Getting custom drum tracks for your music from an online session drummer is a great idea for several reasons, but there are things you need to know to make good decisions.
Congratulations for recognizing an opportunity : you are looking into getting custom drum tracks from an online rock drum track provider. Using today’s technology to get something you need (while saving money and time) makes a lot of sense.
For those who already are hip to the advantages of getting your custom drum tracks online, I am going to help you better understand how to make good choices in terms of which provider to go with.
But first bear with me while I review the ways in which getting your drum tracks online can save you loads of time and money.
There is always the traditional way of doing things, which involves having to pay a lot of people and basically goes like this:
First, you rent a studio to record in. Rates can depend on a lot of things, including the area the studio is in. Studios located in more expensive areas are of course likely to charge more because of high rent. For a well-equipped studio, rates average around $150 per hour.
Secondly, using the traditional method, you have to hire one or more sound engineers. Sometimes the same person will set up the mics and run Pro Tools, Logic or whatever recording platform is in use. But often there will be two engineers, which of course raises your expense.
So far, you've got potentially three people you have to pay so far: the owner of the studio and possibly two engineers. Add the session drummer to the mix and that makes minimum three and possibly four people you have to pay for your custom drum tracks. If your budget has no limits, that’s fine, but if you seek to save money (without compromising quality, of course) there is a better alternative: getting your custom drum tracks over the internet from an online session drummer.
What a cool time we’re living in, getting to see technology expanding so rapidly and all the exciting changes that come with it. The ability to get do recording sessions over the internet is one of those things that seems highly unusual now but within one year or two will be quite common. But as of now this is a relatively new development and is in its beginning stages.
Not to digress, let me get to the point: What a huge advantage for those needing custom drum tracks for their music! Instead of having to pay someone for a room in a studio, pay and engineer or engineers, and pay a session drummer you can now pay ONE person, the online session drummer. This will save you loads of money, and you won’t have to leave your home.
You just send the files of your songs to whoever is doing your drum sessions online, they record the custom drum tracks, then they send you the individual drum tracks after you have approved them and paid. That’s a lot easier than coordinating the schedules of multiple people with yours, and it means huge potential savings in terms of travel budget for a recording.
And if you are in Europe or Canada, you can save even more money using an American to do your drum tracks online, as the dollar is very weak right now and the exchange rate will work very much in your favor.
Okay, now that everyone is up to speed on the advantages of getting your drum tracks from an online session drummer, lets get to the point of this article:
You need to understand your options in choosing an online drum track provider, so lets discuss what to look for in order to make good decisions.
Or perhaps I should say what to LISTEN for, because the first priority is GREAT SOUND.
Regardless of how perfectly an online session drummer plays on a track, if the recording quality is not of a professional, master quality level then its no good (unless your music artistically benefits from a lo-fi drum sound).
So lets establish this right away, that you want to compare websites and find which online studio drummers are providing clients with a truly professional product in terms of sound quality. And as you compare websites, you will surely notice that there are different levels of sound quality represented!
There are two main reasons for the wide discrepancy in sound quality between some of these sites: the varying levels of recording gear used and the and the varying levels of expertise in terms of sound engineering.
The bottom line is this: your ears will be able to tell the difference between an online studio drummer with little sound engineering experience using mediocre recording gear and someone with sound engineering expertise using the highest level, state-of-the-art recording gear. Logically speaking, the online session drummer you choose must either be a professional sound engineer himself or be working with one.
Most drummers, even if they know some stuff, are not professional sound engineers. On some of the Internet drum session websites you can really hear that fact.
It would seem that the bulk of these sites are run by drummers who play well, but are not using pro-quality microphones to record with. It sounds as if they don’t know much about placement of those mics either. Nor does it sound like they have a good room to record in.
Many online drum track providers have no analog equipment, and many have only eight or fewer inputs available to them.
Basically you can hear that there are many weak links in the recording chain on some of these online drum track websites.
And then there are a few sites that represent sound quality that is somewhat more acceptable…but still definitely “demo quality” as opposed to “master quality”.
As it turns out, there are precious few online drum track websites out there that are offering truly professional, “major label quality” sound quality! As far as sites that offer tracks for under $150 per track, I literally only found four that I considered to be in this category.
These sites are obviously run by online session drummers who either are professional sound engineers themselves or are using one, and are using the highest quality recording gear, with no weak links in the recording chain.
The rest of the sites offering this high sound quality level are run by guys you may have heard of such as J.R. Robinson, whom charge fees that are out reach for many based on their names.
So your first order of business will be to “weed out” the lemons, which frankly are most of them.
Warning: don’t be tricked into listening with your eyes, because some of the worst-sounding sites I found actually looked very professional and had a great presentation. But lots of flash content and visual presentation in general should have nothing to do with which online studio drummer you use.
In terms of rates, you can be suspicious of the sound quality of anyone charging less than $100 per song. Go ahead and do your own research, I’m just saying you get what you pay for. I actually found a very slick-looking site offering tracks for only $35 per song…WOW, that is cheap, and it truly sounded that way, like drums in a garage (and not in a good way).
My strong advice to anyone would be to spend what is necessary to get master quality custom drum tracks. It is still more affordable than ever before to do so because of online sessions. And if that means getting your budget together takes a few more months, it will be well worth it in the end.
Now that you fully understand how important it is to get major-label quality drum tracks (with no weak links in the recording chain), your next order of business will be to compare the level of communication that would be involved with any site you may choose.
I noticed that some sites had forms to fill out, several asking about artistic considerations such as when in the song the drums should enter, what sort of vibe is desired, or if the approach should be similar to that of a specific song or drummer.
This is a great place to start, but while some sites ended it there, other sites offer real-time communication through Skype or similar programs, which allow the session drummer and client to speak to each other during the recording session.
Obviously this type of setup involves a great level of communication and increases the likelihood of the your getting what you need musically from your online drum tracks.
This can easily save you money as well, as all of the sites I looked at charge extra fees for additional takes, often referred to as "mods" (modifications), or "re-dos". This is totally fair, but having to do an excessive number of takes per song can be avoided with the better communication offered by some of the sites.
Your last order of business in choosing what online session drummer to go with is the fun part: deciding which drummer would serve your music best!
Remember, if you like the playing but the sound quality is not at a master quality level, then its not good enough for your music.
Once you have narrowed your decision down to the websites offering the highest level sound quality, you just need to listen for which drummer sounds like the one to handle your songs the most musically.
Of course you want to listen for things like groove/feel, energy level (some guys sound like they are just “going through the motions”), dynamics, musicality of parts, support of vocals, etc.
So lets summarize: when choosing an online drum track provider, find one that will give you tracks of major-label sound, uses an online session drummer whose playing you really dig, and is going to be able to communicate effectively with you, hopefully in real time. I hope this article has been of some help to you, and that you feel ready to make some good decisions. Enjoy your creativity!