Are you dissatisfied with your drum sound on recordings? No matter how hard you hit the drums, they still sound lifeless and without energy? There are few simple things how to improve the sound of your drums and how to better translate the groove and energy you spent so many years practising.
Why drum sound usually sucks
Quantizing drums to grid usually kills the groove and replacing drums with samples kills the touch along with the fact that all that money spent on both drums and new drum heads was money wasted. Combining dozens of takes to create that ultimate drum track can be close to perfection, but will mostly sound unnatural in the wrong way. We know all that because we’ve done our good share of such studio work. Eventually we found that drums actually sound better when recorded on tape with just one take without any editing, sound replacer or drum samples. Even back when we were still recording on computer, for many years we weren’t using any drum samples or sound replacer. This way the drummer’s groove translates a lot better and you can hear not only his touch along with the new drum heads but also the sound of the drum set.
From our 25 years of studio work experience we want to share some of the important tips about drum sound and how we improve it. The drummer naturally is the most important factor here. When using the same drum set in the same studio with same mics and settings, different drummers sound very different as demonstrated on our video below.
Our tips to improve your sound
Here is a list of how we at Astia-studio improve the drum sound. Remember that the sound source is always the most important thing in all audio work. If you record crappy drums in a bad sounding room, there’s no magic cure that will make it sound great in the end.
#1 Use new drum heads
We at Astia-studio always instruct every drummer to bring new drum heads to the session. Old drum heads sound dull and dark, which sometimes can be exactly what is needed, but for the most sessions we change new drum heads before recording. Drum heads are an essential part of drum sound so we always provide our clients a list of drum heads we have during the years found to work the best.
It is highly recommended to stretch new drum heads. There are many instructional videos online about the topic that you should check if you are not familiar with it. After stretching the tuning will not alter and you can concentrate on playing instead of endless tuning. Check how much snare head affects the sound from our YouTube video.
The sound was so positively surprising that at first I couldn’t believe it.
-Tommi Tuhkala / Spell Of Torment
#2 Tune the drums
A guitar player who cannot tune his guitar isn’t usually among the most appreciated people on stage or at rehearsal so why shouldn’t the same apply to drummers? Drum tuning isn’t rocket science and anyone can learn to do it. Nearly all rock and metal drummers we work with tune their drums the same way. And no, from what we have witnessed the tuning operation does not include Tunebots or moongel.
We usually keep the top head on toms and bass drum pretty loose. Bass drum is most of the time on finger-tightness. Snare is usually quite tight but very rarely at maximum. We are happy to help you tune the drums during the session. We also share the tuning secrets we have learnt from all the top drummers who have recorded here at Astia-studio.
Astia-studio shows the highest level of quality drum recording with the work of the most professional sound engineer.
– Artem Zhibar / Colt
#3 Hit the drums correctly
Naturally there’s not only one way of doing things. When talking about great rock and metal drum sound, and we are not talking about using drum samples or sound replacer of any kind, it is essential to hit the drums correctly. Many people ask me what is the secret behind my snare sound in the mix and how they could mix it like that. I always say: “The coolest mixing trick to make an amazing snare sound is to record the drummer playing rimshots“. It is as simple as that.
Even bad sounding drums can sound great when the drummer hits them correctly. Learning to play rimshots on snare is essential. We instruct drummers to work on this before entering the studio. Sometimes it can take more studio time if all of a sudden you need to start learning new style of playing. We have seen drummers play blast beat with rimshots and it is all about the angle of the snare. Being relax with an empty mind when recording is also one of the best advices.
Still, when it comes to rock and metal we instruct drummers to hit snare and toms pretty loud. Quiet bass drum will sound quiet no matter how we process it, so bass drum should be loud and as even as possible. Cymbals and especially hihat should be played more quiet. Drum set is one instrument and should be played in balance. Learn to play your instrument in balance and learn to hit correctly.
End of part one
These are the first three steps to improve the sound of your drums. No matter if you are a drummer or run a studio these tips will help you. The list continues on the second part of the blog post. Please leave questions and comments below. Thanks for reading and we hope you have enjoyed our very first blog post.
Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience working with bands and artists from all around the world.