Posted tagged ‘Toms’


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.



August 1, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 22 Recording Drums, More Detailed Mic Techniques (continued).

If you’ve been following this Home Music Studio series of blogs over the last few weeks, you’ll have noticed that we’ve dedicated a fair amount of space to tuning and recording drums. However, we are somewhat limited by blog space…..there are a lot of facts to get across, but we don’t want to cram too much into a single blog. So if you feel we have missed out something important, please get in touch to let us know and we’ll do our best to cover it in future blogs.

The Legendary Sheila E – Showing You Can Be Fashionable And A World Class Percussionist & Drummer.

All of us at TCM Music Group are passionate about everything musical and are always happy to answer any questions you may have about recording, mixing, mastering or audio restoration.

And just to let you know, TCM are offering some truly great recording packages and mix and master deals at the moment…..for more information, click here.

Last week we covered in some detail the kick or bass drum and snare drum. This week we’ll continue with the toms and cymbals, including the hi-hat.


If you’re recording a Jazz kit you will probably get away with using overheads to capture the toms. However, big rock kit recordings tend to mic almost everything. The problem is…..the more mics you use to record a kit, the more difficult it becomes to get good separation on all the mics and phasing issues become more prevalent……making the mixing process harder.

Jazz Drummer Roy Haynes – Showing Floor Toms With Mics.

Separation can be aided with the use of a Noise Gate… electronic device which is useful in eliminating unwanted noise. A Noise Gate effectively filters out sounds below a specified threshold whilst allowing sounds above the threshold through. So a mic on a drum could have a Gate in the recording chain to allow that drum to be heard, but it would cut out any other drums spilling into the mic in question.

But…..there’s always a but isn’t there?….Gates can cut out some transients when they’re not set up properly, which can adversely affect the sound of the instrument you’re trying to record. So, always take care and monitor closely the effect any signal processing has on the recorded sound by comparing the sound with processing and without.

We will cover signal processing in detail in a future blog.

Sennheiser 441 On Toms.

Good condensers or dynamics work well with toms. The SM57 with its tight polarity pattern is popular as well as the AKG C1000, the latter giving a crisper sound. Sennheiser 441s are also often employed, but quite expensive.

Position your mic of choice about 1 to 3 inches above the tom at about 30 degrees to the skin, keeping it well clear of any cymbals that might hit it. It’s important to angle the mic so that, as much as possible, the cymbals or other drums are not picked up by the mic. Hypercardioids often work best in this position.

Left – Mic Position On Single Tom. Right – Single Wide Cardioid Mic Between Two Toms.

If you have a pair of toms next to each other you may be able to use one mic between the two. As each individual tom will be off the mic’s central axis, a mic placed between the heads –  about 4-6 inches away from them, with a wide cardioid pattern – will work best.

Alternatively, you could try a figure-8 (eg. Sennheiser MKH30 works well but at about £1400 is very expensive). If positioned correctly, this should pick up the two toms whilst rejecting the cymbals above it. However, this may necessitate the use of a delicate and more expensive ribbon or condenser…..with the possibility of the drummer hitting the mic, you may decide it’s not worth the risk.

Miking A Tom From Inside Gives Greater Separation And Less Attack.

If you have toms with the bottom heads removed, this offers another option. You can position a mic inside the tom pointing up towards the head. This technique has several advantages. It keeps the mic out of harms way from the drummer hitting it. It also provides very good separation from the other drums and cymbals. The resulting sound will probably be more resonant but have less stick attack.

Other popular mics for recording toms are Sennheiser MD421, Beyer M88 and Audix D2.

Drum Kits Move During Playing – So Watch For Mics Or Mic Stands Coming Into Contact With The Kit.

Another problem to watch out for when you mic several drums is that the kit will move over time during a performance and the various mic stands and/or mics may end up interfering with the kit.

You could get metal stands touching or scraping against kit hardware and transferring sound through the metal instead of through the mic’s diaphragm, which will add an unusual quality to the sound.

Beyer Opus 88 Clamped To Underside Of Tom.

The answer – use clip on mics. There are some great mics available on the market eg. Sennheiser E604 or Beyer Opus 62/88.

Hi-Hat & Cymbals

The hi-hat produces lots of high-end transients and most of its sound is generated horizontally. Whereas the cymbals create sound above and below the metal plate in a figure-8 pattern (if you were to look edge on).

In addition, the height you position cymbals above the toms will alter their sound which in turn affects what is picked up by the mics. There are also cymbals which work better for recording than live work.

        Left – Octava MK319 Condenser Mic On Ride Cymbal.

Right – AKG 452 Positioned Under The Cymbal Pointing Up.

Having this information at your finger tips enables you to position a mic to pick up more cymbal by placing the mic above (or below) and nearer the plane of the cymbal to pick up less. Just remember to place the mic far enough away from the cymbal so that the two don’t make contact when the cymbal is struck.

Position Your Hi-Hat Mic On The Opposite Side To The Snare.

For the hi-hat, a condenser will give a crisp sound. Place it about 3 inches above the upper cymbal. Make sure it’s angled away from the snare to give as much separation as possible. Pointing it towards the edge from above will give a more hissy, crisp sound than aiming it at the centre, which will produce a more metallic sound.

Use Directional Mics On The Hi-Hat And Snare To Obtain Good Separation.

As I mentioned when discussing the snare, do not point a mic horizontally towards the hi-hat edge as the air blasts from it closing can produce unwanted ‘puffs’ or air blasts that can ruin your recording.

The AKG C1000 is a favourite with some, but not everyone. The AKG C451B cardioid, condenser is a very popular hi-hat mic with fantastic transient response as is the Neumann KM84…..but neither are cheap. You could try the Octava MK219 or AT 4041 which are more affordable.

You don’t necessarily need to mic the hi-hat as it will get picked up by the overheads (if you’re using them). But a dedicated hi-hat mic will give you more control over its volume in the overall mix, provided it has enough separation from the other instruments in the kit.


If you use a couple of overhead mics – 6 to 9 feet above the floor – you may find you can dispense with certain other mics on the kit. They will do a good job of picking up the cymbals and should give a better, fuller, overall stereo sound to the kit.

A Spaced Pair Of Coles 4038 Ribbons.

Large or small diaphragm condensers are the most popular choice but ribbons (eg. Coles 4038s) can give a warmer sound. Check out AKG C414/C451s, Royer NT-1A, Neumann U87/89s, AKG C1000s, Sennheiser MD421s and Octava MK012s.

There are several stereo techniques you can try from X-Y Coincident Pair, Spaced Pair, Blumlein and others . Each technique has its pros and cons. Some are better than others depending on the situation and the room.

A Stereo Spaced Pair Of Mics.

The Spaced Pair technique works well when the 3 to 1 rule is applied. If the mics are 3 feet from the cymbals (the sound source), then place the mics about 9 feet apart. This is not an exact science, but the rule seems to work very well. And don’t worry too much about getting the mics symmetrically positioned in front of the kit. Getting the correct balance between the mics is more important. The stereo ‘picture’ can be artificially wide but phase issues and comb filtering are more prevalent than with the X-Y option.

X-Y Or Coincident Pair Set Up. Right – Pair Of AKG C460Bs.

The X-Y or Coincident Pair technique uses 2 matched mics. Usually, condensers set up either in front or behind the drummer. There are no phase issues with this technique. The sound arrives at both mics at the same time because the mic heads are together. So there’s excellent mono compatibility, but the stereo width is quite narrow.

Ambient Mics

Because the drum kit is a loud collection of instruments (sound reflections are more apparent), your room will play an important part in the sound you capture. It will either enhance the sound or you will find yourself fighting to minimise the effect it has on your recording. So the use of ambient mics (condensers or ribbons are favourites) can ultimately improve the overall sound or ruin it. Of course, if they don’t contribute any positives you don’t have to use them.

Remember, in a Home Studio you could have access to several rooms so don’t limit yourself to placing an ambient mic in the same room that you’re recording in. You could place a mic or mics (eg. Royer SF-12  stereo ribbon, C414, SM58s or PZMs) at different positions down a hallway or in another room completely.

Experiment, you might get lucky. You’ll not only get a different quality to the sound, but it will arrive at the mic later than sound in the main room, so you will end up with slight delays that might work great or sound awful.

If you would like more details on these and other mic techniques, they are discussed in greater detail in this blog.

Next week’s Home Music Studio blog will look at miking percussion.

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.