Drum Recording techniques part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 ‘Pulling’ a drum sound

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

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

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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