2. The Philosophy Of Mixing – The Dying Art Of…

The Philosophy Of Mixing Pt.2 - The Dying Art Of...

The Philosophy Of Mixing Pt.2 – The Dying Art Of…

Recently I posted a screenshot on Facebook of the all the work I was doing on my current project – and specifically the large amount of detailed work I was doing on a drumkit to sort out all the tom hits so they sounded even and balanced.

As the comments gathered on the photo and the thread developed someone mentioned that I could’ve just used samples instead – implying jokingly that I could’ve saved myself a whole heap of time and effort. Of course as anyone who knows me this is the very epitome of ‘a red rag to a bull’ – so obviously I waded in…

Although there was a lot more swearing in the original post (ehem) my reply was:

‘I HATE the sound of samples – I hear it everywhere, and it seems like everyone is doing it cos they’re too lazy to do the work to actually make what they’ve got sound good!

Anyway, In reply to the samples comment my friend also posted…

‘what about wanting to hear a REAL drumkit? I’m starting to think there are some parallels between idealised photoshopped photos in adverts and heavily edited/mixed recordings’

And it struck me that he had a very good point.

We’ve all seen the picture of a celebrity or some model in a magazine where the original photo is so processed, stretched, slimmed, teeth and eyes whitened that it barely looks anything like the original person anymore? Surely replacing real drums with samples, tuning vocals, time-stretching and editing and all the other processing and subjective ‘fixing’ we can now do to our audio amounts to exactly the same thing?

So if even the untrained eye can perceive this ‘fakeness’ when they see it, and the reaction of the majority of people is in the negative, then why is it so tolerated in our music?

Let’s say you’re a drummer in a young band and you walk into a studio all fresh and excited and looking forward to doing some recording. You’ve practised for months, shelled out for a whole set of skins for your beloved kit – perhaps not the most expensive kit in the world but hey it’s yours and you love it, more importantly, you’ve worked hard, earned the money and chosen your gear because it sounds the way you want it to – it’s as much a part of your identity as a musician as your eyes are a part of the way your face looks.

Fast forward to the end of the week/day/month then and you’re heading back into the studio to hear the finished mixes of your songs for the first time. You worked your ass off during the recording, sweated buckets and you feel you played well. You can’t wait to hear how that tricky little dynamic, delicate fill turned out in the second verse…

But your engineer has decided to replace all your drums with samples…


Now imagine instead if the engineer had replaced all the guitars with samples because it wasn’t absolutely perfect – there’d be absolute HELL to pay! No way would any guitarist, in any band, anywhere in the world accept it! Why? – well (apart from guitarists being moody bastards) simply put, because it’s just not them playing – it’s fake, it’s false, it sounds flat, lifeless, robotic, emotionless…

So, if using samples of any other instrument would be unacceptable as it would rob it the player entirely of his/her natural expression, remove the subtle nuances in delivery and style that every musician possesses and makes them so absolutely unique, then why is it accepted as rote that this should happen to the drums?

A drumkit is a complicated thing – multiple drums, each drum with two skins needing tuned with itself, and also with the other drums around it. Multiple mics creating complex phase and timing relationships. The effect of the room the drumkit is in and the positioning of the kit in the room itself. and that’s just the drumkit on it’s own! Add to that the selection of microphones, type of pre-amps used, signal path. And then what about all the production needed afterwards to make all that work in the context of the song?

The difference between a sampled kit and a real kit is EXACTLY the same as the difference between a sampled guitar and a real one. It is a HUGE amount of work, frustration, mistake-making, learning, effort and FUN to get to the stage of being able to make a real kit sound amazing – to be able to hear the person behind the kit, playing and expressing the emotions through their playing that give the song life and excitement, ebb and flow. Each hit subtly different providing texture, variety and colour to the sound of your production. I believe that It is a lifelong process that I will never stop learning from and growing in and one day I hope to get there…

Or, I could just replace it with samples eh?


One thought on “2. The Philosophy Of Mixing – The Dying Art Of…

  1. Totally understand where you are coming from Roddy…you can’t “beat” a real kit on anything…BFD and Logics latest drum software however awesome, still can’t touch the feeling and originality from a real drummer, I can’t drum and rely on Logic Pro X to do mine…although they are recorded in real live situations with real drummers, it still don’t come close to a real kit. Stu Elliot (aka) Steve Harley &. The Cockney Rebels Drummer Stu…(my partners cousin) uses BFD but with the pads to catch the reality and timing, BUT has the benefits of “changing ” his drum sound. he has worked with Alan Parsons McCartney Kate Bush Pink Floyd just to name a few….My point is sampled drums and real drummers working together “works”
    Jono Rezzillo

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