Drum Machines Have No Soul

It must be true. It was on a bumper sticker. “Drum machines have no soul.” But the car belonged to a drummer, and I’ve seen his band play. You might think it’d be hard to decide who has the least soul in an almost soulless bunch, but it wasn’t. The drummer had zero soul.

That was more than a year ago. This weekend Hayden and I were demoing a new song. We spent hours finessing the drum loop before we started tracking. It had to swing just enough, but not too much, with just the right dynamics in the high hat part. The kick drum had to accentuate Hayden’s bass line without burying it, without getting too busy and without being boring.

This was yesterday. I was, yesterday, really excited about the demo. It’s a good song. We had fun making it. I opened the session this morning and pressed play, expecting to be reasonably pleased.

Nope. Something was off, and often when something is off, it’s me. So I muted the guitar. No dice. I put the guitar back and muted my singing. That didn’t help. I muted the bass, and started to worry the demo was beyond saving. Then I put the bass back and turned off the drum machine.

“Holy shit!”, I thought. The demo now has a hole where drums need to go, but muting the machine gave it space, movement, and soul. I know there are producers who can make drum machines sound alive, expressive, and useful, but after many years of trying, I’ve finally realized that I am not one of these producers.

Drums on future releases by The Nepotist will be played by a human, at least until I change my mind. Which human? I’m not sure. Not the guy with the bumper sticker.