Monday, June 17, 2013

V-Drums from a sound engineer's perspective

A few days ago I got a last-minute call to engineer front-of-house sound for a local band at a fairly high-level corporate event. Their drummer used the Roland TD-9 kit on this particular gig.

It's worth noting that the room was about about the size of half of a basketball court, with high ceilings and real wood paneling on all of the walls, and that the sound system consisted of Mackie's DL 1608 iPad-based mixer, and their DLM series powered speakers (more on the Mackie gear in another post). I was able to mix from all over the room with my iPad, so I got the full-range perspective on the band's - and each individual player's - sound.

Here are the bullet points:

  • Individual drum and cymbal sounds were fine. In the context of the mix, they actually sounded a lot cleaner than many acoustic kits I've mixed. 
  • I absolutely hated not being able to adjust the volume of the individual parts of the kit. During sound check I asked the drummer to manually turn up the kick drum on the TD-9's brain. That helped, but once the show started I basically had no way to deal with imbalances. 
  • Likewise, any EQ, effects or other manipulations happen across the entire kit. You can't do anything to the snare drum (or kick, toms, etc.) without it affecting the entire kit. 
  • We were able to quickly adjust the pitch of one of the toms - again, on the brain - to eliminate a sympathetic vibration without drastically affecting the overall sound of the drum and kit. This happened in seconds, rather than the several minutes (or longer) it would have taken to similarly adjust an acoustic drum. 
In the long run, I'm sure that a good engineer and drummer would be able to dial in the sound they need from a particular room very effectively, but the aforementioned frustrations kept me from feeling like I had achieved the best sound possible in the situation. 

As expected, the major benefit of the V-drums in this situation was the low stage/house volume. Especially for corporate and casual events, volume levels can be a very big problem. The drummer also effectively used many electronic sounds that would have been impossible on an acoustic kit. 

As technology improves, it will become more and more common for electronic percussion instruments to be integrated into all kinds of performances. I will continue to explore their application, benefits and drawbacks as the opportunities present themselves. 

Happy drumming!

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