I don’t have a drummer... Do I need real drums?

Posted by Aaron Groombridge on

Do I need real drums?

I don’t have a drummer... Do I need real drums?

Are real or programmed drums better for your home recording? Are real drums even an option if you don't have a real drummer or recording real drums in your home is not an option?

I was recently working with a couple of clients from Northland who wanted to record a few of their songs. The goal was to have a showcase of their current works which they could promote to grow their fan base and attract the right musicians to join them.

They were not quite a full band yet, and they were not sure if they should use their programmed drums from Ableton or if they would get better results from a real drummer. It takes a drummer's brain to program great drum parts, but even then they rarely have the right feel, and getting a drummer to play what a non-drummer wants can be… unproductive.

After having a listen and a further discussion it was decided real drums would complement the music better plus it would add to the “real band” sound.

Great, but they didn’t have a drummer yet… Luckily I have worked with some fantastic and very professional drummers over the years, and I knew some of them had their own home studio setups. So I commissioned a drummer for the project.

The best fit was a very well respected drummer I grew up with in the Hutt (Lower Hutt, NZ), who I discovered now resides in Australia. Luckily we both have internet connections and good communication skills!

Days passed and the drum tracks arrived and not long after the rest of the song tracks were recorded and mixed at my home studio.

The final result was a recording of a full band for the artists to share and help build their fan base as well as for sending to venues and other bands when booking gigs, and to help with recruiting additional musicians:

As a contrast I was working with an exceptionally talented up and coming young singer from Tauranga, and for that recording programmed backing tracks was the best option:

And finally, in this song I did both - I played and recorded a real drum part, then I treated it like programmed drums. I layered a kick sample, then used FX to make it sound a little weird, distressed and Lo-Fi (to support the "depressed with a stiff upper lip" vibe I wanted for the song), and finally looped 1 small section over and over and over:

Some Pros vs Cons of Real and Programmed Drums

Real Drum Tracks - by session drummer


- Natural and realistic
- Full of vibe
- Played like a drummer would
- Done for you quickly - no brain power waisted here!

- Not perfect
- Editing and mixing is often required (as with any real instrument in your song)
- Session and booking cost - (not as high as you might think)
- Less control over the final performance

Programmed Drum Tracks

- Perfect
- The sounds are very clear (but still need to be mixed into your song)
- Low cost
- You have full control

- Perfect, unrealistic and unnatural
- You need an experienced drummers brain
- Cymbals and Hi Hats are near impossible to get right
- Balancing the kit using multiple samples can be very challenging
- Time consuming and often tedious to program

In summary

Drums and bass are the heart of most music, yet as songwriters we are more likely to play guitar, piano or similar melodic instrument. Having a human performed drum and/or bass in your production can be a game changer.

When it comes to more organic music like Jazz, Rock, Blues, Classical, Folk, Country, etc nothing beats real instruments performed well. However, not all styles of music call for real drums or bass.

If you are a one or two piece who would like to record your works, but are missing a real drummer or bass player etc - and are unsure if you need them, or how to make it happen - I can sort that out for you.

There are options and services out there where you can send your works to online musicians, if you have the money and the confidence these are a great option, but many of us are a bit shy and protective when it comes to our personal works. Usually a relationship and trust is needed to be able to communicate the reasoning and ideals for our songs.

Luckily I have managed bands and musicians and I have worked with many in the studio environment. As a result I have solid relationships with active professional musicians who are set up to record and I trust to respect the writers vision. I can take care of the hard work. I will put the time in upfront to understand what you are going for before briefing my musicians. Before hitting the record button we will all have an excellent understanding so we can get it right the first time.

I can commission excellent professional Kiwi musicians (most who live in NZ) to provide real performances against your works for a reasonable price and low stress.

If you are a solo or duo project and you would like to record with me please get it touch, or if you would like a hand figuring out how to do it on your own - I can help you with that too!



PS - You can search for and listen to the full versions of the Groove Manoover and Moreporks At Midnight songs on all major streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music.