Posted tagged ‘Snare Drum’


December 26, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 43 Mixing Drums

As we are in the middle of the Holidays and many of you, I’m sure, will be spending time with family and friends, I’ve decided to put out the next few blogs in smaller, more easily digestible chunks.

Last week we considered the kick and snare drums and how best to treat them in the mix. Today, we’ll continue by looking at Toms. Next week, the first Monday of 2012, we’ll discuss Cymbals and Hi-hat in the mix. Then, we’ll finish our look at drums by considering the use of the Overheads and Ambience tracks. Check out this blog for more information on recording toms, cymbals, hi-hat, overheads and ambience tracks.

A Typical Drum Setup For Legendary Mixer Bruce Swedien – Note The Use Of Neumann U87s On The Toms.

As we mentioned (in this blog), you don’t have to record dozens of tracks to get a great drum sound. Three or four mics, well placed, can produce an amazing sound. The greater number of mics you use and tracks you record, the more difficult it will be to isolate specific drums. There will be spill from one drum mic to another and possible phase issues to address.

In addition, if you recorded the drums with the rest of the band playing at the same time, the other instruments may well be present in some of the drum tracks too. However, if you are prepared to accept all these challenges then more mics can certainly give you more options in your mix.

Remember, the recorded sound can be altered dramatically by using a different mic, altering the mic’s position, replacing the drum’s head, the use of acoustic panels etc. In other words, try to get as close to the sound you want from your drums in the recording stage.

The kick and snare are the two most important drums in most kit setups. But drums would be quite boring without the other components to add colour, syncopation and interest to the rhythm track.

A Basic Kit Showing Three Toms – Two Mounted On The Kick And One Floor Tom On The Left.

A common configuration for the toms is to have 3 – high, mid and low – a couple mounted (often on top of the kick) and one floor, but many drummers use more. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll assume you have gone some ways to record them with specific mic’s.

Toms come in a huge range of sizes and therefore pitches. The larger the tom, the deeper the tone. To give more depth to mounted toms, try adding a few dB around 200-250 Hz. To reduce any boxiness, you could try cutting in the 600 Hz to 1 kHz range. By adding some 3-5 kHz, you can increase the stick’s attack. Whilst the 5-8 kHz range will boost the presence.

Top: Floor Tom Miked From Above, Below: Mounted Toms Miked From Above And Inside.

Floor toms might need a slightly different EQ. Between 40-125 Hz, try boosting to increase richness or fullness. Try cutting a little between 400-800 Hz to get rid of boxiness. And to get more attack, boost between 2-5 kHz.

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

Uniquely Shaped Staccato Drums.

Also consider whether you want to EQ before compressing or vice versa. 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. Click here for more information on compressing and the other forms of dynamic processing.

If you want powerful sounding toms try using a compression ratio of 4, 5 or 6:1. Don’t use too high a ratio, this might result in the compressor giving a sucking effect to the audio. Set the threshold to act on the highest transients and use a fast to medium attack time. Remember, you are compressing the toms. You don’t want the compressor to noticeably raise the levels of the other drums or cymbals.

Compression and a good short reverb can combine to produce a great, big sound on the toms. Try a small room or a short plate reverb setting. Of course it depends on your song…..if the toms are being used sparingly a longer reverb might work. If the toms are featured a lot, a long reverb could muddy the mix.

A Tama Kit With Double Kick, Five Toms & Hi-Hat On The Right.

Most people (drummers included) are right-handed, so the kit is usually setup with the hi-hat off to the right…..if you’re viewing the kit from the perspective of the audience. Last week we mentioned the usual position to place the kick and snare is straight down the middle of the stereo field.

The toms can be placed as you would see them – the highest pitched slightly off to the right, across to the left for the lowest pitched. You will need to listen to the toms as they are being played back to position them accurately within the stereo image. And if you are adding reverb or delay match the effect position in the stero image, with that of the tom you are applying the effect to.

Drum Kit With Multiple Mics, Including Overheads.

If you have used several microphones to record your drums, as you add more and more drum tracks into the mix, you will realise that the same components are represented on many different tracks. The Overheads especially, will pick up cymbals, toms, snare and more.

So once you have sorted out the kick and the snare, you could try adding the overheads panning them hard left and right. You may find that they provide enough of the remaining components to fill out the drum sound. We’ll discuss the overheads in greater detail in 2 weeks time.

Note: If you intend to use the overheads in the drum submix, you will most likely want the individually miked components to be placed in the same position in the stereo field as you hear in the OHs.

Next week we’ll take a look at the Cymbals and Hi-hat in the mix. Followed by the Overheads and Ambience the following Monday.

All of us at TCM hope you had a fantastic Christmas and Holiday break and wish all our readers a Happy New Year. If you have a music project coming up in 2012, why not get in touch with us to see what we can do for you. TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering have been providing production, recording, mixing and mastering services to musicians and the music industry for decades. For more information about TCM Music Group and the various services they can provide, please contact us by clicking here.



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 17, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 20 Recording Drums – Simple Mic Techniques

Over the last two weeks we’ve covered tuning and some useful tips on setting up the drum kit before placing mics. Thanks to everyone who is taking time to check out this series. We really appreciate your interest.

This week we’ll look at some basic set ups and next week we’ll cover more detailed mic techniques for recording drums.

Dave Brubeck’s Drummer – Joe Morello With A Single Mic At The Front Of His Kit (Placed Left In Picture Just Below Cymbal).

Memorable drum tracks have been recorded by the Beatles, Motown and Sun Records as well as Jazz greats Joe Morello (check out this You Tube video – amazing drum solo!) and Buddy Rich to name a few…..all at a time when technology was quite primitive in comparison to the facilities that are available today.

Before placing any mics, make sure you find the best spot in your room to position the drums. Depending on whether your room is ‘live’ (reflective) or dead, will partly influence where to put the kit.

If the room is square, try setting up the kit in a corner facing into the room…..face the kit away from any windows and try to point it towards soft furniture that will absorb rather than reflect sound. If it’s a particularly dead room to start with, you may want to use a few reflective panels to bring some life into your recordings. But remember, it’s much easier to add some reverb in the mix than it is to remove it. 

Until you’ve gone through this process a few times, you won’t know which is the best spot. Eventually, you will get to know your room’s positives and negatives and be able to position instruments for the best results.

So let’s consider the most popular basic techniques for mic placement.

If you are limited by the number of mics, preamps or input channels, a basic stripped down approach will be required. Remember, drums used to be recorded with just one mic (before the days of multi-tracking).

A Single Well Placed Condenser (eg. Neumann U47) At The Front Of The Kit, Can Produce Great Results.

With a single well placed mic – if you have a great drummer playing a well tuned, decent kit in a good sounding room – most of your problems are solved. The challenges in recording a drum kit come from any of those factors not being quite good enough. In the pictures above, a single condenser mic is positioned at about 5-6 feet high at a distance of 2-5 feet from the kit.

Remember, when we mention distances they are only a guide. There is always a little trial and error in miking any instrument. What will work for one situation…..a room, drummer, kit…..will be different for another.

A Single Quality Mic Placed In Front Of The Kick Drum, Pointing Towards The Snare, At Hi-Hat Height Can Produce Great Results.

Try a condenser or ribbon mic either above and behind the drummer aimed at the snare (though you won’t pick up much kick) or in front of the kick drum at a height of 3-6 feet pointing towards the snare (see the picture above).

To find the best mic position, ask your drummer to play. Listen carefully with your ears as you move around the kit while it’s being played, then place the mic, monitor it and move it until you find the sweet spot.

And always evaluate a drum kit with the drummer you will use for your recording session. Two drummers can make the same kit sound quite different.

Most engineers seem to prefer large diaphragm mics, but you can try small too. Everything from a Neumann U47/87, TLM 103/170, KM84/184 to the AKG C414B/C451/C3000, Audio Technica AT 4033/4044 or a Coles 4033 ribbon can produce surprisingly good results.

X-Y Stereo Pair On Drum Kit.

If you want to keep it simple but record in stereo eg. a jazz kit, you can place an X-Y pair (AKG C451s or C460Bs work well) about 6 feet high aligned over the snare drum or the player’s head. This technique works well for mono compatibility. Sounds from different directions arrive at both mics at the same time – because the two mic heads are almost touching – resulting in no phase problems. Use either large or small diaphragm condensers. Ribbons yield a sweet sound.

A small change in mic position can give you a very different sound – favouring cymbals or drums. So take your time to try out various positions.

If you add individual mics for the kick and snare to the above set up, you should have ample coverage for the kit. Place the bass drum and snare mics a few inches away from the drum heads (see next week’s blog for more detailed placement). Use EQ sparingly. A little compression on the kick and snare usually help to keep a tight sound…..we’ll cover signal processing in more depth in a later blog.

A Stereo Spaced Pair Set Up Works Best Using The 3 To 1 Ratio Rule.

An alternative stereo set up is the Spaced Pair. Use two matched/identical mics. And remember to use the 3 to 1 ratio rule. For example, if the mics are placed 2 feet above the cymbals make sure the two mics are 6 feet apart. This helps to eliminate any phase problems.

With all techniques that employ more than one mic – check for mono compatibility…..the sound should still be full with a good bottom end. If there are out of phase issues, the two tracks being monitored together in mono will sound hollow. If you feel this is the case, move one of the mics until the sound improves or use a phase reversal switch on one of the mics. If you’re recording into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), they often have the facility of flipping phase to solve this problem.

Good Bass Drum Mic Choices – AKG D112, Sennheiser E602 and Beyer Dynamic Opus 65.

There are plenty of mics on the market specifically designed to record the kick drum eg. AKG D112 or the classic D12 (if you can get your hands on one), Sennheiser E602 and Beyer Dynamic Opus 65 – all rugged, excellent for transients and capable of handling high SPLs (Sound Pressure Levels).

For the snare, the ever popular Shure SM57 (dynamic) or the AKG C451 (condenser) are commonly used. Angle the mic towards the snare, close to the drum’s edge but far enough away from the drummer to prevent the mic being struck.

The Glyn Johns’ 3 Mic Technique – Uses A Mic On The Kick And 2 Matched Mics Equidistant From The Snare…One To The Drummer’s Right, The Other Above The Snare. 

The last method I want to include in this week’s blog, uses 3 mics. Some variations on it use 4, but you can get away with 3 and achieve a great, live, open sound. Obviously, with only 3 mics there will be some compromises in the mixing of the drum kit. The ‘secret’ to success with this method seems to be in getting the drummer to play the cymbals quieter than normal.

Glyn Johns created this 3 mic method which he famously used on sessions for Led Zeppelin when recording drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin Drummer – John Bonham.

A good mic (usually dynamic) is positioned 6 inches to a foot from the resonating head of the kick drum. Popular choices for decades have been the AKG D12/D112, Sennheiser MD421, Shure SM57/58 or Beta 52. The Audix D6, a large diaphragm, cardioid dynamic is also well liked. Condensers can work too, but you have to be very careful as the SPLs produced by a bass drum are high.

If you hear too much resonance or rattle you can place a blanket or pillow inside the kick drum. Refrain from using any EQ until you’re absolutely sure you are capturing the best possible sound.

The other 2 mics are matching ‘overheads’ eg. AT 2020s, placed the same distance from the centre of the snare. Use a measure, for accuracy. This eliminates any phasing problems…..see the diagram – Glyn Johns’ Technique – below.

Johns placed one mic out to the drummer’s right, 4 or 5 inches above and just beyond the floor tom pointing towards the snare drum. The other was placed directly over the snare pointing down. There have since been many minor variations on these positions. The key, however, is that the 2 ‘overhead’ mics are always equidistant from the snare drum.

Get the drummer to play the cymbals quieter than normal. Using smaller cymbals often helps too.

When it comes to mixing, pan the ‘overheads’ as far apart as you can before you lose stereo focus (try 3-9 o’clock). Bring the kick drum up in the centre.

If you like, you can add a fourth mic for the snare (panning it to the centre), to give more presence to the kit. And there you have it. A tried and tested mic technique for recording drums which should yield a great sounding kit.

In next week’s blog we will cover miking individual drums in more detail and get into more complicated set ups and mic techniques.

At the moment TCM are offering a RED HOT SUMMER DEAL – Ted Carfrae owner and founder of TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group will mix and master a track for £175.00 inclusive. For more information please contact TCM by clicking here.

And remember, TCM Music Group have access to many great session musicians, including Troy Luccketta (drummer with Tesla). If you’re interested in finding out more about our recording packages, or simply have a question about recording, mixing or mastering – please click here.


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.