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Audio Toyes #3 - Recording Drums

Brian Toye
January 09, 2011

OK so we are picking up from last week. We have a fully written and arranged “scratch” recording that we will now use to “trace” over with better gear. Why not do this from the beginning you may ask? MONEY. It wold have cost thousands of dollars in studio time to have organized everything up till this point in a pro studio with the meter running.

Also, remember we are assuming the product will be shipped out to record labels so we will want to use session players (drummers and bassists at least).

I choose a session drummer and bassist who will best contribute to the genre/feel of the song. If the artist already has a "band" i won't use the members for the recording (in this case). Studio recording and live performance are two different monsters. Usually younger musicians will feel offended by not being asked/allowed to play on the song/demo/album because they want to feel a part of it. They will want other people, their family and peers (especially their Girlfriends) to know that its "them" on the recording. This however is no good if the recorded take is not up to industry standards. The project will most likely never be heard by anyone but their family and peers if the musicianship is not up to par. So musicians, keep this in mind. If you want to impress your peers, do it on your own time, do it at the live shows. If you want to "record" a professional product, let the professionals do it. If you want to be a professional session player then keep practicing with that click. If you want to be a rock star in a rock band, you don’t have to be a "great" player, and you can have all the impressed GF's you like. *this does not apply if the drummer in your band is already a pro with a click, obviously.

(I usually use one of 2 session drummers. Adam Mancini who has an impressive resume but i unfortunately don't have any video of him playing yet, check out his bio here Jason Hoover is my second go to guy you can see a video here of him performing a Dream Theatre medley tribute to a click: )

I will choose a studio within the artist’s budget and will track drums and bass at the same time. It’s important to lay a solid foundation for the song. This means great musicians, great performances and sweet microphones, mic pres, EQ, compressors into a reliable recording medium. I, like most others employ Pro Tools 9 (the industry standard recording software). If time permits I will then lay down acoustic/electric guitars myself to save the artist money on a third session player. If time does not permit, I will lay these guitars down using my Pro Tools 9 system at home. The remaining overdubs will all be tracked at home on Pro Tools, with a decent mic pre and appropriate microphones. If you don’t own something RENT it.

For the Drums:

When using a senn421 or shure57 on toms be sure to place the mic at least 4 inches from the skin. This allows the sound to evolve into a full rounded out attack and boom. If you place the mic right up (1cm) from the drum skin, you will find you have a thin tom sound, and after u eq and compress this it will sound like a drum stick hitting a hole through a piece of paper...not good.

Be aware of the polar patters on every mic you choose. Try and direct the pattern towards your sound source (obviously). But also arrange the mic so that the 360 degree spacial arrangement in which it does not pick up as much is directed to other crashes/toms. This way there will be more of a dynamic difference between the sounds u want in that mic and the ones you don’t. When it comes time to using a gate later, this will make it easier on the gate.

Lots of info out there on phase. I will go over it anyway. Whenever you are using two mics on one sound source, you will have phase issues. Common phase issues occur with a snare when miced top and bottom, with a kick when miced close and a few feet back, with overheads (between the overhead mic and the mic on the tom, or snare, or kick, whichever is being hit at the time. You can either deal with it when setting up the mics, or deal with it in the editing phase. In the editing phase you simple zoom into the two kick mics for example, and nudge the wave of the one lagging in time to the left until it is in line with the other waveform. To check for phase before you record, flip the phase button on one of the two mics. Have the drummer play quarter note kicks. The engineer in the control room will listen while the assistant moves one of the kick mics towards and away from the beater. When the location is discovered where the sound of the two mics is quietest. Place the mic there. Flip the phase back to the original phase and your mics are now in phase (well as close as u can get them using this technique anyway). For overheads you can measure the distance of one from the spot the drummer hits on the snare. Equal that distance to the other overhead. You overhead mics are now in phase (with each other and with the snare drum). There may still be some phasing issues left between the overheads and kick, overheads and toms. You can adjust these in the editing phase if you feel it needs to be adjusted.

If the artist cannot afford studio time and the genre is pop, dance or metal I find we can get away with using a midi drum kit or sequencing the drums. Next week we will focus on recording the vocals and all the things to be aware of while doing so.

Till Then, feel free to email me if you have any home recording questions.