Sunday, 9 December 2012

Recording Drums. My method.


Recording Drums


If you are recording a band and are wondering how to get a good drum sound you might want to try my method. After years of trial and error, I've settled on this as my "go to" set up - as it's a versatile way of recording drums and getting a good balance of a big overall kit sound as well as dynamic punch. 

Ideally you will have a selection of mics, but if you just have a few vocal mics to hand, then go with them. You can get a perfectly decent drum sound with just SM58s. 

You can either go for the minimal 3 mic method or the whole 11 mic deal. 

With the 11 mic version, when it comes to the mixing stage it is so versatile that you can go from big and roomy to balanced and realistic or ultra dry and up-front, just by pushing the room and kit channels up or down. 

The Drums 

Firstly, you want the drums themselves to sound good, so new heads are a must. If the drums sound good now but the heads are old, 99% of the time it will sound even better with new heads. It's worth a bit of time and effort at this point to get the drums tuned nicely and then keep checking throughout the recording. I will often get this done the day before the tracking starts so that the heads can settle a little. Additionally, If you don't have decent cymbals then borrow or hire some. On "tape", the difference between cheap cymbals and good ones is huge. 

The Drummer

You can do lots to fix a drummer's timing with editing (if you are that way inclined), but you can't fix a drummer's touch. As cymbals and other drums bleed into all of the microphones on a kit, it can be a battle to keep unwanted bleed under control. This is helped hugely by a good drummer's playing.  

If you stand in the room with the drums and there's a harsh overpowering cymbal sound, the mics will also pick up that sound. You can overcome this by getting the drummer to play the drums harder than the cymbals. Just a few days practicing before recording and really listening to the sound of the whole kit and attenuating your playing so that it sounds balanced, will be a huge step forward.  

Queens of the Stone Age went to the extreme fighting cymbal bleed when Dave Ghrol recorded the drums on Songs for the Deaf entirely without cymbals, then overdubbed them later. That way they could treat the drums with a little more compression and not worry about the cymbals overpowering the sound. 

Whether you are a beginner or advanced drummer, when in the studio, raising the hats and cymbals up and away from the close drum mics will help cut back cymbal "bleed" and enable you to get a better sound. 

Okeydokey then. Let's work our way around the kit. 


Kick Drum

If the drummer will let you, take the front skin off, place a pillow inside against the batter head and a mic facing the beater slightly off centre inside the shell. I use either a Shure Beta 91 or an AKG D12 and experiment with moving the placement until it sounds best. In some genres, the kick and the snare are the loudest thing on the record, so it's definitely worth experimenting and getting these right at this stage.

Processing: EQ out any nasty frequencies in the 400-500hz range. If you need to, add some 60hz for nice low thud and some 2-6kHz for snap. I will always gate and compress this to make it punchy. Sometimes a transient enhancer will really help a kick drum, so try one if you have that option. I use the SPL Transient Designer Plug in. 

Kit Mics

This will give a realistic stereo sound of the drum kit and will effectively mimic what the drummer hears. 

Place a mic (I use a large diaphragm condenser) approx three feet above the centre of the snare and another one to the right of the drummer's right shoulder (around chest height) also exactly three feet away from the centre of the snare. Use a tape measure or some string to make sure that they are both exactly the same distance. 

Processing:  Pan hard left and right. I will usually use the Dada Life Sausage Fattener plug in here at about 10% and leave the EQ flat.

**Using these two channels and the kick drum channel is the 3 mic method. For the 11 mic version, use this as the basis of the kit sound and then use close drum mics to pick out individual drums. **

Snare top

Place a mic (I use an SM57) one or two inches above the rim of the snare between the tom and hats and pointing at where it is hit. Again, experiment with the placement here. millimetres can make a difference. 

Processing: There will often be some boxiness on the snare top channel at around 400Hz-1kHz. This can be EQ-ed out. For some punch, I add a bump of 200Hz and to add crack, a touch of 4 - 8kHz. I will usually gate the snare and gently compress so that on the loudest hits are reduced by around 3db. I'm fond of the Waves Kramer PIE plug in for this. 

Snare bottom (optional)

I will always add a snare bottom and then choose later whether to use it or not. If I do, I use this mic for the fizz of the snare and the top for the punch. Place a mic (SM57 or small diaphragm condenser) pointing directly up to the centre of the snare at around 4 inches. 

Processing: I will gate enough to get rid of the kick drum and add a touch compression. Since this mic is below the snare on the rattle side and away from the hats, you can be more liberal with the top end EQ than the top snare mic. 

Hats (optional)

Sometimes there are plenty of hats coming through the overheads and kit mics but using a hi hat mic will allow you to get some definition. Use a condenser (if you have one) and place it so that the hats block a line of sight to the snare. Again, experiment with the placement. 

Processing: Roll out all of the bottom end EQ and most of the low mid end. Often I will cut quite a lot of 5-6kHz as it can sound rather nasty and add some 10kHz. I will sometimes pop an Antares tube plug in on the hats to smooth them out. Pan to sit in the same place as in the kit channels.

Toms

I close mic (For this I use EV468s or SM57s) the top skin around an inch up, at a 45° angle to the drum surface and 1-2" in from the drum edge. Ringing can be eliminated a little with moon gel or gaffa tape (if it's not nice sounding). 

Processing: There will almost always be a need to EQ out some mid at around 400-500kHz. I might add some 200Hz to a rack tom and some 100-200Hz to a floor. Toms will resonate when other drums are hit and the cymbals will come through this channel in an unpleasant way, so I always heavily gate toms so that they only open when the toms are hit. Much of the body of the toms will actually come through the kit mics. Lastly, I pan them so that they sit in the same place as they do on the kit channels.

Overheads

Since you have a fair amount of cymbals from the kit mics, this is to pick out the attack, sizzle and sparkle. As with the hats and kit mics, use condensers if you have them. I will place two about a foot and a half above the cymbals. Sometimes I will use two on the crashes and one additional one on the ride. The placement depends on where the drummer puts them and the aim is to pick up as much of the cymbals as possible without being too far away. 

Processing: Pan left and right by about 45 degrees. Roll off the bottom end and if you need sparkle, add some 8-20kHz.  Pan them so that they fit in the picture created by the close room mics. Sometimes you might need to pinpoint harsh frequencies around 6kHz and notch them out. 

Smash (optional)

I place a stage vocal mic (SM58) three to six feet in front of the kick drum and compress the bejesus out of it. A touch of this channel can be blended into to glue the kit together in the middle and give it some big fat hairy balls. 


Room
If you want a huge roomy sound then you can place one or two mics as far away and as wide as you like and then blend them in. (Ribbon or condenser mics are great for this but use what you've got). You are limited here by the size of your room, but there's nothing stopping you from placing these mics outside of the room and down the corridor. 

Processing: If using two, pan them hard left and right. I will use the Waves MPX tape emulation here and the Kramer PIE comp. Often I will use a gate and side chain it to the snare top so that it only opens when the snare is hit. This will give the snare a huge perceptually loud sound.

And we're done! nearly...

Before you get going balancing, it's worth checking the phase of each channel. When mixing, start by balancing the kick and snare, add in the kit mics, then the toms, then hats and cymbals and lastly experiment with the room mics. 

Sometimes the song will need a dry, close sound in which case use more of the close mics, less of the kit mics and none of the smash and room mics. Sometimes the song will require a big, bombastic roomy sound. In which case go crazy with the smash and rooms. 


Once you've recorded your music, you'll need a professional to mix and master it for you. 


Bobby x