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Electric Drums
Electric Drums
The pros and cons of electric drums
Published by Chris Jude
06-16-2006
Post Electric Drums

For most of my life, (career drummer), I swore I'd not be caught behind any of those "electric" drums. Same arguments. They look goofy. And worse, they sound "fake".

But equally many, many years back (although I was playing acoustic kits) I realized the value in triggering at first my kick (to mix in sounds to get those huge sounds I needed). And as time went by there were occasions when I did the same with toms and snare, always mic'ing them for the acoustic sound and depending on the need, maybe adding other stuff.

Then I began to realize that more and more often in the studios they were completely replacing sounds (in ProTools) with digital samples after I layed down a track. Those sounds were fantastic on their own of course.

But I had never heard an electronic drum set that was set up to produce sounds like that live (in real time). Not even sounds that in my opinion were decent. And then of course, the gear looked like toys and felt just as awkward to play.

Well a few years ago that changed for me. I got interested in a project where I needed some synthetic sounding drum sounds. So I had to do some looking at electronic drums options. Getting the synthy sounds I needed was no problem, but what struck me was how far the look and feel of the stuff was coming on, and how good some of the boxed stuff could now sound all around, even the acoustic drum sounds.

I started doing some more research, began to get really into it, and found that there were ways to get truly realistic samples triggering in real time and that there were even some options toward getting things to feel and behave more like the acoustic stuff that I'm used to. As I got deeper in, I started actually putting stuff together that hadn't been done, and inventing a few things (that came a bit later).

But anyway, while I don't presume to tell anyone what is "right" for them (what is "right" is whatever floats your individual boat). I can say with some degree of insight that very few people have any clue what electronic percussion can sound like or look like. The answer in both cases is it can look and/or sound like pretty much anything, and if you want it to look and/or sound like an acoustic drum, that is no longer impossible. In fact, it can be done very convincingly.

Yes, there are still differences. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Both have limitations. You could make arguments for or against both if you like. But that is a huge shift for me personally to look at it that way. I thought of one as an instrument and the other as a novelty. And I was convinced that I probably always would. I'm not convinced anymore. I have electronic drums that sound better than most folks acoutic kits. Sure that has to do a lot with most folks not knowing how to tune, mic, effect, mix, records, blah, blah as well as maybe they could. But the point is, the technology is coming to the point where they are getting as good at emultating acoustic drums as electronic keyboards are at emulating acoustic pianos.

And I think that once folks really start to find out, it will be cool to see what happens next because sounding like traditional drums is just one of the tasks they can do (even though to this point it has been the sole test of legitamacy). They can do a lot of other things that haven't been tapped into yet. But I guess, one step at a time.

I'm working on finishing up an electronic kit project where the goal was to make it look, feel and sound as close to playing an acoustic kit as possible. The best way to guage that is to come play it, but short of that, I'll post some pics and video/sound of the progress as soon as I can get them approved. Its a work in progress but I won't make any other apologies. I think if you keep an open mind, you may be surprised at how they look and sound.

Playing them is a lot of fun and I can do it with headphones on in the next room while my kids sleep. I still have my acoustic kits too (and other electronics). But just thought I'd throw this out for discussion.
Here's a pic of the progress. I'll be replacing the heads with white ones (to look more natural) in the next week or two. I also have a matching hi-hat now ready that works and looks just like the real thing. The final touch will be some clear material that I'm having made to quiet the rims (instead of black) so it will be barely visible and I will work to tidy up and hide cables, etc., to complete the visual. How it works and what it can do and sounds like is 1000 times cooler though.




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