Are Drum Machines Obsolete?

Are Drum Machines Obsolete

I am the Drum Machine Guy and drum machines have been a big part of my music making set up for over 20 years now! One thing I have been frequently asked in recent years is if hardware drum machines are even necessary nowadays or if they are, in fact, obsolete – useless novelty items from a bygone era best left to gather dust while their software equivalents hog the limelight.

Hardware Drum machines are more popular than ever and play a key role in many a producers set up. Not only are hardware drum machines not obsolete but there’s never been a better time to start exploring the huge range of incredible machines on offer!

Of course there are valid reasons why plugins and software are so popular with beat makers and music producers but for a moment let us remind ourselves why the hardware drum machine is still a viable option.

4 reasons Why the Hardware Drum Machine Isn’t Dead Yet:

Reason 1: The fun factor!

First up, hardware drum machines are simply a lot of fun. For many producers there is nothing more enjoyable than getting ‘into the zone’ and bashing out beats and loops on a real drum machine with real knobs to fiddle with and real buttons to push! You simply can’t ‘rock out’ with a plugin and a mouse in quite the same way!

Hooked up to suitable monitor speakers, a real drum machine can form the beating heart of a producer’s studio and inspire the creation of countless loops and tracks.

In my experience, chilling out after a day at work and playing around with an inspiring drum machines is a great way to start the ball rolling when it comes to starting new tracks – it can certainly be a lot more fun than booting up a computer and staring at a blank DAW screen!

As an added bonus, a real drum machine simpler looks cooler than a plugin and, I dare to suggest, using one can help make you ‘feel’ like a ‘genuine’ music producer rather than just a hobbyist playing around with their software (not that there is anytng wrng with being a hobbyist music maker, of course!)

Reason 2: More stability, less hassle!

Secondly, let’s talk about bugs. No not bed bugs – software bugs! For most of the time, hardware drum machines are not prone to the same issues as computer based plugins and software. While bugs and crashes and even complete broken units are not unheard of, of course, real drum machines are typically far more stable and reliable than the average laptop + software setup is likely to be.

As an added bonus there is no sitting around during long computer boot sequences and no Windows or Mac OS updates viruses or malware to worry about – just turn no your drum machne, watch it light up – if all is going well! – and start mashing those buttons!

Reason 3: Ownership.

Once you have bought a drum machine you own it forever and have the option to sell or exchange it an anytime! There’s no faffing around with software licenses, subscriptions, dongles or any other kind of software limitation.

Drum machines can be sold on when it comes time to raise money to buy new gear or when times get tough or when you are simply bored with it.

I readily admit to never actually having made a profit on any drum machine I’ve sold – if you have an original Roland TR-909 lurking inyour loft then you could be in luck! – selling my older and less used music gear means that I do have the cash to try out new devices whenever I think the time is right to explore new sounds and new ways of working.

Reason 4: Limitations and compromises breed creativity.

How many hours have you wasted “messing about” in your DAW and scrolling through your plugin folder thinking about what to load up next and then, even worse, once a plugin is actually running, wasting even more time scrolling through hundreds of presets? After an hour or two of that you may have forgotten the reason you fired up your DAW in the first place and with very little in the way of actual music making done it’s time to turn off the computer!

With so many options in the average DAW nowadays, producers can find themselves crippled by choice and overwhelmed with possibilities.

In contrast, if your set up is limited to just one or two pieces of gear then you are forced to make music with whatever you have at hand and these limitations can quickly push your music making down paths you might not have necessarily considered. Drum Machines, like synthesisers, encourage rapid experimentation.

If you have access to a suitable drum machine then try it for yourself and see – using just your drum machine see what interesting and unusual sounds, textures and loops you can ring out of it. You might discover an entirely new sound or maybe invent an entirely new music genre!

New Directions: 3 Ways to Breathe New Life into your Drum Machines:

So hopefully by now I have managed to persuade my readers that drum machines are far from obsolete! If you happen to have a neglected drum machine laying around gathering dust then check out these three simple strategies to help you breathe new life into it:

  1. If your drum machine can import samples then why not forget the run of the mill 808 and 909 type sounds and try pushing the envelope? For starters try creating beats using only sounds you can record yourself such as recordings of your voice. Also try hitting and tapping various objects around the house to create your unique percussion sounds. Build up a library of these unique hits and one shots and strive to create coherent kits in your drum machine the likes of which no one else has access to.
  2. If your drum machine has adjustable tempo, swing and timing then try pushing them to their limits. See if you can break out of the standard 4/4 groove at 130bpm. Sure, chances are your 34bpm Trance track will be an utter disaster but you never know what you might come up with until you give it a go!
  3. Do learn your drum machine inside out. By restricting your music making to just one device for a couple of days – a few weeks is even better – it gives you the time to really learn everything your machine is capable of. Once you have methodically learnt every aspect of your machine and committed the advanced features to muscle memory you should find that using your drum machine becomes second nature. It is not uncommon for busy producers to have expensive drum machines which they rarely get time to learn properly and so the more advanced features are neglected.

    By learning your drum machine inside out you increase your chances of discovering new or unusual ways of working and with such happy ‘accidents’ you could on the way to discovering your own unique signature sound.

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