So, why is a good-sounding drum set important? People want to know the answer to this question for a number of reasons. Parents ask this question when they need to buy a drum set for their youngster who is learning to play the drums. Event organisers and tour managers ask this question when we talk about the back-line for gigs and tours. Every drummer (or musician, for that matter) who has ever had to buy himself a piece of expensive gear has probably had this question in the back of their mind.
Why then do most bands not only tolerate drummers but actually prefer playing with a live drummer on stage? Or looking at the parallel analogy, why do so many people still prefer to buy pencil sketches or oil paintings of a person's face, rather than just having a photo printed? There's obviously something better about having a 'human element' in your art. Every painter or sketch artist has a unique way of interpreting and portraying an image with their own sense of emotion, spatial relations, colour & mood, etc., and this exact same principle applies to drummers. Every drummer has a unique way of understanding and relaying time, groove, sound, etc.
Now, as a drummer, you may read this and think to yourself: "I've never really expressed anything on a set of drums". Truth is, you are probably doing it intuitively or unintentionally. Very few drummers actually sit down to listen to their own playing and analyse their own unique way of playing and expressing. Almost every drummer, though, has had a gig, a rehearsal, or a specific instance while they were drumming where you felt like something isn't right. Most of the time it's hard to explain or understand why you get the feeling of "this sucks!", but we've all experienced one of those. I propose to you that one of the possible factors could be the drum set which is not giving you the sound or the "vibe" that you are intuitively trying to get out of it with your playing.
This leads me back to the original question of why a good sounding drum set is important.
Paints & Crayons
Most professional painters or sketch artists have a very specific preference when it comes to the types of paint or pencils they use for their artwork, and they are often quite particular about the canvas as well. This is probably because they feel that their specific preference of paint, pencil, or canvas helps them to paint or sketch better. Most of them could probably come up with something really nice when you give them a set of nursery school crayons and a piece of white A4 printing paper, but their artwork really comes to life when they can use tools that they don't have to fight with all the time; tools that feel like they work with you and for you in the creating process.
Another analogy we can use is one of a barber or a hairdresser who generally spend quite a large sum of money on the specific pairs of scissors they use to cut people's hair. Even though it is physically possible to cut hair with normal "arts & crafts" type of scissors, if the tools are right then the job is so much easier, and the creativity and inspiration naturally flow much easier into their work.
Your Point Is...?
So, now that I've created all this context, it all boils down to this: a good sounding drum set is important because it helps you play better. If you understand that drumming is an expression and that you need the right tools to help you (instead of hinder you) in your expression, then having a good sounding drum set to play on becomes much more important.
This is obviously relevant to professional musicians because your instrument has a direct influence on your ability to deliver a performance that both you and your 'employer' (the band leader/front man) are happy with.
This is relevant to organisers and booking agents because the drummer is an essential element to the vibe of almost any performance. If the drummer can't deliver due to a lack of good sounding equipment then the overall energy of the show suffers as a result, and this influences customer experience (the people who buy tickets for the show) in a negative way. As a side note: I realise that the drummer's comfort levels are only one of several factors that influence the energy on stage, but it is the one factor that I have had to deal with so many times at events where we are not provided with decent back-line equipment to help us provide a proper service.
This is relevant to new drum learners because no-one is inspired to practice when they sit down behind a drum set that sounds like a bunch of cardboard boxes and tin cans mashed together. When I sit down behind a drum set and start practising then I want to enjoy what I'm hearing from the kit. It's hard enough to deal with all the unfamiliar coordination challenges when I'm learning new materials and concepts, so I don't want to spend that time having to constantly fight the drum set as well, trying to get a decent sound out of it!
For me, this is a factor of which I am consciously aware when I practice and play, but for a drummer who is starting out this might not be obvious. They will probably feel like they're not enjoying practice times without realising that the bad sound they are getting from their drum set is a big part of the frustration.
If it Sounds Good, it's Built Good
I realise this feels like a bit of a generalisation, but in my experience, I have found that any company who has spent enough time to get their drums to sound good have most likely tried to ensure that the engineering on their drums is sturdy. I say this with a fair amount of confidence because I have found that the way the drum is put together has a big influence on the way it sounds. Things like the lug sizes and the mounting systems all influence the sound and resonance of the drum they are attached to.
Finding Your Sound
So my personal conviction is this: When you are at the point where you need to choose a new drum set, or cymbals, or even your choice of drum heads and drum sticks (both of which have a definite influence in the sound you get out of your drum set), first have a look at what kind of drum sound you like. Listen to songs of bands that you enjoy and try to find a drum sound that really appeals to you. From there you can start looking for the type of drum set that will give you that sound you are looking for. Because drumming (as with music in general) is actually a very emotional thing, you need to find an instrument (or set of instruments) that speak to your emotions as a person when you play them.
As far as prices go, I have found that no amount of money saved on a purchase can compensate for having an instrument that just isn't quite what you were actually looking for. So I strongly suggest that you rather save up a little extra money and buy the instrument that inspires you to play.
As a testimony to this: my wife started teaching herself how to play the piano a few years back on a fairly cheap keyboard. As dedicated and disciplined as she is to every task she tackles, it was always a struggle for her to find the motivation to sit down and practice. However, every time she sat down behind a decent sounding piano she really enjoyed playing. So we decided to upgrade her cheap keyboard. She started off with a specific budgeted amount that she felt she could spend on a piano, but when we started shopping around for options we soon realised that the pianos that felt good to play cost almost double her budgeted amount!
We did some more research, tried out a lot of different brands and options, but in the end we bit the bullet and bought her an electronic piano which was way over our budget, but the sound of that specific piano was one that inspired my wife to keep playing and practising.
Needless to say, she has never been more motivated to practice playing the piano, even to this day!
I'm glad, for her sake, that we bought her instrument according to sound, and not so much according to price. And I would dare say that I think everyone should follow the same line of thinking when looking at choosing or buying an instrument: buy it for the sound, not the price!
Feel free to share this blog, and to agree/disagree with me in a comment or question below! ;-)