808 Drum Machine

DRUM-OFF: Human Drummer vs. Drum Machine

There is a great bumper sticker from back in the day that reads “Drum machines have no soul”. I’ve always identified with that statement, however, much of the music we currently listen to is created with some form of electronically driven drum hardware or software. There was a time not that long ago when, outside of electronica and rap music, the rhythms created by these electro-mechanical drummers were generally used by songwriters to provide a steady and sometimes inspirational beat that helped with the writing and arranging process. Basically, the initial drum machines were not much more than fancy metronomes and you would hire a human drummer to come into the studio and record the the ‘real’ drums for the song.

This beautiful short film tells the story of an accomplished drummer who dreamed of Jazz and learned to appreciate the drum machine:


Then, as often happens with technology, a forward thinker pushes the boundaries and technology begins to take over. One of the forward-thinkers in the realm of electronic drums/drum machines was Roger Linn whose 1980 model LM-1 featured tunable drum sounds and a ‘swing’ feature which helped standard drum patterns feel more ‘human’ by slightly moving the drum beats to play slightly behind the beat…just like a REAL drummer!

The Linn LM1 drum machine and its MANY followers changed the course of our music history…especially so for the many professionals who made their living playing drums! Drum machines became so pervasive in the pop music produced in the 80’s that many drummers were forced to put down their sticks and learn to program their own drum parts or be out of a job! Fast-forward to today and drum machines and ‘software’ drum instruments are still alive and well. As a matter of fact, in the hands of a mildly skilled composer, our current crop of drum tools can sound so lifelike that they can and do fool the ears of seasoned producers.