I'm not a drummer. Sure, I can bang out a fairly simple beat on a drum kit, but I've never owned a kit, never had lessons, and am not by any means a drummer. Back in Utah, I would sometimes have clients or bandmates leave their kit at my studio between sessions or practices, and I picked up a few basics by messing around after hours. I'm a habitual dashboard drummer, and pretty much 24/7 my hands and/or legs are shaking, tapping, or thumping on something. The first recording engineer I worked with was a drummer, so I developed an appreciation very early on for well recorded drums that have a nice groove and anchor a mix. Because of this, my standards for drums have always been high. This is great when I'm working with a drummer, but what about when I want to do drum tracks myself?
I use a variety of methods to get drum parts for my songs. Drum machines are great scratchpads but I can rarely find the perfect combination of sound quality, basic pattern, and fills I want. Real drummers can be even more difficult than machines - out of time, interpretting things differently then you want, not having a good sounding kit, or just not being available in the middle of the night when I get the itch to work on a project. Loops can sometimes be problematic also, and for me they are the least satisfying to work with, in spite of the fact that they can help inspire new ideas and grooves.
My problem is I'm picky - especially about the snare drum. I'll search through an endless list of samples to find the right sound. And, a single sample isn't good enough - the average snare track that I work with has 4 samples of snare hits at different velocities, and additional samples for off-center hits, rim shots, etc. Then, of those variations I'll make more variatons - slight changes in volume, sometimes slight changes in EQ. As I assemble a track from the many various samples, I will sometimes find that I need to layer 2 snare sounds together in order to get the sound I'm after. Of course, that can take a while also.
Laying out a drum track manually can be pretty simple and fast using a "snap to grid" function in your software. However, to make the track really groove can take a lot more time to get the "human" feel nailed just right.
I've been in a groove lately on drum tracks - I've knocked out 4-5 songs in the last week or two. I've found the hi-hat tracks to be very involved to get the subtle nuances that I want to capture in a performance. I currently only have 2 tracks on my album that were done with an actual drummer - the rest have used a variety of methods. Even when using a loop or drum machine, I find I'm layering or replacing the snare almost every time. It's time intensive, but I hope that in the end it shows through.
Doing drums can be a lot of fun, but tedious. Getting a fill to sound real can be quite the challenge. It's well worth looking into hiring a good drummer to tackle your songs, but there is also a great deal of satisfaction that comes from creating a part from scratch and building it one hit at a time.