Modern pop and rock music has fallen in love with drum machines. They’re more accurate than a drummer, and give a cool uncanny valley type of feel to a recording. However, there’s still no substitute for a well-played set of drums, so some artists have taken to combining recorded acoustic drums with a drum machine to make a cool effect in their recordings.
Here are a few tips for blending drum machines and acoustic drums in your band’s home recordings.
1. Record the live drums with a metronome. This should be obvious, but hey, it’s worth mentioning. If you don’t record the live drums with a metronome, you’re not going to have a very good chance of blending in the drum machine effortlessly. Things will sound like they’re all over the place, so if both the acoustic drums and the drum machine play through the whole song, record the drum machine first and then have the drummer listen to that recorded track while he’s recording. The tempo of the drummer has to be perfect in the studio, so expect to do multiple takes.
2. Usually you don’t want both drumsets playing over each other. If you do have a part where both the drum machine and the acoustic drums are playing simultaneously, one should be very simplistic, or the mashing of the frequencies will make everything sound muddy. It’s best to use a drum machine to complement the drums rather than as a replacement for the drummer’s natural rhythm.
3. Equalize. It’s important to add some EQ to both the drum machine and the acoustic drums once the recording’s finished to try to bring them into the same frequency ranges (if they play at different times) or to differentiate them from each other (if they play simultaneously). Think of the EQ of a song as a room; you want to be sure to put the acoustic drums in a different part of the room than the drum machine or they’ll overlap and sound muddy, but if they don’t play at the same time, you need to have the same section of the room filled for either part.
4. Compress. You should also apply compression to both signals to get them as close to each other sonically as they’re able to be; there are hundreds of articles written about compression, but suffice to say that it’s a necessary art form for almost all acoustic drum recordings. It’s less important on the drum machine, since by nature it’s already compressed, but try to even out the levels of the signals so that neither instrument is louder than the other.
Do you have any other tips for blending recorded acoustic drums with a drum machine in recordings? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.