Often one of the most misunderstood aspects of recording bands/live groups is capturing the drum parts effectively without compromising either the drummer’s playing or the other musicians.

This is a step-by-step guide of common sense, tips and tricks that has assisted me over the years.

Please be aware I will not be going into musical elements here such as drum parts, song arrangements and so on as that should already have been worked out in pre production. This is about the engineering side of pulling a great drum sound.

The Source: The Drum Kit and its Environment

This is important; if the kit sounds bad in the room, it really won’t get much better once recorded. The “fix it in the mix” approach with some whiz-bang plug-ins can only help so much and can be time consuming… time that YOU are paying for.  Fixing problems ALWAYS take time, so get the source as good as it can be.

In most of the examples below I’m assuming it’s a home or small demo studio experience. If it’s in a serious studio you don’t need to know most of this as it should already be done.

A drum kit is an acoustic percussion instrument that’s generally very loud when played. Drums all affect each other as well as the environment they are in as well as being affected by the acoustics of the room reflecting their sound back at them!! So before you even put a drum kit in the room, think about the recording space itself. Walk around and clap your hands etc. Take a snare drum in and hit it... make a “sssss, sssss” hi-hat sound with your mouth and see where the sound is brightest. This is why you hear engineers making these strange noises at gigs too. (“Testing, 1, 2…” etc)

If the room has a low ceiling, carpet, drapes, furniture and so on (like a bedroom or rehearsal room) it will be a very dead-sounding environment and, surprise, surprise, a drum kit will sound kind of dead and muffled. Conversely if the room has a high ceiling, 360 degree windows, a tiled floor and nothing else in it, the drums will sound like the charge of the Light Brigade meeting a Panzer tank division without any nice warm low end.

Somewhere midway between the two is the best option. In the days of classic recording studios there was a room design known as “LEDE”, which stood for “live end, dead end”.  The name is self explanatory and is worth trying to emulate. 

A timber floor is ideal. Use a rug as a drum carpet if there isn’t one for the kit already, avoid carpeted rooms if possible. If there is no choice, lay a couple of 2400x1200mm sheets of 17mm ply wood under the kit. The difference will astound you.

A high ceiling of at least 12ft (3.6 m) is great. If it’s a modern house the height may only be 10ft (3m). If this is the case, the ‘brighter’ the ceiling, the better. One good trick is to get hold of a second hand parachute from a disposal store and hang it high and tight above the kit which works as a brightener and also diffuses the reflections if you taper the ends in an irregular way back down to the ground.

This ends part 1 – stay tuned for part 2……


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