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Have your bandmates ever threatened to replace you with fake drums? Whether it’s because they want to save money in the studio or because they just think it’s funny to taunt you, there’s an unspoken perception that drummers aren’t always necessary.

Since gaining popularity in the ’70s and ’80s, drum machines (and any synthetic drum sounds that don’t require a drummer to play notes in sequence) have been responsible for many elements that make modern music like hip hop and electronica sound the way it does.

Luckily, these days the majority of artists opt to have a drummer for live performances, even in genres where the parts may have been programmed on the record. But amid all the quantizing, drum machines, and AI drum programming, there still seems to be an unspoken fear of real drummers eventually being rendered obsolete.

This is not to say we should abandon drum machines or programmed drums entirely; they have a very real place and purpose in modern music and technology. But for those who are tired of the “we don’t need you” threats – real or in jest – here’s why drum machines will never actually replace real drummers:

Fake drums are too perfect

In most genres of music, the drums can change the entire feeling of the song. Playing a little behind or ahead of the beat can change how the listener perceives the song (or even how they dance). It’s the subtle inconsistencies that make music ‘human’, and most people can tell when something is synthetic.

You could program drums to be a bit ahead or behind, and add artificial inconsistencies to mimic some of the nuances of a real drummer, but there’s still something inorganic about it. With humanoid robots, the term ‘uncanny valley’ refers to the relationship between human resemblance and the emotional response to seeing it. When something looks almost human – but not quite – there’s something unsettling about it that makes it difficult to process. We might see something like this in music, where humanlike-but-too-perfect drum parts don’t seem quite right.

Studies have shown that we can tell when rhythms sound unnatural and that we prefer it when music sounds more ‘human’.

Audiences want to see drummers play live

Where’s the fun in seeing a full band without a drummer? If there’s a live guitarist, bassist, and vocalist but no one laying down the beat, it feels like something is missing. The audience wants to see what you can do, and drummers are fun to watch. We make faces, we move our heads, we add personality. Look at players like Michael Schack, who uses electronic drums and sample pads to bring real playing to EDM shows. Even if the song has programmed percussion on the track, a live drummer brings a whole new energy and excitement that no robot can replicate.

We’re humans, not machines. Even the most precise, tight players in the world still sound like people. Is someone threatening to replace you with fake drums? Remind them over and over: you can never replace us!

Feature image: MusicTech

Samantha Landa

Samantha Landa is a Canadian metal drummer and writer. She currently plays with Dead Asylum and has spent the last few years as a touring session drummer with Nervosa and Introtyl. Sam has been featured by outlets such as Sick Drummer Magazine and DRUM! Magazine, and proudly endorses Mapex Drums, Sabian Cymbals and Los Cabos Drumsticks.

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