Can you remember the last time you heard a drum kit?
If you are like me, you work in an open plan office, the relatively new production boosting (allegedly) layout for working spaces.
Now, while this method of working may have many benefits, it has one drawback which needs to be addressed.
The communal radio…
The killer of dreams, the aspiration crusher, a reminder that for every ounce of good in this world, there is a mountain of darkness waiting to consume it!
Perhaps my animosity is unwarranted. Forgive me, I’m not a radio person.
When the decision comes to pick a station, to appease the masses, someone will no doubt decide on one of the generic Pop stations, most likely with some insufferable breakfast team of “funny, charismatic” people (that is an article for another time).
After a while you’ll begin to acclimatise to the sonic atmosphere. You’ll bop your head when you hear the latest chart topper, and you’ll sigh in utter defeat when it’s played a fourth time just before the day is done.
Being a musician, I try to listen to every song I hear in depth. I listen to how the guitars have been mixed in relation with the bass. I listen to how the vocal melody is underpinned by the synths. I listen to how the drums…
I came to the realisation a few days ago that I couldn’t recall the last time I heard a drum kit in a Pop song within a one year span. Quite a realisation for a music lover!
Where’s that beat coming from?
Sampling really started in the mid-70s and early 80s, and has quickly become the way that most Pop songs are produced today.
The method has changed over time, going from a DJ using two turntables to modern day producers using various sampling software on computers, but the results are the same, musician-less music.
At a time when the world of Pop is dominated by a handful of DJs and Producers, we are hearing less and less actual instruments in our music, particularly drums.
Firstly, a drum kit is notoriously difficult to record and mix. Issues like spill and unwanted frequency reinforcement will often require a very skilled engineer, and some impressive software, to fix. Also, without a room, live or ambient, tracking drums becomes almost impossible.
Secondly, recording and producing a great sounding drum kit is a time consuming process, often taking up more time in production than the rest of the instruments in a band. Sometimes even more time is spent on drums than the vocals!
The advancements made in recording and mixing software have made it possible for an entire album to be produced and released in less than two weeks!
Today, music is churned out at a quicker rate than it can be consumed, which can be seen as a step forward in terms of production capability and free access to distribution channels for independent artists, but perhaps it can also be seen as a major step back as artists begin to lose any sense of uniqueness that live instruments add to music.
Please do not mistake me for an Electronic Music hater. I’ve loved the genre ever since I first heard a click-synced synth back in my early high school days. Electronica and technology have always pushed music into exciting realms, and have produced two of the finest musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk have been musical mentors of mine since they released their sophomore album, Discovery.
Their masterful sampling and harmonically rich mixing techniques have been constant sources of inspiration, but when they released Random Access Memories, they proved that their musical understanding ran far deeper than the world of EDM.
Their use of a live drummer, Omar Hakim, made the album something other-worldly. Listening to this absolute session legend freestyling around perfectly synced synthesizers was almost unreal at first, being so used to hearing sampled beats from the Robots. A mixture of live and electronic. Magic!
There is a quality, an immeasurable substance, that presents itself when a musician plays his/her instrument. It is a force which takes on a life of its own when you hear skilled, passionate musicians playing together. I feel that it is an energy that we, as expressive beings, aren’t getting enough of in this world of samples and replications.
Food for the soul.
When a drummer takes to a kit, you get something made anew with every crash of the cymbal, thump of the tom and crack of the snare. Always different, but never changing. You get something imperfect, a flawed piece of artistic expression. Human.