Setting up a studio in a house was an amazing opportunity to get some really natural sounding drum tracks,” states Ryan Hewitt, Blink’s engineer and one of the hottest new audio wizards on the scene. “We put everything together specifically to work the way we wanted, and wound up having a surprising amount of flexibility in the end.”
“Action,” a song off the trio’s forthcoming album, is the first Blink track Hewitt recorded in the house-cum-studio along with producer and longtime collaborator Jerry Finn.
“On the kick we used an Audio-Technica ATM-25 on the inside, and a Blue Mouse on the outside, both through Chandler TG-2 preamps,” says Hewitt. “Both mics went to a pair of Neve 1073s in a BCM-10 sidecar, and were bussed together before going through a Smart compressor and on to the Studer A-827 multitrack recorder.
“The snare drum was treated to a Shure SM-57 on the top, and another on the bottom, amplified again by a TG-2. These mics also went to the 1073s and dbx 160s compressors before tape. Toms had B& 4011s through Manley preamps and API 550L equalizers, printed very hot to tape. For the overheads we used Neumann KM-140s with Mastering Labs preamps and a Manley Massive Passive equalizer to back them up. To avoid spitty cymbals, we used a Beyer m-160 ribbon mic on the hi-hat and ride, both through a Phoenix Audio preamp and Avalon 2055 equalizer. To give the sound of the room’s true width, I brought a THE Sphere, a binaural microphone encased in a wood ball. This went through another Phoenix Audio preamp, with an NTI EQ and Dave Collins custom compressor. For more room depth, we used a Reslo ribbon far away from the kit, amplified by a Dave Collins low-impedance preamp, and tweaked with an API 550L and an SPL Transient Designer. Everything went to the Studer A-827 and stayed there.”
“The most difficult thing to achieve when recording drums with this many mics is good phase correlation,” Hewitt says. “Each drum has to sound great by itself and the mics have to play well with others when put together in the mix. Using mics that have the appropriate off-axis response in a given situation is very important to this end. Using B& 4011s on the toms not only allows you to get them in close to the action, it gives a naturally bright sound, requiring less EQ. The off-axis response is relatively tight, and rolls off nicely at the top, helping to keep the cymbal leakage from being too harsh and annoying. When placing the overheads, I get them into an effective area, and then measure from the center of the snare to the mics, making them the same distance to keep a good stereo picture with the snare as the centerpiece. I actually changed to an X/Y positioning later in the record to be even more effective.
“Keeping the hat and ride in line is also a tough task, but using the unique pickup pattern of the Beyer m-160s can help. I pointed the mic from the side of the cymbals toward the spot that Travis hits them, with the dead ends of the ribbon perpendicular to the floor in an attempt to keep the inevitable snare and cymbal leakage from being too overwhelming. The ride got similar treatment, but wasn’t actually used on this song. The Sphere wound up about 6' from the kit and about 4' from the floor to get a good balance of the drums and all the room reflections. I experimented a bit with the placement of the Reslo for a far room sound. It wound up about 20' from the drums, slightly obscured by the chimney that divides the living room of the house. We also had a bunch of tube trap diffusers around the kit (pictured), pulled as tall as possible to keep the cymbals out of the room and the room out of the overheads.
“Kick and snare are certainly the center of the kit, and arguably the whole record. Normally I like a Sennheiser 421 on the kick, but Jerry had an ATM-25 that he likes, so we put that up, and it was really punchy right off the bat. The mic ended up about 5" from the head, slightly off center from the beater. We tried a few mics on the outside of the kick, and the Mouse beat them all. The bottom end is real big on this drum, and so was the headroom and output of this mic. I placed it 1/2" from the head, and about 4" from the rim; here the mic can capture a deep but punchy sound. Too far from the rim and it just gets too mushy and vague sounding. Shure SM57s were made for snare drum miking, so we used two! On the top, Sam and I made a “hat shield” around the mic to keep some hat leakage out, and placed it as far into the head as Travis would allow, and as perpendicular as possible to get the most impact. Daniel [Jensen, drum tech] tuned the snares real tight for Travis, so we got the real snare sound from the bottom of the drum with another 57. This one was perpendicular to the drum, about 2" off the head, and right below the snare wires themselves.”
“Jerry has a great collection of gear, most notably preamps,” adds Hewitt. “We put the whole rack only a few feet from the drum kit to keep the mic level cable run as short and uncolored as possible. This is standard practice for Jerry, but a first for me, and so long as I can help it, I don’t want to record anything any other way! Everything sounded more immediate and focused; the right mic combined with short cable and the right preamp required less meddling to get the right sound. Recording everything to tape added another dimension to the sound and made for some really fun effects.
“On ‘Action,’ we have four distinct drum sounds created by old school tape editing. We recorded the song part-by-part, committing to different sounds by changing relative levels, EQ, and compression throughout, and cut the tape together. This way we didn’t have to mute the room to get a tight sound in the chorus, or push the room in the bridge. Everything is arranged on tape the way it needs to be in the mix. The most fun was getting really deep room sounds that would fit with the sound of the rest of the band. Moving the mics just a little bit made such a difference. Tailoring the natural ambience of the room to the desired vibe will nearly always beat artificial reverb, and give a more organic picture of the drum kit as a whole rather than as individual pieces.”