The Process: Why I Hate Drum Programming. / by Marcell Marias

There are very few things I really and truly dislike.  That implies that I go out of my way to assign this person, place, or thing negative emotions.  In general I think life is too short and beautiful to waste your time being overly aggro about something.

Drum programming scores high on this very short list.

It’s not that I hate drummers or percussion or anything like that.  Rather the opposite.  Once I (or other members) come up with a drum line, then it helps set the dynamic for the rest of the song, given the way we record.  It’s inspiring and leads to new ideas.

I just hate having to come up with the initial ideas.

You would be perfectly within your rights to interject a few things here.  For example: “You’re not fooling us, anoN.  We know you use a drum machine.”  And you would be right.  You would also be fair in saying “You are playing industrial pop-rock.  Set down a simple beat with a 4-on-the-floor kick drum and quit whining about it.”  And that would also be right. 

Thing is… I have played with enough fantastic drummers over the years that I want to do this right.  I want the drums to sound good, even if I am ‘only’ programming them.  Yes, they are loops.  But I don’t want you to go “Yep.  Loop.”  I want them to sound as if one of my very talented drummer friends might have at least inhaled a few breaths around my beats. 

Here’s the thing.  I am not a drummer.  Bass?  Guitar?  Keys?  Loops?  Sequences?  Arpeggios?  Pennywhistle?  Sure.  Something that requires doing 2 different things out of rhythm with each other?  Forget it.  And don’t get me started about when you should have an open high hat as opposed to a closed high hat, or when to use 16th notes as opposed to 8ths.  I’m just using the Force most of the time. 

That’s why it’s been awesome to have Carl on board for some of the drum programming.  He’s a jazz/progressive/rock guy with a great sense of when to lay back and when to rock it.  He also knows when to go outside the box.  We have an unusually mellow song on the upcoming compilation.  I was tempted to go with a more loop-oriented feel.  Carl took that idea, invoked early 80s Phil Collins, borrowed some of his rock background, and came up with a really cool set of ideas.  They have a looped feel (which benefits the tune) but help drive the dynamics in a way that I would have never thought of on my own. 

Like leads to like, and I am getting more and more comfortable with drum programming.  We have 5 of the 10 done… and I know that getting this element done usually means that the rest of the instrumentation is only 1-2 days away from recorded completion.  Still.  I want Carl to come back from vacation so we can collectively tackle some of the harder, more driving songs.  It’s right up his alley.

And I still don’t like drum programming.