As drum recording is one of my most dearest topics, I want to help you improve the sound of your drums. The importance of the drum sound is one of the biggest factors that can either make or break an album. Not many drummers are satisfied with how their drums sound after mixing. All the years you spent on developing the groove along with all the money you spent on the drums and drum heads most of the time does not translate from the final mix. I will give you 4 tips for drum recording so that you can start improving your drum sound.
4 tips for drum recording
I have gathered 4 tips that you can use to improve the quality of your drum recording. Drum set is usully the only acoustic instrument in rock and metal genre bands. Bass, guitar and vocals are mostly captured using just one microphone. Drums on the other hand benefit from having more mics making them the instrument that is a lot more challenging to record properly.
Let’s go through my four easy tips and too you can start enjoying improved drum sound on your recordings.
1. Fix the sound source
The sound source is one of the keys to a succesfull recording when it comes to all instruments and drums especially. The better your drums sound, the smaller the possibility of failure. An awesome drummer can make a bad sounding drum kit sound good, so it all comes down to the drummer and how he hits the drums. The importance of the musician is demonstrated on my How Much The Drummer Affects The Sound video here.
Out of the blue comes my first example as it’s not about drums at all, yet describes the situation perfectly. I was mixing files that a band had brought and was amazed by the strange guitar sound. It was like the guitar was coming from the room next to us. I mean literally. There was no high frequencies at all and it was like someone had stacked 10 thick blankets over the amp. The guitar player explained that during recording he had turned the treble and middle from the amp to zero and cranked the low frequencies to maximum.
As there was no logical explanation to his actions I figured it was due to the fact that I could write about it on this blog post. The lesson here is that you definitely should not record a certain sound and then during mixing demand the opposite. The guitar player wanted to have a bright metal guitar sound and there was no way to make it happen from what they had recorded. Opposite to what people think, most part of the sound is decided during recording not at mixing. So make the recording count and record the sound that is as close to the final mix as possible!
Tune the drums so that they sound good in the recording room. Use new drum heads as they are brighter than the old. Darker sound usually isn’t what you are after. It’s better to use more time before you start recording rather than record something and then pray for a miracle during mixing.
2. Play the drum set in balance
A thing that doesn’t get enough attention is to play the drum set in balance. It’s nice to really whack those cymbals, yet buying new to replace the broken ones might not be the best way to spend your salary. What if you’d hit those cymbals a bit more quiet to improve the balance of your drum set? This will also be a great financial decision as you don’t have to replace cymbals that often. Hi-hat especially is something you should consider playing not too loud. Pay attention to the balance, of both the drum set and check book, and that will lead to an improved result.
The rimshot hit on snare is highly recommended. Your snare will sound more like the snare on the good sounding albums and you might be able to lure the mixing engineer to ditch the samples and choose the organic option. This will translate your touch, style and the drum set a lot better.
In rock and metal the bass drum sound rarely benefits from a thick coated batter head. A thin clear head such as a double ply Remo Emperor won’t last for months, but sounds awesome when you record it. The beater, no no not the drummer but the bass drum beater, you should turn 90 degrees and use the plastic part instead of the felt. This I came up with Jaska Raatikainen (Children Of Bodom) by accident and we both have been using it ever since. You should test a wooden beater in rehearsal room to see how it feels. A wooden beater is more heavy when it comes to weight and takes time to get used to especially when you play fast bass drum patterns.
3. The distance from the overhead mics to snare
For almost two decades I recorded each cymbal using spot-miking; each cymbal had its own microphone. The more mics you use, the bigger the possibility of the phase cancellation and under normal circumstances you don’t want that. I went back to using two overhead mics to capture the cymbals and/or the kit and this gets my warm recommendation. Nowadays the only cymbal spot-mic I use is on hi-hat. Once the drummer plays his kit in balance you don’t need more mics for cymbals. Less microphones = less problems.
There’s an important thing that most recording engineers seem to ignore; the distance between snare and overhead microphones. When it comes to sound use your ears instead of eyes. When placing the overhead mics symmetrically, you’ll be rewarded with a snare that suffers from the phase cancellation. Sure you can move the tracks around in DAW as much as you like, but I recommend staying as far from such activity as possible.
I measure the distance using a hi-tech system that involves a drummer and a mic cable. I hand one end of the cable to the drummer and ask to hold it in the center of the snare head. I’ll carefully measure the distance between the overhead mics with the other end of the cable and adjust the mics until the distance is equal. This way once you pan the overheads the snare has no phase cancellation. I do this on every session and it get my highest recommendation for every drum recording situation.
4. The room microphones
When recording drums in an acoustically treated rehearsal room, use caution with the room microphones. Back in the days when I still accepted files for mixing, I very very very very very rarely ended up using the drum room tracks as they were useless. When the room is too small can you open the door to the corridoor and place the room mics there? When the corridoor isn’t an option and the room sound is next to none, it’s better to ditch the idea of having room mics.
If the room has a reverb that could improve the drum sound, place the room mics with care. Unfortunately most engineers place the room mics few meters away pointing the drums. I tend to do as Mr Steve Albini; when capturing the drum room do not place the mics pointing towards the drums. Facing them towards the drum set causes phase cancellation and that is something you under normal circumstances do not want to have. A much better result comes when you point the room mics to and as close to the wall as possible. This makes the drums sound awesome especially when the room has a nice natural reverb. Let’s dive into another important ingredient; the Haas effect on another blog post a bit later.
I made a drum room demonstration where you’ll gain a better understanding how drums sound with and without the room tracks. My goal is to show you how much a great sounding room affects the drum sound. I hope you will find insteresting how Ville Aulaskoski (Nato Rock Band), Richard Hiles (Skaahaus), Toni Paananen (session drummer), Janne Parviainen (Ensiferum) and Heikki Saari (Whorion, Finntroll, ex-Norther) sound in our studio A with and without the room tracks.
Let’s recap my 4 tips for drum recording:
1. Fix the sound source
2. Play the drum set in balance
3. The distance from the overhead mics to snare must be qual
4. The room microphones in a good sounding room facing the wall
Successfull drum recording
Thank you for reading 4 tips for drum recording. I feel priviledged to share my quarter of a century of recording experience on this belowed topic so that you can improve your drum sound. Have you already pre-ordered free How To Improve Drum Sound guide? It’s my gift to all the Newsletter subscribers. Pre-order free sound guide here.
I cannot wait to read your comments and questions about the topic so please leave them below. Improve your sound by reading my other blog posts here. Please contact me privately here. Thank you very much once again and all the very best!
Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.