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Pro Tools cures a dodgy drummer

Despite drum machines, samplers and loops, real drumming never seems to have gone out of fashion. In fact, one could easily say that it has never been so in fashion since electronic alternatives first became available. But the quest remains for the perfect drummer, who plays brilliantly, doesn't get drunk and doesn't sh*g your girlfriend

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Despite drum machines, samplers and loops, real drumming never seems to have gone out of fashion. In fact, one could easily say that it has never been so in fashion since electronic alternatives first became available.

But the quest remains for the perfect drummer, who plays brilliantly, doesn't get drunk and doesn't shag your girlfriend.

Such a person, I would say, is worth his weight in gold, no - platinum (maybe even rhodium?), they are so rare.

OK, since it is unlikely that outside of the topmost level of recording you are going to be working with a drummer who is that good, you are most probably going to have to work with a drummer who is at least a little dodgy.

And who knows how bands pick their drummers anyway? Mostly because they have a good place to rehearse (because otherwise they wouldn't have learned how to play at all!).

So let's say you are recording in the old style, either on good old multitrack analog tape, or more likely on a modern near-equivalent such as the Tascam MX2424. The band play in the studio without a click track and record the basic tracks for a song. You, as the producer, listen back and although it sounds pretty much OK, it doesn't sound great. So you go for another take, then another, then another. After that the band will probably start to lose enthusiasm (and the drummer will be wondering whether there are other opportunities around for enjoyment).

If the take is note-perfect, but lackluster, there may be the possibility that it isn't rhythmically precise enough. OK, you didn't use a click track because you didn't want it to be robotic. But there is a fine division between good human accuracy and sloppiness. And sometimes the precise location of that division needs to be found.

What will be well worth trying is to edit the basic tracks. Although this can be done on the Tascam MX2424 or similar 24-track hard disk recorder, or even analog tape, it would be much better to transfer to Pro Tools where editing is slick.

Now comes a process of deciding where the sloppiness lies. Inevitably, the drummer will have played many drum hits out of time. The kick and snare will be the most obvious culprits. These inaccuracies need to be identified and fixed. If the drums have been conventionally recorded one track per drum plus two overheads, then any out of place hits can be cut out and shifted in time. This will of course create an anomaly where the snare, for instance, will come in at a certain time on its own track, but at a slightly different time through the overheads tracks. In practice, this probably won't matter in the context of the entire mix.

The other possibility is to copy a good bar across all the tracks, including the bass and guitar, and copy it over a bad bar, adjusting for slight timing variations if necessary.

These processes are tedious. But if you want a good drum track, and you do, then it wouldn't be overkill to have an edit in every bar. It might make the difference between a track that sounds professional in quality and something that sounds merely hopeful.

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By David Mellor Friday December 9, 2005
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