which producers have to “fake” errors in a virtual performance to make a programmed drum track feel more human. Sounds like a joke! In addition, drum tracks on “live” albums are increasingly often polished with the use of drum programming in post-production too. Well that’s not exactly something “live” in my vocabulary, isn’t it?
Also, I’m frankly a bit tired to hear the same exact snare tone in every metal album out there lately, and guess what? That happens for the above mentioned reasons.
That being said though, I have to clarify that we shouldn’t just point a finger to drum machines when it comes to artificial sounding productions. Many producers are increasingly often quantizing and processing real drum tracks as well for the same discussed reasons, and that would be really avoidable in my opinion. Bye bye dynamics and nuances in playing, you see. Is it so bad to be human?
So it’s all about the new recording trends, it seems producers are losing perspective while striving for perfection.
Another point I’d like to make is that extreme music is being more and more pushed to technical levels at the point that actual musicians just can’t keep up. That’s why some bands are preferring VSTs to their drummers in studio, for easiness in recording their absolutely out-of-this-world compositions. This creates a really absurd “competition” in which the drummer has to be good enough for not being substituted with a machine. That’s nonsense to me, you can’t replace a musician with a machine. Either the drummer is able to nail his stuff or it’s not, full stop. Trying to justify a reverse approach is kinda lame.
From a compositional perspective, a drummer (or whoever in his place) can’t write something he is deliberately not able to play and then arrive in the studio just saying “well then, we’ll program this”. Just…no! Play your drums at the best you can and don’t cheat!
Are we throwing all the value of actual musicianship and skills in the garbage as it was nothing? Are we devaluing human potential just like that? Oh you, technology.
But let’s stop the ranting for a second and have a look back to drummers who really were machines themselves, before all this mess happened.
Gene Hoglan, now 46 years old, is still one of the fastest and most technically proficient metal drummers alive, earning him the nickname “The Human Drum Machine”. He’s always been about nailing his stuff to the fullest, and never relying on post-production tricks. At this point, we’ll hold back the irony for a second. Gene always warmed up with super heavy sticks, ankle and wrist weights, in the hope of getting as powerful as he could be, and together with other drummers in his generation he has contributed in making metal faster and more extreme than ever before. Think back to the ‘80s-‘90s: thrash, death, grind, you name it. That was some fast stuff!
Gene really raised the bar in metal drumming in his work with Dark Angel, Death, SYL and others.
Nowadays, the “speed” trend is still going fast (sorry for the pun) to the point it is out of control and it’s sparkling a weird crisis in drumming, as drum parts entered the realm of the physically impossible and real drummers can’t keep up anymore as we just said.
Still, some drummers openly admit to be using drum machines in spite of playing, and they justify this with saying that using technology is just a better way to make music in cases in which humans would not be able to. I don’t agree with that, and I think we should accept our limits as “human” musicians, well if we still want our music to be physically played on our instrument at least.
So I think I stated my point of view clearly enough: I’m extremely in favor of programmed drums, as long as they’re used for an “ethical” purpose, that would be being a substitute for actual drums when you can’t have them. I just can’t see the point in faking real drum tracks for the sake of perfection in production or taking over actual drummers for a blind ambition for technicality.
In addition, I think music should never be a competition and, speaking of metal in particular, drums shouldn’t be all about speed for sure, better all about taste and groove if you ask me!