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Intéressons nous à la prise de son batterie

Exemple de prise de son et de choix de micros pour une prise batterie.

 

The drum set is generally considered the most difficult instrument to record well. One reason for this is that a drum kit is a hodge-podge of many instruments: typically four or more drums, a half-dozen or so cymbals, and any number of bells, blocks, and other percussion instruments. The resulting “instrument” produces a huge range of sounds. In terms of frequency alone, a drum kit can cover the entire audible spectrum, from the rib-rattling lows of a big kick drum to the shimmering, harmonic-rich highs of the cymbals. And don’t forget the snare and toms, which nicely fill out the mid-range.

The drum set is also capable of producing extremes in dynamic range: on the one end, the whisper of brushes; on the other, the potentially deafening pound of a bass drum. Add to that the challenge of integrating the sounds of so many disparate pieces. Although the drum set is considered a single instrument (based on how it is played), in terms of recording, it is considered both as one instrument and as many.

Is it any wonder, then, that the drum kit’s complex blend of sounds has given rise to so many different recording techniques? For those people trying to educate themselves about drum recording, the problem, ironically, is a glut of information: countless books, articles, and interviews, each with a different take, a different favorite microphone (typically one that is too expensive), and, of course, contradictory advice.

If that information overload has you in a pickle, you’ve come to the right place. The following “holistic” approach to recording drums simplifies the process, helping you get the best sound with the least amount of hassle (and gear). I assume you are a personal-studio operator working without an assistant rather than a professional recording engineer. You probably have only a handful of mics at your disposal, and you might be forced by space limitations to track in the same room where the recording gear is set up. No matter. This approach will help you get the most from the tools you have and capture a drum sound you can be proud of.

FREE YOURSELF

One way to make anything easier is to reduce the fear of failure. To get over any trepidation you might have about recording a drum kit, remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to recording drum-set sounds. The only “right” drum sound is the one that works best for a given song. Sometimes that results from a stellar kit surrounded by a dozen or more microphones and processed with a ton of gear. Other times it results simply from a brush smacking a phone book miked with an inexpensive dynamic mic. Either way, it’s the song that dictates the drum sou nds, and not the other way around — unless, of course, the song began with, or was inspired by, a drum beat.

Intéressons nous à la prise de son batterie DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-1

Fig. 1: You can capture a surprisingly good-sounding drum track using only a single, high-quality condenser mic positioned in front of a drum kit.

Just as there are no right or wrong drum sounds, there are no rules for recording drums — at least ones that can’t be, and haven’t been, successfully broken. Let that fact free your mind so that your creative juices flow. The world is always open to a new drum sound.

That said, there are some general recording rules you should follow. Being general, they hold true for recording any instrument. The two most important ones are to avoid phase problems and maximize the signal-to-noise ratio for each channel. (I’ll expand on these two points later in the article.)

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

Although drum recording can be as complex and exacting as the inner workings of a Rolex, some of the finest drum sounds ever recorded were captured using a minimum of gear. Consider, for example, any number of tracks from Sun Records, Motown, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. The point is that unless you are a seasoned drum recordist, it is often best to opt for taking the simplest path.

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-2

Fig. 2: Usually the quickest and easiest stereo-mic setup, an XY pair positioned over a drum kit will capture a stereo image complete with movement and a realistic sense of the space.

BREAK IT DOWN

A way to simplify drum recording is to break the process down into parts. That helps organize things, and keeps your eye on the big picture.

You can break down any kit recording into four key components, each of which is fundamental to the quality of the finished recording. These components are the drummer, the drums, the recording room, and the recording gear. Having a serious problem with any one of those four elements can doom your efforts, no matter how good the other parts are. In other words, you can’t shrug on any of them.

If, however, you’re recording a great drummer playing a well-tuned set of quality drums in a room with good sound, most of your worries are over. All you have to do is capture the resulting sound.

For most of us, though, the confluence of a great drummer, great drums, a great room, and great mics is an uncommon occurrence at best. Be prepared, therefore, to bolster the quality of each component.

THE DRUMMER

Generally speaking, the better the drummer, the better tuned the drums will be, and the more musical the cymbals will sound. Nevertheless, it’s astonishing how great a crappy old drum set can sound in the hands of a seasoned pro. Indeed, a gifted and inspired drummer can make all the difference in how your recording turns out — no matter what you record it with. Conversely, all the killer gear in the world can’t salvage a bad performance.

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-3

Fig. 3: The 3-to-1 rule, meant to minimize phase problems, is helpful any time you need to put two or more microphones in close proximity.

You should therefore do whatever it takes to get the best from a player. In addition to being personable and helpful, you should see to the drummer’s basic creature comforts such as providing fresh water to drink, pleasant lighting, and comfortable room temperature. A relaxed musician is closer to his or her muse than a distracted one.

THE DRUMS

If the drums don’t sound good from the start, then there’s work to be done — sometimes a lot. Can you hear squeaks and rattles as the drummer plays? Locate and squelch them. If the drumheads are full of dents and sound dead, have them replaced. If the cymbals sound unmusical or just wrong for the song, get better ones. (Yes, you should be listening for such things.) Have a drum key ready and offer to help if the drummer doesn’t know how to tune the drums well.

In some cases it might be best to postpone the recording session to allow enough time to get the drums sounding their best. The sound of the kit, after all, is a key component of the final recorded sound. As the recordist, it’s your responsibility to listen carefully and ensure that the sound coming from the kit is as good as it can reasonably be, and certainly not marred by readily “fixable” things.

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-4

Fig. 4: The sound that the snare mic picks up will be determined not only by the particular drum and mic, but also by where the mic is aimed, its angle, and how close it is to the drum. Start with the mic cap two inches above the head, angled 30 or 40 degrees, and aimed just shy of center.

Given the fundamental role of drums in contemporary music styles, it makes sense that engineers, especially self-starters, learn how drums work and how to tune them. The basics are not hard to grasp. (See the sidebar “Drum Tuning 101” for a quick lesson.) If you want to learn to record the drum set well, it helps immeasurably to become familiar with its many parts and how they function.

Once all the drums are well tuned and any squeaks and rattles are tamed, you might also need to dampen one or more of them. A well-tuned drum, especially if it’s of a good quality, will resonate freely, and will produce a much longer decay than a poorly tuned drum. Those free-ringing toms probably will not present a problem if you are miking only from a distance (with stereo overheads, for example). Close-miking, however, can present certain problems: for example, even when the toms aren’t being played, they resonate sympathetically with the other drums, which gets picked up by the close mics, resulting in a murky rumble that can spoil the kit sound. (In certain jazz settings, however, that rumble might be regarded as part of the sound — and the drummer would have your head for tampering with it.)

Most drummers dampen their kick and snare drums, at least a little, as a matter of course. But be prepared to dampen further, if necessary. Common items for dampening kick drums include blankets and pillows (down pillows usually sound best), strips of felt (running beneath one or both heads), and various patented dampening systems. “O-rings” — donut-shaped pieces of Mylar, cut the same diameter as the drum head — are good for dampening snare drums. O-rings can quickly be laid on top of the drum or removed, as needed. They also allow the drummer access to the full playing surface of the snare drum.

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-5

Fig. 5: The area on any drum head nearest the rim will ring freely and have a preponderance of high harmonics. The area between the rim and center will produce the most resonance, and the area at the center of the drum head will sound driest and produce the most attack.

To dampen toms, tape a folded cotton handkerchief, a small rectangle of foam rubber, or some similar material (tissue, cotton gauze) onto the top of the drum head, close to the rim and away from the drummer. In most cases, a small amount of material taped an inch or so from the rim is sufficient; to increase dampening, move the material toward the center of the drum, use more material or do both. Tip: use sturdy masking tape or some other type that’s easy to remove — duct tape will muck up heads and hardware. (See the sidebar “Engineer’s [Secret] Drum Toolkit” for some useful items to keep on hand.)

THE ROOM

Along with making the kit sound its best, you also have to consider the recording space and how it affects the drum sound. Sound can’t exist in a vacuum; it is always part and parcel with the surfaces reflecting it (an effect made eerily clear in anechoic chambers, in which you can hardly hear yourself speak). The drum set is usually played loudly, making room reflections more apparent. The room can’t help but be a component of the drum sound; it’s impossible for its “sonic imprint” not to appear on the tracks. Without fail, you will be working with — or against — that imprint at every stage of the mix.

In short, the kit has to sound good in the room. Fortunately, this part of the puzzle can be enhanced with practically no knowledge of acoustics. You just need ears and a willingness to experiment.

The goal is simple: find the place where the drums sound “best” in the room. Of course, if they happen to sound great just where they’re sitting, then you can advance directly to Go. The idea, after all, is to improve the sound. Just as the slightest movement of a microphone can result in a big change in what the mic hears, relatively small changes in the orientation of a drum kit inside a room can make significant differences in the overall sound.

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig.-6-

Fig. 6: All directional mics naturally form a null point, or an area at which no sound is picked up, behind the front of the diaphragm. This can be used to your advantage when you need to isolate one mic’s pickup from another’s—a most useful technique on close-miked drums.

Sure, moving the drums from one spot to the next can be a hassle. But if you care about getting the best sound, it’s worth it. Finding the “sweet spot” for the drum kit is something that can hardly be done without experimentation. True, the more you do experiment, the easier it gets, and in time you will develop a sixth sense about it. (Experienced drummers often instinctively set up in the best-sounding spot.) But ultimately, rooms are quirky and unpredictable, and you’ll find that experimentation will yield surprising results.

The main thing to listen for is a favorable balance between the kick, toms, and snare drum. Turn the snares off so you can better hear the drums ringing. Is anything noticeably out of whack in terms of volume, resonance, or decay? If so, try a different location. Does one of the drums cause the snares to buzz excessively? Repositioning the drum set — or just that one drum — might solve the problem. Is the kick drum lacking in oomph? Try setting up the kit so that the drummer sits in a corner looking out into the room (assuming a rectangular room, that is). Are the toms sounding thin? Try pulling the kit more toward the center of the space. Is the room just not working for you? Then find another. I have rented church halls (surprisingly affordable), warehouses, and art galleries to get the drum sound I was after.

The other side of the coin is acoustical treatment for the room. You can tame, for example, nasty flutter echoes with judicious placement of acoustical foam rubber. Don’t have the budget for that? Try hanging blankets, thick curtains, or rugs from the walls or the ceiling (or both), or positioning large pieces of furniture, full bookshelves, or what have you around the room so as to deaden it. If the room is too dead sounding — a small, thickly carpeted and curtained study, for example — try such things as arranging large wood panels along one or more of the walls, setting up the drums on a wooden riser, or both — anything to provide some helpful reflective surfaces.

THE GEAR

Many assume that gear is the most important component in capturing a good drum sound; more specifically, the mics and mic preamps. Good mics and preamps are a tremendous help, but as long as the source sound is less than desirable, that’s all your good mics and preamps will capture — something less than desirable.

We’re trying to make drum recording easier, so let’s start by paring the signal chain down to the basics. All you really need for each channel is a microphone, or mic preamp, and a track to record on. Leave your compressors, EQs, and other doo-dads for the mix. That saves time, and it forces you to find the best mic (and mic position) for the job, as well as to set the gain properly on the preamp.

Setting the gain right is no big mystery, but you do need to pay attention. While the drummer is playing at record volume, simply dial in the hottest levels you can get for each track — for the whole song — before peak distortion. That’s called maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio.

Note the differences between digital and analog level setting. Analog tape has a higher noise floor (hiss) than digital recorders, so it’s especially important to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio when recording to tape. After all, the hotter the signal, the less tape noise you hear.

In fact, drums are typically recorded “hot” (above 0 VU, that is) to tape to create a particular sound. The hot signals saturate the tape, which flattens out transients, resulting in a compressed sound that many engineers and musicians favor, especially on kick, toms, and snare. (Overheads and hats are usually recorded “colder,” to preserve the accuracy of transients.) You should familiarize yourself with the tape machine, because decks differ in how they handle distortion (based on tape size, tape speed, types of heads, and so on). But generally speaking, any decent multitrack tape recorder will let you run drum levels +3 or more into the red with no problem; indeed, that’s where the sound starts getting good.

With digital you never want to go “into the red.” In other words, make sure that the drummer’s hardest hits register close to 0 on the meters (so you use up as many bits as possible), but not above it. Unlike analog distortion, the sound of digital distortion is never pleasant. Fortunately, even if you do get a few digital peaks, you might be all right. Most digital recording devices allow a few decibels of headroom above the red before distortion kicks in. Moreover, distortion from a few peaking drum hits might not be audible anyway, due to the fast transient nature of loud hits. So if peaking is there but you can’t hear it — both before and after processing the track — then don’t worry about it.

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS

Next comes determining how many mics you will need to work with and where you should put them on the kit. First, sort the mics by type; use dynamic microphones (moving-coil mics, not ribbons) for close-miking duties and condenser mics on everything else.

There are several reasons that dynamic mics are generally preferable for close-miking. They can better handle the extreme SPLs generated by hard-hit drums, and they’re less likely to be damaged by stick hits. In addition, dynamics typically provide better rear rejection, and they often feature a presence boost around 5 kHz, which helps accentuate the attack of the stick striking the head. Because they are directional mics positioned close to the drums, they can enhance the low end as well (thanks to the proximity effect).

DrumRecMadeEasier-Fig7

Fig. 7: When miking both the snare drum and hi-hat, you can minimize leakage by using directional mics and angling them slightly away from one another.

Condenser mics are typically more sensitive and accurate than dynamics. Thanks to their extended frequency response (especially on the high end) and more accurate handling of transients, they capture the true sound of instruments better, whether at close range or from a distance. That makes them ideal for hi-hats, overheads, and room mics, as well as for miking percussion arrays.

Alas, condensers are also more costly and fragile than moving-coil mics. You should think twice about putting even modern condensers, some of which can handle surprisingly high SPLs, within reach of flailing drum sticks. With drummers whose playing you trust, however, you can use condenser mics on kick, snare, and toms and get great sounds. The only potential problem is leakage — no matter how tight the polar pattern, condensers usually capture more sound than you want coming from the rest of the kit (and the room).

As for microphone sizes, the only rule you need to follow is to reserve your largest-diaphragm mic (usually a dynamic) for the kick drum. Ideally that will be a mic designed for bass drum or other low-frequency duties. But if all you have is an assortment of handheld dynamics, you should audition them all to see which gives you the lowest, most authoritative kick sound. The same goes for determining which mics are best for the snare and toms; you just never know until you’ve tried each mic in each position.

It’s advisable to reserve a few hours for mic testing before the session begins, especially if you’re new to drum recording. Only by systematically testing various positions with each mic (and keeping careful notes, of course) can you determine what’s going to give you the best results.

ONE, TWO, THREE?

Do not despair if you have only one microphone, especially if it’s a condenser. You can get a great drum sound from a single, high-quality condenser mic placed strategically near the drum kit. In this case you are mixing drum levels on the spot, so listen carefully to the tonal balance as you position the mic. You are also mixing ambience — the further back the mic is from the drum kit, the more room sound it captures.

Start with the mic a few feet in front of the drums, five or six feet above the floor, and tilted down a bit so as to include some kick drum (see Fig. 1). That’s usually a good single-mic position because it lets you get the most kick in the mix. Other viable positions are behind and above the drummer. Try recording a minute or so of drumming from all three positions — in front, behind, and above the kit — and compare the results. Then make your decision based on what works best for the music. If the song features an important tom fill, for instance, you might prefer the overhead position because it highlights attack from the toms.

If you have two identical or very similar mics, you also have two good options: either put one mic on the kick drum and the other positioned as just described, or use the pair as stereo overheads. Allow the musical style to determine which approach is better. For example, you might take the former setup for a dance tune, and the latter for a jazz ballad.

THE STEREO EFFECT

Stereo recording is a huge topic unto itself, and one deserving of study by any recordist. But it’s especially worth the effort when you are limited to only a few mics, or any time a natural sound is desired. (For more information on stereo recording, see “Double Your Pleasure” in the June 2000 EM, available at www.emusician.com.)

Two simple but effective stereo-miking techniques are XY coincident and AB stereo. Both techniques require two identically modeled microphones, preferably a matched pair of condensers (although I’ve captured some great-sounding drum-overhead tracks using mismatched mics; generally speaking, though, use like mics).

Directional polar patterns — cardioid, hypercardioid, and supercardioid — work best for XY coincident techniques, whereas any polar pattern can work for an AB pair (though traditionally, each mic is set to the same pattern).

The XY coincident technique is usually easiest because the two mic capsules are positioned as closely together as possible (coincident). That eliminates time-of-arrival (phase) differences between the left and right signals, thus maintaining the frequency response even when the signals are summed to mono.

The “XY” refers to the orientation of the mics, which often are adjusted with a 90-degree angle between the two caps (see Fig. 2). But don’t hesitate to experiment with the angle — I often stretch it out to 110 degrees or greater to get a more dramatic stereo spread. Typically, the XY pair is positioned a few feet above the drummer’s head, pointed down at the kit. Raise the pair higher to capture more room sound, or lower to get a closer, more focused kit sound. Also, experiment with the mics positioned a bit behind or in front of the drum set.

The AB stereo setup, also called a spaced pair, is more challenging because of the risk of phase discrepancies between the left and right signals. But this bugaboo can foil any drum recording employing two or more mics — not just stereo tracks.

The trick in avoiding phase discrepancies is to heed the 3-to-1 rule, which states that the distance between any two mics should be at least three times the distance between the mics and the sound source (see Fig. 3). In rooms that are small, acoustically dead, or both, I prefer omnidirectional mics for spaced overheads; in larger, more reverberant spaces, I typically opt for directional mics.

COUNT THE WAYS

If you have three mics and two of them are identical, use the like pair as overheads and put the third mic on the kick drum. There are several workable positions for the kick mic: in front of the drum, slightly inside it, all the way inside it, and behind the drum. Try them all out, and get familiar with how each affects the sound differently (see the sidebar “Milking the Kick Mic”). Then you’re more prepared to handle whatever comes your way — an unusual-sounding drum, a funky-sounding space, or whatever.

If you have four mics including a like pair, use the pair as drum overheads and put the other two mics on the kick and snare drums, which typically are the two most important drum elements in the mix. (The snare-drum mic can be positioned to pick up some of the hi-hats as well — actually, it’s hard to do otherwise. Just pull the mic back a tad and give it a slight tilt toward the hats.)

By the way, I use this four-mic array on a regular basis, both for demos and albums. Not only is it fast and economical, but as long as the first three components (drummer, drums, room) are sounding good, this mic setup is often all you need. It gives you individual control of the main drum elements (kick and snare) and provides a true stereo image to fill in the rest of the kit. The resulting tracks, when well mixed, can sound huge — and in some cases indistinguishable from a fully miked kit.

HEADS UP

When positioning mics on drums, especially close mics, a good guideline is to angle the mics and avoid forming parallels between mic diaphragms and drum heads. This technique helps to prevent adverse phase interactions caused by reflections between the head and the diaphragm.

On the snare drum, start with the mic above the head, angled downward 30 to 40 degrees toward the head, with the diaphragm roughly even with the rim of the drum (see Fig. 4). The trick is to find the balance between what sounds best to the mic, what provides the best rejection of unwanted sounds, and what’s comfortable for the drummer. This can take some doing. You can’t just position mics in a haphazard or formulaic way and expect to automatically capture the best sounds.

Note first how any (unmuffled) drum’s response varies across the head (see Fig. 5). The sound is “ringy” and high pitched (rich in high harmonics) near the rim, and it is most resonant exactly between the rim and center. At dead center the sound is driest, and thus strongest on attack (this is because the resonance gets dampened by cancellations along the head).

The drummer has primary control of these tonal variations, by striking the head in different spots. But the mic, in addition to hearing what the drummer is doing tonally, hears the drum differently depending on which of the three areas it is focused on.

When close-miking with a dynamic, you can also affect how much “air” you put around the drum. Many engineers automatically position snare and tom mics as close as possible to the drum head, often with the mic angled steeply so that the cap points into the head close to the rim. That may give better isolation, but capturing the best sound from the drum is ultimately more important than reducing leakage.

Typically, putting the mic too close tends to choke the sound. The drum will sound fuller and more natural if you give it a bit of breathing room. Simply pull the mic back an inch or so, and reduce the angle of attack. That will open up the sound and increase attack simultaneously (assuming the mic is aimed more at the center of the head). And you might even find that the extra leakage works to integrate the sound of the kit.

To sum it up, you have three things to play with when listening for the sweet spot: the angle of the mic, how close it is to the drum, and where it’s pointing. Whenever possible, make final mic-position tweaks based on what you’re hearing, rather than on what you’re seeing. Just close your eyes and let the sound guide where you position the mic. (A tip for those recording in the same room in which the gear is set up: wear closed-ear headphones and have the drummer play softer than usual, at least to get started. That gives you a fighting chance of determining the best place to put the mic.)

Another way — more tedious, but also more telling — is to record identical passages of drumming with the mic in a slightly different position each time. Three or four variations is usually sufficient. Afterward, compare the tracks on the monitors.

HIGH FIVE

If you have a fifth mic at your disposal, common practice would dictate putting it on the hi-hats. And depending on the song you’re recording and the emphasis you’re going for, the hi-hats might well be the best place for it. But unless the song cries out for separately miked hats, consider using the fifth mic to record room sound, particularly if you’re loving the sound of the drums in the space.

A condenser mic with an omni or a figure-8 pattern is usually best for room miking, but try whatever you have. Sometimes a funky old dynamic can capture a hip ambience. No matter what mic you use, though, the mix engineer will probably be thankful; a good room track can add that extra something special to the drum mix.

Assuming that you already have one or more overhead mics on the kit, try positioning the room mic on the other side of the room, far from the drums. Walk slowly around the space while the drummer plays and listen — with ears only at first — for an appealing balance of drum elements (lows, mids, and highs) and ambience (room sound). After finding the general good area, put the mic there and fine-tune the position while listening through closed headphones (or the control-room monitors if you have a control room and an assistant). Move the mic around a lot and listen — it might even sound best aimed into a wall or a corner.

Experiment with putting the room mic up near the ceiling and down close to the floor. Not surprisingly, many pro engineers prefer a stereo pair of mics for capturing room sound. Again, it all depends on the sound you’re going for and the gear that’s available.

Of course, depending on the song, that precious fifth mic might be better used elsewhere — for example, on a tom that is played repeatedly as part of the groove. If you use it on the hi-hats, be sure to position the snare and hat mics (assuming they’re directional) so as to maximize isolation between them. You do that by taking advantage of each mic’s null point, which is the sound-rejecting area directly behind the capsule (see Fig. 6). The reason you want maximum isolation is so the two tracks can be processed differently in the mix without affecting each other too much. It’s frustrating to bring up the hi-hat track and have it ruin the snare sound.

When miking hi-hats, position the mic so it’s looking down toward the bell of the top cymbal, or just to the edge of the bell, at a slight angle. This emphasizes the clear highs coming from the bell area, and keeps the diaphragm clear of air blasts coming from between the cymbals. It also avoids the gonglike quality that cymbals typically produce when miked near the edge.

In addition, keep the hat mic a safe distance from the top cymbal. Placing the mic any closer than three inches to the cymbal will cause you to risk picking up a weird-sounding phase change as the cymbal moves toward and away from the mic. You also risk the cymbal crashing into the mic. Some drummers keep their hats quite loose and with a fair space between the cymbals, so pay attention to the throw of the hat cymbals as the drummer plays them hard. To keep it safe, position the mic capsule at least five inches above the hats, angled slightly away from the snare drum to reduce leakage (see Fig. 7).

Finally, when recording hi-hats, be sure to engage the mic preamp’s highpass filter (assuming it has one). Many hat cymbals are quite thick (especially the bottom one) and produce an unpleasant low-frequency roar that is better filtered out from the start.

NO LIMITS

If the number of mics, preamps, and tracks is not an issue, the logical next step is to mic each tom. But before doing so, it can be useful to get a good overhead sound first. That way your first impression is how the kit sounds as a whole — a good foundation to build upon. From there you can supplement the sound by adding the various close mics.

Remember to keep the null points in mind when positioning tom mics. As with the snare, start with the mic at about a 45-degree angle, pointing more or less toward the center of the head. Then move it around from there while listening for the sweet spot. You might need to go in at a steeper angle to increase isolation, depending on sight lines of the mics.

Here’s a tom-tom recording tip that will serve you well at mixdown. In the course of a typical four-minute song, the toms might be struck only once or twice each — not much to work with when you’re trying to dial-in compression, EQ, and other processing. Therefore, on a separate section of tape (just before or after the song), record the drummer playing a dozen or so whole notes on each tom, making sure the hits are at the same level as those played in the song. At mixdown, you can loop this section to work with while processing the toms. (If you’re recording to a DAW system, this won’t be necessary, because you can simply loop one of the sections featuring the toms and have it play repeatedly while you’re tweaking.)

HOLY HOLISM

So there you have it: the four components of recording a drum kit. Each is vital to the quality of the final product. Think of them as four stages to getting a great sound: by working to maximize each stage from the start, you ensure higher quality overall. Even when working with minimal gear, don’t underestimate the power in getting all four components just right. When a drum kit is slamming in the room, a single well-placed mic can capture a track that will knock your socks off in the mix.

In short, capturing a great drum sound is a sum of many parts, and not merely the result of using certain gear. What’s needed, and what all great recording engineers necessarily use, is a holistic approach — one that takes all variables into account while keeping the big picture in mind. I hope this article clarifies that approach and helps make your drum recordings easier as well as better.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Brian Knave is a former senior associate editor at EM. He now lives in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where he is converting a dog kennel into a recording studio. 

DRUM TUNING 101

A drum is essentially a cylinder with a vibrating head stretched tightly over each end. Hoops, typically made of metal but sometimes made of wood or plastic, hold the heads against the bearing edges of the drum shell. The hoops are held in place by a number of tunable lugs (typically 5 to 12, depending on the size and type of drum) positioned equidistantly around the drum shell on either end.

Your first objective when tuning a double-headed drum is to get each head in tune with itself. Start with either head. While the drum is suspended (whether on a mount or by hand), tap the head with a finger, stick, or mallet at each lug point and tune so that all points are the same pitch. Now do the same for the other head.

Next, get the drum’s two heads in tune with each other. Generally, the best interval to start with, at least for toms, is with both heads tuned to the same note, or in “unison.” The note does not have to be a particular pitch; it should, however, be in a comfortable range for the drum, neither too high (tight and choked sounding) nor too low (loose and flappy). When you find the just-right combination, the drum will sing its note freely.

From unison, there are two directions you can take the tuning: make one head tighter than the other, or make it looser. (Tip: tune from the bottom head so as not to affect the desired playing response of the top head.) Experiment with these tuning variations to learn how they affect the sound differently — there’s a big range of sounds at your disposal.

On a snare drum, the bottom head is typically thinner and, for many styles (such as jazz), tuned higher than the top (batter) head. Such a tuning maximizes a “crisp” response from the snares. Conversely, tuning the bottom head looser than the top makes for a lower, heavier sound — more rock and roll.

Note, too, how the tension of the snares affects the drum sound. As with the heads, if the snares are too tight, the sound gets choked. If the snares are too loose, they’re likely to buzz excessively.

Like toms, double-headed kick drums usually sound fine — if not best — with the heads tuned in unison. Often, though, drummers tune the batter head lower than the front one so as to get a lower note from the drum. Though a low kick-drum note is generally desirable, make sure the drummer hasn’t made the batter head too loose — the head should not be flappy to the point of showing wrinkles, or else the drum’s resonance can “dry up” beyond recognition (at which point you might as well be recording a cardboard box).

An overly-resonant double-headed drum can be dampened by leaning a pillow or blanket against the front head. A thick blanket thrown over the whole drum — a helpful technique for isolating the kick-drum mic — can also dry up the tone a bit. If the kick has only one head, or a sizable hole in the front head, you can adjust the balance of attack (dry thud) and decay (resonance) by altering the position of the dampening material inside the drum (blanket, pillow, or whatever). Push the material more up against the batter head to increase attack, and pull it more away to increase resonance or “tone.”

ENGINEER’S (SECRET) DRUM TOOLKIT

Here are some items that can prove indispensable to getting you through the obstacle course of a drum-recording session. The trick is to pull them out only when necessary; you don’t want to give the impression you’re infringing on the drummer’s territory. Fortunately, most pro players will have all contingencies covered; that’s one of the reasons they carry a trap case. But you can never be too prepared.

Essentials:

Drum key(s)
Cymbal felts and sleeves
Can of lightweight oil (to squelch squeaks)
Roll of fine, strong twine (for securing snares and other duties)
Assorted pieces of cloth, felt, and foam rubber (for drum dampening)
Sturdy masking tape (for attaching drum-dampening materials)
Duct tape (for just about anything else)
Scissors and single-edged razor blades
Adjustable wrenches, screwdrivers, and heavy pliers
Assorted blankets, pillows, and towels
Drum rug (preferably with a rubber bottom)

Handy Additions:

Snare-drum batter head (14-inch coated is standard)
Snare-drum bottom head (14-inch clear thin is standard)
A pair or two of drum sticks (5A and 5B are common sizes)

12 TIPS FOR BETTER DRUM RECORDING

  1. Keep it simple. Learn to get a great sound using a minimum of gear, and then build on your successes from there.
  2. See the big picture. The final recorded sound is determined not only by the gear and how you use it, but also by the drummer, the drums, and the recording space. Do what you can to bring out the best in each.
  3. Learn the basics of drum tuning, and acquaint yourself with the drum kit’s many parts and how they work. To be fully prepared, keep a drum toolkit on hand (see the sidebar “Engineer’s [Secret] Drum Toolkit”).
  4. Seek out great-sounding rooms to record in — if you don’t have a decent drum room, that can make a huge difference in the final sound. Think large rooms, high ceilings, wood floors (churches, art galleries, warehouses).
  5. Find the drums’ sweet spot in the room. A drum kit will project different tonal balances depending on where it’s positioned in a given space. If you’re after a great sound, it’s worth the effort to suss out the best-sounding location for the drums.
  6. Make the drummer comfortable. Much depends on his or her performance.
  7. Select microphones by type. Typically, dynamics are used for close-miking kick, snare, and toms (with the largest diaphragm reserved for the kick), and condensers are used for overheads, hi-hats, and assorted percussion. But don’t be afraid to buck convention — use what sounds good and works best for the song.
  8. Use proper stereo recording techniques. They can not only add a delicious spatial realism to your drum recordings, but a stereo pair can also cover the whole kit sound when you don’t have enough close mics to go around.
  9. Minimize phase distortion between mics. Use the 3-to-1 rule, but also do test recordings and listen in mono to ensure phase coherence, especially between drum overheads and other mics.
  10. Maximize signal-to-noise ratio for each track. With digital, the loudest hits should use up most of the bits; with analog tape, hit it till it hurts, then back off a touch.
  11. Angle the mics rather than positioning them so their diaphragms are parallel with drum heads. That can lead to problematic phase interactions caused by reflections between the parallel surfaces.
  12. Use your ear, not your eye, to do final mic-position tweaks.

MILKING THE KICK MIC

Where you position the kick mic can make a big difference in the sound that you capture. However, kick drums and kick-drum mics vary so much that it’s hard to generalize. You need to get familiar with a mic to accurately predict what it will do in a given situation. Moreover, a different model won’t always behave in a similar fashion — it might behave quite differently.

DrumRecMade-FigA

Fig. A: to minimize ill effects of air venting forcefully from the « sound hole, » angle the microphone on both the vertical and horizontal planes. The drum pictured here is very resonant, even with all the dampening. Thus, the mic is angled also to aim at the beater-strike area, which increases attack.

Here are a few generalizations. As with any drum, the attack is greatest at the center of the batter head. To increase attack, aim the mic diaphragm more toward where the beater strikes the head. You can also increase attack by moving the mic closer to the batter head, at least up to a point. To increase resonance, turn the mic away from where the beater strikes and more toward the resonant part of the head, or position the mic farther back from the drum, or both.

Kick drums come in three head setups: single headed, double headed (no holes), and double headed with a hole in the front head (perhaps the most common setup). Single-headed bass drums excel at producing a very dry, “thuddy” kick sound. The amount of thud can be fine-tuned by moving the packing material inside the drum. Miking single-headed kick drums is fairly straightforward: start with the mic somewhere between “slightly inside” and “all the way inside” the drum, and tweak from there.

Double-headed kick drums with a hole in the front head present more miking options — a good thing, because they’re typically harder to get a great sound from. A good starting point is with the mic diaphragm flush with, or slightly inside of, the hole, tilted so that it looks at the beater-strike area from an angle (see Fig. A). If the mic picks up too much resonance from this position — not uncommon — try taking the mic off the stand and laying it inside the drum (on top of a blanket or whatever) more or less in the middle, with the diaphragm facing the batter head at a slight angle.

If the sound is still boomy, try putting the mic on the other side of the kick drum, next to the pedal. Position the diaphragm so that it looks at the beater-strike area yet minimizes sound coming from the pedal (see Fig. B). This position will greatly reduce resonance and provide a strong, solid attack (although isolation will suffer, naturally). Of course, another alternative is to remove the front head from the drum. However, that might not sit so well with the drummer.

Double-headed kick drums with no hole in the front head leave few options for miking. All you can do is put the mic a few inches in front of the drum, facing the head, and move it around until you find the best position. As with the double-headed-with-hole kick, if the drum sounds too boomy (or lacking in attack) no matter where you position the microphone in front, try miking from the batter side.

Although it’s generally best, when miking any drum, to avoid aligning the mic diaphragm parallel with the drum head, on kick drums, you might want to experiment with breaking that rule. With the microphone aimed directly into the batter head at close range (one to three inches), the reflections bouncing between the parallel surfaces, not to mention the sheer force of air, can make for a radically slamming sound. But again, you never know until you try — different mics respond differently in that kind of situation.

 

 
 

0803RECORDIN

Bidouilles et sons de caisses claires classiques

 

What would rock ‘n’ roll be without the backbeat? Well, among other things, it would be much harder for the average listener — and dancer — to follow. Chuck Berry (and later, the Beatles) had it right when they sang, “It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it.”

Thankfully, the backbeat comes in an infinite variety of flavors. The only requirement is that it be rock solid and reliable as a heartbeat. In this article, I will detail the key ingredients that go into making backbeats — in particular drums, tunings, playing styles, miking, and processing. I will then show how you can produce them in your own personal studio. The point is not so much to copy what has already been done (though that’s always a great way to learn), but to expand your bag of tricks and become inspired to go the extra mile in your quest to create the perfect snare sound.

0803RECMUSSN
FIG. 1: You can add life to a dead-sounding snare track by « reamping » it. When the track plays through the speaker, it activates the snares, which are recorded with a small diaghragm condenser mic.

Here I have selected a diverse group of backbeats that span a wide range of snare sounds. I’ll start with high-pitched snare-drum sounds and progress to lower-pitched ones. Keep in mind that there are many ways to create a particular sound, especially once the variables of signal processing are introduced. Still, helpful ground rules do exist. For example, always try to get the best possible sound on tape (or hard drive) rather than relying on processing after the fact.

Remember that the snare drum must complement the song — for example, a dry, high-pitched snare will sound silly on a heavy-metal track, no matter how well it is recorded and mixed. As the producer-engineer, it might be up to you to suggest an alternate snare to a drummer who shows up with an inappropriate drum.

Finally, remember that tuning is the best way to deal with a poor-sounding drum. Several good tutorials are available on the Web that deal with this topic. Even marginal-quality drums can be made to sound acceptable with careful tuning.

SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY

0803RECMUSFYCI’ve always admired the distinctive high-pitched snare drum on the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” According to David Z, who produced the song in 1989, the snare sound was derived by combining a drum loop with a recorded snare drum that was later “reamped.” Z created the drum loop using a Linn 9000 drum machine. He then sampled a real snare drum from the studio and combined that hit with the snare hit in the loop. However, the sound still lacked the edge he wanted, so Z reamped the recorded snare hit by sending it out to a small speaker positioned on top of a snare drum (with snares engaged) in order to generate some extra buzz. The whole contraption was then miked and the signal sent to tape.

One key to the great snare sound in “She Drives Me Crazy” is its consistency. Obviously, that is easy to achieve with a snare-drum sample but is more difficult when working with a live drummer. In addition to encouraging the drummer to play as evenly as possible, you should lightly compress the snare drum while recording (the track can be compressed more heavily during mixdown, if required). Experiment with the compressor’s attack parameter to find the optimum setting. You want a hit with a well-defined initial transient and a sustained buzz from the snares.

As for drum choice, common sense dictates that a deep-shelled snare drum is not going to give you a high-pitched crack. Drums are funny, though, and can surprise you with the sounds they are capable of making at extreme tensions. Still, a piccolo snare drum (a drum with a shell depth between, say, two and four inches) will most readily provide the high-pitched sound that you’re after.

Once you have the track on tape, it’s time to enlist the services of a gate. Set the gate to a very fast attack, a medium-long sustain, a fast release, and the maximum ratio allowed (in order to have the drum emerge from, and return to, silence). Again, the object is to get the snare drum to sound as consistent as possible.

If you feel that there is still something missing, try reamping the snare track. To do that, route the snare signal to an amplifier (almost any amp will work), and from there to a small speaker. (Note that dedicated units such as the Reamp, Radial JD-7 Injector, and Little Labs PCP Instrument Distro can simplify the process of matching impedance and levels going to the amplifier.) Position the speaker cone-down on top of a snare drum (with the snares engaged). Next, mic the snares from beneath the drum, preferably with a condenser microphone (see Fig. 1). After combining that sound with the sample or the recorded snare hit, use EQ to fine-tune the overall sound. A slight boost in the 2 to 4 kHz range will help accentuate the note that makes the snare on “She Drives Me Crazy” so distinctive.

Reamping is always a great way to liven up a stale-sounding drum. For a more open sound, try room-miking the reamped snare by positioning the microphone — or even a stereo pair of mics — farther back from the drum. Another variation would be to lo-fi the sound by sending the snare signal to a guitar amp or other “colored” amplification source.

A cool thing you can do with a reamped track or any room-miked track is to gate it, and then key the gate. For most backbeat-type music, the snare drum will generally be the input to the key of the gate. Experiment with the different time factors (attack, hold, and decay) to find the right amount of gate-open time.

SEXUAL HEALING

0803RECMUSGAA popular snare sound in contemporary music comes from the Roland TR-808. This electronically generated (as opposed to sampled) sound is a fixture in much house, hip-hop, and dance music. A classic example of that sound can be heard on the Marvin Gaye song “Sexual Healing,” from the album Midnight Love (RCA, 1982). The snare sound is pretty dry, with a bit of plate reverb applied to the drum mix. While getting one’s hands on an electronic snare drum with a TR-808 sound isn’t difficult (there is hardly a drum module or keyboard that doesn’t have a TR-808 snare sound onboard), you can also create the sound yourself using a real drum.

Start with a piccolo snare 3 to 4 inches deep and 12 to 14 inches in diameter. Tune the top head to a defined note that works with the key that the song is played in. The bottom head should be tuned evenly but should be fairly slack, and the snares should be somewhat loose. Mic the drum with a standard dynamic mic such as a Shure SM57. But rather than aiming the mic at the area on the head where the stick hits, aim it toward the rim of the drum with the capsule looking down at the head from above. Instruct the drummer to strike the drum consistently in the same spot and to strive for even dynamics. Also, the player must avoid hitting the rim or playing rim shots — this is not the place for a “rimmy” attack.

The objective is to capture a soft sound with a minimum of attack. If you have access to a noise gate featuring adjustable attack and decay parameters, set the gate so it’s a bit slow to open, which will help you miss some of the initial attack. Put the decay on a medium-length setting.

The key element of the 808 snare sound is a “fizzy” character combined with a distinctive “snap” and a fairly short decay. A bit of moderate compression can help to even out the sound and tame any unwanted peaks. Make sure to roll off low frequencies below 400 Hz, especially if you are trying to emulate the sound of an 808 snare that is tuned to a higher pitch.

YACHT DANCE

0803RECMUSXTAnother high-pitched snare sound that I really like is on XTC’s “Yacht Dance,” from their album English Settlement (Virgin, 1982). The snares are disengaged on this track, making the drum sound more like a timbale or a high-tuned tom than a snare. A liberal dose of reverb has been added to give the drum some acoustic space and sustain in the mix. Compression helps the initial stick sound maintain clarity yet still merge smoothly into the sustained portion of the sound.

The key to achieving this sound lies in tuning the drum so that it will produce a sustained, pitched note. Experiment with tuning to find the drum’s maximum resonance. Because the snares are “off,” the drum will already have more sustain than it would with the snares engaged. A shallow drum is not necessary for this sound — most snare drums, except for unusually deep-shelled ones, can be tuned to a sufficiently high note without choking. An excellent mic would be the Sennheiser MD 421, which will help to smooth out the sound.

Position the mic so that it aims toward the spot at which the stick hits the head. Make sure to capture both the low-pitched component of the snare sound (a doink sound) and the drum’s decaying resonance. It’s particularly important that the pitch of the drum work with the song key. Ideally, the drummer should play consistent rim-shots in order to give a nice snap to the sound.

At mixdown, compress the snare using a fast attack, medium ratio, and medium threshold so as to ensure a strong attack and long sustain. The ideal reverb for this drum is an EMT plate. If you don’t have access to a real plate, use a digital simulation — most contemporary multi-effects processors provide a number of convincing plate-reverb algorithms. In my experience, though, Roland and Lexicon units work better for this type of sound than TC Electronic and Yamaha processors. Make sure to roll off a good bit of the high end to get the sound of a real plate — as a rule, digital simulations are overly bright as compared with the real thing.

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE

0803RECMUSPOOne of my favorite snare-drum sounds from the ’80s can be heard on the Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta album (A&M Records, 1980). On the opening track, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” Stewart Copeland plays sidesticks through much of the tune, switching abruptly to rim-shot backbeats during the choruses.

Copeland’s recognizable snare-drum sound derives less from signal processing than from drum type and tuning and playing style — his powerful and consistent rim-shots account for much of his signature sound. As for processing, the snare sound is fairly dry, mixed with a touch of plate reverb only.

Copeland was using a 14-by-5-inch brass-shelled snare drum at the time, and that’s a good place to start if you’re going for that sound. Copeland said he likes all of his drum heads tuned taut, both for the sound that it creates and for better playability. So start by tensioning the batter head until the drum begins to sound choked, then back off a bit. A Shure SM57 or similar dynamic mic, positioned so it is “looking” at a combination of top head and rim, will work fine. Compression, if used during tracking, should be set to a fairly slow attack so as to let through the initial transient of the stick hitting the rim. Try a low to medium ratio, which will help even out the overall sound. You might also need to compress further during mixdown.

GIVE IT AWAY

0803RECMUSREAnother great snare sound can be heard on “Give It Away” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Warner Brothers, 1991). Produced by Rick Rubin and engineered by Brendan O’Brien, this song has drummer Chad Smith positively smacking the backbeat home. The snare sound is interesting, comprising a mid to high tone, a sharply gated sustain, and a load of artificial ambience.

Smith’s signature Pearl drum was a fairly standard, steel-shelled, 14-by-5-inch model. Any good-quality steel snare drum should suffice — in this case, the sound of the drum is less important than the attendant processing.

The key element here is the attack. A standard dynamic mic such as a Shure SM57 or Sennheiser MD 421 will work fine, but a small-diaphragm condenser such as an Audio-Technica AT 4051 or Neumann KM 184 will do an even better job of capturing the attack. During mixdown, gate the track using a very fast attack (to ensure the transient passes through unscathed), a medium-long sustain (assuming your gate has a sustain parameter), and a fairly short decay. The rest of the sound is generated using reverb.

For the reverb, I recommend a small chamber or room sound. Grainier is better in this instance, so antiques such as Quantec Room Simulators, 12-bit Roland units, and ART O1As are fine. The important thing is to use a reverb that has a fast attack and short decay. Use the reverb’s decay parameter to determine how long the snare-drum sound is. The reverb should be panned hard left and right for maximum stereo effect.

If the snare sound still lacks excitement, add a compressed combination of the snare and reverb. Route both the snare and reverb to an aux send and from there to a compressor channel. Return the compressor’s output to a channel input (or aux return) that is routed to the stereo mix, and pan it dead center. Now bring up the level just to the point at which you can begin to hear the compressed signal and then back off a bit.

D’YER MAK’ER

0803RECMUSLEA near-legendary low-pitched snare sound can be heard on “D’yer Mak’er” from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy (Atlantic, 1973). One reason drummer John Bonham’s snare drum sounds so big on this track is that the recording made good use of the room’s natural ambience. Tracked by the Rolling Stone’s mobile truck at Mick Jagger’s country estate, Stargroves, and mixed at Electric Ladyland studios by Eddie Kramer, this track has a distinct room sound that has rarely been matched — you can really hear the identity of the room stamped upon the tracks.

Though Bonzo was well known for using oversized drums and tuning them tautly, the snare on “D’yer Mak’er” sounds neither oversized nor excessively tensioned. But it does sound as though it was hit hard. As was common for the period, the drums were minimally miked — a kick mic placed within a foot or two of the drum, a tom/snare mic positioned looking down at the snare, and stereo room mics in the far corners of the room. Note that the modern “fix it in the mix” attitude did not yet hold sway — engineers were accustomed to getting the sound that would be on the record during the tracking. Committing to the final sound early in the recording process not only required that the drums sound great from the git-go, but also made it easier to choose the tones and textures of other instruments when it came time for overdubs.

Most of the drum sound you hear on “D’yer Mak’er” comes from the room microphones; the mics closer to the drums were used more to augment the room sound. Of course, most personal-studio recordists don’t have the luxury of huge, high-ceilinged rooms to record in. Fortunately, there are techniques that can help you arrive at a bigger, better room sound, even in a small, boxy space.

First comes placement — both of the microphones and the drums. All rooms suffer to some extent from what are known as room modes, which are cancellations or augmentations in the frequency response that correlate to the room’s dimensions. Room modes can work for or against you. The simplest way to get room modes working to your advantage is to use your ear — yes, in the singular. That is, when you’re trying to gauge the sound of an instrument in a room, it’s helpful to listen with one ear only. That’s because, when you listen with both ears, the brain automatically triangulates the location of the sound source using localization cues such as time-of-arrival differences. Using one ear prevents that automatic calculation, allowing you to hear more what a single microphone picks up, thus giving you a better idea of what will print to tape (or hard drive).

The important thing is that the room mics capture a good balance of the elements of the drum kit. Due to room modes, the balance of elements can shift dramatically as you move around the room. So if, while listening with one ear, you’re unable to find a spot in the room from which a good balance can be heard, move the drums to a different location and try again.

An easy way to enlarge the apparent size of a room is to slightly delay the room tracks — 5 to 25 milliseconds should suffice. That will approximate the time the sound waves would take to reach the room mics were they positioned in a large room. Make sure to delay both the left and right channels equally.

To best approximate Bonzo’s snare sound on “D’yer Mak’er,” find the biggest room you can and place the drums at one end and the room mics at the other. Add spot microphones for kick and snare. For processing, use an optical, tube, or optical-tube compressor on the room-mic tracks. The Urei LA series is highly regarded for this task, but other models will also work. Use a slow attack on the compressor so as to let the transients through, and turn the threshold down low so you can really load up on the room sound.

 

 

 

 

 


Richard Alan Salz is a producer, engineer, and composer living in southern Vermont

 

 

Recording Drums

Workshop

Published in SOS February 2003

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Photos: Richard Ecclestone
drummikingheader

The drum kit can be one of the most time-consuming and frustrating of instruments to record, so it’s worth taking a structured approach.



Hugh Robjohns

The phenomenal advances in integrated drum machines and sample-based drum sources controlled by sequencers mean that few of us bother recording real drum kits any more. However, there are still a large number of drummers out there (they haven’t all been caught yet!) and some people still like the sound of real drums. So this article has been written to try to provide some useful pointers and guidance on how to record drums effectively with the resources available.

Setting Up The Drums

The typical drum kit consists of a kick drum, snare, a couple of tom-toms mounted on stalks from the kick drum, a floor tom, a hi-hat, and a couple of cymbals — maybe a crash and a ride. Obviously, many drummers have a lot more to hit than this simple list, while some make do with less. The overriding element, though, is that it is all percussion. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it — so why say it? Well, the thing about percussion is that it is very transient-rich and it’s usually damn loud! Naturally, that affects the kinds of microphones we choose and use, the kind of processing that we apply, and the problems we can expect to encounter along the way.

 

  Tuning The Kit  
  All drum kits are not the same — there are different types of batter head, shell, and drum stick — the combination of which defines the overall sound. For example, snare drum heads with a black sound dot tend to have a fairly damped response, whereas plain ones ring on for longer. Heavy, thick heads tend to be louder and duller, and decay quicker than light, thin heads, which sound noticeably sharper in their attack and ring on longer. Likewise, cymbals will sound very different, depending on their size, manufacturer, shape and intended purpose.As may now be obvious from the preceding paragraph, I’m no expert in drum kits, just as I know little about the different makes of Tuba or Bassoon — the choice and detail is down to the musician playing the instrument. Howev 

drummiking17

er, I do know that if the kit is not tuned correctly, just as if the bassoon is not tuned, the results of a recording will be very disappointing. Tuning a drum kit is a reasonably complex job, not unlike tuning a piano — there are lots of tensioning adjusters to twiddle and they have to be correct in relation to one another to provide the ideal tuning.

With tom-toms and snares it is important that the head is tensioned equally around its rim. This is best done by backing all the tensioner keys off completely, then winding them up by hand until they just start to get tight. From this starting point, adjust keys in pairs on opposite sides of the head, much like you would the nuts on a car wheel. Start with a full turn (maybe two) to take up the tension, then apply a heavy pressure to the centre of the head to stretch it a little and help it to equalise its position. Next, continue winding up the tension a half turn at a time, working on opposite pairs of nuts all around the head, until the desired pitch is achieved. You can check for an

drummiking18

even tension by hitting the head close to the rim between each pair of adjusters — the pitch should be constant all around the head.

The drum shell forms a resonant cavity and so the tuning of the head is dependent on the tuning of the shell — get the two properly matched and the shell reinforces the sound of the head, giving a loud, full tone. On snares (and toms if applicable), the bottom head is tuned in the same way, but its tuning relative to the top head is the critical thing. When the bottom head is removed from a tom it tends to make the drum louder, and affords a wider tuning range because the resonant frequency of the shell is broader. However, if the bottom head is fitted its tuning is critical. Tuning higher than the top head (up to about a fourth) gives a slightly duller attack, but an interesting pitch bending effect. If tuned lower, the attack is sharper but the sound is more damped.

Depending on the tuning and the condition of the heads, you may find some drums ring too much — most often the snare. Sometimes t

drummiking19When tuning a drum, make sure to tighten nuts in opposite pairs, as you would with a car wheel. It’s also worth applying heavy pressure to the centre of the drum head with your hand now and then in order to help even out the tension across the head.

his can be cured by simply retensioning the skin, without changing the actual tuning. Some tom-toms have an internal damper which can be used — although in my experience they tend to rattle more than anything else and, since they tension the head at only one point, often don’t do a particularly good job. A common solution is to make up a thin pad of tissue (or a handkerchief or duster), and tape this to the side of the head leaving the side facing the centre open to vibrate freely and thereby help to damp the ring. Alternatively, putting thin strips of plastic insulating tape in wide parallel lines (or even a noughts and crosses pattern) across the skin can help a lot too. Take this damping too far, though, and you will suck all the life out of the kit — your drummer may as well play a pile of cardboard boxes — so listen critically to any modifications you make.

With a snare drum, a tight batter head gives a crisp, sharp sound, whereas a lower tuning provides a deeper, ‘fatter’ sound. Equally, setting the bottom head to be fairly loose gives a deep resonant tone, while a higher tuning gives a much crisper snare effect. The snare is probably the most frequent cause of unwanted rattles. Check the mechanics of the snare action and damp with masking tape if necessary. Some tissue paper folded between the snare wires and head can help control unwanted vibrations — try moving the tissue pad from the edge towards the centre to find the optimum location.

As regards the kick drum, a tight, well-tuned beater head gives an identifiable tone and a full body, whereas a looser head gives a more clicky sound with obvious attack — you are looking for the compromise that best suits the musical style. Clearly, a harder beater will also provide more attack and click than a soft beater.

In my experience there isn’t much that can be done with cymbals (other than putting them back in the box), although radial strips of masking tape can help to dampen the ring, if found necessary. Once everything is tuned up properly, listen for squeaks and rattles. Loose hardware can be damped with masking tape, and a squirt of WD40 can cure most squeaks.

 

drummiking12

Before the drummer starts to assemble the kit, ask if there are any elements that won’t be used in the songs that you will be recording. Not rigging superfluous bits saves time and may reduce the likelihood of rattles, although empty fittings may also rattle more — you’ll have to make an assessment with the drummer at the time. I once spent twenty minutes before recording a live gig trying to optimise a close tom-tom mic and the associated gate in the desk channel. A week later, when I was remixing the multitrack, I discovered that that particular drum wasn’t used in the entire recording!

Before even unfolding the first mic stand, it is absolutely essential that the drum kit sounds good in the studio. A soggy, rattly kit will always sound soggy and rattly, no matter what magic you do with your microphones and sound desk. A tight, good-sounding kit will be a lot easier to record and will sound a lot nicer as a result, so it’s well worth spending an hour retuning and sorting out the kit, compared with a day messing about with gates!

drummiking08Miking close to the plane of the cymbals (top picture) will reduce their relative recorded level. Miking from above the cymbals (bottom picture), on the other hand, will give a more cymbal-heavy sound.

Professional studios usually have a dedicated booth in which the drums (and drummer) are placed. This serves several purposes. First, it helps stop the drummer from breaking anything expensive out on the studio floor — no, only joking! The walls of the booth may well be made of brick or stone, to give a hard, bright, reflective sound that often suits rock drumming, or it may be well damped and absorptive so that it adds no character at all. The booth also provides a very high degree of isolation so that the drum sound does not spill onto the mics over a string section on the studio floor, for example. Very few home studios have the luxury of such facilities, but it may be possible to improvise something similar if you have a large multi-room venue at your disposal.

If the drum kit has to be in the same room as the rest of the band, then acoustic screens are a good idea to try to stop too much drum sound finding its way into the other instrument and vocal mics. You can make very effective temporary screens out of piles of cardboard boxes or mattresses with simple wooden frames to hold them upright. You can either use a double mattress on its side, or several singles on end — or a combination of the two — the idea is to screen off as much of the kit from the rest of the band as possible. This won’t provide total isolation of course, but it should make a considerable improvement and is generally worth the effort.

It’s not just about stopping the drums from leaking into other instrument and vocal mics, though. If the backline is loud you may well find its spill getting into the drum overheads. Hanging a duvet from a ceiling beam in front of the kit to provide some screening for the overhead mics can be helpful in this regard. Give some thought to sight lines too — the drummer may find it easier to play if he (or she) can see the rest of the band.

drummiking05For more stripped-down jazz and dance-band kits, a single mic in front of the kick, on a level with the hi-hat and pointing at the snare, can do a fine job.

Enter The Microphones

Okay, so we have a well-tuned, good-sounding drum kit in an appropriate acoustic — be that well-damped with mattresses and cardboard boxes, or in a live room. The next thing to do is decide on how to mic it up. Almost every engineer will have their own preferred technique, and this is one area where there really are very few rules. This is partly because, of all the band instruments, recorded drums are probably the one source where an inaccurate, unnatural sound is often a desirable thing.

Probably the most purist approach is required in acoustic jazz, so let’s start with this situation. Much like orchestral percussion, the most natural sound can be obtained with a high-quality condenser mic positioned overhead and either in front of or behind the kit. Most engineers prefer large-diaphragm condensers in this role, although small-diaphragm mics can be just as effective in most applications. You will see almost everything used in this role, including the Neumann U87, TLM170, TLM103, KM84 and KM184; the AKG C414B, C3000B, C4000B, C1000S and C451; the Sennheiser E664; and the Audio Technica AT4033 and AT4040. Pretty much any cardioid condenser will do. On pure jazz recordings, Coles 4033 ribbon mics also work very well indeed.

Back in the days when I was working in mono television broadcasting (actually it was only ten years ago!), I found a single, wide-cardioid mic placed above and behind the drummer’s head worked very well. Placing a stereo mic (the Soundfield works extremely well in this role) in the same place usually provides a very natural and well-balanced sound too. The exact mic position will need to be played around with a little, naturally, to find the best balance of drums and cymbals in the acoustic, but it is quite a good starting point.

It is worth bearing in mind that, while the cymbals tend to radiate sound in a bipolar or figure-or-eight pattern above and below the metal plate, the hi-hats tend to radiate sound horizontally. This information provides two clues to help position your mics. Firstly, you can reduce the level of cymbals relative to drums by bringing the mic closer to the plane of the cymbals, where they will radiate little energy. If you want more cymbal, move higher and more directly above them.

drummiking06When using spaced drum mics for stereo, don’t worry too much about them being set up symmetrically , as long as the balance of the instruments is right.

Since the cymbals radiate up and down, you can also place mics below the cymbals, closer to the drums themselves. In fact, this used to be a very common way of miking up kits in dance bands — often with just a single condenser cardioid mic in front of the bass drum on the plane of the hi-hat (to ensure it was heard clearly), and angled towards the snare. I wouldn’t advocate this technique these days, but it is an educational thing to experiment with. However, in general, a better overall kit sound is obtained by going overhead, and you can often find an acceptable balance of most of the kit anywhere between two and three metres above the floor, and either behind or in front of the kit. The more distant positions obviously require a good acoustic environment and low levels of spill from other instruments.

Clearly, there is the potential for your mic stands to overbalance, especially if you’ve got the mic on the end of a long boom arm extended high over a drum kit. For this reason it is important that you use stands with heavy bases, or that you weight the bases with sandbags or some other suitable, stable, counterweight. If using a stand with tripod feet, make sure that one leg extends directly under the boom arm to ensure maximum stability.

If the coincident stereo miking approach is not to your liking, or you have to work with closer overhead mics because of the ambient conditions, then the most popular configuration is a pair of cardioid condensers set up as overheads and spaced apart to cover each half of the kit separately. Again, some experimentation will be required to obtain the best balance, and don’t worry about keeping the mics symmetrical — either in their height or position. In this role they are effectively covering independent elements of the one large instrument. Place them where you find the best individual sound balance for the appropriate section of the kit — much as you would place two mics in a grand piano to capture the high and low ends independently.

Miking The Kick Drum

In general, and certainly in acoustic jazz, the sound from the overhead mics will be the defining sound of the kit, and the basis on which you might want to add further ‘spot’ or ‘accent’ mics to obtain the desired composite sound. In almost every case, you will want to add a mic to bolster the kick drum.

drummiking14The most common positioning for the snare mic is pointing over the rear lip of the drum towards the centre of the skin. Try not to have the mic too far over the drum, otherwise the drummer might inadvertently hit it!

The size and repetitiveness of the pressure wave emanating from a kick drum makes this a relatively tough job for any microphone to withstand. For that reason I never use my best condensers, and rarely use a condenser at all — a moving-coil mic is actually better suited to the job, being inherently more robust. A good high-frequency response is clearly not required in this role, and a thicker diaphragm is less likely to become stretched and floppy over time. An extended low-frequency response is usually an advantage.

Given the physical abuse of the mic’s diaphragm when recording a kick drum, I allocate one mic specifically to the purpose, and mark it clearly. This is for two reasons: firstly, after an extended period recording kick drums it is likely that the diaphragm will have stretched and deteriorated, and therefore not sound as good as a microphone used for less arduous duties. Secondly, I really don’t want all my moving-coil mics to suffer the same fate unnecessarily, so marking one mic purely for kick drum duties preserves the life of the others.

Ideally, I would use a purpose-designed kick-drum mic, and most manufacturers have dedicated models, pretty much all of which are moving-coil designs. AKG have their D112 (and the classic D12 before that), Beyerdynamic have the Opus 65, and Sennheiser have the E602, for example. These are all fine performers, although the AKG model is substantially more expensive than the other two.

When placing the mic, it is a good idea to stay away from the centre of the drum head, because there will be a wider and better balance of harmonics closer to the edge. If the front head has been removed, or has a large enough hole cut in it, then place the mic on a stand and position it close to the beater head, about halfway between the centre and edge. Small changes in position can make a big difference to the sound, so before reaching for the EQ knobs make sure you have put the mic in the best place to start with.

Again, if the front skin is missing, make sure the unused fixings don’t rattle. A blanket, heavy pillows or other dense fabric placed in the bottom of the shell and pressing against the beater head will help dampen any ringing and provide a much tighter, more rock-oriented sound.

drummiking11If you place the snare mic too close to the hi-hat and on a plane with it, the blast of air from the hi-hats opening and closing will become audible.

Depending on the relative position of the overhead mics and the kick drum mic, the initial wavefront from the kick drum may reach them in different relative phases. If the polarities are reversed then a lot of low energy will cancel out, leaving a thin sound. It is therefore important that you experiment with the phase switch on the kick drum channel to find the position which provides the fullest bass end with the overhead mics faded up.

With most kick drums, I have found it generally useful to thin out the mid-range a little with the desk EQ, around about 450Hz, which reduces the tendency towards sounding like a cardboard box. A little presence boost around 3kHz helps the beater click to cut through, and you can filter off everything above about 5kHz to remove cymbal spill.

However, I recommend recording flat and introducing the EQ only during the mixdown stage, as the precise frequencies and amounts will depend on the other instrumentation and the overall mix. The key is to make the kick drum and bass guitar (or acoustic bass) complement one another without creating a stodgy, muddy bottom end. That often means thinning out the bottom of the kick drum to leave room for the bass.

At this stage, you should have a well-balanced, natural sounding drum kit with a nicely weighted kick drum and a good overall sound through the overheads, panned for stereo if required. If the drummer is a good one, the snare, hi-hat, toms and cymbals should all sound in the appropriate proportions. A surprisingly common problem, though, is for the drummer to be a little light on the snare drum and heavy on the hi-hat. If this is the case then you will have to consider adding another spot mic for the snare drum.

drummiking04In those rare cases where you need more definition on the hi-hat, a good strategy is to mic from above on the opposite side to the snare.

Snare Drum & Hi-hats

There are as many ideas for miking snares as there are for the rest of the kit put together! A small pencil-type mic is the most practical to squeeze in above the snare, and this could either be a condenser like an AKG C451, or a dynamic mic like a Shure SM57. A dynamic mic is often the more attractive option, since it is more robust (the drummer might accidentally hit it) and it has a restricted transient response compared to the condenser mic. What this means is that the microphone’s relatively heavy diaphragm can’t respond quickly enough to follow the entire dynamic transient of the snare drum, and so acts as a kind of limiter. Whereas this would be a bad thing in the context of recording the percussion section of the LSO, it can be a very good thing in this situation, as it helps to produce a better-controlled, fatter, bigger snare sound. Again, because I believe mics are delicate little things to be handled with care and love at all times, I have dedicated a single dynamic mic for snare duty — and it has already acquired a dent courtesy of a careless ‘Rambo’ drummer!

The mic should be placed near the edge of the head for two reasons: firstly to minimise the chances of it getting hit, and secondly because a fuller range of overtones is present near the edge. Also, being a cardioid mic, the proximity effect will help to lift the low end, giving an even fuller sound. Aiming it toward the area where the drum sticks hit the batter head will help to provide the maximum attack.

However, be wary of placing it too close to, or looking directly at, the hi-hat, since the ‘chuff’ of air produced when the hi-hats close is usually sufficient to cause blasting on the snare mic. A hypercardioid mic is sometimes a better choice than a cardioid, as it can usually be positioned to make more effective use of its nulls to reject the hi-hat. As with the kick drum mic, it is important to check the relative phase of the snare drum mic against the overheads and the kick drum. Normally oneposition of the polarity switch on the desk channel will sound obviously better — fuller and more cohesive — than the other.

drummiking07An extra mic below the snare can help provide more tonal options, but it’s usually necessary to switch it out of phase with the other snare mic.

If the overall snare drum sound is okay, but you want a little more ‘zizz’ from the snare wires, you could place the mic under the snare — or even use mics above and below. If the latter, remember that the bottom mic must be switched to the opposite polarity of the top mic, because its diaphragm will be moving in the opposite direction to the one on the batter head mic when the drum is struck. Once recorded, a little boost around 250Hz can improve the fullness of the sound, but don’t take it too far or you’ll end up with it sounding muddy.

Since the hi-hat is in the area, I have rarely found it necessary to mike it up separately — there is almost always enough hi-hat in the overheads and/or snare drum mic. However, should you feel the need for greater control and definition, another condenser mic can be placed about 10-15cm over the outside edge of the hi-hat, looking down on the side furthest away from the snare. Since the mic is seeing the hi-hat perpendicular to the plane of the cymbals it will be immune from the air chuff emitted when the hi-hats close. A little lift at the extreme high-frequency end (10kHz or so) can enhance the sizzle and sparkle if required.

Adding Tom-Tom Mics

In our purist, jazz-based kit, the toms very rarely need separate miking, because the main balance is obtained from the overheads. However, in more rock-oriented music everything is close-miked, as much for effect as anything — but this is a situation of diminishing returns. The more mics you have open, the more spill. The more spill, the less control, and the harder it is to balance the kit.

drummiking13If you’re multi-miking the drum kit, then the overhead mics effectively act as spot mics for the cymbals. In this case, you can afford to mike fairly close to the cymbals, although it’s best if you choose a direction and location to minimise spill from other instruments.

Some degree of control can be reinstated by using gates to remove the spill when there is no wanted sound entering each mic. However, gates inherently chop off the opening transient of the wanted sound, changing the character of the sound, so the result starts to become more artificial and processed — hence the sometimes rather odd drum sounds we have become accustomed to today.

This multi-miking approach is, nevertheless, sometimes the best solution for a particular musical style, or if the entire band is playing in the same space (or on stage). In this situation the more distant overhead mic placement simply won’t work, because of excessive spill, so we have to close-mike everything and balance the kit at the console. We have already talked about mic placement for the kick drum, snare and hi-hat, and these ideas still apply. The overhead mics can be brought a lot closer now, as, instead of trying to find a position where they capture the entire kit, they simply have to pick up the cymbals. How close you can go depends on the number and arrangement of the cymbals, how they are mounted (since this governs how far they will swing), and the kind of sound you are after, but somewhere between 20cm and 100cm is the typical range. Aim the mics towards the outer edges of the cymbals. Be careful with any EQ — too much can leave the cymbals sounding like harsh sheets of tin — and watch that headroom!

The tom-toms are best miked up like the snare drum, with dynamic mics positioned just over the rim looking at the centre of the head. The rear null of the mic should be angled up to reject as much cymbal as possible — again, hypercardioid patterns often work better in this role, since they don’t have to be angled quite so steeply, although watch out for that rear tail picking up something you don’t want.

drummiking01A single cardioid mic can be used to cover two closely mounted tom-toms, if necessary, but a wide polar pattern is preferable here.

With small toms mounted close together, you may get away with a single mic positioned between the two drums and pointing straight down the middle. However, this really only works well if you are using a mic with a very wide cardioid pattern, as both drums are well off axis of the one mic. A better approach is to use a mic with a figure-of-eight pattern, since this can be arranged to see both toms while also providing the maximum rejection of the cymbals above. However, this means either a ribbon mic (not really a good idea on a rock drum session) or a condenser mic. I have used a Sennheiser MKH30 in this role before, quite successfully, but it is a very expensive solution to a fairly trivial problem.

On kits where the bottom tom heads are removed, there is also the option of installing mics inside the toms, approaching the head from the inside. This technique provides much more isolation, both from neighbouring toms and the cymbals, and keeps the mics out of the drummer’s way, but typically the sound is more resonant and has less of the stick attack than a more conventional external position. If possible, fade out any mics on drums which won’t be used during the recording of a particular song, to minimise the spill, but, if in doubt, leave the mic up. There’s nothing worse than everything in sharp, defined, close-up sound and then an occasional distant tom hit!

drummiking02You can mic a tom-tom in much the same way as you would a snare.

One serious problem when you start multi-miking a drum kit is that of the forest of mic stands. The more metalwork you place in close proximity to the kit, the greater the risk that something will come in contact with something else as the kit starts to wander around the floor, as they almost always do. Then you will start to get percussive noises reaching the mics through the stands, rather than through their diaphragms, which is not good. Fortunately, the invention of the clip-on drum mic has really revolutionised the whole drum-miking scene. The traditional forest of mic stands can be completely dispensed with, since the clip-on mics stay exactly where you put them on the side of each drum. Even better, they can be positioned far more accurately than most other types of mic because they are so much smaller. Personally, I’ve only used the Sennheiser clip-on drum mic — the E604 — but I’ve heard good things about the slightly cheaper Beyerdynamic Opus 62 too, and I recommend investigating further if drum kits figure frequently in your recording life. They also provide the benefit that they are obviously drum and percussion mics (although they are very effective on brass instruments too), so there is less chance of your favourite vocal mics being trashed!

Once all the mics are in place, it’s time to check the relative phasing again. The kick drum, being the loudest drum with the lowest fundamental frequency, is the reference and will tend to spill into all the other mics to some degree. With the drummer working around everything on the kit and just the kick drum faded up, fade up each other mic in turn and flip the polarity switch on its channel until you find the position that gives the fullest sound.

drummiking09A complete drum kit setup — the signal from the more distant mic in the background could be mixed in to make the sound more ambient.

Be careful if you are using top and bottom snare mics — I usually set thephase of the bottom mic to give the best sound with the kick, and then set the top mic to the opposite position without checking further. It’s more important that these two mics are opposite polarity than that they are both phased correctly with the kick, and since the bottom mic is closer, that seems the more logical reference. Don’t bother checking the cymbal spot mics — after applying a hefty dose of low cut to reduce drum spill there won’t be much kick left in them anyway.

Recording & Mixing

With all your mics placed, plugged, phased and working properly, listen to each carefully for spill, rattles, buzzes, or anything else that shouldn’t be there. You need to do this quickly, though, for two reasons: first, the drummer will get tired, and, second, the rest of the band will be leaning over your desk trying to tweak the EQs and push the buttons by now! You need to get them back in the studio and start rehearsing for a take.

drummiking03Where the tom-tom only has one head, you can try miking inside the drum for greater separation and less attack.

Panning the mics for stereo is, once again, personal taste. Traditionally the kick drum is placed in the centre — a hangover from vinyl record days. However, there are other advantages to keeping the kick drum in the centre, such as sharing the load on both channels of the power amp, and being able to put more and better-balanced LF energy into the listening room. Likewise, in surround, many engineers are placing the kick in all five channels.

With a minimalist miking scheme, the overheads will define the stereo image — either as a coincident or spaced pair depending on how they have been rigged. Most engineers pan these fully left and right, but I prefer less width to create more space for other instruments and to make a more realistic sound stage.

If you have added a spot mic on the snare, it should be panned to the same position as the snare heard on the overheads, otherwise you will have a blurred and confused image. The easiest way to adjust the snare pan is to listen to the stereo overheads, focus on where the snare is in the image, and then fade up the spot mic. If the spot is panned to the centre initially, as it is faded up the image of the snare will pull back to the centre as the spot overwhelms the overheads. Pull the snare back down, pan the channel in the appropriate direction and fade up the snare again. This time the image of the snare will not pull as far, or may pull in the opposite direction, so adjust the pan a little more in the appropriate direction and try again. Repeat the process until fading up the snare just makes the snare louder, without pulling the image. It sounds long-winded, but will only take two or three goes with practice.

drummiking16Keep an eye on your mic setup during recording, because you can get very unpredictable results if any mics or stands come into contact with the drum hardware.

If you have gone down the close-miking path, there should be enough separation between mics to allow you to pan anything pretty much anywhere. The toms are usually arranged to span the entire stereo image, with the kick in the centre, the snare and hi-hat panned either centrally or slightly right, and the cymbals scattered as appropriate to fill in the image. In surround, some engineers have chosen to put various drums literally all around the listener (which I personally find rather disconcerting), but the choice is entirely yours.

Depending on the drummer’s playing style and the type of music, you may want to apply a little compression the snare and/or kick drum to provide a more even and thicker sound. Pay careful attention to the attack and release settings, since too fast an attack will damage the initial transients, and too long a release will negate the compression anyway. Start with a medium attack and short release, and adjust the threshold and ratio settings to achieve the desired degree of squash — bearing in mind that more compression means louder spill.

drummikingpantweakAlthough many engineers pan their overhead microphones hard left and right, a narrower setting can often create a more realistic sound stage. drummiking15Beware of setting too fast an attack time when compressing drums, as this can damage essential attack transients.

Now, with everything up and running, the session can proceed. There’s just one last thing to mention — a drum kit rarely remains in the state you left it for long! When the opportunity arises throughout the session, perhaps during a rehearsal for another take, audition your drum mics again to see if anything has changed. Fittings can work loose, the drum tuning can change with temperature and humidity in the studio, and if the kit creeps across the floor it may come into physical contact with the mic stands, causing unwanted microphony. If you have heavy mics on the overhead stands, the boom arms may even droop slightly. Keep a constant eye and ear on these things and the session should go smoothly. sos_end

  Effects & Processing  
  If the drums are set up in an ambient room, some distant room mics might provide all the reverb and ambience you require. Placing a pair of mics on the floor about eight or ten feet up and spaced slightly wider than the kit often works well. More usually, though, you will be using a digital reverb. The choice of programs will depend entirely on the style of the music — you may want a general ambience program over the entire kit, or perhaps ambience on the kick and a longer reverb (even a gated reverb) on the snare. Just remember that, although the drums are percussive, any reverb they generate is more continuous and so will fill the gaps in their sound. This will tend to muddy the mix, so less is preferable to more. If in doubt, take the reverb returns back another 5dB.Something which is probably not done as much these days as it was in the height of the disco era is to add synthesised tones to the kick. Essentially, the kick drum signal is used to trigger a gate to allow through a 40Hz triangle-wave tone. The attack and decay parameters are adjusted to complement the real kick drum and the tone adds a lot of weight and solidity, while the real kick provides the transient attack.Talking of gates, in my experience they are best avoided if at all possible, and should never be recorded to tape. If the drummer is not very consistent, it will be all but impossible to set a reliable gate threshold, resulting in false triggers or missed drum hits. Analogue gates also have a finite attack time which can cause the initial transient of the drum to be lost. Likewise, setting the release and hold times has a dramatic effect on the sound: too long a release and the spill will become obvious, too short and the resonance of the drum will be cut short prematurely, although a little reverb can mask the latter quite effectively. Also, don’t automatically assume that maximum gate attenuation is the best option — you may well find you get better results with a more modest amount of gain reduction. A range setting of 12dB is still 12dB less spill, and the initial transients will survive far better. In digital mixing desks the gates are often provided with a look-ahead facility. This enables the gate to open fractionally in advance of the wanted sound so that the initial transients are preserved intact, which is far better.  

 

 

Suggested Microphones for Drums:

Toms and Snares: Sennheiser E604, Shure SM57

Kick Drum: AKG D112, Shure Beta 52, Sennheiser E602, Audio-Technica AE2500

Overheads: AKG C1000, Rode NT-4, AKG C451, AKG C-3000b, or AKG C414

First: The fewer microphones used to record drums, the fewer problems there will be. This is because when multiple mics are used near a sound source, comb filitering and phase shift effects will occur. Mic placement is critical and should not be overlooked. It’s better to capture the drum sound properly than to try and fix it in the mix. Most people however want control over individual drums and that means more microphones.

Second: The less processing of the sound the better and more natural your sound will be. By processing I mean anything that alters the sound like equalizers, compressors, reverb, and other effects.

I record my drums directly from the pre-amp to Digital and then into my computer. The PreSonus DigiMax offers an 8 channal mic preamp with ADAT optical output.

Tips on Miking and Recording Drums:

It’s better to re-position the microphone(s) and find the sound you are looking for, than it is to « Fix it in the mix ».

If you find yourself saying « We can fix it in the mix », then take a break and re-think your approach to the recording. Why are you here? Purchase the best quality microphones you can afford! Try and get a medium grade mic such these below. You may not get a bunch of mics but you’ll get a much better sound.  If you feel rushed then try to relax and calm down. If however you are not properely prepared, you don’t know your part, then STOP! Go back to the rehearsal studio and learn the song. How much time do you spend on EQ’ing a poorly recorded track?  I can tell you it’s not worth it.

Stereo Pairs:
If you can get away with a stereo pair then by all means do so. It’s best to use a stereo pair positioned in the X/Y format but you can also try Mid-Side and Spaced-Omni approach.

When using a Stereo Pair setup I think the drums sound best when the mics are positioned in front of the drums (towards the audience) anywhere from 1 to 10 feet and anywhere from 3 to 6 feet off the ground. Rule of thumb: The higher above the ground the more cymbals will be heard – lower, the more the kick drum will be heard. The closer to the drums you get the more direct drum sound (dry) you get. While the further away the more room sound (wet) you get.

Find what works for you by using your ears. If you can have someone else move the mics while monitoring then that’s probably better. Make sure you test what the stereo pair sounds like in mono. You can do this by taking the pan-pot positions and moving the to the center positon. If it sounds thin and phasy or if it sounds hollow then you need to reposition the microphones. The Rode NT4 is designed to not have this problem. You can also purchase a dual mic holder for AKG’s C1000 mics and similar microphones.

One of the main problems with getting a good loud drum sound is that the cymbals bleed into the tom and snare mics. Have the drummer move his cymbals up as high as he can comfortably play them.  This moves the Cymbal sound source away from the tom mics. The Sennheiser E604′s have excellent off axis rejection, meaning they only hear the drums and not the cymbals. You can always count on the Shure SM57 for snare and toms as well. I don’t know how many albums have been recorded using the Shure SM57 on drums. Also while recording see if the drummer can play his/her drums harder than usual and play the cymbals softer than usual.

For Toms and Snare:
The best deal I’ve seen are on the Sennheiser E604 Drum Microphone. They’re about $100.00 each I use these microphones everyday:) Also the time tested Shure SM57 sound excellent on toms.

For Kick Drum:
Nothing beats the AKG D112 for the kick drum. If you place it near the beater you will hear more (a lot more) of the click, or attack/snap sound. If you move out towards the front of the drum (away from the drummer) you’ll get a more rounded thump or the actual sound of the drum itself.

You can always place two mics in the kick drum: one close to the beater and one out away towards the front. Either way make sure you test it with the bass guitar and listen for any harsh or competitive frequencies.

For Overheads:
Try RoDE NT-4, AKG C1000, AKG C451, AKG C-3000, or AKG C414. If you haven’t read the Stereo Pair paragraphs above, you should take a look. Most of the information there also applies to overheads.

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Par theaudiodomain le 1 février, 2009 dans

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