Brian McRae inspects his computer monitor for the drum overdub he
just played onto an existing track called `Everything' by the band
Xiren of Denver. His studio, the Wrecking Ball, is in a shed in the
back yard of his Lyons home.
Groovin' to the Net beat
Lyons drummer launches online overdubbing service
By Leland Rucker For the Camera
Recording drums is difficult. It's expensive and hard to get the right sound.
Ask almost any musician, and they'll tell you that drums are generally the
trickiest part of the studio process.
"You're talking about an instrument with so many dynamic sonic variances," says
Ben Jansen, co-writer and producer of the Denver rock group Xiren. "One-sixteenth of an inch in placement
can change the dynamics."
Brian McRae, a drummer based in Lyons with a lot of studio experience, has
firsthand knowledge of all the problems.
"You need a good instrument and a drummer who knows how to tune the instrument
- a lot of drummers don't know how to tune," he says. "You need somebody
who knows how to hit the drums to get the right sound. Drums are an acoustic
instrument, so you're recording the room. Especially in alternative rock, room
mikes are important these days."
After spending a year-and-ahalf mulling the idea, McRae, who has worked with
a host of local musicians, including the Freddie Jones Band, Sherri Jackson,
Sally Taylor and Nina Storey, came up with an economical, expeditious way to
put drums on recordings.
Call it virtual drumming. McRae's company, Drumoverdubs.com, and Web site is
set up to help musicians get the sound they want without wasting valuable studio
time. Send him a digital file of a recording in an e-mail, and McRae will study the song,
record a few performances in his studio and send them back.
Today, even in studios, it's not necessary to have all the musicians in the
"This process is becoming more popular now because there's a larger home-recording
industry. As the industry falls apart, musicians are becoming more empowered
to do things themselves," McRae says. 'With technology changes, it's become
"I was playing electric piano, and Brian was on drums," Jansen says, "We
dug each other. As we moved forward to record, he had this idea. We tried it
because of the skill sets involved, and we liked his playing."
Having a drummer who was never present made recording the album less time-consuming
and saved the band money. "We always have tight deadlines for projects," Jansen
says, "and this was the smoothest way we ever worked with drums - both
cost-effective and time-effective."
The band spent its time composing music and creating.architectures for the
various songs in their own studio.
"We would quickly e-mail Brian MP3s of concepts, and Brian would put together
drum concepts and zip them back to us. We could look at the con
McRae found himself working studio projects, often with unsatisfying results.
"The way I came across this is that I was doing commercials and other recordings
where I was coming in after the fact and overdubbing the drums," McRae says. "With
studio players, there's a budget that they're trying to stay within, and the
hours are ticking on the clock. They play a safe take. With the overdubs, I can
be more creative, take a few more chances. The songwriter isn't as worried about
it. Every minute isn't on the clock."
The first project completed with the Drumoverdubs system was Xiren's latest
album, Polite Conversation. The band members met McRae while working in Colorado
cepts and say, `Don't do that, do this.' Sometimes he would be doing his parts
while we worked on other parts. We could make good use of our hectic schedules
and his as well."
Besides not wasting valuable studio time setting up the drums, McRae feels
this offers him a better chance to be innovative. "I really spend time
on the sound and try to write creative parts," he says. He has several
kits already and is always looking for more, each with unique qualities and
textures. "If the band wants an old trashy sound, I can set up that kit.
If it wants a modern sound, I can find a tighter-sounding kit."
There are limitations. The process doesn't work with every kind of music. "If
you're doing a jazz piece, it will be harder. The music moves
more," says McRae. It works best, he says, for bands, songwriters, remix
artists and jingle writers who use rock and pop.
"There's a lot of creative freedom there, too. It can be a sparse thing,
or it can be a big production. It's affordable for people, and I get the chance
to talk to them, know the song and choose the sound. They get to hear what they're
As Xiren's Jansen says, "rime is money, and we don't want to be messing
around. It's not that you can't get great drums at a studio. But we let it
be his headache. We tell him what we want. We can focus on what we're good
at. It's not the only way to do it, but it's nice to have the option."