Posted tagged ‘Microphone Technique’


March 9, 2012

TCM Mastering Offers Professional, Fast & Affordable Online Mastering

TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group offers professional, fast and affordable Online Mastering and Recording services for today’s musicians.

We get asked a lot of questions at TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group. Many relate to vocals, choice of songs and how to get the best out of a performance. So this week we thought we’d discuss just that.

From the TCM Mastering Studios, Ted Carfrae owner and founder of TCM, first considers some invaluable advice from a music legend – Quincy Jones.

TCM often gets asked, how to get the best out of a vocalist. In the video below, Ted explains how many top producers get that ‘magical’ performance.

Using the techniques discussed in the video above are only part of the story. Good mic technique is essential if you’re striving for a great vocal recording.

If you have any questions on the music making process – whether it be writing, production, recording, mixing or mastering drop us an e-mail or call us. Our contact details are below.


TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a full and comprehensive service to the music industry.

Originally started by multi-platinum record producer Ted Carfrae, today TCM is fronted by Ted in the UK and CJ Boggs in the USA.

Their aim is to provide a totally professional, fast and affordable service to all musicians, pro and amateur alike.

TCM Music Group have produced, mixed and mastered for some of the biggest names in the music business. They’ve worked with all the major record labels worldwide and as producers and engineers have amassed over 25 million in sales.

Most clients are repeat customers and over the years, many have become firm friends. Ted and CJ are particularly interested in helping up and coming, new artists. For more information, go to our websites TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group. Or check out our contact details below.



February 13, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 50 Mixing Piano

Over the last three weeks in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio blog series, we covered Acoustic, Electric and Bass Guitars in the mix. This week we move onto the Piano.

The piano can be acoustic (grand or upright), electric or software based samples. In addition there are a number of synth keyboards on the market that contain piano presets and samples.

Always Ensure The Piano Is Properly Tuned Before Recording.

We discussed various techniques for recording the piano in this earlier blog. However, some important points worth remembering are…..make sure the instrument is properly tuned before recording, listen to how the musician plays the piano and how he/she wants it to sound whilst making sure any rattles or squeaks from pedals have been dealt with.

The sound of the piano in the mix depends on the type and make of instrument, the player, the room, the mic type and technique used and whether you recorded it in stereo or mono, close or distant? Solo concert grands can often benefit from mic placements a little distant (providing you have a decent room to record in). This allows the sound of the instrument to develop before being captured by the mics, giving a more natural stereo picture.

In A Band Scenario You Can Improve Separation By Turning The Open Piano Lid Away from The Other Instruments And Using Acoustic Panels.

Pianos in a band setup will tend to be more closely miked. To increase separation, turn the open piano lid away from the other instruments as much as possible and place acoustic screens or panels between them.

Bear in mind that even though some recording techniques employ a very close placement of mics, we rarely listen to a piano up close. So try to think about how you want the piano to sound in the mix, as you record it.

Kemble Upright, Steinway Grand & Yamaha Digital Piano.

All pianos have different tonal characteristics which means that some instruments will sound better than others for certain genres of music. It’s not a hard and fast rule. Obviously, you can use any instrument for any song type or musical piece, but some like the grand piano have come to be accepted as the instrument of choice for classical music because of its varied tone, huge pitch range and dynamic response…..the modern concert grand can span 8 octaves and go from piano (soft) to forte (loud), hence its full name – pianoforte.

Is your music mix more Jerry Lee Lewis than Chick Corea, more Diana Krall than Carole King or more Scott Joplin than Lang Lang? The choice of instrument (or sample) and playing style will go a long way to make the mix sound convincing if you’re aiming for a definitive sound. Are you emulating a certain established style e.g. honky tonk, or are you trying to create a completely new sound?

The role of a piano in a mix depends greatly on whether the instrument is the main focus of attention or if it’s merely a supportive instrument along with others to the lead vocal, for example. If you recorded the piano in stereo, how wide and where you pan the piano will depend upon what else is going on in the mix.

Panning The Piano Wide Across The Stereo Image, Can Result In A Distracting, Sometimes Gimmicky Effect.

In a classical setting, the solo piano is rarely given a very wide stereo pan. If the piano is a solo instrument or the only instrument in a rock song you could try panning it, say 11 to 1 or 10 to 2 o’ clock. Panning hard left and right could be very distracting to the listener.

Remember, imaging that sounds subtle over a pair of speaker monitors can become much more extreme over headphones. And many people listen to their music over headphones these days from laptops and iPods etc.

In budget consoles, different pan pots can often vary by up to 10 per cent in their accuracy when setting their positions visually. So, for example, a 10 to 2 o’ clock position visually could actually be more like a 10 to 3 o’ clock spread aurally. Therefore, it’s very important to position your instruments in the stereo picture using your ears and not your eyes.

12 Segment LED Metering – Always Mix With Your Ears And Not Your Eyes.

The same applies to level meters. With budget LED ladder metering you could be persuaded into thinking that two meters peaking to the same visual level are the same aurally…’re more than likely to be wrong. Each LED step or segment could account for several dB gain. So mix levels with your ears too and not your eyes.

If it’s a supportive instrument you could try panning slightly left and right (from say 11 to 1 o’ clock) either side of the lead instrument or vocal. Positioning it in the centre could pose a problem if there is a lead vocal. In this scenario it might sound less confusing if it’s positioned left or right in mono.

And always check for any phase problems if you use more than one mic on the instrument.

Listen to various panning options, compare how the piano is treated on some of your favourite songs and seek feedback from other musicians.

EQ On A Bosendorfer Featuring Piano, Choir & Strings.

When it comes to applying EQ to a piano sound, some instruments will be naturally brighter than others. So you have to use your ears and judgement to determine if the piano needs help in the upper frequencies or suppressing. This applies equally to acoustic, electric or samples.

For example, acoustic pianos vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next. The dampers, hammers and types of strings all contribute to the sound. Some instruments are bright whilst others could sound dull in comparison.

EQ On A Steinway In A Busy Rock Mix – The Severe Bass Cut Sounded A Bit Harsh In Isolation But Worked Well In The Mix.

The mood of your music is determined to a large extent by chord choice and lyric but can also be enhanced by subtle use of EQ and effects. If your music piece is dark and moody you may want to turn down the brightness of a piano by using a high-shelf EQ between 17-20 kHz. Conversely, if the piano sound is already dark or the song needs a brighter sheen, you can boost those same frequencies.

If the piano is part of a busy mix. you may want to apply a high-pass filter at around 200 Hz to suppress those low frequencies which could interfere with the kick and bass guitar.

Cutting around 3 kHz can help to reduce muddiness and interference with a guitar or vocal part. Boosting around 6 kHz by a few dB will add gloss or shine to the piano – useful for solos.

And remember if you’re recording an acoustic (upright or grand), try the piano in different positions in the room in order to find its optimum sound, before placing your mics and hitting record.

Left: Uncompressed Classical Piano. Right: Compressed PianoThe Waveform On The Right Shows A Piano With A 5:1 Compression Ratio, -20 dB Threshold, Attack & Release Times of 15 ms, Output Gain -6dB.

The piano can be very dynamic. So if it is one of many instruments in a song, you may need or want to even out the levels a bit in order for the instrument to sit comfortably in the mix. For solo classical recordings, little or no compression is normally used.

Listen carefully to the effect of a compressor. Start with gentle compression of around 2:1. Depending on the piece of music, you may want to keep the dynamics as much as possible, without individual notes jumping out. Set your attack and release so that there’s no audible pumping, but smooths out the levels to the point that you feel the compressor is achieving the right effect

For more information on the use of dynamic processing, click here.

Piano Before & After Compression.

This Digirack Compressor/Limiter Shows Input And Output Levels (In Green) As Well As Gain Reduction (In Orange).

For other songs you may want to squash the piano dynamics. Take a listen to the Beatles’ ‘Lady Madonna’. In this song the piano is quite heavily compressed, but it works for the song.

If you are working on a busy mix with lots of other instrumentation, there will be little room for a piano with long reverb. However, if your mix consists of solo piano, vocal and piano or a few instruments that typically do not sustain for very long, you may find that there is plenty of room to add verb and/or delay to the piano.

TL Space Pro Tools Reverb Plug-In.

If the piano is solo or heavily featured choose a reverb with lots of control over the various parameters and don’t forget to EQ the reverb to fit with the dry sound. Choose the size of the room and predelay that best matches the tempo of your song. A dance track with 100-120 bpm can’t support a long reverb decay. On the other hand, a slow ballad with sparse instrumentation might be able to support a decay of 1.5 seconds or longer.

And don’t forget, for each plug-in’s preset room size there are usually variable parameters. Small rooms have shorter decay times than large rooms. But you could try a small room with a long decay or a large room with short decay.

Revibe TDM Reverb Plug-In.

Predelay seems to work well with piano because of the instrument’s percussive characteristics. This parameter makes the reverb more pronounced by leaving a space before the reflections are heard. For a slow ballad type song start out with 120 ms of predelay. Shorten the predelay for faster songs.

In the studio, classical piano performances are not usually recorded with close mic techniques. This means that the acoustics of the room will get included in the recording, giving the instrument some natural reverb.

Sometimes natural reverb is lacking in samples or some digital piano sounds. So providing the song can take it, a little reverb or delay can help. Other effects have been used to produce memorable sounds with electric pianos over the years.

The Classic Fender Rhodes Defined Keyboard Sound For A Generation.

The classic Fender Rhodes piano has a fine history of being used with various effects. The Wah-wah pedal was used in many early jazz fusion recordings by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Whilst Billy Joel and Simon Garfunkel used a phase shifter to add body to their keyboard sound on ‘Just The Way You Are’ and ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ respectively.

The Wah-wah effect used with the Hohner Clavinet by Stevie Wonder on his huge hit ‘Higher Ground’, was another classic example of a keyboard sound. And Jan Hammer who came to the public’s attention through the Mahavishnu Orchestra and later found fame with Miami Vice, introduced audiences to the ring modulator.

Incidentally, if you’re a Stevie Wonder fan I found this interesting article which looks at how Stevie’s hit ‘Superstition’ was put together using only 16 tracks, 8 of which were Clavinet. It includes mp3s of the various component tracks – drums, clavinet, horns and vocals – a fascinating look at what can be done with a few good instruments and players.

Stevie Wonder & Jan Hammer Made Use Of Classic Keyboards.

As a song or piece of music develops, you may find that EQ or effects settings that worked well at the beginning of the piece, don’t work as well as the track becomes more busy or powerful. Adjustments will need to be made. This can be done manually as and when required or by using the automation in your software programme to adjust panning, EQ or effects.

So play around with EQ settings, effects pedals and plug-ins that come with your software until you create a combination that works for you and your music.

Next, we’ll look at Horns in the mix.

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.


October 14, 2011

TCM Mastering & TCM Music Group Owner And Founder, Ted Carfrae Discusses How To Achieve A Great Vocal Recording.

In our Monday blogs (TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Series) we’re currently discussing the multitrack process. So we thought it might be useful to include a few videos that relate to this series – specifically recording vocals – as most great songs are best remembered for their vocal performance.

In the first video below, Ted Carfrae owner and founder of TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group, discusses vocal recording, microphone technique and finding your microphone’s ‘sweet spot’ to get that great vocal sound.

In the second video, Ted discusses how he and many other producers and engineers achieve a ‘magical’ vocal performance in the recording studio.

If you’re looking for help, putting those finishing touches to a music track or would like more information on our affordable studio packages, please contact us by clicking here.

If you would like more information about recording at home, why not subscribe to the TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio series of blogs. You can do this by filling out your e-mail address in the e-mail subscription box on the right. We respect your privacy. We hate spam and will never rent, sell or trade your information with anyone for any reason.


August 8, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 23 Recording Percussion

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group, we’ve recorded, mixed, produced and mastered virtually every genre of music over the years. So, if you have a music project that needs some TLC, give us a call. We have facilities in the UK and USA and are offering some great recording packages at the moment. And don’t forget, your mastering needs can all be handled online.

Thanks to everyone who checked out the last few blogs on recording drums. This week we will continue with Percussion.

African Kalimba, Indian Tabla and Vietnamese Bamboo Xylophone.

Almost every country or ethnic region has its own collection of percussion instruments. From the African kalimba and traditional Indian tabla to the Vietnamese bamboo xylophone.

Over a decade ago, the virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma established the Silk Road Project. If you’re interested in music with an international flavour, where percussion plays a major role, take a listen to The Silk Road Ensemble.

Check out Pat Metheny – Orchestrion …..mechanically controlled percussion and other instruments using solenoids and pneumatics.

However, percussion instruments are most likely associated with various kinds of Latin music, but are used in all types of music these days… add some zest to the sound.

So whether you’re recording is inspired by Argentine Tango, Cuban Salsa, Brazilian Samba, artists such as Carlos Santana, Chick Corea or the smooth sounds of Djavan, Lee Ritenour and Pat Metheny – it’s useful to know how to handle this extremely varied group of instruments.

It’s worth noting that in some Latin music, the Piano and Guitar are often treated as percussive instruments too. Take a listen to Ruben Gonzalez in the Buena Vista Social Club (produced by Ry Cooder)….the 70 plus pianist plays a beat up piano which is characteristic of their sound.

Pianist – Ruben Gonzalez.

I remember very fondly, going to see lots of Latino bands when I lived in Los Angeles. They always delivered their music with passion and exuberance. This is not boring music!….And a lot of the excitement that is generated in this genre of music is produced by the percussion, whether it’s a blistering timbale roll or conga solo.

This group of instruments can broadly be divided into two sections.

  • Those that are tuned and play a melody eg. glockenspiel, marimba and tubular bells.
  • And the section that is struck, hit, scraped or stroked eg. various types of drums, triangle, gongs, castanets and shakers etc.

Marimba and Tubular Bells.

For many of the tuned percussion instruments eg. xylophone, marimba and vibraphone, you can use condensers or ribbon mics. Ribbons especially, are quite delicate mics, so place them carefully out of the way of the player’s mallets.

This group of instruments can produce some pretty high harmonics, so a dynamic mic will not always produce the best results.

Stereo Pair Above Marimba.

Marimba sound great with a stereo pair a couple of feet above or slightly in front of the instrument. If the player will be using the whole range of the instrument, a Spaced Pair set up will work well – but remember the 3 to 1 rule. Sennheiser 421s/441s or Royer 121s are popular choices. Soft mallets will give a warm sound – hard will give more attack.

The X-Y configuration (see Home Music Studio Part 6) needs a little trial and error to find the best position. Don’t place the mics too close or your stereo image will be narrow and you may not pick up the extremities of the instrument.

The Blumlein technique (see Home Music Studio Part 13), because it uses figure-8 mics, will capture more of your room acoustics. So if your room does not have great acoustics, you may prefer to use one of the other techniques.

A Rode Mic Over Glockenspiel.

Glockenspiels can be miked a little closer above the bars, but not so close that they can get hit by the player. Try a single or couple of Rode NT5 condensers.

Whilst Tubular Bells, being in the vertical position can be miked from the backside with the mike aimed towards the top. Try Shure SM81s or AKG 414s.

A Selection Of Hand Percussion – Cowbell, Bar Chime Set, Rocar, Metal Agogo, Cabasa and Bead Shekere.

Many instruments in the second section of this group – the shakers and scrapers (see some examples in the picture above), can be close miked if you wish, so your room will have less effect on the sound.

However, many of these hand percussion instruments involve a bit of movement when played, so there are some engineers who prefer to mike from a distance, to make sure the instrument does not wander off mike and to capture more of the room sound. You will have to decide if your room adds or detracts from the sound your recording, by experimenting.

Nana Vasconcelos – Percussionist Extraordinaire.

And if you do mike more distant, choose your mics carefully. They will need to be very responsive to capture the fast transients produced by these instruments and have a low self noise value – meaning they don’t add too much noise to the recording themselves.

This section of the percussion group is so large with so many varieties, it’s impossible to cover every single instrument. So as a general rule if the instrument is loud like the maracas and involves a fair amount of movement to play it, you could place the mic a few feet away. If it’s quieter like an egg shaker, less than a foot should be about right. The agogo bell sounds nice when miked from a couple of feet distant.

The EV 635A/RE15 are reasonably priced and work well on the tambourine, maracas and shakers as does the Beyer M500 ribbon.

Both large and small diaphragm condensers work best for this collection of instruments. But experiment to find the mic that best fits the instrument.

Remember, most condensers will need phantom power (typically 48V DC, but check the specs of the mic you’re using, just to be sure).

Left – Congas Miked From Above With A Spaced Pair Of Condensers. Right – Timbales Miked From Above With An X-Y Stereo Pair.

The congas and timbales, produce high SPLs (Sound Pressure Levels) which means you may need to back off a condenser to a safer distance, use its attenuation pad or use a dynamic mic instead.

Try a pair of AKG 414s, Sennheiser 421 dynamics or AT 4033 cardioid condensers about 18 inches to a couple of feet above and 6 inches out from the rims. SM57s do a good job of capturing the tone and attack.

You can also try miking the timbales from below with a couple of SM 57s pointing up towards the edge of the rims. These will capture the hits the player makes to the metal sides – a technique often used in Latin music where the player hits the skin and the side alternately, called Chapeo.

Timbales Miked From Below.

A budget mic solution might be to use Behringer B1s (below) – affordable condenser mics. They’re popular in a lot of Home Studios setups and give surprisingly good results, but at less than £100, don’t expect the same results you would get from Neumann 87s.

Behringer B1 and AKG C418 Miniature Clip Mic.

Or try the AKG C418 miniature clip-on condenser mic (above), specifically designed for drums and percussion.

Starting in next week’s Home Music Studio series of blogs, we’ll move on to the use of Signal Processing…..EQ, Compression, Expansion, Reverb and Echo, Flange and Chorus, Pitch Shifting and much more.


July 10, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 19 Recording Drums

I hope you found last week’s blog on Tuning Drums useful. Even if you don’t intend tuning them yourself and you choose to let someone else do it for you, it’s worth knowing the basics so that you can at least have an informed opinion on the resultant sound.

This week and next we will discuss tips on recording drums and microphone techniques.

TCM Music Group have access to many great session musicians, including Troy Luccketta. If you’re interested in finding out more about our recording packages, please click here.

Two Legendary Drummers – Tony Williams & Keith Moon.

If you listen to some of the greatest drummers on ‘record’ you will feel a drive and vitality in the music that is extremely difficult to replicate with samples. From Buddy Rich and Tony Williams to Neil Peart and Keith Moon – can you imagine trying to programme their styles and sound into a drum machine?

The problem or challenge of recording drums at home is that most rooms are square or rectangular in shape with lots of hard surfaces – walls, ceiling and floors. The aim is to soften the hard sound and reduce unwanted reflections without making it completely ‘dead’. Cover hardwood floors with rugs and windows with curtains. Just don’t kill all the life out of the room. If you need to make your room more ‘live’, use well placed reflective panels. We’ll discuss the use of panels in the next blog when we cover mic techniques. For more information and ideas, check out this earlier blog.

A Typical Room Plan – The Drum Kit Is Positioned With The Kick Pointing Towards A Soft Sofa, Away From The Bay Window. Check Out This Article For One Person’s Starting Point For Recording Drums In The Home.

A drum kit has a huge dynamic and frequency range…..from the delicate brush stroke of a cymbal to a full on barrage from the kick drum. So there are definite challenges to recording drums whether it’s in a Home Studio setting or Pro studio.

Cymbals will cut through in a mix easier than a bass drum. A drummer who has no finesse, who bashes cymbals when less volume would be more appropriate, is going to make your job as the recording engineer much harder than a drummer who can go some way to controlling his output by playing strong or quiet when required.

       Jeff Porcaro – With Toto And Prolific Session Drummer.       Buddy Rich – Consummate Jazz Drummer.

In fact a great drummer with a real sense of volume output, will allow you to use fewer mics if necessary, than a drummer who just hits the kit with no regard to the individual volumes of drums and cymbals. So if nothing else, request that your drummer plays the cymbals quieter than he/she normally would when recording.

However, don’t get intimidated by the task. There is no right or wrong way to record drums. Each song will have different requirements. Just get the best sound you can for the song you’re working on.

It’s important to mention (again) that any recording is only as good as its weakest link. So the drummer, the drums, the room, the mics, the preamp – all play a vital role in the chain from sound source to recorded signal.

Tuning A Drum.

First, make sure the drums are tuned and set up properly (we covered the basics of this in the last blog) and discuss with the drummer if there are any parts of the kit that will not be used for the track you’re recording… point in setting up and miking parts that won’t be played.

Then listen to the kit being played, so that you can determine if any tuning adjustments need to be made or if you need to move the kit to a different position or room to find the best spot. The advantage of recording at home is that there isn’t a clock ticking and an expensive studio bill waiting for you at the end of the day. In other words, there are no hard deadlines you need to meet other than the ones you impose on yourself.

Listen Carefully To The Drum Kit With Your Ears – Before Placing Any Mics.

Don’t forget each room will have its own acoustics, so if one room doesn’t sound good, move the kit to another. Or try the garage if you have one. Once you’re happy that you have a good sounding kit with your ears, you can then start to place mics.

Resist the temptation to add lots of EQ to drums to get the right sound. Far better to get the right acoustics, drummer, tuning, preamp and mic placement.

Drum Isolation Booth.

Pro studios will often have a drum isolation booth to prevent spillage from the drums into other band mics. If you’re fortunate enough to have a few rooms at your disposal, you can use them to your advantage by placing the drummer in one room whilst the rest of the band play in another.

Providing everyone is connected through foldback and getting the right mix in their headphones, they should be able to deal with not seeing each other. However, some bands rely heavily on visual cues between members, so this may not work for everyone.

If the drummer and remaining band members are forced to play in one room, due to lack of space, you can try using some acoustic panels to gain some separation from the drums. Alternatively, the drummer could lay down a basic track, using a click track as a guide. The band then record over the basic track. Then the drummer can replace the original basic track and overdub a full track at the end.

There are many mic techniques which can be used to record drums…..from a very basic single mic or stereo pair to capture the overall sound, to individual mics on virtually each drum and cymbal that make up the kit.

Next week, we will delve into the most popular mic techniques favoured by engineers.

Any questions? Drop us a line or call us – for TCM Music Group contact details, click here. And if you find this blog to be useful, you could subscribe to it and tell your band mates too.


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.


June 26, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 17 Recording Woodwind – Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes

Last week in the Home Music Studio series we discussed the more common Woodwind instruments – the Clarinet, Oboe, Cor Anglais, Bassoon and Flute (the Saxophone was covered in the Horn Section). Today we’ll look at the best ways to record the Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes. Three quite different instruments in the way they look and the way they’re played.

Colourful Harmonica Collection.

The Harmonica – also called the Blues Harp, French Harp or Mouth Organ – is a free reed Wind instrument. Sound is produced by blowing in or out over the reed chambers enclosed within the metal housing or frame. The Harmonica comes in different sizes and types including the diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, orchestral and bass versions…but they can all be treated in a similar fashion when it comes to recording them.

Hohner Chromatic Harmonica.

The chromatic (see picture above) has a button on the side of the instrument which when depressed allows you to play all the sharps or flats. Enabling the musician to play in any key.

If you’re after the classic blues sound, try the Shure Green Bullet mic. It’s an omnidirectional mic but is cupped in the hands along with the Harmonica.

Shure 520DX Green Bullet Mic.

A popular technique is to plug the mic into a guitar amp…something like a Pignose or Vox AC30, then mic the amp’s speaker or take the direct out into a direct box. The nice thing about the Pignose is that you can overdrive it and get a little ‘grit’ to the sound. If you use an amp without a direct out and are recording with other instruments, try moving the amp into a separate room to mic it, so that you can achieve some separation from the rest of the band.

Top class results have been achieved using a Green Bullet mic (£150) into a REDDI tube direct box ($795) into an A Designs Pacifica Preamp ($2250)… expensive setup. Purists prefer the vintage Green Bullets, but if you’re not too bothered a modern version does a pretty good job. Not everyone will want to spend this amount of cash to record a Harmonica…..but I mention these items so that you are aware that it is the whole recording chain that needs to be considered in any recording situation.

Condenser mics are unsuitable for close miking, because they will pick up the breaths from the player and accentuate bad player technique. So if you do want to use a condenser mic, place it a foot or two away possibly off axis.

Toots Thielemans on Harmonica.

If you need some inspiration have a listen to Toots Thielemans. Quincy Jones has called him ‘one of the greatest musicians of our time’.

At a pinch a dynamic Shure SM58 positioned a foot or so from the instrument will capture a good ‘folky’ sound.

Harmonicas can sound very shrill, so listen to the instrument direct and then monitor the recorded sound. You may want to apply some judicious EQ to roll off frequencies at and above 5K and add some bottom end at 80Hz. Ultimately, the sound you’re recording and want to capture will be determined by the style of music it is to be a part of. A short delay or slap back can also add body and fatten the sound.

Some compression can help the Harmonica sit well in a mix. But if you’re not sure about how much to use, wait until the mix stage before applying it.

Piano Accordion.

The Accordion’s sound is produced when the bellows are compressed (squeezed) or expanded whilst pressing keys or buttons causing valves to open, forcing air over the brass or steel reeds. Like the Harmonica, there are several different types.

I find it hard to believe, but some Accordion players when recording, actually play the left hand and then do a separate pass for the right hand…..but then I don’t play Accordion. However, I’m sure there are also plenty of players who prefer to play both hands simultaneously when recording their instrument.

At about two feet away and at chin level, try an AT 4050 cardioid on the keyboard side and a dynamic Shure Beta 57 cardioid on the button/bass side. As an alternative, you could use a couple of large condensers – Neumann U87 and a Groove Tubes GT 55. Record each mic to its own track so that you can maintain flexibility up to the mix stage.

Accordion With Mics On Both Sides.

Technically speaking the Accordion might produce some phase shift issues between two mics, because the instrument moves when the bellows are squeezed in and out.

There are small diaphragm capsule mics on the market (made by Schoeps or MBHO) which can be attached to the instrument, thus keeping the mic distance constant to the sound source…..effectively getting rid of any phase problems.

You could also try an X-Y pair set up in front of the performer. Remember, the closer you mike the less the room will be a part of the sound. So if you have a decent recording room, back off the mics a little to take advantage of the room acoustics.

Pay careful attention to mic positions and any EQ you add – you don’t want to emphasise the key/button noise. Adding a little reverb sometimes helps the sound, but again leave these signal processing adjustments to the mix stage unless you’re absolutely sure you have the sound you want.


Bagpipes in a Home Studio I hear you say!!! Well, you never know do you? There are plenty of recordings with Bagpipes, from traditional Scottish pipes playing Amazing Grace to Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre and they’ve been used in films (Braveheart) and theatrical shows (Riverdance) too.

They do have a very ethereal quality about them and if recorded well in the right song, can really make those record executives sit up and listen when you play your latest offering to them.

Bagpipes consist of an air supply (which the player provides) in a bag, a chanter and drone or drones. Traditionally the bag was made from a sheep’s stomach! But Gore-tex is used extensively these days. The chanter is the melody pipe played with two hands. The drones do just that – provide a drone/constant pitch or pitches over the melody played on the chanter.

You can mic the chanter and each drone individually, but if you’re recording more than one piper at a time you’ll need a lot of mics.

Sound tends to emanate from many parts of the instrument. So close miking will only serve to accentuate certain parts of the instrument. Best to place a mic or stereo pair some distance away, they are after all very loud instruments. Condensers and especially ribbons need to be well away from the instrument if those are your mics of choice.

Try an X-Y configuration at least 3-5 feet distant (more may be better), 4-5 feet off the ground. You may have to move the player around the room to find the sweet spot first, then place your mics.

X-Y Stereo and Blumlein Mic Techniques. 

If you have a good sounding room you could try the Blumlein technique, just remember this will pick up sounds from in front and behind the mics (as you’ll be using figure-8s).

Alternatively, move the two mics further apart from each other, maybe 6-8 feet and direct them towards the instrument.

Maybe you could borrow or hire a school hall or church for a few hours. The larger space will allow you to capture the instrument from a distance as well as closer if necessary. Combining the two mic positions in this situation can give you an interesting sound with a little natural delay…..but always record separate mics to discrete tracks on your recorder.

Finally, consider recording the Bagpipes outside if you can find a quiet spot without traffic, birds and other sundry distractions. There’ll be little in the way of reflected sound, unless you can find a spot overlooking a lake surrounded by mountains!

Always check your sound for phase issues and mono compatibility when employing multiple mics.

Next week we’ll attack Drums and follow that with Percussion.

Thanks again to everyone who is following this series. We really appreciate you taking the time to check us out. If you need some real Drums overlaying on your latest track or maybe a whole package offering recording, mixing and mastering contact us for more information by clicking here.