The Death Of Live Drums

An electronic based genre is quickly growing. A genre where musicians play electronic beats and some instruments.


I call it IDM: Instrument Dance Music

This budding genre is a bit perplexing, though somehow expected.

As EDM artists grow in numbers and as more concerts are released and streamed online, audience members are becoming increasingly bored with EDM’s frequent poor musicianship and repetitive sound.

Rob Bordignon of Chicago Based Freak Island explains why he feels the IDM genre is up and coming:

Djs can’t just play on CDjs anymore. At least, not in a concert setting, more people nowadays know how easy it is. 

With this census growing, more and more venues are being slotted with bands holding an aux cable, a few pianos, and maybe even a saxophone at sound check.

When home in Brooklyn I try to see a lot of live music. Mostly at small venues booking 8 bands on a Monday night and playing until 2am. That’s where I see the young hopefuls. Kids in the 19-22 age range, trying new things with set ups we haven’t seen before. One show I saw last week sticks out in particular (right). All electronic based, but some with the addition of two pianos, or guitar, or a synth bass, or a concert vibraphone.

Last week’s show:

Most IDM artists play without live drums

Is it price? Is it the limitations of the sound systems of these DIY venues? Or the fact that many drummers in NYC can’t afford to store their own kits?

The answer might surprise you. It begins with a desktop speaker.

In 1984 Bose released the AW-1, a tabletop speaker that used a folded waveguide (a series of passages from the speaker driver to the speaker grill), in an attempt to replicate sound from larger systems into a compact design. Bose claims the waveguide “produces full, clear stereo sound from a small enclosure by guiding air through two 26 inch folded wave guides”

When Bose created this AW-1, they were actually reinventing the radio cabinet. This innovation began the ultimate retrograde into mono sound playback, subsequently effecting of the slow decay of live drums we are experiencing today. I can explain.

Mono Audio

Most people were first introduced to amplified sound in the home around 1900 when Guglielmo Marconi created the first commercial wireless telegraphy system (the first radio for the home). These radios often had a single speaker built into the cabinet. From this, we grew accustomed to hearing the world through a single channel.

Stereo Audio

In the 1950s, stereophonic sound emerged as the ultimate way to experience sound.

-In December, 1952 a closed-circuit television performance of Carmen, from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City was streamed to 31 theaters across the United States, utilizing a stereophonic sound system developed by RCA.

-In 1952, stereo magnetic tape recording was demonstrated on standard 1/4-inch tape for the first time in 1952, using two sets of recording and playback heads, upside-down and offset from one another.

-In 1953, Remington Records began recording a number of its sessions in stereo, including performances by Thor Johnson and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

-In November 1957, Audio Fidelity Records label released the first mass-produced stereophonic disc.

-In 1958–59, the first several shows of the  season of The Plymouth Show (AKA The Lawrence Welk Show) on the ABC (America) network were broadcast with stereophonic sound in 75 media markets.

A Stereo Speaker

This integration of stereophonic sound called for a new cabinet, or cabinets, capable of playing back stereo sound. Companies like Dolby and DTS were cashing in on the stereo audio format and companies like Ampex, Kenwood, Koss, and Bose were creating loudspeakers capable of stereo playback.

By the 1970s stereo audio was mainstream and recorded sound was one step closer to an actual heard experience. We were improving quality and empowering our consumers to demand better audio through their home speakers. Yay!

Until Bose made the AW-1

The Bose AW-1 claimed it was a stereo speaker, one that miniaturized stereo into a smaller, sexier package.

The problem is: you can’t miniaturize stereo.

Stereo was made to make the listener feel like sound was coming at them from both sides and all around. When you consolidate this left and right experience into one tiny package, the speaker is no longer capable of reaching both ears from different sides. Instead it sounds like a single puppy barking in front of you on the dining room table.

My parents had an AW-1 growing up and I get it, it looked good in the kitchen. It didn’t stand out like a stereo system would and mom could arrange her china around it. It acclimated well into a late 20th century home and for that reason consumers adapted to it.

From this point on we would grew into a culture that prioritized look and portability over playback quality.

The Modern Day Mono Speaker In All It’s Low Quality Glory

So how does this tie back to the death of live drums?

These newer portable speakers lack dynamic range, they degrade sound to be flat and 2-dimensional. Drumsets, one of the louder and more dynamically interesting instruments in the musical instrument lexicon, sound flat and unnatural when played back on these devices.

When played back on devices like the Beats Pill or Bose SoundLink, the drums might as well be samples from a disc set. If generations are being raised on bluetooth speakers that make drums sound flat, 2-dimensional, and sampled from a disc set, why would they demand more when they begin to create music themselves?

There’s no need because samples are good enough. In fact, they’re what sounds natural to most 19-25 year olds. How scary is that? If we continue to playback drums in mono on lackluster bluetooth speakers, we will lose our grip on the importance of live drum sets onstage. There’s nothing like watching a talented drummer groove onstage behind a monstrous kit and having the power to gracefully shift dynamics as the song progresses. Without a drumset on stage, we might as well be listening to a Bose AW-1. And who wants to pay admission for sound like that?


From One Ear To Another,
Anthony Mattana
Hooke Founder

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