The backbone of most bands is a solid drummer with a good kit to boot. But when you’re touring and don’t have the liberty to carry your own kit, you often end up getting drum kits that may not be in the best condition. Most engineers will acknowledge that once your kit sounds right everything else will fall into place. Of late, I’ve been spending some time working on an affordable drum trigger hack to deal with bad kits.
have been around for a long time. But a good set of triggers usually costs a fat sum of money. While these work well, I wasn’t too keen on dropping that kind of dough on something I wasn’t sure would be useful in a live situation. Not to mention, there’s the added cost of a module to get the triggered sounds you need
Before I continue let me elaborate a little on triggers and how they work. Basically they’re very simple devices mostly consisting of a piezo transducer and a mounting bracket that sits on the rim of the drum. The pickup senses vibration and produces an electric signal which is then converted to digital (MIDI) by a module which plays pre-recorded drum hits (samples) for every MIDI note it receives. The drum module can also be adjusted to accommodate a range of volumes, so you could in a sense reproduce the dynamic range of the drummer’s playing.
These became quite popular in the ’90s especially among metal drummers, but were still considered to be lacking in dynamics and unsuitable for other genres. However drum sample technology has come a long way since and triggered sounds have become commonplace in studio production today.
Getting back to using them live – since buying a bunch of expensive triggers was out of the question for me, a friend recommend that I get in touch with Naveen Ujre. Naveen is an audio engineer from Bangalore and he’s the go to tech guy for a lot of musicians in the city. You’ll see him behind the console for quite a few popular bands as well.
He had a trigger ready for me in a few days. I decided to use my laptop and a sound card for a module. Basically, the trigger sits on the drum head on stage and feeds to the console through a DI box. From there, I just send the signal through my laptop and chose from a library of drum sounds.
After running a few tests I realised that the triggers work quite well but could use some refining in design and sensitivity. Because they’re running into a laptop and there’s a lot of conversion stages, the latency is noticeable and isn’t usable live in its current form. However I feel that the problem may be solved with a dedicated module and some adjustments to the trigger itself.
On the other hand this is a great addition in the studio. Instead of spending hours trying to get your triggered samples to line up to your recorded audio, having additional trigger tracks saves a lot of time. It’s not always necessary to have triggered drum tracks. But if you’re recording in a poor room on a cheap kit there’s no harm throwing a few triggers in there in case you want to use them later.
I made this video in which I highlight the use of triggers in the studio so you know what to expect if you’re using one for your projects.