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In modern rock or heavy metal sound engineering and production:

  • Is it possible to get a decent sound without triggers on the kick drum? Examples would help here :-)
  • What triggers/drum machine combinations are typically used in professional recordings? Or plugins if this is how they do it?
  • Same as above, but cheap alternatives for small home studios?

Thank you in advance!

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When my band recorded their last demo (before I joined) they used triggers on the drums, as have a lot of bigger bands. I would strongly advise against using these demonic devices, they make a talented drummer sound like a machine and it's just not good at all. Since the 40s Engineers have been recording kick drums with a microphone (or two) why change that now? A natural drum sounds much better than a trigger, so don't be one of those engineers that uses triggers! :) –  Kyle Sevenoaks Jan 6 '11 at 8:23
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3 Answers

I will give a specific example based on Cubase, but I'm sure the competition has similar options. In Cubase, you can detect transients in a track and map the to so-called hitpoints. You can either use this information to quantize the track, or to synchronize the tempo of the entire mix. Or you can convert the information to MIDI data, which you can then use to trigger a drum machine or drum machine plugin. Try googling for Beat Detective if you're using Pro Tools or Beat Finder if you're using Audacity. In all three cases, you have the choice of simply quantizing the original drums, provided you like the general sound and feel of the recording, completely replacing the original drums, or mixing real and synthetic drums.

I'm a drummer, so I belong firmly in the camp of first trying to get the best recording of the real drums. A good drummer adds nuances, expressions and small variations that are hard to program. Even though this might be lost on the general audience, I find it really helps the rest of the band get into the right groove. So if the engineer knows how to mike the drums properly, a little quantization of the drums might be all you need to make a killer set of drum tracks.

Another technique is to record multiple sets of drum tracks. After the main drum tracks have been recorded, have the drummer record secondary tracks on a different drum kit, or at least with a different kick, snare and hi-hat. Examples of effects on the secondary tracks are heavy compression and distortion and/or heavy EQ (lo-fi), extreme reverb/delay, flange. Some takes might work well as a constant complement to the main drums throughout the song, while other takes work well as additional fills.

If you need a more well defined or pronounced "edge" to the kick drum, try taping a quarter to the front of the beater. If the bass drum is too "boomy", try placing a small blanket on the bottom of the drum barrel inside the drum. You'll have to experiment with the placement.

Finally, if the bass overlays the kick drum (or vice versa, depending on your point of view :-), then another option is to let the bass take the low end and record and/or EQ the kick drum to merely emphasize the click-sound of the beater.

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I just remembered the old quarter trick and updated my answer to include this. –  Kim Burgaard Jan 7 '11 at 1:56
    
The quarter sounds awful! :-) –  Sklivvz Jan 7 '11 at 8:16
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I'm in no way a kick-drum recording guru, but my limited experience tells me that the absolutely most important part in making drums sound good is that they sound good live. Guitars and keys you can tweak with filters and things, but a drumset that sounds slightly cardboardy or soggy will sound like that no matter what you do.

Part of making this happen is the magick of drum tuning which is a black art some drummers seem to know and others don't. But if you have drums that sound kick-ass live, and you have them in a room that isn't too echoey, I've even had decent results by laying cheap mics inside the kick (I didn't have enough mic-stands, what can I say...).

For the bass drum you need a mic that can handle the levels, which can be high, and doesn't cut off the bass. It's trial and error, unless you have the dough to go to a store and buy one. :)

If the drums doesn't sound that great, and you don't want to hurt the drummers feelings, you can record the drums on separate tracks, and replace them with software, see Kim's answer above.

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Yes and no. I would not use a trigger to replace a sound. I would record both the real sound and its ambience and the trigger sound on two separate tracks and then mix them... So, yes, I need a great kick live sound, but I would use the trigger for punch - the advantage being the possibility for everybody to hear the end result in real time. –  Sklivvz Jan 7 '11 at 8:19
    
Right, good point. As mentioned, I'd rather record the real sound only, and use a software trigger to in the mix, but you are right that you don't have to replace the sound, you can use the trigger only to enhance. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 7 '11 at 8:49
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"Is it possible to get a decent sound without triggers on the kick drum?"

Well the trigger sample was created with a mic somewhere, so it MUST be possible. Or do they use synth kicks in heavy metal now?

Grab a kick mic and stick it inside the drum. Aim the mic directly where the beater is striking. Maybe change the beater head to a hard type to get more of a smack. Make sure the kick drum is tuned correctly - the safe bet is to just barely get the heads tightened to get that super low thud. I also like the mic outside the drum, but you won't get as much beater attack.

You can always replace the kick hits with samples if the kick sound isn't adequate during mix.

Logic has tools to analyze the audio and produce MIDI notes. Other software probably has the same. Drumagog is a plugin which does this too I belivee.

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