Many different techniques can be used to record the electronic drum kit for both professional productions and practice sessions. A lot of information on the web about how to do this is rubbish. For example, some online guides claim that you need to buy an external amplifier to record your pieces, claiming that this is what “creates sounds”, which is completely wrong.
One of the major advantages of electronic drums over acoustic kits is their ability to be quickly and easily recorded with minimal effort. In this article, we will tell you in simple terms how to record from your electronic set to your computer.
Option 1: Audio recording directly from the battery module via USB
All pads and cymbals in your electronic drum set are routed to your drum module. The drum module is actually what creates the sounds, as the pads and cymbals are only used to activate them. Check your drum module: some modest modules like the Roland TD-11 actually act as a very personal audio interface. This means you can simply connect your battery module to your computer via a USB cable, install the necessary drivers, and so on.
To do this, follow the steps of option 2, but skip the parts on the audio interface and audio cables.
Option 2: Recording the audio output from the battery module via an audio interface
If your battery module does not have the ability to transfer audio via USB to your computer, please follow the steps below.
Battery modules generally include a headphone output so you can easily monitor your practice and performance, but they also generally have audio outputs that you can use for live recording and performance.
You will need a computer, recording software (the free software will work properly), an audio interface and audio cables.
1) A computer (Windows, Max, Linux). You don’t need certain features any type will do
2) Recording software. You can use either free audio software like Audacity (Windows/Mac/Linux) or Garageband (Mac). You may already have one installed on your computer. If you have a professional DAW (digital audio workstation) like Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, etc., then they will all work great.
3) An audio interface. Audio interfaces usually connect to your computer via USB and use drivers that are usually very easy to install. Before purchasing an audio interface, make sure that it is compatible with the specific version of your computer’s operating system (e.g. Windows 8.1) and that it meets any other system requirements of the audio interface. We recommend investing some money in a decent audio interface. Those with very low budgets can easily break or cause annoying static sounds in the recording.
4) Audio Cables
Check the output connections on the back of the drum modules. The instructions below are general instructions that should work for most situations. However, if in doubt, consult the battery module manual or the manufacturer’s website for more information. There are usually two 1/4″ jack outputs (such as those that connect to a guitar or other electronic instrument) for left and right, take two 1/4″ TS (tip-sleeve) cables and connect both from your module to your interface.
Instructions for recording audio from the drum module
First, connect the audio cables to the battery kit electronics module and the audio interface inputs. Turn up the gain or volume knob on the audio interface track to ensure that an audio signal is transmitted. Now connect the USB output from the audio interface to the computer’s USB input and start the recording software application on your computer.
Follow the instructions of the audio software to record the audio. DAW software usually consists of multiple tracks in a project. Just select an audio track, name the audio interface as input and click the record button. The indications may differ slightly, but usually the process is very similar.
When you start playing the drums, you will usually see visual representations of the audio waves shown for audio recording. This will be a clear indication that you are successfully recording an audio signal from your drum module.
Problem with the audio interface that is not recognized by the computer
If you are using a Windows computer, verify that the recommended drivers have been installed correctly.
- If you see a message indicating that the drivers have not been installed correctly, check the website of the manufacturer of your audio interface for information and give advice on any drivers that may need to be installed.
- Read the manual to find out if the audio interface is compatible with your computer and operating system.
- The USB cable connecting the audio interface to your computer may be damaged.
- The USB slot on your computer may be broken. Try another one if possible.
- If everything fails, sometimes you just have to turn the computer off and on again to solve the problem. It is possible that the audio interface does not work properly. Try connecting the audio interface to another computer.
Problem during recording
This can easily occur on cheaper audio interfaces that are not able to handle high input volumes. Try lowering the input volume on your audio interface and see if you can get a reasonable signal without sacrificing audio quality.
Try listening to the audio signal on the electronic drum kit to ensure that the whistle does not come directly from the battery module. There may be electrical signals that interfere with recording if you are using a laptop. It can be produced internally in your laptop or via other peripherals. If you have other devices connected to your computer, such as hard drives or USB midi inputs, remove them to see if it makes a difference.
Audio recording latency problem
This means that there can be a space between the moment you press a padal receiving and processing the signal from the computer. This can be annoying.
If you are listening to audio from your computer while it is recording, try plugging headphones into the headphone output (if available) on your battery module. You can then listen to the audio recording through this without latency. If you’re recording to a song, you may need to drag and drop the recording back into the track to adjust the delay. Check the manufacturer’s website or audio interface manual for troubleshooting tips on managing latency.
Option 3: Record your drumming using MIDI
This is a completely different approach to recording than the electronic drum kit. It allows us to capture digital notes from the pads while you play them, this digital information can then be used to activate drum samples on your computer’s audio software.
It may sound complicated but it isn’t, MIDI is widely used in electronic music instruments for decades and is widely supported by audio production software. This can be a good option if you want a lot of flexibility on drum sounds and/or the freedom to change or rework your drum track. You will need a computer and depending on the drum module: a USB cable; a MIDI-to-USB interface; or a MIDI drum module.
If your battery module includes a USB output that supports MIDI transfer (similar to that of a standard printer cable, often USB type A to USB type B cable), then you’re in luck. All you need is a USB cable to connect it to your computer. If it includes a standard MIDI output, you will need a MIDI to USB converter or interface to be able to digitally transmit MIDI information to your computer. If your battery module does not support external MIDI options, then you will need a better battery module or a separate MIDI battery module.
Step by step
- Turn on your computer
- If your electronic drum module does not support midi, remove all drum and flat pad inputs from the drum module and insert them into the inputs of your MIDI drum module.
- Connect the MIDI output from the drum module or Drum module to your computer.
- Start your drum or DAW recording software.
- Follow the instructions in the recording software to associate the MIDI notes to the desired sounds.
- Print records.
- Start playing your drums. If you are viewing your drum on a MIDI track in a DAW, the recording will be very different from an audio recording. It will show a set of discrete notes that exactly match the moment you are playing your drum.
- After playback, you can edit the MIDI track. For example, DAWs generally include the ability to quantize MIDI notes, which align notes to a grid (you can usually change the grid size, e.g. quarter notes, sixteenth notes, etc.).
Pros and cons of audio recording vs MIDI
Recording the audio output from your module or recording MIDI to your computer can both be great options. However, both have their pros and cons.
Recording audio from your module:
- Great for recording practice sessions as it requires minimal effort.
- Very easy to do. Using this approach you just need to record the audio signal from your battery module. It doesn’t require problems with MIDI mapping on your DAW software.
- What you hear is what you get. If you are satisfied with the result, you can record directly to your PC without doing any further work.
- Most electronic drum modules only include stereo outputs. This means that you cannot separate the audio signals from your battery into different tracks on your computer. This is generally not a problem for recording practice or doing rough demonstrations. However, it can be a problem if you really want to process and mix your different drum sounds.
- What you hear is not what you get. It can be difficult to replace individual drum sounds if you use a stereo output. Even if you do, it will manually require midi mapping or tweaking of automatic MIDI recognition on your digital audio workstation.
MIDI recording to your computer
- More flexibility for your sound. You can change the samples or drum synth on your computer later.
- More flexibility for your tracks. MIDI notes can be rearranged or automatically quantized to stay in time.
- Better mixing. When recording MIDI, you can process the sounds of each drum stroke differently, for example through music mixing techniques such as EQ, compression, reverb, etc.
- MIDI mapping. It’s not very complicated, but it can make you lose a lot of time if you’re trying to do something too complex.
- If you’re just looking for a recording of what’s coming out of your drum module, then this approach may be a bit excessive.
- If your battery module does not support MIDI outputs, then it is an extra cost to buy a MIDI battery module.
If you are just recording for personal or group exercise, the direct audio output is the best option. It’s easy and doesn’t require any problems with MIDI mapping to your computer’s DAW. If you are doing something more complete, such as using your electronic drum recording for music production or professional outputs, then I suggest you follow the MIDI path.
Probably, the best option is to combine both of these options together if possible, since it offers maximum freedom. Roland’s higher end V-drum modules usually include a USB connection that can transfer both audio and MIDI at the same time, which is a fantastic feature.