How to improve drum sound pt. 2

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Let’s continue where we left on our very first blog post about our most favorite topic; drum sound and how to improve it.

#4 Choosing the correct drum

When it comes to snare drums, you can never have too many of them for a session. It is always recommended to have at least few to choose from. Astia-studio has a vintage Ludwig Black Beauty snare that drummers use on 90% of the sessions. Nearly every drummer tries to steal it from us after the session. So far we have managed to keep the snare with us to make more drummers happy. Our studio rate includes the use of the Black Beauty and damn that rimshot sound is out of this world! 

What makes our Black Beauty snare so good? Well, the sound itself is an important factor, but over the years we have heard several better sounding snares. The difference is in sensitivity. On some snares every hit sounds very different and what makes our Black Beauty really shine is that it is much easier to play as each hit sounds solid and alike. 

Opposite to what people think, most part of the sound is decided during recording and not during mixing. Record a bad sounding snare where every hit sounds different using an old and dark-sounding drum head which in the worst case is tuned not-so-correctly. No might in the world can make a million dollar snare sound out of that. Invest on good sounding drums or try our snare and remember to hit hard!

Ghost Of Youth Heikki Hovi Astia-studio A drum room

This is how recording should feel like and this is how recording should sound like.
-Heikki Hovi / Ghost Of Youth

#5 The drum room

Back in the 80’s and 90’s most studios had a huge live room that translated as a huge drum sound. Metallica’s amazing Black Album was recorded on tape and the room was enormous. Lars had to start playing dozens of seconds before punch-in as it took time for the room to come alive. Nowadays most studios have small drum room and especially when recording at rehearsal place the room sound is pretty dead. 

At Astia-studio we have a live-end dead-end drum room. One side of the room has long natural reverb (live-end) and the other is sound isolated with up to 8 metres of wool behind the bass trap making it lot more dry (dead-end). We usually place drums on the dead-end side so the close microphones only pick up the dry sound. In the live-end we have room microphones, which by the way are always the loudest drum tracks on our mixes and drummers love it! This gives us control over how wet we want the drums to sound. Sometimes verse sounds awesome with room mics more quiet or even muted and when we bring them up to the chorus, they add a lot more energy to the part. 

Rock and metal drums rarely sound great in a small dead room and several drummers have stated that after a session at Astia-studio they do not want to have their drums recorded anywhere else. Our video “Is there a difference in drum room when recording?” will give you an idea about what a great sounding drum room does.

The Rivet Lauri Kutvonen Astia-studio A drum room

Astia-studio drum room is definitely one of the best in Finland.
Lauri Kutvonen / The Rivet

#6 PA – sound system in drum room

Metallica’s Black Album and many other great sounding albums have one thing in common when recording drums; the use of a PA system. PA system in studio? Sounds ridiculous! Actually it sounds awesome and we have been using such system since late 90’s. That is one essential part of creating great drum sound in an awesome-sounding room. 

As drummers who play like John Bonham are a rarity, we use a 3.000 kW PA system placed in the drum room on both our A and B studios. We usually feed bass drum and snare via aux to the PA during drum recording. Not only does this improve the room microphone sound as instead of having mostly only cymbals they capture the whole drum set in better balance. The other and equally awesome benefit is that every time the drummer hits the bass drum, everyone in the room can not only hear but also feel it! All of a sudden the band is not in studio but on stage and they play with better energy! We even encourage bands to visualize themselves on stage playing the best live show ever and capture that emotion and energy on tape. Bass and guitar players love this system too as they seem to play tighter when they can also feel the drums.

Tero Kaihola in Astia-studio A

The headphone sound in the last session was the best I’ve ever experienced.
-Tero Kaihola / Oliver

#7 Record on tape

As I nowadays record only on tape, every drummer is blown away by how great their playing and drums sound. Before coming to us most of them have heard their drums recorded on computer only. Every drummer has wondered why on computer recording, no matter how loud they hit, drums still sound quiet and the energy of the hit does not translate. This is exactly what disappears when recording on computer and we are more than happy to demonstrate it to you. Our video “Is there a difference on how drums are recorded?” explains these differences. 

Faulty Messenger Juhana Karlsson Astia-studio A drum room

When recording to tape there’s something magical that’s difficult to put into words.
Juhana Karlsson / Faulty Messenger, ex-Amoral

To recap:

#1 Use new drum heads
#2 Learn to tune drums
#3 Hit correctly and play your set in balance
#4 Choose the right drums
#5 The importance of drum room
#6 PA – sound system in drum room
#7 Record on tape

Read more from: How to improve drum sound pt. 3

End of part two

I hope these tips will improve the sound of your drums even if you record at rehearsal place on computer. Please see our FAQ page to learn more about tape recording. Stay tuned for part 3 of this topic. Thanks for reading and please leave questions and comments below. I hope you have enjoyed my tips.

Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience working with bands and artists from all over the world.