Brendan on Recording Drums

Brendan on Recording Drums


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Despite EDM taking over the majority of the music scene recently, in which the use of sampled drum hits are a lot more common than first hand drum recordings, genres such as rock, indie, metal, etc. still much prefer to record their drums in. Here are a few tips to help you attain the best drum recording you can avoiding some of the common problems which occur.

Your first step should be ensuring your kit is tuned correctly. Hopefully your drummer is a pro-tuner and can set the tensions perfectly on initial adjustment! Sometimes the 'ideal' tuning can differ with personal preference, though, but one drummer's opinion shouldn't sway too far from another's. When tuning snares and toms, there should be equal tension from the first point of tension to the last. You can begin to do this fairly straightforwardly by loosening all tensioner keys completely and tightening them until they're just starting to reach some solid tension. Once you've got a good starting point, adjust each tension point a turn or two until the pitch is getting near to that which you desire, ensuring you re-enact each step on the tension point exactly opposite. Apply pressure to the centre of the head so it stretches to perfectly fit each tension point, and dial adjustments down to about half a turn hereafter. Hitting near the rim at each point between two keys should give a consistent pitch at this point! If not, adjust accordingly. The following image shows you the how to effectively order the tension keys:
The bottom head on snares – and toms where applicable – is tuned in the same way, however it's crucial that the tension is exactly the same as the first head. Shifting the tension of the second head slightly higher gives a somewhat duller attack, but also grants an intriguing pitch bending effect. Shifting it lower, however, gives a sharper attack but the sound packs slightly less punch. Moving on to the kick drum, higher tension will produce a fuller tone and a lot of body where lower tension will cause a louder initial click with stronger attack. Somewhere in between is what you're aiming for, so play around until you're satisfied.Now your skins are tuned to your desire, make sure you know what parts of the kit the drummer will be using in the recording. You don't want to be miking up toms that aren't being used, for example!

Before setting up microphones, have a comprehensive listen to the sound of the drum kit in it's current position and environment. A bright, live room is ideal to capture the fullness of the kit is ideal. This can be achieved in a medium-sized room with no treatment whatsoever; brick or some sort of stone can work great.
In terms of microphones, let's begin with the overheads. The three best stereo pairs to consider are the spaced pair (AB), the coincident pair (XY) and the mid-side pair (MS). While all can be very effective, it purely depends on what result you're looking for and what you or your engineer personally prefer. AB tends to give a wide, balanced sound, while XY seem to give a narrower but more accurate representation of the sound. MS kind of allows for the best of both. The bidirectional side mic captures width, while the mid captures the punch and attack of the drums. If you're unfamiliar with these techniques, look into how to set them up and experiment with them.
Bare in mind that with AB, each mic should be equidistant from the snare, and that the side mic with MS should be duplicated and one phase inverted. With the overheads you're looking for a perfectly balanced sound of the entire drum kit with a nice, crisp finish. The majority of the drums in the mix should come from the overheads!
You could also try a pair of microphones next the drummer's head (assuming he/she doesn't move around to drastically). This is particularly effective when the drummer is experienced at nice drum sounds and has tuned the drums him/herself, because he/she will have made the kit sound great from where he/she is sat! You can use this in addition to overheads or try it instead of them.
In terms of microphones, almost any cardioid condenser would be fine. One that I have found to be particularly good with stereo pairs is the AKG C414. I've used this in all three types of stereo pair and results have been great every time!
Next you'll want to mic up each drum/cymbal where appropriate. For the snare, the go-to mic for most is the Shure SM57. Sometimes the SM58 is used and sometimes a condenser such as the AKG C457. It's definitely a good idea to have an SM57 to hand, but there's no reason you shouldn't experiment! Positioning the mic more to the outside of the skin will capture more brightness, and the centre, punch. Miking the snare from the bottom as well as the top can give great results, too, but remember to phase invert one of them. If you don't like the idea, you can always remove it from the recording, but having the option is a bonus.
For the kick drum, you'll want to capture the 'boom' of the low end as the overheads won't do a great job of that, being condensers positioned so far away from the kick. The go-to mic for this drum would be the AKG D112 but there are other mic choices such as the Shure PG52, Beyerdynamic Opus 65 and the Sennheiser E602. When positioning the mic, a good starting point is halfway between the centre and rim of the beater head. This gives width and better balanced harmonic content to the sound. Moving the mic ever so slightly can change the sound drastically on the kick, so be sure to test out many different positions! If the cavity is too small for the mic to be able to reach the other side, simply position the mic in the hole, adjusting the angle until the sound booms. There's no reason to not experiment with using more than one mic with the kick as well!
With the hi hat, often they're captured well by the overheads, but if you feel they're not present enough, almost any condenser will do the job. For obvious reasons, it's a good idea to position the mic on the side furthest from the snare, and facing it directly down eliminates the possibility of the the air flow the hi hat causes to affect the recording. Play around with the mics distance to the edge of the hi hat, as this will change the brightness and definition that you capture.
When it comes to toms, it's a good idea to try and capture these effectively in the overheads and not worry about close mics, because with more close mics comes more bleed in the recordings. However if the style you're going for requires this, the snare techniques are pretty good on toms, too. Directing the null point of the mic towards the nearest cymbal is probably a good idea as well, to remove it from the tom recording as much as possible.
Once everything is miked up, remember mics and positions aren't set in stone; unless you honestly feel like each mic sounds perfect, fiddle about and see how you can positively change the sound.

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