Rule number 1 – instrument recognition
Learn all the names of the all the drums so you
don’t look an idiot. Yes ALL OF THEM! A navy
captain needs to be able to recognise all types
of ships. Why should you not be able to
recognise the important things in your career?
Rule number 2 – broaden outlook
Do some background listening. Imagine the
research a medical doctor has to do on his
subject, years and years of research so he has
all those medical terms on the tip of his tongue
so he can easily diagnose an illness. Literally,
years spent learning and studying. Studio
Engineers are no different. They also have
invested serious time “cutting their teeth”
researching and studying to give them an in
depth knowledge of all situations.
Listen to drums from all styles of music, just
because you like nu-metal doesn’t mean to say
you wont have to record a jazz drum kit to earn
a living. The reality is that as a Studio
Recording Engineer you have to record whatever
you are asked to record, we can’t pick and
choose only the styles we like. Open your mind
to all forms and styles it’s part of the
maturing of your outlook as a Studio Engineer.
Students often say “Chris I can’t stand jazz or
I can’t stand that type of music and if I’ll
loose my own taste if I have to listen to it”.
Well folks change jobs go be a bus driver or
butcher! Unless you learn to distance yourself
from the style and the emotion to some extent
you ain’t going to make it as a Studio Recording
Engineer. OPEN YOUR MIND.
Get hold of CD’s from different periods and
styles. Listen to how George Martin recorded
Ringo’s drums. Try listening to the way the Red
Hot Chili Peppers had the drums recorded on
Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Rick Rubin.
Ask yourself these questions while listening:
Where were the microphones placed?
What sort of room sound is it?
How many microphones were used?
Were the drums miked close or distant?
Does it sound as if they have been given
LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN
How many mics?
How long is a piece of string? Hmm who knows. A
story goes like this. Graduate leaves college
armed with his wonderful learnt techniques of
"oh a drum kit yes, I place mic A here and mic B
here and hey I’ve got the sound."
If you adopt that approach you’ll be making dull
sounding records that have no personality in
them and probably un-original sounds too. The
more mics you have at your disposal the better.
I’ve known engineers to place over 30 around a
drum kit. YES 30! They might have only ended up
using 5 though. The point here is that they have
all these different sounds that they can
audition to see if they like it. The drummer
looks at you and scratches his head saying “is
it all really necessary”. You reply “I take my
Of course you may experiment so much that you
discover tried and testing ways of recording
drums, you might be up against the clock and
need a quick sure-fire way of getting a sound.
One in the kick drum about two inches from where
the beater strikes will give the modern click
and thump with subtle desk e.q. Mic = u87
One on the snare facing down on the top skin
close as you can – sm57
One on the hi-hat facing down real close
opposite where the stick hits and about half way
in the radius – capacitor mic
Two overheads in a crossed stereo pair
configuration – akg 414s
1 Omni-directional in lovely sounding room.(move
it around and listen) Mic = akg 414
Decca tree (Early Beatles)
Three mics in a vertical line facing bass drum
snare and cymbals (mono)
Now before I continue that lot is a rough guide
for you and you must not adopt it just cause
someone with experience told you. YOU have to
experiment with different combinations of mics
and placement yourself.
Get the drummer to tune the drums. Out of tune
drums always sound like shit and you’ll never
turn a bad sound into a good sound ever. Get him
to tune them up if he can’t get someone who can.
Best of all, learn how to tune drums yourself,
you’ll be invaluable.
Listen for rattles from stands or room fittings
and get out the gaffa tape and deaden them down
you don’t want a rattle ringing through in the
quite bits especially when you start using
Check the drums for rings they usually have a
particular frequency where they just love to
ocillate. I use crunched up toilet paper and
gaffa tape and stick blobs of it on tricky drums
just to “dampen” the troublesome ring (no pun
intended). Be careful not to overdo this as the
drums can end up sounding lifeless. You’ll also
have to assure the drummer this might give him a
wicked noise in the mix!
Sometimes slackening off the top skin can add
attack to the sound creating that crack that you
hear in hard rock and nu-metal. But you’ll only
get this luxury if working with a POP oriented
song as mention this to a jazz drummer would be
asking for a fist supper.
If the spring on the snare is rattling too much
again you can slip some toilet paper underneath
just to take the edge off if needed.
Yuck….. do you have to? Personally I don’t much
but I know some engineers do like to use them.
Noise gates are automatic on/off boxes for
signals where you can set how long it takes to
turn on and turn off with attack and decay. Also
the length of time that the gate stays open can
be determined by the delay or hold dial. Gates
can be good on cymbals as you can set them to
close after a period of time so they don’t go on
and on and on and on and on in a mix. A gated
snare can be effective for some styles too. Here
you can set the gate to close sharply given the
snare focus, bit old hat now in my opinion. Kick
drum (bass drum) gating can be good to get rid
of background nonsense when the drum is not
firing which helps to clean up the “bottom end”
of the mix.
Yes please and in many different ways.
Individual drums compression, group the drums
and compress a stereo pair multi-band
compression. The main thing to aim for is to
produce more attach from the drums. By using a
compressor you make the long-term average level
of the drum louder, which give the perception of
more “punch” and “fatness”. Be careful not to
over compress (unless for effect) or the sound
might seem to pump up and down in volume, not