An electronic drum kit is the ideal tool for almost every drummer: no more heated arguments with the neighbours about the noise; practically all the sounds you could wish for and you can practice whenever you want. But let me remind you that you can do much more than simply hone your drumming here, as digital drums are also a great recording tool. As a matter of fact, ease of recording is one of the biggest advantages compared to an acoustic kit. In this blog, I’ll show you how it works and offer you three easy ways to record an electronic drum kit.
- Is My Drum Kit Suitable?
- What Do I Need
- Type of Recording
- How Do I Record My Electronic Drum Kit?
- Method 1: Recording Audio via USB
- Method 2: Recording Audio via Line-Out/Master-Out
- Method 3: Multitrack Recording via MIDI
- See Also
Is My Drum Kit Suitable?
There’s a few things you need to know before you start. For starters, not every electronic drum kit is equally suitable for making recordings. Of course you could always plug a cable into the headphone jack, but you’ll likely end up with suboptimal audio quality and clipping. So what does work, then? Fortunately, most modern e-drums boast multiple outputs like line out, USB or MIDI, so the first thing you’ll want to do is to check if your kit has one of these connections. In addition, it’s worthwhile checking the user manual for the specifics; USB connections are often only compatible with MIDI signals, not audio.
What Do I Record With?
- So, you need a device to record sound to. The easiest option is a computer or laptop (Apple, Windows, it doesn’t really matter) fitted with a USB port.
- Then there’s software. Any DAW, even a basic version, is recommended, but there’s also free software available like Audacity (Windows/Mac/Linux) and GarageBand (Mac). More extensive free software includes Pro Tools First and Tracktion T7.
- What you might need are drivers for your electronic drum kit. This is downloadable software that makes sure that your computer is able to recognise your drum kit when it’s connected via USB. Driver installation isn’t always required.
- Please note: only download DAW software and drivers via official channels, in other words, the developer’s website. Software downloads from third-party websites can be malicious.
Type of Recording
After you’ve done the research to see if your kit’s compatible with your computer, you have to ask yourself the next question: what type of recording do I want to make? There are multiple ways forward here, and if you’re looking to make recordings for your band’s new album, we don’t recommend you simply use a line output since this limits your mixing potential. For short demos, on the other hand, the line out is actually perfect since it gives you quick and fun results.
How Do I Record My Electronic Drum Kit?
Method 1: Recording Audio via USB
Some digital drum kits have a drum module with a built-in audio interface, meaning you can simply establish a connection to your computer using an USB-A-to-USB-B cable to send over a fully digital and optimal-quality signal. Keep in mind that this is only possible if the user manual specifies that the USB-computer connection is compatible with audio signals and not just MIDI!
- Hook your kit up to your computer and check if any error notifications pop up on the screen. If so, you’ll probably have to download and install the required drivers found on the manufacturer’s website.
- You should be able to see and select the drum kit as in ‘input’ in the audio settings of your DAW software.
- There’s a chance that you have to select the input again on the track that you’ll be recording to. Don’t forget to prepare the channel for recording by pressing the relevant button (usually indicated with an ‘R’).
- Now you can click the Record button of your DAW and start drumming!
- Tip: You can hear yourself play by plugging a pair of headphones in the jack output of your drum module. This way, you’ll avoid any latency problems. If you want to play along to a pre-recorded track, however, you’ll need to plug the headphones into your computer. If this gives you latency issues, optimise your recording for audio recordings if possible and set the audio buffer size in the audio settings to low latency.
- Please note: Certain drum kits offer the possibility of recording directly to a USB stick (USB memory). These files can then be opened and edited using DAW software. I won’t go into detail here because the user manual generally speaks for itself here.
Method 2: Recording Audio via Line Out/Master Out
If USB is not an option but you still insist on recording the sound of your drum module, you can always try the line outputs. This does, however, require an external audio interface (such as the famous Focusrite Scarlett 2i2).
- Get an audio interface that has at least two inputs. Many interfaces feature combo inputs that are compatible with both XLR and jack cables. If XLR is the only possibility, make sure to check that the interface has XLR inputs. For line signals, you can use a simple XLR-to-jack adapter cable.
- The audio interface can be linked to your computer via USB. It’s generally plug-and-play, but if it doesn’t work right away, you’ll probably need to download and install drivers as discussed before.
- Connect the line outputs up to the interface and make sure the volume doesn’t peak into the red. Since you’re using two outputs, two separate mono signals enter your DAW. These can be panned left and right to correct the stereo image later.
- See Method 1 for recording tips.
- Please note: If your drum module has nothing but a headphone output, you can use a stereo-jack-to-double-mono-jack cable (or a mini-jack version if needed). But, as said before, the recording quality might suffer from the fact that this output is not designed for recordings.
Method 3: Multitrack Recording via MIDI
While recording via MIDI sounds complicated , nothing could be further from the truth. MIDI recording can be quite simple, and enables you to do virtually anything with your recordings later. Played parts can be loaded into the MIDI editor of your DAW – also called the piano roll, and completely overhauled.
MIDI consists of nothing but a signal and doesn’t include ‘sound’. In other words, it doesn’t use the sound of your drum kit because it has basically been converted into a MIDI controller. As such, a MIDI signal is made up of the individual strokes on your snare, toms, kick and cymbals saved as note information for your DAW, kind of like digitised music notation. That means recordings can be extensively edited in terms of timing, volume and drum sounds. If the floor tom in the fill sounds a little too boomy, you can simply drag its MIDI note to your snare or tom, or delete it altogether. To do this, you need a drum plug-in. Some DAWs come with a number of built-in plugins but the best ones are usually bought separately. An ultra-realistic drum plugin like Superior Drummer can get you brilliant results, possibly even at a professional level. Don’t forget to check if the plugin format (VST, AU, etc) is compatible with your DAW by looking at the specifications of both.
Please note: It’s possible for the ‘mapping’ of the MIDI signals to be slightly off. The result is that you’ll hear a tom played in the recording while you in fact played the snare. This can be solved by selecting all of these incorrectly mapped notes in the editor before dragging them to the correct channel.
How do I send MIDI data to my computer?
Various drum modules, including the Roland TD-30, feature a USB-MIDI port that can be used in combination with a USB-A-to-USB-B cable. If your drum module doesn’t have this, but instead has ‘classic’ 5-pin MIDI I/O, you can use a MIDI-to-USB cable (see image below). Alternatively, if you have one lying around, you could decide to use an audio interface fitted with at least one MIDI input. Just make sure the interface and cable are compatible with your computer and pay attention when hooking up the MIDI cable: the plug labelled ‘out’ goes into the input of your drum module, while the plug with the ‘in’-label connects to the output.
There’s quite a bit of information in this blog for you to process. My advice: figure out your intentions first, then follow the relevant steps in this blog. If you have any questions, tips or remarks, feel free to leave them in the comments section below!