TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO – PART 21 RECORDING DRUMS, MORE DETAILED MIC TECHNIQUES

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 21 Recording Drums, More Detailed Mic Techniques

Last week we covered some basic mic techniques for recording the drum kit…..from using just one mic to the 3 mic method pioneered by legendary producer and engineer, Glyn Johns.

For most Home Music Studios the methods mentioned, should allow you to capture a pretty good drum sound providing all the fundamentals are covered. That is, if you have a decent sounding drum kit that is tuned and set up properly, a room that is not too dead or reverberant and a decent drummer who can control to some extent his volume when playing.

As part of their recording packages, TCM offer the services of professional session musicians. Troy Luccketta, drummer with Tesla is available through TCM Music Group and is also a Producer partner.

This week and next we will discuss in greater detail miking individual drums and cymbals then follow that with percussion.

First a word on recording levels – When recording any instrument, you want to capture the highest level without distortion with as little noise as possible. In other words you want a high signal-to-noise ratio.

Drums produce loud transients and are usually recorded quite hot, that is at a level that is close to distorting. Analogue tape can be quite forgiving, in fact many engineers record high levels onto tape to saturate the tape, which gives a warmer sound. However, if you record above 0dB into a digital system, the distortion you get will not be pleasant at all.

So before recording, always get your drummer to play the kit at the loudest volume he/she will play at for the track you’re working on, so that you can set your levels to best suit either your analogue or digital recorder.

If you have the resources to buy a large selection of mics and have the requisite number of preamps and inputs to plug all those mics into…..the possibilities for recording drums are almost endless.

One Mic Ain’t Gonna Do It For Neil Peart’s Kit! 

A lot of modern popular music, rock or country recordings use several mics. As well as using overheads or ambient mics, specific mics will be used for the kick, snare, toms, hi-hat, cymbals, gongs and other assorted percussion.

For example…..

  • 2 or even 3 mics for the kick (eg. AKG D112/D12, Audix D6).
  • 2 for the snare (eg. Shure SM57, AKG C451, Sennheiser e604).
  • Top and bottom mics on each tom (eg. Sennheiser 441/MD421/e604, Beyer M88, Audix D2).
  • A couple on the hi-hat (eg. AKG C1000/C451B, AT 4041).
  • A mic on each cymbal (eg. AKG 452/C1000, Octava MK319).
  • A stereo pair of overheads (eg. AKG C414/C451, Royer NT-1A).
  • A couple of ambience mics at different distances from the kit (eg. AKG C414, Neumann U87).
  • Mics for specific pieces of percussion.

That’s a lot of mics. And the more mics you have set up, the bigger the potential problem with phase issues. So setting up such a large group of mics in pretty close proximity to each other will present several challenges to the recording engineer.

Reasonably Priced Samson 7 Piece Mic Set For Drums.

Miking each instrument in the drum kit separately, will allow you to apply EQ, compression and balance the levels between the different drums and cymbals. But in order for this to work effectively, you will need to achieve good separation between the various mics, so that each one picks up the drum it’s positioned on without picking up the other drums.

Just because you have set up a complicated array of mics and captured a good recording of them all on your DAW or recorder, doesn’t mean you will necessarily use all the tracks in the final mix.

Once all the other instruments in the band are recorded and the mix process is underway you may decide for example, to dispense with the ambient mics or only use one mic each on the kick and snare. The music track you’re working on will (or it should) dictate the overall drum sound you present in your final mix.

Bass or Kick Drum

So let’s consider the bass or kick drum. This drum provides the basic rhythm of a song.

An Audix D6 Mic Positioned Through The Cut Out Hole, Aimed At The Beater Head. Note The Blanket Inside To Reduce Boominess.

Reduce the boominess from your kick by putting a pillow or blanket inside the drum. Place it so that it is either touching the inner skin or just an inch or so away from the skin. You will need to experiment.

Be careful when tuning the bass drum. You don’t want it too low. A tight well tuned beater head will give a full-bodied tone. The beater itself will contribute to the quality of the sound. A hard beater will give more attack than a soft one.

Top Nashville Mixer, Steve Marcantonio Favours Placing An AKG D112 Or EV RE20 Inside The Bass Drum Near The Beater And A Neumann U47 FET About 7 Inches Back From The Outer Skin.

You can place a mic inside the kick drum if you remove the outer head or cut a hole in it eg. AKG D112/D12, Sennheiser MD421, Beyer M88 or Audix D6. Position it 2 or 3 inches from the inside head just off centre. This will give you a sharp attack from the beater. Dynamics work best in this situation because they can handle the high SPLs. Condensers and especially ribbons are more fragile, so be very careful using them close up.

You may want to label the mic you use and keep it specifically for the kick, because it will take more of a beating than any other mic in your collection.

Pulling the mic a little further from the beater head (midway) will result in less attack and a bit more body to the drum sound.

If you don’t want to remove the outer head, you can place the mic 2-8 inches from the outer skin. Aimed at the centre, this position will give a more open, boomy quality. Move the mic a little from the centre to get less boom.

Of course, the further you place the mic away from the kick drum, the more it will pick up other drums and the room. To reduce this, you can place a blanket or acoustic panel over and around the kick mic.

Miking The Kick On The Beater Side Contributes Mid And Treble Giving Definition If Added To The Sound From A Mic Positioned At The Front.

Alternatively, you can place a mic on the beater side of the drum. This position is more prone to pick up squeaks from the pedal (keep a can of oil or WD40 handy), but will give a less boomy sound with lots of mids and treble. By mixing this mic position with a mic on the front end, it will add definition and give a fuller more rounded overall sound.

Make sure (as with all the drums and cymbals) that you achieve the best sound you can get from the particular instrument, before adding any EQ or compression. If you can, hold off on the EQ until the mixdown stage. When you add in the other band instruments, certain frequencies on the drums will be more useful than others to bring them out in the mix. You don’t want to commit too early to a kick EQ, because the kick and the bass guitar have to work together and the bass guitar sound will certainly affect the way you treat the kick sound.

Snare Drum

The snare is probably the most important drum in the kit because it drives the tempo of the song (and is probably the most strident of the drums). So it really needs as much separation as possible from the rest of the kit.

Aim A Quality Dynamic Mic Towards The Centre Of The Snare, Far Enough Back So That The Drummer Doesn’t Hit It.

When miking the snare consider it’s proximity to the hi-hat and don’t place it too far over the head or the drummer could accidentally hit it. Use a robust cardioid dynamic mic angled between 30 and 40 degrees to the beater head about an inch or two above the skin. Shure SM57s are widely used because they can handle the high SPLs and do a great job capturing the mid-range. You could also try an AKG C451 or Sennheiser 409.

Plus there are several mic packs on the market specifically designed for the drums. I mention Samson above, Audio Technica also do a 5 mic drum pack – AT MBDK5.

Striking The Snare At Different Points Produces Varying Sound Qualities.

Striking the snare in the centre will give most attack, at the edge will produce lots of high harmonics and midway will be the most resonant.

And remember, due to the Proximity Effect – the closer you move a mic with  a cardioid polarity pattern into a sound source, the more bottom end it will pick up.

Left – Miking The Snare From Below. Right – Air Blasts From The Hi-Hat Can Affect The Snare Mic Sound.

Positioning the mic over the snare may need a few attempts to get it right, so that it doesn’t pick up the blasts of air from the hi-hat opening and closing. Sometimes a super or hypercardioid does a better job.

Adding a mic below the snare gives you more options and tonal qualities as it will capture the sizzle of the snare wires. But you will need to reverse its phase with the mic above the snare. The snare wires should be tensioned so that they rattle when the snare is struck but not buzz in sympathy when other parts of the kit are hit. Applying some tissue or gaffa tape to the snare wires may be necessary, but don’t dampen or mute them completely.

Next week we’ll conclude our coverage of the Drum Kit with the Toms and Cymbals, then continue with Percussion.

Links For Mics…..AKG, Audix, Shure, Sennheiser, Royer, Neumann.

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