Recording Tips

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Recording Drums

Rule #1 - Instrument Recognition

Learn all the names of the all the drums so you don't look like an idiot. Yes ALL OF THEM! A navy captain needs to be able to recognize all types of ships. Why should you not be able to recognize the important things in your career?

Rule #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 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 artificial reverb?
Etc etc....

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'.

Wrong

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 work seriously'.

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.

Quick Solutions

Modern

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 = Shure Beta52 or Audix D6

One on the snare facing down on the top drumhead (get it close) - (the Shure SM57 is most common, but be sure to try others).

One on the hi-hat facing down real close opposite where the stick hits and about half way in the radius - capacitor mic (the ADK SC-2 or Shure SM81 are both great high hat mics)

Two overheads in a crossed stereo pair or spaced pair - (ADK S-7s or the M-Audio Pulsar IIs are great mics in the "affordable" category)

Jazz

1 Omni-directional in lovely sounding room.(move it around and listen) Mic = ADK TT, Earthworks QTC40 or QTC50

Decca tree (Early Beatles) Mics = Two ADK S-7s with an ADK TT works great.

Three mics in a vertical line facing bass drum snare and cymbals (mono) Mics = Any combo of high SPL mics such as the ADK S-7s, S-51, or Vienna/Hamburg models.

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.

Tips

Tune up

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.

Rattles

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 compression.

Rings

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!

Attack

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 mentioning 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.

Drum gating

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 the attack and decay dial. 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 giving the snare focus, bit old hat now in my opinion. Kick drum (bass drum) gating can be good to get ride of background nonsense when the drum is not firing which helps to clean up the 'bottom end' of the mix.

Drum compression.

Yes please and in many different ways. Individual drum 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 gives 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 good.

Above all experiment!

That's all for now

Christopher Hambly MA ODE
Director
http://www.audiocourses.com?ref=studioresponder

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