Choosing whether your church will use acoustic or electronic drums can be a tough decision for many churches. Today's electronic drums are better than ever. But that doesn't mean they are the right choice for everyone. Lets get started by taking a look at the most common pros and cons of each. At the end of this article we'll discuss how some of these have recently changed.
1. Volume can be completely controlled by the person mixing.
2. Easier to transport and quicker to set up.
3. Sound of your set can be changed with the push of a button.
1. Don't feel exactly like an acoustic set when playing.
2. Most electronic sets look like something you would find in a UFO. (Notice I said MOST)
3. Some cheap or older electronic sets sound terrible.
1. Drummers are typically used to and prefer the feel of playing on acoustic drums.
2. Acoustic drums make drummers look cooler. (Until you build them a house, keep reading)
3. A good acoustic drum set can sound incredible. (But cheap acoustic drum sets also sound terrible)
1. You need to isolate the drums in order to have full control over the volume. (We'll cover this in depth in a little bit)
2. Take more time and knowledge to set up and mic properly.
3. Can't drastically change the sounds of your drums.
You'll notice in the above lists that the pros and cons for acoustic and electronic drums are almost complete opposites of each other. Either choice you make someone is going to have to make sacrifices whether it is the drummer or the rest of the church. But both also have their own advantages.
In large mega churches that have large rooms and stages drum volume isn't much of an issue. Just put some drum mics on a good acoustic set and you're good to go. Smaller churches have many more problems regarding drum volume. The smaller the room the more important it is that you are able to control the volume of the drums. I have visited churches where the music was so loud it was uncomfortable. When I talked to the sound technician he stated that the acoustic drums were so loud, without even being miked, that he had to turn up everyone else in order to hear them. This is the point that churches usually start talking about getting a drum shield. Drum shields are one of the most commonly misunderstood and misused tools in the church today.
Most Common Drum Shield Misconception
False Misconception: A plexiglass panel placed in front of a drum set will significantly decrease the volume of the drum set for everyone in the congregation.
Reality Check: A plexiglass shield that only goes in front of the drum set only reflects sound, it doesn't absorb it. Some of the sound bouncing off the shield is being bounced off the back wall and back out around and over the top of the shield. How much the volume level is decreased will greatly depend on the material behind the drummer and the ceiling height and material. Primarily only the people in the first few rows will hear much difference in volume. Bottom line, it probably won't decrease the volume as much as you are hoping for or need if you have a smaller building.
In order to effectively lower the volume of acoustic drums you will need to isolate the drums with an isolation kit that not only reflects, but also absorbs sound. Effective drum isolation shields include sound absorption on the top, behind the drummer and around the bottom half of the front shield. Good kits like this start at a price of around $2,000. Now that you have the drums isolated you will also need to make sure all of your drums are properly miked. A 7-piece drum mic set will cost you around $900 for a professional mic set. Lower quality sets can be had for as low as $350, but you get what you pay for. Also you need to purchase at least a few drum mic stands and you will need 7 XLR cables to hook it all up. At this point your drummer is essentially living in his own little house on stage. The downside of this is that it tends to get really hot in there. Also, you initially thought that acoustic drums looked better on stage, but now you can hardly see the drums behind all the plexiglass and foam.
The real price of acoustic drums:
- Acoustic Drum Set $700 - $2,700
- Kick Pedal and Drum Throne $300
- Isolation Shield Kit $2,000
- Drum Microphones $900
- Cables and Stands $300
- 7 Channels on your mixer (If you have to upgrade to a larger mixer factor in this cost)
Total: $4,200 - $6,200
The real price of electronic drums:
- Electronic Drum Set $500 - $7000
- Kick Pedal and Drum Throne $300
- 2 Radial ProD2 Stereo Direct Box $300 ($150/ea.)
- Cables: $200
Total: $1,300 - $7,800
As you can see, electronic drums have the potential to be much more cost effective for churches that would need to mic and isolate an acoustic set, which is most churches 300 and under. Even if someone in your church already owns an acoustic drum set there are many other costs to consider.
New electronic drum sets look, feel and sound better than ever.
Until recently electronic drum sets were a bunch of plastic shells and rubber cymbals. One company has recently changed that. Pearl, one of the most famous acoustic drum manufacturers has created their own electronic drum set called the Pearl E-Pro Live. What makes their kit unique is that the kit is a real Pearl acoustic drum set, except the heads of the drums are electronic and silent when hit. The cymbals are real metal, but make very little sound when you hit them. If you ever want to use the kit as an acoustic set simply replace the heads on the drums and replace the cymbals. Now you can have an electronic drum set that looks exactly like an acoustic drum set... because it is. On top of that many drummers claim the heads of the drums feel more natural than previous drum sets. How does it sound? Pretty good. I personally still prefer the sound of an good acoustic set with proper mics. But in many situations that's not a good option.
My friend Doug Gould of Worship MD who travels the country teaching classes at worship conferences recently played a trick on church that said they didn't want electronic drums. He set up the Pearl E-Pro Live kit and then set up a few dummy drum mics on the kit to make the pastors think he was miking an acoustic set. He had the drummer play along and not say anything. Doug had the drummer play for a while for the pastors and then asked them what they thought. They loved the sound. They were amazed that he was getting such great sound and only using a few mics. He then revealed to them that the mics weren't plugged in and they were in fact listening to a digital drum set.
It's not a perfect solution, but I have found it to be one of the best compromises of look, sound, feel and price while giving complete control of the volume to the sound guy. It's worth checking out at least.
What type of churches should consider an acoustic drum set?
- If your church is big enough that acoustic drums aren't too loud then by all means use acoustic drums and just mic them as needed. Lucky!
- If your church is a permanent facility and if you have enough money to properly isolate and mic your drum set, provide silent ventilation to the drummer, and have enough room on stage for the isolation booth acoustic drums may be an option for you. Don't start heading this direction unless you are willing to commit. Changing course can be expensive.
- Churches that have a drummer that is talented and good at controlling dynamics by playing louder or softer himself and utilizing different types of sticks and brushes.
What type of churches should consider an electronic drum set?
- Portable churches that want quick and easy set-up and tear down and need to transport their equipment.
- Smaller churches that need to control drum volume, but don't want to spend a fortune or give the drummer his own house on stage.
- Churches with drummers that aren't good at playing at lower volume levels.
- Churches that need to save money!
Last of all. If you are a pastor reading this, please don't buy an electronic set and tell your drummer he's playing it next Sunday. Be sure your drummer/s are part of the discussion. Everyone needs to be willing to do what is in the best interest of the congregation financially and sound wise. If you decide to get an electronic set be sure to have your drummer take it home an practice on it for a month or so before ever having him play for a Sunday service. Let him learn the functions and get used the the feel until he knows it inside and out.
I've given you a lot of information to digest. There isn't any one size fits all solution for every church. Consider speaking with a professional to evaluate your own church's needs and goals to make an informed decision. I would be more than happy to help you weed through the options and come to your own decision. Contact us at Housetop Media and ask for Derrick. Not only will we help you decide the best choice for your church, but we'll also get you the best prices on the equipment you choose.