Guide to Recording Drum Tracks in Home Studios
|The Foo Fighters tracked their new album, Wasting Light, in Dave Grohl’s garage.|
GOT A small recording space? Fear not: Even with no room to
swing a cat, you can easily record drum tracks that sound huge.
In this first installment of a three-part series, I’ll offer some triedand-
true tips for recording bang-up trap drums in pint-sized digs.
Set A Trap Choose a room with good bass-frequency response
to record the kit. Rectangular rooms offer a more even bottom
end than square-shaped ones. Avoid perfect cubes (where the
length, width, and height of the room are exactly the same
dimensions) if at all possible—they are the worst for recording
drums (or anything else, for that matter). If you can, set the kit up
on a hard surface instead of on carpet. Wood, cork, bamboo, tile,
concrete, and even vinyl flooring will make your drums sound
much more lively than a carpeted floor. Treat any opposing walls
(and the ceiling, if it’s a consistent height above a hard floor) with
acoustic materials as needed to tame flutter echoes.
Get High and Mighty The most important thing you can do
to assure great-sounding drum tracks is to raise the crash and
ride cymbals as high as possible without compromising
the drummer’s ability to play well. If you were to set the
cymbals too low, they would bleed so loudly into the tom
mics that it would be virtually impossible to shape the
sound of the toms independently of the cymbals during
mixdown. You wouldn’t be able to make the tom tracks
sufficiently loud without the cymbals overwhelming the
mix. And goosing high frequencies on a rack-tom mic to
bring out the thwack of stick hits would also make crash
and ride hits cut like razor blades across the ear drums. Get
those cymbals up!
If possible, have the drummer rack the floor tom before
the session. It will produce much deeper and longer sustain
when racked compared to when sitting on legs.
Go On A Microphone Binge There are two basic
approaches to recording trap drums. One method uses a
pair of somewhat-distant mics to capture the entire kit
and then reinforces the kick and snare drums as needed
with a close mic or two. While this strategy produces an
organic sound that works well for traditional styles of
music, it often won’t give you the control, flexibility, and
focus you need to fashion explosive drum tracks that rock.
And an over-reliance on ambient mics in a
small room—especially one with sub-optimal
acoustics—is a recipe for weak and washysounding
A better approach is to place a separate
close mic on each and every trap drum.
Additional overhead and ambient mics are
used to record the cymbals and the overall
sound of the kit in the room. Each mic signal
gets recorded to a separate track on your
multitrack recorder or DAW.
|For the Foo Fighters recording, multiple room mics captured “garage” tone.|
This binge-miking setup dramatically
increases your options later in the game. You
can adjust the level, EQ, panning, envelope
shape, and dynamic range of each trap drum
virtually independently of the others during
mixdown. Overhead and ambient mics can
be goosed or lowered in the mix without
dramatically changing the levels of the traps.
Discrete drum tracks that sound weak can
be bolstered or replaced by samples using
plug-ins such as Slate Digital Trigger and
WaveMachine Labs Drumagog.
Know Your Enemies Using a lot of mics
to record drums has two major drawbacks
if done improperly: It can cause phase
cancellations and degrade stereo imaging.
Let’s examine phase cancellations first.
When the sound of the kick drum, for
example, arrives at both its intended mic
and the mic for one of the toms, the two
signals will be out-of-phase with one another
and cause certain frequencies to become
attenuated. For reasons too complex to explain
here, the most audible penalty is weakened
bass frequencies. Bottom line: Multiple mics
placed willy-nilly on a drum kit can make the
traps, in particular, sound weak and thin.
The same combination of intended and
unintended mic signals can also cause stereo
imaging to degenerate. If the recorded kick
is panned dead-center but kick hits also bled
into the mic for the floor tom, panning the
floor tom anywhere but dead-center will pull
the image of the kick drum off toward the side
of the stereo field. Poor stereo imaging makes
drums sound washy.
No worries. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll show
you how to place each mic on the traps to
minimize both phase and imaging problems.
You’ll learn how to produce punchy drum
sounds that have laser-like focus and clarity.
See you next month!