I’m not going to get into what prompted this rant but suffice to say it didn’t just come out of nowhere. Fakery is a hot button topic in metal these days. From accusations of KISS using backing tracks on their most recent farewell tour to metal bands using Melodyne and Beat Detective more than most pop stars the idea of authenticity is more important now than ever. How can we complain about pop stars faking it when a lot of metal bands are doing the same thing?
All this talk about fakery in metal today leads us, inevitably, to the stinking swamp that is metal drums. I’ll keep this short, and I’ll be very clear on what I think is acceptable and where I draw the line. But this rant isn’t so much about the fakers as it about jackasses who prevent people from making music because they accuse non-fakers of being fakes. This rant is aimed straight at those guys, most of whom haven’t even recorded ten seconds of music in their life. Hell, most of them probably don’t know the first thing about music, yet they want to put themselves in a position to pass judgement on the rest of the metal world.
In an ideal world, everyone wanting to lay down some music would have access to a competent drummer with a fully miced acoustic drum kit in an acoustically treated drum room. We don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a competent and reliable drummer locally. Following on this theme I’ve identified several levels of “authentic” (for lack of a better word) methods of producing a drum track and identified the point where I believe authenticity breaks down and people could legitimately make claims of fakery.
Live Drummer in the Your Area
Obviously, this is the ideal. You can sit down with your drummer and jam. Writing is usually easier and recording sessions often work out much quicker than any other method. This is the setup for most bands, or at least it should be. If you record with a live drummer, then it should go without saying that sample replacement and “snapping to a grid” are taboo. Record the drums using as many takes as required to get the best performance possible. Cut and paste is off limits—but you already knew that, right?
Live Drummer in Another Area
What if you don’t have a drummer in your area that you can rely on, or one that is interested in your project? The next best thing could be a remote drummer. Of course, jamming becomes more difficult and often the drummer you use for recording is probably a session musician and doesn’t solve the problem of playing live. But, sometimes it’s more important to get your song recorded anyway you can and worry about gigs later. This is especially true for experimental genres and solo projects.
Live Drummer Using Digital Drums
If you have a drummer locally but live in an apartment or don’t have access to a treated drum room, the option of an acoustic kit may be off the table. At this point you’re probably going to opt for a digital kit. It’s still being played by a human though you may be capturing both audio and midi data. This is especially true if you have a remote drummer with a digital kit. At that point it almost makes more sense to just send a midi file to whoever is mixing the album and let them bounce the midi to audio using their favorite drum plugin.
Commercial MIDI Packs Played by a Live Drummer
This is a compromise there is no doubt about it. While the above three options are solidly authentic, the option of assembling a drum track from commercially purchased MIDI packs is worth a bit of discussion. I’ll answer this by asking you a question. Which of the two scenarios below is more authentic?
- A band goes into the studio and tracks every instrument and the vocalist live. Then the engineer goes in and times aligns everything and autotunes the vocalist. Then all drum hits are replaced by samples. The song is perfect, but no longer reflects the music played by the musicians when they were tracking.
- A solo artist records every instrument and the vocals. Nothing is time aligned and Melodyne never sees the light of day. The only compromise the solo artist made was to use MIDI packs he/she purchased to lay the drum track because he/she didn’t have another option. The guitars, bass, keyboards, violin, vocals, flute, whatever instruments he/she used is exactly the music played by the solo musician when they were tracking.
In my mind, (2) is obviously an authentic piece of music. The use of MIDI for the drum track is insignificant when compared to the way most metal is produced these days. Sure, it’s not ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. I’d much rather have that solo artist’s music in the world that having more over produced, time aligned, and Melodyned crap shoved down our collective throats.
Any Other Option
Other options such as playing drums on a keyboard or “programming” MIDI remove the human drummer and so I can’t justify their use. Don’t need to say any more here.
Wrapping Things Up
To nail the point home, don’t let some idiot who hasn’t produced anything (or worse uses beat detective and Melodyne) tell you that your music is fake just because you didn’t have access to a live drummer in a studio with a high-end acoustic kit. There are lots of ways to make music and few of them produce “fake” results. If a drummer played the parts that you’re using and you don’t quantize, time align, or use Melodyne you’re not fake. At least that’s my opinion.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, then get out of here and go make some music!