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After having some in depth conversations with drummers on all levels, we examine the role the drummer has in today’s music, how it’s changed over the years, and how the drum machine has impacted the field.

Music is in a constant state of flux. It ebbs and flows with the world around it; tastes shift, norms shift, expectations shift. Old becomes new, new becomes old, and the music of today that sounds drastically different than the music of yesterday, will sound drastically different tomorrow, as it will with tomorrow’s tomorrow, and so on and so forth into perpetuity. Change is just an essential fact of music and it’s impacted drummers as much as, if not more than, any other field in music.

Historically, the role of a drummer has been to be the backbone of a band, the time keepers that keep everyone in sync. This fundamental aspect of drumming hasn’t changed throughout the years, despite any changes in music. Bands and live performances still require skilled drummers to provide this service. It’s a skill and mastery that can only be achieved through hours upon hours of practice and years of gaining experience, typically through house bands or freelance gigs. If the dream is to become a drummer in a successful band, then the road to getting there is largely unchanged, but as music has become more and more electronic and technology driven, the demand for more traditional work has diminished.

…pioneers of the drum machine, such as Prince, helped expand the thinking of what was possible with a drum set. Instead of revealing the limitations of human drummers, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Many people thought that with the introduction and rise of drum machines that the traditional drummer would fall by the wayside. On the contrary, pioneers of the drum machine, such as Prince, helped expand the thinking of what was possible with a drum set. Instead of revealing the limitations of human drummers, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. A realm in which drummers like Jojo Mayer gladly delved into, bringing Drum & Bass, Hip-Hop, and all other kinds of digitally produced music to life.

The drum machine itself has become an essential tool for most modern drummers. While anyone can play and create something on a drum machine, drummers bring a feel and instinct to the production that only they can bring through years of honing their craft. J Dilla is largely regarded as one of hip-hop’s greatest producers and that’s in large part due to his innovative use of drums and sampling, born from the skills and perspectives he brought with him from his jazz background.

Old becomes new

…the music may be technically solid, over reliance on technology has often led to a sterile sound, lacking the spontaneity, emotion, and feeling only a human provide.

All of these advancements and new technologies have made the field of drumming the most expansive and technically sound it’s ever been, but a strange thing has been happening of late. There’s been a significant move back towards the analog in not only live performances, but production as well. While the music may be technically solid, over reliance on technology has often led to a sterile sound, lacking the spontaneity, emotion, and feeling only a human provide. Old avenues once cut off to traditional drummers are once again opening up as prominent artists in Hip-Hop, R&B, and Pop opt for live music in both their production and on stage performances.

Modern drumming is a relatively young field that’s changed and evolved significantly in a short amount of time. Change spurred on by the rapid rise of drum machines and other technologies. Instead of exposing their limitations, like many may have feared, drum machines have expanded the realm of possibilities for drummers. With the new possibilities afforded to them by new innovations and the recent move back towards live instrumentation, the role of the drummer and the opportunities available to them are greater now than ever before.

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