The drums are among the most difficult instruments to record well. From room selection for proper acoustics, to ensuring good phase between the many microphones used, to getting consistently high-quality takes, drums present challenges which are significant even for seasoned audio engineers, and which can be a real headache for project studios. Modern software solutions to the problem of recording drums are exciting and useful, but they are a double-edged sword. In getting rid of the problem of recording drums, they have also gotten rid of perhaps the most important aspect of getting a good drum track: the drummer.
While drummers might be the butt of the majority of musician jokes, the fact is that drumming is a unique and creative enterprise, and good drummers have an effortless groove and feel to their playing that drum machines are notoriously unable to match. Even if the drum machine were up to it (and modern drum software has made great advances in this area, with intelligent humanizing that can introduce just the right level of “swing” into a track), the no-drummer problem still isn't solved. You still have to be able to actually program the drum tracks to get a good final outcome. After all, even though modern drum sequencing software usually comes packed with MIDI drum loops and segments, there are always gaping holes in your default options, and that puts a producer in a hard spot if he or she is unable to program drums to the same level of quality.
At least it used to. A companion industry to modern drum sequencing software has well and truly risen, and some third-party companies are now offering drum MIDI libraries. Groove Monkee is one such company, but their product stands out to my mind. First, they offer a wide variety of libraries, ranging from traditional music like pop, rock and country, to more esoteric genres like metal, fusion, jazz, funk and progressive, and more besides. Second, their collections are both expansive and sensible, with many loops but arranged carefully and intelligently for easy and speedy programming. Finally, they successfully address the no-drummer problem by having real drummers record their grooves. Buying a Groove Monkee package is like getting your very own session drummer who's always on call, royalty-free.
To get an idea of how versatile these packages are, in the Blues library alone, even though the style is well known for its relative simplicity, there are over 800 drum loops. In the Progressive library, there are 1,900 loops! The Studio Pack combines the majority of the Groove Monkee products and adds more than 11,000 professional-quality drum loops to your creative toolbox, representing more than 70 musical styles. If any one pack is like getting an on-call session drummer, the Studio Pack is more like having your very own percussionist guild at your beck and call. Big numbers don't mean much without quality, but given that the Groove Monkee loops are, in my experience, uniformly high quality, those numbers translate to hundreds, thousands, or even more unique, great sounding drum tracks for your recordings.
The basic nuts-and-bolts are well thought-out, too, with individual installers and/or installation instructions for all of the major software drum sequencers. I personally tested them with Toontrack EZdrummer, and while EZdrummer is well loved for its included libraries, I admit that after installing Groove Monkee's comprehensive Studio Pack it's hard to go back to the comparatively limited loops that come with EZdrummer. Other software has even more flexibility in tuning the “acoustics” of the performance, so as impressed as I was using Groove Monkee's libraries with EZdrummer, I can only imagine how much more satisfying it would be with a more thoroughly tunable sequencer. Groove Monkee offers a good sampler on their web site, so if you're curious to hear the product for yourself before making up your mind, I encourage you to check it out. After you put together your first song with the easier, better sounding, grooving loops they offer, I doubt it will be a hard decision. A harder decision might be deciding whether to tell them the truth when your friends hear your recordings and ask who is your great new drummer!
Price: $29.95 for individual packs; $249 Studio Bundle; Smaller bundles ranging from $49.95 to $69.95
Pros: Excellent integration with a variety of sequencer software