Drummers have triggered electronics from acoustic drums for more than 20 years (yes, we did have running water and electricity back then, too), but triggering hardware and software has recently improved tremendously, which might explain the renewed interest in triggering acoustic drums. With that said, let’s all spit out our gum and take a class in triggering 101.
The concept of triggering acoustic drums is actually quite simple. When using drum triggers on your acoustic drums, the drum trigger/acoustic drum combination takes the place of the electronic drum pad. Some of you are probably saying to yourself, “Okay, but I’m an acoustic guy who breaks out in a rash when I plug in the vacuum cleaner. Exactly how do I do I trigger my drums, what gear do I need, and how do I benefit from triggering?” It just so happens that you’ve stumbled onto the right article.
Drum triggering makes a lot of sense for club work. Every room sounds different, the quality of the PA is all over the map, the quality and quantity of the microphones are often unsatisfactory, and the sound person … well, let’s just leave that for a later discussion. Point being, unlike bass and guitar players, we have little control over how our instrument sounds to the audience. Triggering a great sounding drum module from our drums solves much of this problem. Think about it, the drum triggers plug into the sound module, a 1/4" cord goes to the PA or our personal drum amp, and out comes crushing, studio quality drum sounds. We can even change drum sounds to match the style of each song!
Since there are fewer open mikes on the drums, that loud guitar player won’t bleed into your mikes. This makes for clearer, punchier, and louder drums in the PA, without other instruments mucking things up. Taken one step further, with the possible exception of overheads, if we bring our personal drum amp, we can bypass front-of-house sound altogether. Killing five-minute drum sounds with almost no mikes? Now, that’s living large.
Recording, or “Where’s the MIDI jack on your snare?” Recording hardware and software has changed so dramatically that a great deal of work is now done in small production studios, and many just weren’t designed to handle an acoustic drum set. By triggering drums, though, we can play our acoustic set, record the overheads (cymbal mikes), and record our “drum performance” as both MIDI and audio coming from the drum sound module.
The advantage of this is if any of the drum sounds need to be changed, we don’t have to come back and rerecord our part. The engineer just dials in another snare, kick, or tom sound.
This setup is also commonly used in larger “acoustic drum friendly” studios. The main difference is that in addition to the MIDI performance, triggered drum sound, and overhead mikes, the entire acoustic drum sound is also recorded. This gives the producer an amazing amount of sonic material to choose from at mix-down. You might be surprised how many drum tracks consists of an acoustic sound beefed up by a triggered sound, or even completely replaced by it.