How to Record Electronic Drums to Your Computer
I’ve recorded electronic drums many times using different techniques for both professional productions and practice sessions.
There is a lot of junk information out there about how to do this. For example, I’ve read a guide online stating that you need to buy an external amplifier in order to record your e-drums, claiming that this is what “creates the sounds,” which is completely wrong.
In this article, I’m going to tell you in simple terms how to record from your electronic drum set to your computer.
One of the biggest benefits of electronic drums over acoustic kits is their ability to be quickly and easily recorded with minimal hassle.
You have a few options available to do this, though you don’t have to choose only one. I recommend using a combination of audio and MIDI as it can give you the most freedom to change and play around with your tracks later.
Start by reading our infographic below. We’ll dive deeper into these steps after.
There’s also a 4th option which I haven’t explained in detail here. This is to simply connect the audio output of your drums to either the “line in” or microphone input on your computer (if either of these are present on your computer). However, the sound quality of these can be very poor, particularly the microphone input option. To do so you will need a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter, and if you’re using the microphone input, then make sure to keep the source volume of your electronic drum set low, otherwise the quality will likely be terrible!
Option 1) Recording the audio output directly from your drum module via USB
All of the pads and cymbals on your electronic drum set are routed to your drum module (or drum brain, as it’s also referred as). The drum module is actually what creates the sounds, as the pads and cymbals are just used to trigger these.
Check your drum module. Some pretty modest modules such as the Roland TD-11 actually act as their very own audio interface. This means that you can simply connect your drum module to your computer via a USB cable, install the necessary drivers, and away you go.
To do this, follow the steps in Option 2, but skip the parts about the audio interface and audio cables.
Option 2) Recording the audio output from your drum module via an audio interface
If your drum module does not have the ability to transfer audio via USB to your computer, then follow the steps below.
Drum modules generally include a headphone output so you can easily monitor your practice and performance, but they also generally feature audio outputs that you can use for recording and live performances.
What you will need
The items you will need for this are a computer, recording software (free software will do fine), an audio interface, and audio cables.
1) A computer (Windows, Mac, Linux)
You do not need anything fancy to record audio to a computer. A very average computer should do fine, just make sure that it meets the system requirements for the audio interface that you’re planning to buy.
2) Recording software on your computer
You can use either free audio software such as Audacity (Windows/Mac/Linux) or Garageband (Mac). You might already have one of these already installed on your computer.
There are also a bunch of good free DAWs to choose from.
3) An audio interface
Audio interfaces usually connect to your computer by USB. Drivers for these are usually very easy to install. The audio signal from the audio interface can then be easily recognized and recorded to your software.
Before buying an audio interface, ensure that it is compatible with your computer’s specific operating system version (e.g., Windows 8.1) and that it meets any other system requirements of the audio interface.
I recommend investing a bit of money in a decent audio interface. Very low budget ones can break easily or cause annoying static sounds in your recording.
I highly recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) audio interface (Amazon link, Sweetwater Link). I have always found their audio interfaces to have very good audio quality for their price point. It is a very popular interface and its build quality is superb. It records very nicely and has 2 inputs and 2 outputs.
4) Audio cables
Check the output connections on the back of your drum modules. The below directions are general instructions that should work for the majority of situations. However, if you’re in doubt, then check the manual of your drum module or look at the manufacturer’s website for more information.
If you see two 1/4 phone jack outputs (like that ones you plug into a guitar or other electronic instrument) for Left and Right, then get two 1/4 inch TS (tip-sleeve) cables and connect both of these from your module to your interface.
If your drum module only has one single stereo output, then you should use a TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) cable as these cables can support stereo signals, whereas TS signals only support mono signals.
Additionally, if your module only has one 1/8 inch output (the same size as earphone slots on your phone or laptop), then you may need a 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch TRS cable or an adapter from 1/8 to 1/4 inch.
Step-by-step instructions for recording audio from your drum module
- Turn on your computer!
- Use the audio cable(s) to connect the audio outputs from your electronic drum kit module to the inputs of your audio interface. Turn up the gain or volume knob on your audio interface track to ensure that an audio signal will be passed through.
- Connect the USB output from your audio interface to the USB input on your computer.
- Launch the recording software application on your computer.
- Follow your audio software’s directions to record audio. DAW software usually consists of multiple tracks in one project. You simply need to select an audio track, select your audio interface’s name as the audio input for the track, “arm” the track for recording, and then press the record button. The directions might differ slightly, but it’s usually very similar to this.
- Start drumming. You will usually see visual representations of audio waves shown for the audio recording. This will be a clear indication that you’re successfully recording an audio signal from your drum module.
Bonus – Multi-track recording
Lower-end electronic drum modules usually just have a pair of stereo outputs. However, some higher-end drum modules contain either many different output jacks or the ability to multi-track record your audio via USB. This is great news for those that want to have a lot more freedom later.
Are you having issues with your recordings? Check out the possible solutions below:
Issue – The audio interface is not being recognized by my computer
- If you’re using a Windows computer, check to ensure that the recommended drivers are being successfully installed.
- Do any messages pop up stating that drivers have not been successfully installed?
- Check the manufacturer’s website of your audio interface for information and advice on any drivers that might need to be installed.
- Is the audio interface compatible with your computer and OS? Read the manual or check the box to find out.
- The USB cable connecting the audio interface to the computer might be damaged.
- The USB slot on your computer might be broken. Try another one, if possible.
- If all fails, sometimes simply turning the computer off and on actually solves the problem!
- It’s possible that the audio interface is malfunctioning. Try connecting the audio interface to another computer if you can.
Issue – I’m getting hiss or static noises in my recording
- This can easily occur on cheaper audio interfaces that cannot handle high input volumes. Try to lower the volume of the input on your audio interface and see if you can get a reasonable signal without sacrificing audio quality.
- Try to listen to the audio signal on your electronic drum set to ensure that the hiss is not coming directly from the drum module.
- Hiss can also be a result of electrical signals interfering with your recording. If you’re using a laptop with a working battery, plug out the AC power from the laptop.
- Hiss can be produced internally in your laptop or through other peripherals. If you have other devices connected to your computer, such as hard-drives or USB midi inputs, remove these to check if it makes a difference.
Issue – I’m getting latency or lag in my audio recording
This means that there can be a gap in time between when you hit a pad to when the signal is received and processed by your computer. This can be annoying.
- If you’re listening to the audio output from your computer while it’s recording, then try to hook a set of headphones to the headphone output (if available) on your drum module. You can then listen to the audio recording through this without latency. If you’re recording to a song, you might need to drag and adjust the recording back in the track to adjust for the lag.
- Check the manufacturer’s website or manual for your audio interface for troubleshooting tips on dealing with latency.
- If you’re using a Windows machine, try to configure the computer for working with audio. Windows is very capable of processing audio, but by default it’s not always prioritized. You can use the following guide, which goes through some steps on how to improve the audio processing performance on your Windows computer.
Option 3) Record your drumming using MIDI
This is an entirely different approach to recording from your electronic drum set. Recording MIDI allows us to capture the digital notes from the drum pads and cymbals as you’re playing them, this digital information can then be used to trigger drum samples or drum synths on audio software on your computer.
It might sound complicated, but it’s not. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is very heavily used in electronic musical instruments for decades and is very widely supported by audio production software.
This can be a great option if you want loads of flexibility on your drum sounds and/or freedom to change or rework your drum track.
What you will need
1) A Computer
As with recording audio, nothing too powerful is required.
2) Depending on the module of your drum module: A USB Cable OR A MIDI-to-USB Interface OR A MIDI Drum Module: Check the back of your electronic drum module
If your drum 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 this to your computer. These are very common in Roland V-Drums for example.
- If it includes a standard MIDI output, then you will need a MIDI-to-USB converter or interface to be able to digitally transmit the MIDI information to you computer. These are very cheap to get your hands on. Alternatively, the Scarlet 2i4 audio interface that I previously mentioned also includes MIDI capability. Therefore you could connect MIDI cables from your drum module to that interface.
If your drum module does not support external MIDI options, then you would need to get your hands on a better drum module or a separate MIDI drum module. However, this is not ideal, as it requires the highest cost and most amount of work.
3) Virtual Drum Software or a good DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
There are a wide variety of drum software applications and VSTs around.
Here is a great video showing an electronic drum set triggering Addictive Drums 2 (note, the sounds you are hearing are not from the drum module, they are coming from Addictive Drums 2 and being triggered via MIDI from the drum module). This might sound complicated, but it’s quite easy to set up.
Addictive Drums 2 contains a really nice MIDI mapping section that can help you automatically map to many different models of electronic drum sets. You can also create your own custom mappings.
Also, many DAWs already include their own drum racks that you can map to the MIDI inputted from your electronic drum set.
On top of this, check out the following list of good free drum VSTs. They don’t all work as easily as the paid options, but you can still get some great sounds out of them if you’re comfortable working with MIDI.
Step by step
- Turn on your computer
- If your electronic drum set module does not support MIDI, then take out all of the drum and cymbal pad inputs from the drum module and insert them into the inputs of your MIDI drum module.
- Connect the MIDI output from your drum module or MIDI drum module to your computer (either through a MIDI-to-USB, or using a MIDI interface, or using a USB-to-USB connection if your drum module supports it).
- Launch your drum recording software or DAW.
- Follow the instructions of your recording software to map the MIDI notes to your desired sounds. This can vary a lot depending on what software you’re using. We showed you above how it’s done via Addictive Drums 2. Alternatively, if you are using an electronic drum pad with Ableton Live, check out this great list of free Max4Live devices from Ableton Drummer which can make mapping a lot easier.
- Press record.
- Start playing your drums. If you’re viewing your drums on a MIDI track in a DAW, then the recording will look very different to an audio recording. It will show up a set of discrete notes that correspond to exactly when you’re hitting your drums.
- After playing, you can tweak or change around your MIDI track. For example, DAWs generally include the ability to quantize your MIDI notes, which align your notes to a grid (you can usually change the size of the grid, e.g., quarter notes, sixteenth notes, etc.). This can alter your drum notes to stay in time.
Pros and Cons of Recording Audio vs Recording MIDI
Recording the audio output from your module or recording the 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 simply record the audio signal from your drum module. It does not require messing with MIDI mappings on your DAW software.
- What you hear is what you get. If you’re happy with the internal sounds of your electronic drum set, then you can record them directly to your computer as-is.
- Most electronic drum modules only include stereo outputs. That means that you cannot separate the audio signals of your drums into different tracks on your computer. This is generally not a problem for recording practice or doing rough demos. However, it can be an issue if you really want to process and mix your different drum sounds. Please note, that some higher-end drum modules, such as Roland TR-20, include many more outputs. If the drum pads and cymbals on your e-drum kit connect to your drum modules via 1/4 inch audio cables, then you could easily swap out your current module for a higher-end one.
- What you hear is what you get. If you’re not happy with the internal sounds of your electronic drum set, then you might not be happy with the finished recording. It can be difficult to swap out the individual sounds of the drums if you’re using a stereo output. Even if you do, it will require manual MIDI mapping, or tweaking of automated MIDI recognition on your digital audio workstation.
Recording MIDI to your computer:
- More flexibility for your sound. You can change the samples or drum synths on your computer later on.
- More flexibility for your drum tracks. MIDI notes can be re-arranged or automatically quantized to stay in time.
- Better mixing. As stated previously, most drum modules only have stereo outputs. When recording MIDI, you can process the sounds of each drum hit differently, e.g., through music mixing techniques such as EQ, compression, reverb, misc effects, etc.
- MIDI mapping. This is not overly complicated, but it can get a bit tedious if you’re trying to do anything too complex.
- If you’re simply looking for a recording of what’s coming out of your drum module, then this approach can be a bit overkill.
- If your drum module does not support MIDI outputs, then it’s an extra expense to purchase a MIDI drum module.
If you’re just recording for personal or band practice, then I think the direct audio output is the best option. It’s easy, and does not require messing about with MIDI mapping to your computer’s DAW. If you’re doing anything more comprehensive, such as using your electronic drum set recording for music production or professional releases, then I’d recommend that you go the MIDI route.
In my opinion, the best option is to combine both of these option together if you can, as it gives you the most amount of freedom. Higher-end Roland V-drum modules usually include a USB connection that can transfer both audio and MIDI at the same time, which is a fantastic feature.
So, that’s my article on how to record electronic drums to your computer. It’s generally a pretty straightforward process, but there can be a few standard technical issues issues along the way.
However, once you get past these issues initially you should be ready to record in a flash in future. You won’t have to go through the process of re-setting up microphones and mixers like you would with an acoustic drum kit.
Have you run into any other issues while recording that I haven’t listed above? If so, please write a question or comment below!