samples and VST > real drums and amps?

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by ghostOG, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. ghostOG

    ghostOG SS.org Regular

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    When I started recording ideas, I started with VSTs like Guitar Rig and ReValver... but now that I have a real guitar rig, I record it with a mic and spend my efforts trying to get it to sound as good as possible.

    I've worked on demos to some extent for 3 bands' projects, and the common thing is they all would rather use VST than real instruments. A thrash band, I was thinking about new heads for the drummer and get them all tuned up and mic them, and what interface I should use for all the drum mics... but he wanted to program EZDrummer midi samples and give me the tracks. I was blown away by that. And the guitarist/band leader in the project wanted me to record all the rhythm parts, but they were all 100% his old songs from christmas past, and he didn't want to write any new material or record any of my shit. I got the fake drum tracks, wasn't feelin it, and quit.

    Another drummer we recorded his kit with 2 mics and then tracked everything else, but at the end he wanted to re-track with his electric kit which could only output it's onboard samples that sounded old af. The timing was off in places because the entire band tracked to his original drum track. There was a blast beat section that sounded horrendous on his e-kit and I had to manually program a midi replacement with Addictive Drums kit and try to mix it in. The garage demo 2 mic drum tracks sounded cooler anyway IMO, and this was literally a garage demo.

    Now talking to a new guitarist dude, insists on using plugins instead of real amp. It's a little ironic to insist on using a digital model of an amp instead of the actual amp. But I get it, some people just like the workflow and "ergonomics" of using guitar VST, and probably even prefer the way they respond and play compared to real amps. Also it's easier to mess with settings instead of committing to a sound, but you can always re-amp a DI with the real amp... at least for a finished product. But these dudes prefer samples and VSTs for the finished project.

    Like I told him when I record my tracks at home I like to mic my amp, and he kept asking me if I've heard x, y, and z VSTs and how great and realistic they sound. The thing that gets me is who cares how realistic it sounds, if you have the real gear and it sounds great. Unless you just like the workflow like I said. I get the utility of them, and I might use a VST for a clean or ambient part that I don't have a real amp for, or for a different tone on the 2nd rhythm track or what have you. I'm not going to insist on using the green channel of a 6505 for a clean tone, when you have a VST that delivers a rich full clean shimmering tone. I use drum samples on my idea recordings because I have to, otherwise there wouldn't be drums. But I just don't get all these dudes that don't like real amps and drums, to me that seems opposite.

    I guess at this point the digital workflow is just so damn good now, it's really a preference how you want to record and both are equally legit in extreme metal. Almost seems mic'ing a real amp and pedals is the old timey granddad's way... going to CVS to buy a new 9v battery for that dusty old TS9 sitting next to the reel-to-reel tape.

    I'm not looking to start a flame war on which sounds better, and don't want to listen to a bunch of youtube comparison blind tests to prove some point. I'm just rambling on this trend in my local scene. Actually one thing I don't like about recording a real amp is it sounds different in the room than it does when tracked. And it takes some work to get the right mic(s), and placement to get a good sound. Compared to a great VST from Neural DSP or Bias or something. And for what payoff, when they sound the same? Now by the end of my post I'm starting to think I'm doing it the hard way for no real reason. Either way, I have a real amp so I can play in a band, and being able to use both for recording is great, I just don't get being against a real amp or drum kit.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  2. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I think it's important to remember that opinions are like assholes, and not everyone knows what they're talking about, whether they speak with authority or not. I could find 100 people who think digital amps and drum samples have destroyed music just as easily as I could find 100 people who think that real instruments are obsolete and not worth the effort.

    At the end of the day though, I kind of get it. Recording is a skill that not everyone has. Drums in particular are really hard to capture. I don't do a toooon of recording, but I've done something like 6 or 7 sessions at this point where I was either involved in the tracking or mixing of drums, and I feel like I still haven't really figured it out. The most recent one I've done is the best I've done so far and I'd call it "acceptable", but I got lucky that a lot of conditions were in place already: I had decent mics, a good kit that was mostly tuned, a room available to work in, and enough experience with that exact setup that it wasn't really guesswork anymore. The biggest thing was getting the overhead placement right for what I wanted. But I still call it a pretty amateur sounding recording despite what went right. I'll probably still mostly replace the bass drum. One of the mics (a 57) slipped a bit from it's stand and rattled audibly in some spots that have been really hard to fix.

    It's the same with guitar recording -> you need the gear, the space, the experience with placement, etc etc etc. So many factors can ruin the end result. I again tend to get lucky that I have a space I can turn up a real amp, spend time playing with placement (but again, the practice and familiarity with the gear means it's not guesswork anymore).

    Then even after all of that, it's super easy to ruin it all with a bad "mix".

    So yeah, I'm 100% for real instruments, IF you can pull it off. I think you get a better end result that way. But there's also so much more risk of something going terribly wrong. Taking some of that risk factor out of the equation is valuable. You can call it "fake" if you want to, but it lowers the barrier to entry, the barrier to creativity and expression, so that anyone in any circumstance can participate and get listenable results.
     
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  3. ghostOG

    ghostOG SS.org Regular

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    It is difficult to get good recordings of real instruments. I downloaded the Neural Fortin Nameless Suite trial last night and did some recording with it. Was pretty impressed, and super easy, might pick it up.
     
  4. thrashinbatman

    thrashinbatman SS.org Regular

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    Programming drums is easy and sounds good. There's way more variables in recording drums. I never worry about whether the programmed drums will sound good, but the issue is that unless you have a library of uncommon samples you're using the exact same sounds everyone else is, and it makes it really hard to stand out.

    Guitar sims are bit more complicated, because there's less variables involved. It's much easier to get acceptable real amp tones than real drum sounds. However, you can endlessly twiddle with sims without ever having to commit, which is cool, and I think a lot of these guys are so used to using sims that they become attached. They want to use what they're comfortable with, and using a real amp is not that. I feel the same way about sims that I do about drum plugins: they're cool tools but it's harder to get a unique sound out of it.

    For me, programmed drums and amp sims are no fun. It's much more satisfying to take a bunch of raw drum tracks and make them slam than feed MIDI into EZDrummer. It feels like a personal accomplishment to take a DI and reamp it into a killer tone. It's like throwing a frozen pizza into the oven versus making your own from scratch. Sure, it's easier to throw in a frozen pizza, but the satisfaction of making a great one yourself is worth the extra hassle.
     
  5. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    @TedEH 's post is great.

    I like real instruments (I program drums, but that's largely driven by the fact I'm an awful drummer and don't have a space that would allow drum tracking), but there is definitely a much steeper learning curve with getting a good recorded guitar tone out of a guitar, amp, and mic, than there is out of a VST. It takes a lot of practice to get good at it, but when you figure out what works for you it's a fairly quick, painless, and repeatable process, even if it's awfully hard to keep the tone so perfectly identical that you can come back to a performance from a few weeks ago and punch in seamlessly. IMO this is both a blessing and a curse - it forces you to live with performances rather than go back and constantly re--record and punch in little snippets of a performance that, honestly, was probably already good enough.

    That said, even VSTs these days have gotten awfully good, and with a halfway decent interface for the DI track, you can make really good sounding recordings pretty easily with evben freeware VST modelers. And things like the AxeFX and Kemper are really, really convincing. So, ultimately, you have the flexibility today to do either, and that's pretty awesome.

    If you have any serious interest in recording I'd say it makes sense to learn how to do both, to make sure you can get great tones out of an amp and cab even if you're happier working with VSTs, and to at least know how to do a direct recording even if you'd rather work with amps. I think it's a lot easier to go from a live rig to a VST than the other way around, but it's definitely something you want to experiment with on a "just for fun" project to get a feel for the workflow and how plugging straight into the board "feels" and impacts your performance.
     
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  6. noise in my mind

    noise in my mind SS.org Regular

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    I use both. I like real instruments, but most people have a hard time telling the difference.
     
  7. inflicted

    inflicted SS.org Regular

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    I've released 100% digital music (programmed drums and amp VST) and also stuff recorded in a live situation with my band, using our amps.
    Both are good in my opinion, it just depends of which kind of "color" you want your release to have.
    But in my opinion, when you play in band and that you release stuff that was not recorded with the gear you use for shows, it is a bit disappointing. Worse I've seen is bands with a drummer replacing him with a software because they don't want to spend money on drum recording...
     
  8. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    I mean, we can debate this ad nauseum, and recording geeks will REALLY care...

    ....but for 99% of the time, simply having a song worth recording, and having a killer performance of that song, matters WAY more than what you used to record it. :lol:
     
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  9. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    TL;DR - if you're participating in a project from a writing/performing perspective and you have a preference, you should let everyone know what it is and why, balance the pros and cons, and do what will be most functional for everyone involved. If you're working as an engineer for someone else's project, you can make suggestions, but at the end of the day, they're the boss. If it comes out sound like ass because of poor decisions on their part, don't put your name on it! lol

    It's all preference. Lots of guys seem to be more interested in using the newest technology available than what the final product will sound like. For drums, I prefer a hybrid approach. Live cymbals/OH, eKit pads for the shells, as well as sampling the drummers actual drum kit beforehand. You get "real" drum sounds, great sounding cymbals, and a little more leeway in the mix stage as far as editing and what sounds are being used where. For guitar, I gave up on recording amps a long long long long time ago (Boss GT-8, I think) because the differences in tones were negligible, and (at the time I couldn't do it myself) paying for studio space/mics/engineer time to record was prohibitive to any of my projects getting anything done. Now that I do have the space and knowledge to track amps on my own, I have no interest in it, because I discovered over the years that I would be processing those "live" tracks to where they sounded pretty much just like my ITB tones. I grew up practicing in headphones with cheap Zoom pedals and PODs, so the whole "feels like an amp" thing never mattered to me anyways.
     
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  10. Rev2010

    Rev2010 Contributor

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    My opinion is record how you want to and if you are just as adamant recording one way as someone else is recording another way then only hookup with other musicians that either A) Agree with your way of recording or B) Are cool with you recording your parts with real amps so long as you're ok with their parts being VST/modellers. If you are going to be "forced" to record a certain way you don't want to then skip out on working with those people.

    That said.... modern technology has made recording so much easier and convenient. Recording real instruments is truly a pain in the ass and is not possible for everyone's situation. And trust me, I'm 46 so I came from nothing but real recordings. Earliest sims we had was SansAmp and Redbox and crappy drum modules triggering the same sample over and over again. So I am very well versed in recording. But to record a band of acoustic instruments you need a place that both has the space and can allow the volume levels. Then add to that you need a number of mics to record the drum kit, you have to deal with bleed, room acoustics and so much other shit it's truly a very involved endeavour to record acoustic drums *properly*. For guitar it also takes a bit of work positioning the mic for the sweet spot and you have to have a place where you can record it at a good level without getting evicted. And once you record the distorted guitars if you decide you want to change the sound past EQ'ing you have to re-record the parts. With VST's/modellers/whatever you can change the sound at any time and as many times as you want. Yes sure you can do this with amps too if you record the direct clean parts too then reamp, but it does take more time and effort.

    So, my mentality of it is for startup bands, rough tracks, etc I much prefer to record using VST's and using electronic drum kits triggering Superior Drummer. But when getting ready to actually release an album I would prefer to record all real instruments in a professional studio. Of course, this will be much more costly but for the final product, if we can afford it, it will be worth it. If we can't afford it we'll do our best with the digital stuff. To each their own, there's no one right way of doing it. But being 100% adamantly close minded to having to do it only one way and no other is something to avoid as well unless you're 100% in agreement.


    Rev.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2020
  11. Descent

    Descent SS.org Regular

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    Well...I am in a thrash band and we record drums with my rhythm tracks blasting in the room, we do edits on major change points only, say verse 1 to chorus1 might fly in a 2nd take. Usually everything is done live.
    There's bleed on the drum channel...we don't care, actually also Metallica record that way, watch their latest video making of "Death Magnetic".

    We threw away the metronome for most of it.

    I reamp my guitars after I record them at home. It all pretty much hits a real amp, unless we're talking little spot effect tracks and maybe a few clean things.

    It is sounding a lot better and a lot more spontaneous than our last EP which was all recorded to click.

    So far we haven't done any drum replacements although we did sample the drummer's kit last time in the studio and in case we bring in these songs we might trigger kicks and snares from those for more uniform sound...maybe.

    A whole new generation of players has gotten used to the precanned idea of having everything on a PC and can't be bothered to learn to play an instrument properly.

    I am actually THAT OLD. I remember you got 2 takes in the studio to tape and you made sure there were no mistakes. If there was anything glaringly obviously bad, you got a pass of punch ins and that was it, done. I've recorded a whole album live in 2 days, including mixing and mastering. It was good enough.

    For Chrissakes, Black Sabbath recorded their first LP in 2 days and look at the $$$$$ it has generated. If it wasn't wrong for them, why should be for anyone else?
     

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