"Whip-crack drums"

spotify joeroganWhip-crack drums peaked in the 1980s. It hasn’t aged well. To be honest, it sounded awful already at the time. There is no clear and agreed definition of "whip-crack drums", but there are some common denominators. First, there should be a big bang - a powerful and distinct drumbeat. Primarly, using the bass (or kick) drum. This was often enhanced with harder drum beaters. In some cases a coin was taped to the beater for a sharper clicking sound. Of course, this was achieved at the expense of the base, tone and warmth of the bass drum. Second, the rack and floor toms were repeatedly and severely battered and beaten. Bang the drum! Third, the use of reverb - an electronically produced echo effect. The ideal soundscape in the 1980s was a snare drum that sounded "big" (as in BIG). In hindsight, not seldom this led to unintentionally comical and vulgar results. The "gated reverb", a powerful reverb that quickly disappeared instead of slowly fade away became very popular. The "gated reverb" was first introduced by Phil Collins (so much to answer for) on "In the Air Tonight" (pay attention to the drum break 3,15 minutes into the song). The impact of "gated reverb" cannot be overstated. It gave the drums a "larger-than-life" sound and is the most obvious marker for drums in the 1980s. To summarize, at all stages; playing, tuning, microphone placement and mixing - a powerful and distinct drumbeat was desired. In my opinion, there are a couple of albums that were damaged more than others by "whip-crack drums"; "Let’s Dance" (David Bowie), "Brothers in Arms" (Dire Straits) and last but not least "Born in the USA" (Bruce Springsteen). British philosopher Alison Stone hit the head of the nail in her book “The Value of Popular Music - An Approach from Post-Kantian Aesthetics”: "Because the snare-drum is smaller than the bass-drum its sounds have higher frequencies (although no precise pitch) and therefore stand out more, so that the snare’s whip-crack sound cuts through the texture more audibly than the duller thud of the bass-drum. The prominence of the snare-drum can be increased further by other means, such as its being struck more forcibly, mixed louder, treated electronically, recorded with echo, or a combination of these. For example, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ emphasises the snare drum beats so heavily that they sound like explosions." Could previous big (as in BIG) mistakes be corrected? Yes, all hideous "whip-crack" albums should be recalled and then re-recorded with normal drums. The liberated albums could get a sticker attached to them "This album was recorded without "whip-crack" drums". A lot of albums from the 1980s would benefit greatly from this cleansing procedure. It's not to late.


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