3 Tips For Working With A Remote Session Drummer
Working with a remote session drummer is a great way to add high quality live drums to your song. While drum sampling has come a long way, a real drummer will bring feel, dynamics, and creativity to a song that samples won’t. Here are a few specific things that you can do to make sure you end up with the perfect drum tracks for your song.
1) Fix timing issues before contacting a drummer
95% of the time, it’s best to record to a click. This allows everyone to be on the same page, and keeps the song from speeding up and slowing down dramatically. It also makes it easier to add midi instrumentation and programing to the song. But keep in mind, recording to a click track is an art form, and is extremely difficult to do if you aren’t used to it. Even the very best session musicians don’t play perfectly with a click, which is what gives every musician their specific swing or feel.
Before you hire a session musician, make sure that all the instruments you’ve recorded are performed as in time with the click as possible. Quantize and comp the parts that need to be fixed before you hire your drummer if possible. If there are still instruments that will be quantized, comped, or re tracked all together, make sure you communicate that to the session drummer.
If there are inconsistencies between the click and the recorded instruments, a good session drummer will be able to focus either on playing tight with the instruments or the click. If a session drummer thinks they have a track with takes that will be fixed or redone, and plays tight to the click, and ignores the subtle fluctuations in time of the other instruments, the end product will not sound as good. Similarly, if a session drummer thinks that they have a track with final takes and records with the intention to make the existing takes groove, and those takes are deleted and replaced, or edited to be more in time, then the finished product will not sound as good as it could.
2) Choose the right drummer
It’s incredibly important that you find a drummer that knows how to play the kind of drumming you want on your song(s). A drummer might be really great at one or a few kinds of playing, but that doesn’t mean that they will be the right fit. Look for a drummer that already has experience playing the kind of songs that you are writing, and even more specifically playing the way you want them to play on your song(s). A drummer may be able to play Jon Bonham’s solo from “Moby Dick,” but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to nail your heartfelt folk song. A great drummer will be able to play a handful of different genres well, and will be able to mix and match different techniques and grooves to best serve a song.
If you have specific parts that you want played, it’s helpful for a drummer to know how to read music. Don’t read music? You can also send a voice memo with your song to sing and explain the parts, or pick up that phone and talk it out.
Playing isn’t the only important factor when choosing a remote session drummer. You should make sure that they have pro level equipment that is able to create the drum tones you’re looking for. If you are working on a metal song, you should probably find a drummer that uses a double bass pedal, and has gear capable of recording a big, powerful drum sound. If you are working on a jazz bop song, your drummer might need some warmer cymbals, and smaller drums.
A lot of drummers on Airgigs will list the gear they have available. It’s a good idea to look up what they have and see if it’s typically used for your style of music.
3) Give Specific direction on the front end
If it’s your first time working with a drummer (or any musician for that matter), there are nuances to what you like and don’t like that may not be obvious. In order to save time, make sure you know what you are looking for and communicate that clearly to your session player before they start tracking.
If you don’t know what you are looking for, look around for some songs that have a similar feel and style of drumming that you’d like your session player to emulate. You can even tell the session player to listen to some songs to get an idea of what you’re going for. Be as clear about what you like about each of the songs you reference as possible.
Here are some ways that you can remove the guesswork for a session player:
If you both read music, you can provide sheet music. Whether it’s just the piano player’s sheet music, or detailed drum notation for the part you have in mind, both are helpful.
Address the tone and feel you’d like for the drums. Do you want them to sound thuddy or resonate? Loud/intense, or soft/quiet? Simple playing or complex? Swung or straight?
A great session drummer will be extremely creative on their instrument and able to approach your song dozens of different ways. They will also have an acute sense of what could work and what might not work, but specific direction will help them channel their creativity in a specific direction, and save time in the long run.
If you have any special requests, make sure those things are communicated as well:
Some drummers offer programming and percussion tracking in addition to recording their full kit. Is that something you’d like on your song?
Some drummers send individual raw files for the client to mix, while some are professional mix engineers that can send you fully mixed drums for you to drop into your session. Which do you need?
Some drummers will fine tune their playing with editing, while others will send unedited takes and expect the client to edit them. Would you like the drummer to handle this or do you have a plan for editing?
Many session musicians record in 44.1k, but what sample rate do you need your tracks recorded in?
No matter who you’re working with, or what your budget and level of experience is, focusing on these three things can be the difference between great sounding drum tracks, and a waste of time and money. Do you need drum tracks on your song? Airgigs has hundreds of world class drummers with state of the art recording gear that are ready to work with you.