Posted tagged ‘Bass drum’


December 19, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 42 Mixing Drums

This week and next in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series, we’ll be looking at Drums in the mix process.

But before we get into discussing mixing drums – were you happy with the recorded sound of your kit? Was the drum kit properly tuned?

A Vital Ingredient For A Great Drum Sound – Tuning.

We covered drum tuning in this blog. A badly tuned kit will never produce a great sound. So if you weren’t up to it yourself, hopefully you got someone in to tune them for you. We looked at recording and the various mic techniques for drums in four blogs starting here…..from Part 19 through to Part 22.

Showing The Tuning Order For Drum Heads With Different Numbers Of Lugs.

It is rumoured that Metallica’s Black Album employed 30 tracks (including ambience tracks) just for the drums!!! Depending on how many mics you used to record your kit, will dictate to a large extent what you can do with the drums in your mix. If you have 12 tracks recorded for the kit it should allow you more control over each individual drum and cymbal component and more variation in sound than if you only used 2 or 3 tracks for the drums. But either extreme can produce a great sound or a complete mess.

More isn’t always better. Glyn Johns famously used 3 or 4 mics to record drums on many major releases from the 60s to the late 80s. His technique is described in this blog.

To understand better the pros and cons for using a few or several mics, click on the links above for tuning and recording drums.

Drums And Mics Setup At TML Studio TCM Music Nashville.

Drums are the backbone of modern music tracks. Providing you have taken the time to tune them properly and have got a great recording of them – you should have few problems in the mix. Although there is bound to be some bleed, for example, a snare mic may also pick up audio from the other drums and cymbals in the kit.

Of course, one of the reasons for using a real drummer and kit is to get that real drum sound that’s unique to that player, kit, room etc.

A useful tip, is to sample all the drums on the kit individually before recording the drummer. This allows you to trigger a clean sample if necessary in the mix stage.

Drum Samples From Sonic Reality.

Today, you can buy great drum samples (which tend to be EQ’d already), but unless you’re really good at programming, it’s not always easy producing a great drum performance. Many samples offered come as loops that can be used ‘straight out of the box’. With a little editing they can be turned into excellent drum tracks.

When using EQ on any instrument, drums included, solo the track your listening to first. And only ever apply EQ if it’s needed. If it sounds okay, leave it alone. Where possible, use EQ cut rather than boost to get the sound you want…..this approach ensures less noise is added to your track.

Once you start monitoring drums with the rest of your tracks, then you may find yourself adding more top end to a kick and snare. Be sure to compare the sound between the soloed track(s) and the overall drum sound in the mix.

The acoustics of the room you recorded in, the quality of the drum kit, how well they were tuned, the player – will all have contributed to the drum sound. So any EQ and processing suggestions are only guidelines.

Graphic Illustrating Possible EQ For Bass Guitar And Kick Drum.

The Kick Drum needs to work with the bass guitar. So don’t EQ both with the same frequencies. For example, if the bass guitar is boosted around 150 Hz, don’t emphasise the kick in the same frequency range. In the picture above, notice the narrow bandwidth boost for the kick at 50 Hz and the cut to the bass guitar at the same frequency.

Kick Drum Miked From Pedal Side.

To give the kick some force, add a few dB at 80-100 Hz. Cutting around 400-600 Hz can help to reduce the boxiness some drums have. Adding a few dB at around 5 kHz should give your kick more presence and attack. If you recorded the kick with a mic at the front and another on the pedal side, each will give a different quality to the drum. The pedal side usually contributes a punchier sound.

To find the exact frequency that needs adjusting, use extreme cut or boost, whilst using a very high Q or narrow bandwidth setting as you sweep through the frequencies. This makes it easier to find the desired frequency. Once you’ve found the frequency that works best, moderate the cut or boost dB levels and widen the bandwidth a little.

Don’t alter the levels of the kick drum and bass guitar. These two instruments are the foundation of the beat in any song. Find a level and EQ setting that works for them and leave them alone.

It’s rare to find two engineers/producers that approach recording and mixing in exactly the same way. So opinions vary on the use of dynamic processing in the mix stage. A major part of the debate centres around whether to EQ first then Compress or vice versa. You might want to consider this guideline…..if the drum needs drastic EQ then compress before EQ. If the drum needs serious compression then EQ before compression. Ultimately, it’s down to what sounds best, so try both and see which you prefer.

A Carefully Setup Noise Gate On The Kick Can Get Rid Of Bleed From Other Drums.

If you have used multiple mics to record your drum kit, there will inevitably be bleed on the kick mic from other drums (especially the snare) and vice versa. One way to reduce bleed is to use a noise gate. The principle is that the noise gate will open when the kick drum is hit, but will close when the kick is not present, thus getting rid of the spill in the kick mic from the other drums.

The picture above shows Logic’s Noise Gate with a very fast attack. The release is fast enough to close before the snare is heard, but allows the full sound of the kick to get through. The threshold has been turned down until the other drums cannot be heard. If you decide to use a gate, take your time to get the settings right so that the kick is not cut off prematurely.

Logic’s Compressor Set Up For The Kick.

Compression helps to even out any level inconsistencies. If the drummer provided a reasonably steady output, you could try a 5:1 ratio, adjust the threshold until you’re compressing around 3-4 dBs. You can then bring the level back by increasing the gain by about 3 dBs. Then adjust the attack and release until you get the effect you want. A slower attack allows the beater to break through. Adjust the release time to stop the compressor from compressing before the next beat.

Left – Snare Miked Top & Bottom, Right – Dampening The Snare.

The Snare Drum is what gives the drive and beat to your music, so it should cut through everything else. For many producers/engineers their snare drum sound is their signature. Also, many drummers will bring along more than one snare to a recording session, using different ones on different songs. So decide on the kind of snare sound you want. Listen to your favourite songs from different eras and different bands for ideas. Drums recorded in the 60’s sounded different from those in the noughties.

Click here for an interesting article on recording and mixing the snare drum.

If you have used one mic on the snare, positioning it above the rim is the usual  spot. Placing a mic below the snare gives you additional options and tonal qualities as it will capture the sizzle of the snare wires. You will however, need to reverse its phase with the mic above the snare.

Digirack EQ On Snare Drum.

If your snare sound needs more body, try boosting at around 100-150 Hz. Below 100 Hz, there isn’t much that needs to be kept, so you can use a high-pass filter. Reduce boxiness by cutting around 650 Hz. Need more crispness? Add a few dB between 4-8 kHz. There are also enhancers or exciters on the market from the likes of JoeMeek and Aphex that can really help to improve the sound.

The snare mic will pick up some of the kick, toms, cymbals and hi-hat. So again, a noise gate works well in cleaning up the snare sound. But whereas the kick’s characteristic thud is quite short, the snare can ring out. So adjust the settings carefully, taking care that the natural decay of the snare does not get cut-off.

Something to consider…..once you’ve got a great sounding snare, you could try triggering some good drum samples underneath to produce a punchier, modern rock sound.

Along with the kick and the bass guitar, the snare is usually placed centre stage in the stereo field. There are examples in modern music where these conventions have been ignored, but in general these three instruments fulfill their purpose best when panned down the middle.

A radically different snare sound can be created with the addition of a short delay or reverb, e.g. a good plate or room setting. Just bear in mind that adding a long reverb can muddy or confuse the snare sound. Try using a decay length that fits between the consecutive snare hits. There’s also the gated reverb sound, used by Phil Collins to great effect on ‘In The Air Tonight’ and many other artists.

You may find there are certain effects that require slightly different settings at different points in the song.  For example, you may want to add a longer reverb to a snare in the chorus, whilst using a drier setting in the verse. The only way to find out what works is to try it. This is the beauty of the modern multitrack process, in the mix stage you can experiment with all kinds of processing without compromising your original tracks.

Next week we’ll continue with mixing drums by looking at Toms, Overheads, Hi-Hat, Cymbals and Ambience tracks.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.



July 24, 2011

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.


July 4, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 18 Tuning Drums

This week we’ll discuss preparing and tuning drums for a recording session. Tuning drums is an extensive subject in itself and if you’ve never done it before, it will probably take a bit of practice to get it right. Even if you intend to get someone in to tune the drums for you before a session, it’s useful to know the basic process – which is what we will discuss here. For further information on tuning, see the video at the bottom of this blog.

Next week we’ll get into the various microphone techniques for recording drums.

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.

As Drum Kits Go – Recording Engineer’s Hell!

Recording drums in many Home Studios is not going to be the easiest task. For starters a full kit takes some time to tune and set up properly. Second it takes up a fair amount of space if it’s set up all the time. Third, they’re rich in transients and they’re not the quietest of instruments. So keeping the sound in your room and not annoying neighbours is something you may need to consider…..check out this blog which discusses ‘Your Room’.

At this point, many home musicians decide to use samples or a drum machine because it’s less hassle.

Two Drumming Legends – Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd…..Who Haven’t These Guys Played With???!!!

Over the years I’ve used real kits, drum machines and samples. Unless you’re really good at programming a machine/samples or can get a real drummer to do it for you, the resultant drum track can very easily sound….uninspiring.

With a little care and effort you can capture a great drum sound played by a real drummer, which can make an enormous difference to a recording.

TML Studio TCM Music Nashville – Drums and Mics Set Up.

Just remember the type of song should determine the drum sound, not the other way round, so don’t be afraid to try things out. There are probably more differing opinions on how to record drums than any other instrument. So you will come across plenty of contradictory advice.

Not all drums are created equal and when it comes to recording them, the choice can become even more confusing. There is a vast range of drum heads, cymbals and sticks and the resultant recorded sound is dependant on all of these as well as the microphone set up, room acoustics and most importantly the player.

Drum Kits…..£259 to £959.

Things to remember…..

  • If you’re looking for that big drum sound, don’t assume you need a big kit. Oddly enough smaller drums can sound bigger when recorded.
  • The heads that come with the kit aren’t necessarily the best ones for recording. If you can, spend a little time experimenting with a variety of heads.
  • Keep in mind the most expensive – don’t always yield the best recording results.
  • Cymbals that sound great for live stage work, won’t necessarily sound the best for recording. If you have the choice, go for cymbals that have a fast attack and a short decay.
  • Stage cymbals which have a long decay can cause problems bleeding into the tom-tom mics, causing endless frustration when it comes to mixdown.
  • Suggest to your drummer to play the cymbals quieter than normal. This will help in the overall mix.

Hand Tuning A Drum Head.

So the first thing that needs addressing is – TUNING. If you attempt to record drums that are not tuned, you will be battling to get a good sound. Having said that, no two drummers will likely tune their drums exactly the same way! So there lies the confusion and contradiction I mentioned earlier.

Consider that thick, heavy (drum) heads will sound louder, duller and decay quicker than thin heads which will also have a sharper attack.

Tune each drum separately, away from the rest of the kit. This will eliminate vibrations from the other drums making it easier to concentrate on the drum in hand. The aim is to keep the tension as even as possible around the head. So start by unwinding all the tension keys around the drum, then tighten them finger tight.

Showing The Order Of Tightening For Different Lug Numbers.

With a drum key adjust each rod on opposite sides of the head, tightening a whole, half, then quarter turn at a time as the head gets more tensioned. The four diagrams above show the pattern order for tightening different lug numbered heads.

After you’ve increased the tension, apply pressure to the middle of the head by pressing very firmly down with the palm of your hand. Do this by placing the drum on a carpeted floor. If necessary, bounce up and down on the head. This will ensure that it is stretched and seated properly on the bearing edge.

Applying Pressure To The Centre Of The Head.

Continue to tighten with the drum key and tap the head about an inch or so in from the edge near the lug that is being tightened. Any wrinkles on the head should be gone at this stage. The head should now be producing an audible tone when struck. As you go round the head try to maintain a constant, uniform pitch. Proceed until the desired pitch is achieved all the way round. If you’re using double-headed drums repeat the process for the other head. Some drummers tune the bottom head first, others tune the top first.

Pearl Drum Kit With Three Toms And Kick – Approx. £2500.

If you have a set of three different sized toms, you will find each one has an ideal/preferred tone. When you play them there should be a natural descending pitch from high to low for the smallest to the largest tom.

A tight, well tuned beater head gives the kick drum a defined, full-bodied sound. A tight beater head also gives the kick plenty of attack. With bass/kick drums and toms most drummers prefer the top and bottom heads to be of similar pitches.

Premier Resonator Drum – £225 – Bottom View.

The snare tends to be different. The bottom head is often thinner than the top (batter) head and generally sounds better, tighter – giving a nice crisp effect. Many jazz drummers favour this sound. Whilst tuning the bottom looser than the top (not surprisingly) gives a lower, heavier tone – more rock ‘n roll.

The snare is also probably the source of most unwanted rattles in the drum kit. As a rule of thumb before recording, you should always go round the entire kit checking for any loose fittings and rattles. Separate stands that are touching each other. Loose hardware can be usually silenced with masking tape. And a can of WD40 comes in handy for getting rid of squeaks.

Coins, Kleenex, Cardboard – Can All Be Used For Dampening.

With regards to the use of duct tape and dampeners on drum heads – there are two opposing views. Some drummers will say that if you start off with a good quality drum and the head is tuned properly, there should be no need for dampening. But in a real life Home Recording situation, things are rarely perfect. So you may feel the need to try and apply some dampening on a drum head. Just be careful – too much dampening can deaden a drum to the point that they’ll sound like cardboard boxes.

Forums are sometimes good places to pick up useful tips. Here’s one for drums.

Using Coffee Filters For Dampening Cymbals and Drums.

When it comes to cymbals, radial strips of masking tape can prove effective for dampening the ring if deemed necessary. But as you can see from the picture above – coffee filters can also be put to good use.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and moving pictures can be even better. There are numerous videos on You Tube which explain drum maintenance and tuning. If you’d like more information, the video below is a good place to start. Ryan Stohs demonstrates how to tune a drum (at around 3’55”). He also walks you through the pre-tuning process along with some basic maintenance tips.

Next week I’ll continue with our drum theme by discussing the various microphone techniques that are favoured by musicians and engineers.