I think it was back in the early '90s that I first heard about musicians collaborating digitally over the internet. I was still at least a decade away from making music on my computer, so it seemed like so much science fiction. Now that I have my digital studio set up, I find myself wondering what took me so long - it is so much fun.

Presumably, you have arrived at this page because there is the potential we may collaborate together eventually. If we have already agreed to collab, let me open by saying thank you. It means a lot that you put your faith in me to add drums to your track. I promise to take the challenge seriously and give you the best that I've got.

The process starts with you sending me a track without any drums. If you have a drum part written, I'd like to hear it for sure, but the track that I record against should be drum-free if possible. This allows me to play to the instruments that are going to be in the final mix instead of getting caught up playing to the drum track that's likely being replaced.

I can accept almost any format of music file you've got with one notable and unfortunate exception. I can only accept MP3 files if you've created the file by playing against your DAW's metronome.

The reason: MP3s have an inherent, unpredictable encoding delay. It's small (measured in milliseconds) but it's big enough to make drum parts sound laggy. If you want to witness this delay for yourself, try the following experiment: make a recording in your own digital audio workstation (DAW) of some short percussive sounds. Export it to an MP3. Take the MP3 and bring it back into your DAW at the zero mark as a new track in the existing recording. If you play both tracks unmuted, you should be able to hear a slight delay effect. Even if you can't detect it sonically, you should be able to see it (if your DAW allows you to see waveforms). When you zoom in, you can actually see that the sound waves on the MP3 are delayed in time from when the sounds were originally triggered.

So, if you've recorded the song in free time (i.e. not using a metronome) and send it to me using MP3 format, there's no way for me to tell where your song really starts. Therefore, it would be impossible for me to send you back something that you could drop into your DAW and mix away. For this reason, I must require that "free time" songs must be sent to me in AIFF or AAC (M4A) format. If your email account has limitations that make this impossible, YouSendIt is an alternate method for file transfer. If you have a hosting server, you can post the file there for me to retrieve. As a last resort, I will provide you with a street address and you can send the file to me on a CD via snail mail.

After you've gotten me the track to record against, be sure to supply me with any guidance you have on the intended rhythms and feels. Use whatever terminology you like. If you say something I don't understand, I'll ask for clarification. If your musical vocab is limited, you could suggest some songs that have the kind of rhythmic flavor you're looking for, and I'll have a listen. My goal in this step is to understand what you're seeking (as well as ensuring it's something I can deliver). If you don't have any guidance for me and want me to "do my thing", that's cool too - just say so.

After that, I'll go to work. Admittedly, time is not as easy as it used to be for me to come by - my firstborn son arrived in March of 2006. Still, my goal is to keep you informed about my situation and let you know when I believe I'll be able to work on it. Hopefully, I won't have to ask for your patience too much.

I start by putting your song into my DAW (Logic) and getting it prepped for recording. I set the tempo (fixed or rubato ... either way works for me) and add markers to graphically display the arrangement (intros, verses, choruses, bridges, outros and so on).

I will select the drums and cymbals that I think best suit the song from my arsenal of sounds. If you find that you want to make your own selections, take a listen to the gear I've got and let me know how you want me to assemble the drum kit I'll use on our session. Don't worry if you don't get to this step until after the drum performance has been recorded - it is very easy to swap in a different snare, kick drum or whatever without having to re-record the performance. Have I said how much I love recording like this?

Finally, the fun part - I move to my drumset. I've set up an old keyboard as a control surface - this lets me control the DAW while seated at my e-drumset. I try to record everything, because I'd hate to lose something interesting. I will apply my own quality control and re-record parts that don't work out, punching in and out as necessary. The output of this step is a MIDI performance from all of the surfaces of my electronic drum set, right down to the control messages about the position of my hi-hats and aftertouch when I choke (mute) a ringing cymbal.

Once I've gotten a quality MIDI performance captured, it's back to the DAW for fine tuning. My timing ALWAYS needs help, so my first post-performance step is to quantize the performance - being careful to preserve the flams, grace notes and (most importantly) feel. Then I get my levels squared away, which usually involves softening some hard hits and strengthening some light ones. I'll usually intentionally leave a song overnight so I can come back to it another time with fresh ears. If I have to re-do a part, I will. This is definitely the most time-consuming part of my process.

When I'm finally happy with the first cut, I will send you an MP3 of a rough mix of the song. The drums will be prominent in the mix so you can hear what they are doing. The idea is to get some feedback and see which parts work and isolate those that don't. We may repeat this step a number of times, fine tuning the results as we go.

When we've finally gotten the drums how you want them, I can either give you the final drum part as one stereo file or as many mono files.

The single-file route has drag-and-drop simplicity going for it - the drums take up one track and they can be mixed using one fader. There is also the positive that everything can be delivered with small file size in an email or two. Deliverable file types include AIFF and AAC (or M4A, a variant of MP3 that has a small file size and no inherent delay).

The downside is that the parts cannot be changed relative to one another (i.e. you can't turn down the kick drum without turning down everything else as well, and you can't put a delay on the snare without putting a delay on everything). Some control can be achieved using selective EQ, but this can be tricky. I will promise you that I will balance everything to the best of my ability using my years of experience as a live drummer as a guide. If there are small tweaks I can make to the mix to improve it in your ears, I'll gladly change levels, rebounce the performance and resend it to you, provided we don't get into a drawn out, multi-round, long-distance mix session.

On the other hand, the multi-file route is the professional's delight. It's as close to a real drumset recording as I can deliver (right down to optional, authentic microphone bleed, if you'd like an ultra-real experience). You can add effects and control individual levels easily. Here are the microphones that are in play with my drum simulator:

I can render these out as multiple AACs if you'd like. If you don't want the full-on multi-track experience, I can send submixes (i.e. 1 kick, 1 snare, 1 hats, 1 stereo "everything else" to make 4 files total). I screen all of these files carefully to make sure the signals are as strong as they can be without clipping. The quality of these files is very good. People have said nice things, anyway.

There is an even higher quality option: I can render these files to WAV format. Since there are so many tracks involved, sending these files is a considerable effort. Even if I provide these files to you using my hosting account, it will take a while to download them all. Provided you are not in a big rush, I'll gladly burn them all to a CD and send them to you.

The downsides of this method: mixing drums like this is quite a challenge - there are a lot of tracks to balance together. It's definitely not for the novice mixologist.

Regardless of your choice, all drum parts will be delivered "dry" - no effects. If you wish to add some effects, you can do so yourself when you are mixing. Some effects will be almost mandatory (compression, EQ) ... I wish I could help you and make suggestions, but I'm not much of a mixer.

I also may deliver some extra percussion tracks, as I have a large percussion library at my disposal. If you have a thought for a percussion part, do let me know. I have also been known to throw in a non-percussion track here and there.

Even with all of this effort, it may work out that you don't like the end result. I want you to know that there will be no hard feelings if you end up not using anything from our collab. I realize that putting a song together is a very personal experience. I wouldn't want anyone to think they were "on the hook" to use something that wasn't really what they wanted. I get experience recording and a chance to drum either way ... I'm happy no matter what you do.

If you do choose to use the material, here's a word about final levels: experience has shown me that people do not like to put drum parts forward in their mixes. I can understand this - it is difficult to share the focus with so many sounds competing for the listener's ear.

While I want you to feel free to do whatever you want with the drum parts I make, please try to see it from my side: it is hard for me to put a lot of time into a drum part just to see it end up buried softly in the mix. I don't want to be front and center - it is, after all, your song - but please place the drums so they can be heard. If you do not wish to hear any feedback from me on your mix, then at least take a listen to commercially recorded albums in-genre before you mix to get a flavor for typical relative levels.

I hope this primer has helped you understand my workflow and that you are psyched to get started. If so, let's go!

Mike