Drum Recording techniques part 4

Drum Recording Techniques Part 4
 *Line Checking / Balancing – this is something that should be done BEFORE the drummer arrives, ideally have the drum kit set up the night before the session then send the drummer home, or start early the next day before anyone arrives. This is a much more professional approach as the chances are with the many lines needed for drums something wont work first off and there may be cross patches – all of this can be ironed out with maybe the help of an assistant/trainee before the session so when the drummer rocks in (usually 1 hour before the band) everything works – I have seen sessions ruined before they begin by the entire band sitting around after they have set up waiting for the engineer just to get a single kick drum to come back in the control room monitors! – first impressions count and that does not inspire confidence. Even if you are a ‘band member ’ engineer using your home rig I’m sure you’ll get a better final result if everything can be checked and is working rather than have your band mates standing around going ‘is it ready?’

So much can be done in this stage that the actual drum recording should be just fun!
So as a rough guide try this ;

1 position mics – leave cable slack at the mic end – not the stage box end – cause you may need to move them to find the sweet spot and remember  if something is wrong it can be traced real quick whereas if there’s is a rats next of cables piled on top of the stage box you may as well start again if something doesn’t work..

2 patch them thru your rig in the control room – all the way from inputs to workstation/tape machine and then out of that into the desk/monitoring so as you check each line you know it is running through the recording device, if you only check it at the input end you have only done half the job.

3 line checknow have the friend/assistant go to each mic and gently tap it/talk into it – don’t hit drums yet

line each one up to the same basic level. This is better for the line check as it’s the same sound in each mic rather than different drums – line up of course be aware drums will be much louder- this is just to check all is in the right channels and is working correctly.

once its all working its time to pull some actual drum sounds! So remember to watch the gain on the mic pre’s!

4 ‘Pulling’ a drum sound

Firstly it’s very important to have a vision in your mind of what you want each individual drum to sound like and what the overall drum ‘mix’ should be. This is very subjective and can be very varied- you need to be able to listen to your favorite pieces of music and identify the separate drums as they are played and know what kind of sound they have – this is called ‘training your ear’ for eg;- if its an older style retro sounding band/song then you may want the kick drum fairly dull but if it’s a modern day rock track it will need to be quite bright and ‘clicky’ along with a nice round low end.

Secondly studio drum recording is all about the room itself and the combination of close mics and room mics, only trial and error will allow you to find the really sweet spots of what works for your ear and the differnt types of kits and music genres. Theres thousands of pics on the web these days of where to place the mics so i won't get into that. 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER;

Your have checked it all so now work through each individual drum having the drummer play it while you level it up – I cant stress enough to leave the EQ alone at this point – just get a good input level, tone on each drum then turn all the close mics off and bring up the rooms as the drummer plays some time so you can find the sweet spots as per above, there’s nothing wrong with walking in the live room putting on some headphones and moving mics about.

Once you are happy with the rooms turn them off and get a nice balance of the close mics then bring the rooms in just under, when setting up headphone sends for the other players or the drummer just use the close mics, the rooms can make timing and so on a bit out as they are a distance from the kit.

When you have a great sound and you haven’t touched the eq record the drummer playing by himself for a bit, then you know it all works when you hear playback, the drummer can come and listen and feel confident and then you can maybe tweak a tiny bit of eq to really fine tune.

 With the advent of workstations you know you can edit or automate out the tom tracks when they are not being played so if you can hear some rumble from them at this stage you know it doesn’t matter, you should be able to mute their returns  so you can hear how it cleans up quickly with them off and the drummer can then hear this too, same with the rooms, if they are clouding the audio ‘picture’ turn them down or off but still record them as it can all change in the mix and even from verse to chorus.

If you have a very dead room and the room mics really aren’t adding anything you should probably use some digital reverb to add a little of that character, usually just on the snare and toms is enough, having it sending from the kick, top end stuff or rooms can get very messy, start with it on the snare and toms and go from there. A little on the kick in a ballad can be ok.

A final tip, in the same way to be careful of EQ watch the ‘solo’ button, no one but you will ever hear parts solo’d, try and approach the drum sound as all the mics and drums combined together in a mix, if you spend hours listening to each individual mic on solo it will waste a lot of time and achieve very little. A good use of ‘solo’ is a quick check that each individual mic is picking up what its meant to, so while the drummer is playing time solo the kick – the kick hits should be the loudest thing in this channel, if not something is wrong, there will be spill certainly but it should be around half or less as the main source you are trying to capture , then its manageable – if its not change the mic position., use your eyes, ears and common sense to see and hear what’s going on..

Studio Happenings

March in the studio

With Andrew Beck now recovered from his angle grinder incident all is back to speed with both the Red Stairs and the Main Studio . March saw a range of projects come through including Crosson(tracking for a USA mixed Japanese release), the timeless Kamahl dropping by to add some spoken word to Michael Keatings project, Lily Duval recording two new songs for her next release, Dinah Lee mixing a new single, Brace for Whiplash mixing their next ep, Winterstation putting down their next batch of tunes ready for overdubs, Hip Hoppers Mr Speaker finishing their new album and country legend Norma O’Hara Murphy hitting the big smoke all the way from Warwick Queensland to work with Russell and a host of session players on her new album. A special mention goes to the most recent live in the studio show – The Dusty Ravens - pulled in their key following for an intimate gig in the live room , recorded and filmed for youtube and itunes.

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Drum recording techniques part 3

In part three of our drum mic'ing techniques series, we cover the selection of the mics you should be using to get the best quality recording possible 

 
Now we can get into the actual practicalities so a few technical terms are required…

Dynamic Mic – small to medium diaphragm mics, not requiring extra power, the classic SM 58 is probably the most common. These mics are robust and designed to work in a wide range of environments but don’t have the same response or silky quality of a condenser (see below). So, on a loud source such as drums, rock vocals and electric guitar amps they are ideal, but on quiet vocal or acoustic instruments, i.e. soft sources, they are not so good. They are excellent in live applications as most have a cardioid pattern that rejects sound ‘behind’ the mic reducing the chance of feedback.

Condenser Mic – Ranges from tiny (such as lapel mics) to very large diaphragm studio mics that you would often see people singing into in recording studio film clips. These mics were traditionally very expensive but recently have become as affordable as dynamics. They have excellent top end response so they sound very smooth for strings, cymbals, vocals, acoustic instruments and generally possess a more natural sound than dynamics. Again up until recently they were more fragile and couldn’t handle the same sound pressure levels (SPL) as dynamics but that has also changed with technology so they can now be found on kick , snare and toms as well.

NB: there are of course many other types of microphones, ribbon, pzm, crystal and so on but for the purposes of drums we can safely stick to dynamic and condenser. One notable exeption is the Beatles classic mic set up of Coles 4038 ribbons on overheads, and a U47 on kick.

Close mics – As the name suggests, these are the ones you see in pics of a drum kit mic’d up, usually dynamic mics, often including a Shure SM57 on the snare, slightly larger diaphram mics on toms such as MD421’s, bass drum specific mics such as D12, RE20, M88, Beta52 plus condensers for overheads/cymbals/hi-hats. A classic condenser such as a Neumann U47 can often be found just outside the kick drum.

Room Mics – Also called ambient mics, large condensers mics that are placed further away from the kit so as to capture the natural ambience of the room. Tube condensers are brilliant for this but great results can be achieved with specific large dia dynamics such as Shure SM7’s as well.
 

Less is More

The more mics you add, the more chance of phase problems, increased set-up time, track availability, breakdowns and the like. A very good drum sound can be achieved with only a few good microphones but it also depends on the style of music and what level of post-production, such as mixing/editing, is planned and the overall sound you are trying to achieve. Thinking about all of this before-hand saves time and gives the engineer an idea of how to proceed. For example, if you want an Eagles “Hotel California” drum sound, it’s very warm and dead and  therefore all about the dead end of the room with close mic’ing and some ambience from the live end. If you want a John Bonham sound, then it’s live end, room mics and overloading the mic pre-amps. The classic Ringo Beatles drum sound is somewhere in the middle and was often achieved with only 4 mics. Often these decisions are not made early on so it’s best to again steer a middle course so that those options are potentially available later.
 
Here are some examples of what I have used for various situations; 

Jazz

4 mics only…bass drum, room and overheads… the trick is balancing the overheads and having them full range so they capture the whole kit, not just the cymbals (as you would in a rock set up). Play with the distance away from the kit on the room mic to create some nice room ambience. The slightly live drum sound is a key element of top jazz recordings. This is similar to the Beatles 4 mic set up mentioned above except they would often have bass drum, snare drum and then the overheads quite high so they were really capturing the room as well. The extremely high ceiling in Abbey Road permitted this as it was originally designed for recording orchestras. Allowing plenty of time to be spent balancing and having an excellent drummer who worked with the dynamics of the songs also had a lot to do with it.

Folk

As above, but adding a close mic for the snare and for any unusual percussion.
 

Pop

If it is live drums, which is rare for pop nowadays, it is pretty much all about close mic sounds that can be manipulated later. So Dynamics on kick, snare and toms, condensers for the ‘top end’, hi hat, ride, overheads and rooms (fairly close in). As much as possible, use separate tracks for all mics. If you use a snare top and bottom mic (remember to have the bottom out of phase with the top so they don’t cancel each other) the ‘mix’ of the two can be put on one track.

If there is more than 2 toms then its often good practice to have a stereo pair of tracks that you bus into rather than having 4 or more separate tom tracks. It saves a lot of time mixing!

Country

Pretty much as above but maybe some more ambience especially if it’s a nice sounding recording space.
 

Rock

Well, how long is a piece of string… generally I use all close mics but with the option of more ambient mics so there’s more options to play with the ‘room’ sound. A mono room mic 15 feet or so in front of the kit is a good extra one to throw in. Another idea I’ve used is to throw a couple of PZM (pressure zone gradient) mics on the floor under the kit or gaffer them to a nearby wall. 

Obviously there are many other musical styles but the above should show the various techniques that can then be applied to any other style.

Next time, we get into line checks and balancing….

Live News

March was an absolutely insane month for me as far as live touring. Shane Nicholson at Port Fairy and CMC, Hoodoo Gurus at the Grand Prix and Mona, Paul Kelly and The Sunnyboys. Consoles ranged from Digico D9’s to my Digi favourite the Avid Profile plus classic analog Midas and Soundcraft Series 5. I’d love to extend a huge thankyou to the many ‘unsung heroes’ of the road, the sound, stage and lighting techs that put in up to 20 hr day’s behind the scenes to make these awesome shows get on stage, on time. In particular Davros, Ross Malloy, Matty Wicks, Mark Hayes, Hugh Taranto, Ern Rose, Wes, Baz and Ernie.

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DG News - Summer 2013

Message From The Boss


After a great jaunt around the country mixing the wonderful  Sarah Blasko on the day on the green tour

its good to be back in the chair to finish off the year.

The warmer weather has got us into the summer specials vibe and we'd love to offer
some deals to finish projects for this year and also moving into 2014.
Just give us a shout at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . - Plus theres some ideas below

October /November has been overflowing with talented artists and bands coming through the doors
Sessions have included Sydney Uni faves Feicks Device, Urban Guerillas, Bluesman Daxton,
The Deep End(MLB), Antelope(Brisbane), Steve Balbi, The diva's and many more.
Many of our regular clients performed at The Sydney Blues Festival Windsor as part of the Soundslikecafe Stage
sponsored by the studio - Bob Pigott, The Broken Hands, Blake Saban 3, Ben Slip, Calling Mayday, Haflway Homebuoy
and Daniel Allars just to name a few - its been a busy time...

Marshall Cullen ~ Director


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Read more: DG News - Summer 2013

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