Recording drums in personal environments such as rehearsal spaces, garages, and living rooms can be a bitch. Big-studio engineers often have marvelously tuned acoustic areas and cabinets full of sexy microphones at their disposal, and, along with their years of audio training, these benefits can yield tremendous drum sounds. You, however, probably have a couple of inexpensive dynamic mics and a recording space that’s awash in the debris of everyday living. But you’re not a whiner or a quitter, so you barrel in and use who you’ve got, and you record your drum tracks the best you can. Bravo.
But when you audition the sounds during the recording process—or later on when you’re in mixdown mode—you start getting a tad paranoid. Perhaps the kick drum sounds thin, the snare is dull, or the hi-hat is piercing. Mic placement isn’t solving any of the problems, and you don’t want to stop the creative surge, break down the kit, and start from scratch in another room—or, worse yet, bail entirely on the session until you can beg or barter for a bettersounding recording space and/or hipper microphones.
Keeping the studio energy flow rocking may sound like something a porpoise-loving, crystal-worshiping flower child might advise, but when you’re attempting to keep the flames of creativity burning, any setbacks can douse one’s personal inferno of inspiration, and that’s not good. To that end, the home-studio owner needs to juggle the option of a quick fix that keeps the session moving (but may not deliver transcendent results) against the possibility of rescheduling the recording in order to acquire better tools.
My vote is obvious—keep working feverishly until the beatific hellhound of inspiration turns to dust. You never know when you’ll be lucky enough to get a return visit from a benevolent muse.
Of course, in this instance, keeping the momentum going means you still have those problematic drum sounds to deal with, and they have to be dealt with immediately. Here, then, are some tonal bandages worthy of Florence Nightingale. Your drums might not sound as glorious as Chad Smith’s or John Bonham’s, but the patient won’t die, either.
Flabby Kick Drum
Use your channel EQ or an EQ plug-in to cut 80Hz or 100Hz by 3dB–6dB. If that doesn’t work, try cuts from 40Hz to 200Hz until the muddy lows dissipate.
Wimpy Kick Drum
Need some beef? Carefully boost at 100Hz until you love the boom. Usually, a 3dB or 6dB boost should do the trick, although I’ve sometimes been as bold as to dial in a 10dB boost. Take care not to go boost crazy and produce a flabby timbre—you don’t want to ping-pong between the previous EQ tip and this one!
Where’s the Impact?
Sometimes, the snap of the beater pedal against the drumhead gets mushy or indistinct. To bring back the punch, boost 2kHz or so by 6dB. Depending on the size of the kick drum and the material used for the beater, you may also want to explore boosts from 1kHz up to 5kHz to get the desired result.
Get more thud and swack by cutting 500Hz by 3dB or so. If there’s an annoying low-midrange ring, try cutting around 900Hz.
Not Enough Wood
Zero in on 120Hz–240Hz to dial in some warmth and fullness to the snare drum. A 3dB boost should do it.
Where’s the Crack?
For a crisp snare attack, boost anywhere between 1.5kHz and 3kHz. To add some snap, boost at 10kHz.
Dead Floor Tom
To up the rumble, boost around 80Hz–120Hz, and cut the same frequencies to reduce mud. For attack, boost in the 3kHz–5kHz range.
Puny Rack Toms
Pump up the wallop with boosts in the 240Hz–400Hz range. Articulate those stick-to-skin hits by boosting around 3kHz–7kHz.
Calm the sizzle by cutting 3dB to 6dB at around 3kHz, and again at 10kHz–12kHz.
Indistinct Overhead Cymbals
Bring back clarity and dimensionality by boosting 10kHz by 3dB.