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Tracking: Basic Tips For Recording Live Drums At Home

June 1, 2009
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Most home-studio spaces have some acoustic gremlins such as fluttering echoes or sharp reflections. Hey, it’s not like you spent tons of bucks transforming your room into a pristine and harmonious acoustic environment that would give Abbey Road a run for its money. No matter—you can probably find at least one spot where the kit sounds ballsy, dimensional, and well-balanced. Move those drums around the room, record them with a good largediaphragm condenser positioned a few feet in front, and listen carefully for where the kit sounds best. Pay attention to details, such as whether quick or quirky reflections are boosting undesirable high end on the hi-hats and cymbals, or adding slapbacks that mess with the drummer’s groove. Judge your mono recordings against professional drum sounds you dig, and while you may not be able to nail those tones in your space with your tools, you can at least determine what you may be lacking in resonance, attack, and shimmer as compared to the pro drum tracks. When you discover a position that delivers a reasonably exciting tonal balance—freeze! It’s time to start putting up more mics.

KISS IT!

Even in this best possible position, the sound of the kit will likely continue to suffer somewhat from the sound of your room. But you can diminish any sonic ill effects by positioning your mics close to the source sound (toms, snare, hi-hat, etc.). Try putting the kick mic inside the kick itself (or right near the outside head), as well as placing mics no more than an inch from the snare and tom heads. This strategy should serve up beefy impacts and resonances, and minimize problematic room reflections. Rather than position overheads way over the cymbals (where reflections may add energy to frequencies you don’t want to hear), try placing a good large-diaphragm condenser about a yard from the front of the kick drum, and at a height between the drummer’s chest and head. You’ll lose a stereo overhead perspective, of course, but you may gain a clear and clean cymbal sound that you can blend into the drum mix without worrying about ugly signal bleed or phasing problems.

MIC IT!

Of course, if you’re going to stick a mic right on the source, you should be sure the mic can deliver all the tone you desire. I like to put a small pillow into the kick to dampen any ringing that detracts from a strong thud, and use something like an AKG D112 that can capture a sharp attack and meaty bass frequencies.

For the snare, I typically dampen any ringing with Moon Jellies— small rubber squares that can be placed in varying quantities atop the head—and use a Shure SM57 for its classic sound, as well as its ability to capture a good crack. I want more fullness and “boom” on the tops, of course, so I’ll usually go for something like Sennheiser MD421s. If I mic the hi-hat, I often put an AKG C451 right off the lip of the cymbals because I like to hear the tip of the sticks cut through the mix like a machete cutting through underbrush. Depending on what you’re going for, room and overhead mics should deliver dynamic interest and a full frequency spectrum. My favorites are AKG C 414s and Neumann 103s, and I’ve even used a SM57.

KEEP OUT!

Now that you’ve taken all this time to get a good drum sound from a lessthan- ideal space, compromising it with signal bleed from a scratch vocal, a guide rhythm instrument (guitar, keyboard, or click track), or the “control room” monitors seems positively crazy. So set up those players in another room (bedroom, bathroom, garage) with small amps, or take them direct if possible (excluding the vocal, of course). Have everyone monitor over headphones while the drummer is tracking. Don’t let anything soil the drum sound you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Let the room speak for itself!

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