The use of MIDI drums (or programmed drums) is a topic that falls victim to plenty of controversy among online music enthusiasts. But the problem is a little more complicated than just that, and the solution may actually be pretty simple. Just do it right. It takes time and research to learn how to do it properly. You probably didn’t sound like an angel the first time you tried to sing, and you probably didn’t have the most coveted guitar tone in the world the first time you dialed in an amp. You need to come into this with an open mind and treat it how you would any other area with a learning curve. I think you’ll find it’s much easier to improve on the small problems of MIDI drum programming than it is to improve all the skills necessary to properly track real drums.

Why you should use MIDI drums

First off, everybody is using sample replacement now. Especially for kicks and snares. If you can find an album with awesome drums that didn’t use any samples, they still probably have something you don’t: an awesome drummer and an expensive production. The production is another aspect that really separates the pros from the wimps. You need a huge, expensive space with the best preamps and microphones, you need to be an awesome producer/engineer, and you need a beast of a drummer. If you’re even missing one of these aspects, it’s really not worth it to record real drums. We should be trying for the best sound possible, and for most of us, we’re going to need to use samples to get it.

But why do most albums with sample replacement sound so much better than your programmed drums? It’s because the hits were still performed by an actual drummer. This means that the velocities and timings are still actually human, and that’s why it sounds good. Luckily, this is not a showstopper for you as a bedroom producer. There are some relatively simple things you can do.

1. Use pre-made grooves/loops. There are seriously so many packs available online of MIDI grooves performed by really awesome drummers. You need to think of these as tools that you can use to craft your music. Why would you punch in a super computerized blast beat by hand when you have the opportunity to have the drummer from Dimmu Borgir play it for you? (for something like 15 dollars from Toontrack). This is seriously such an amazing opportunity that people 10-15 years ago would have never had. At the end of the day, a blast beat is a blast beat. It’s still your music. And if you actually care about creating the best music possible, you will use the best resources available to do it.

Why you should use MIDI drums

2. Use an electronic drum kit. If you have the right drummer for your project and a decent kit, this should work out great for your song. You just have to make sure that you use the right samples and properly set your velocities. I see complaints from people that electronic kits don’t sound good, but really there’s no reason why they shouldn’t when you have basically limitless sample choices. Surely something is going to work great for the song. You just have to spend the time to audition drum tones and calibrate your kit. (Just like you would with real drums! How ‘bout that!) Another thing to consider with this is that you need to ask yourself, “If I set up all this work calibrating the kit and tracking a good performance, is it actually going to be better than the premade grooves? Is this actually helping the music, or is it an ego boost?

Why you should use MIDI drums

Final Words

I wanted to leave you with the ego question as I move into the conclusion. Because really this aspect applies to the whole debate of whether or not people should use any form of drum samples. Are you making music so that everyone can know how awesome your drummer is? Or are you making music so that people can enjoy it? If you’re making music for any reason other than the enjoyment of yourself and your fans, then you’re probably not going to be successful. Spending 1000+ dollars on a shit drum production is not a good idea for 90% of bands out there. (Yes, even this amount of money doesn’t mean you’ll get a good product.) You would be doing a favor to your art, your fans, and yourself by opening up to the alternatives and perhaps spending that money on promotion or other content.

By no means am I saying that tracking real drums is always the wrong choice. I’m just trying to introduce the idea that you need to be realistic with your goals and vision. But for most of us, that means that MIDI drums can make a better friend than enemy.

Nicholas Colvin
I’ve had over a decade of experience with writing/recording music and several years of experience with graphic design. I’m the vocalist for Undisclosed Dimensions and the lead guitarist for Arthedain. I’ve recently left my profession in Aerospace Maintenance to pursue an education in Communication and Mass Media. I have a passion for helpful music discussion, and Band Sculptor is my way of giving back.