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Sae College Recording Drums

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1 Review

Type: Drums

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      26.05.2009 17:45
      Very helpful



      Recording drums is the foundation to any recording and can be a very important but fun experience!


      In this I'll be reviewing the basics to recording a drum kit for commercial use. I engineer and produce locally for bands and am happy to pass on any advice to any newcomers.

      I will be explaining for the use of a basic drum kit setup for popular commercial music. I will add however, there are more than one way to record a drum kit as there isnt one set style of drum sound. I will be suggesting ideas for a standard pop/rock drum sound.


      The basic drum kit will consist of a kick drum (aka bass drum), snare drum, hi-hat cymbol, usually 3 tom-tom drums, a crash cymbol and a ride cymbol. As drummers advance and add to their kit however, there can be possibly two kick drums, 3-5 or even 6 tom-toms and many different cymbols such as crashes in different diameters, splash cymbols and china cymbols, however I will be basing this on a basic kit. However the same principles applied in this apply for almost all layouts and setups.


      You wouldnt record a singer out of tune. Nor would you do this for a guitar. This is no different for the drums either. Many people neglect this when they go to record and it can completely ruin a perfectly good recording or performance. So how do you tune drums?

      The whole idea is to have equal tension in each of the tensioner keys of the drum itself.

      1: Apply tension to the centre of the drum by pressing down with your hand.
      2: With your stick, tap near each tuning nut on the drum. You will hear a tone. Each tone ideally needs to sound the same at each tuning nut.
      3: Start to tighten the nut in opposite pairs until a identical tone is produced.
      4: Follow step 3 until all tuning nuts have the same sound.

      Bare in mind, when tuning the tom-toms, you want them to sound in a progression, with the high tom being higher than the middle, with the low tom ofcoruse being the lowest in pitch.

      At the start it can be a long and tiresome job, but a good drummer should know how to tune their drums.

      Now that the drummer has set up his drum kit to his preferred style, its time for the engineer to produce the microphones and set them up.


      The miking techniques I will be describing will be mainly 'close miking'. This simply means that the microphones will be placed close to the sound source. This avoids spillage and bleed from other instruments being played.

      KICK DRUM:
      ~Microphone: The microphone for the kick drum needs two main features. It needs to have a good low frequency range to pick up the bottom end of the drum as it can be very bassy. The second important factor is the sound pressure level. As the microphone will be close to a high impact sound source it will need to be able to take a good pounding so to speak. A very delicate microphone is not reccommended. In this case, a dynamic microphone is best used over a condensor.

      Microphone Reccommendations:
      - AKG D112 - £110 RRP- An industry standard microphone used well wide for kick drum and bass applications. Possibly the most popular kick drum microphone in modern recording.
      - Audix D6 - £150 RRP - A microphone becoming a favourite for many for the fantastic value for money
      - Shure Beta52 - £120 RRP - The newer 52 which is a highly used microphone in the music industry.

      ~Position: While there are several different positions, I favor placing the microphone on a short boom stand inside the kick drum, several inches away from the beater head. This will give enough click from the beater but also capture the depth of the bass.

      If you are still lacking click, you can tape a credit card or similar to the kick drum by the beater. This will bring out the sound better in the recording. If you get too much click from the beater however, you can simply move the microphone off axis from the beater.

      ~Microphone: An important feature for the snare drum is to have a tight polar pattern to keep out any spillage from the neighboring hi-hat. Therefore a cardioid pattern is reccommended.

      Microphone Reccommendations:
      Shure SM57 - £70-80 RRP - This is the most standard microphone used on the snare. It is used by even the top producers who have gear ranging in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

      Sennheiser E904 - £105 RRP
      Sennheiser MD421 - £250RRP

      ~Position: The microphone should try to be placed ideally pointing in the drummers directions. This gets rid as much of the bleed through from the tom-toms and hi-hat as possible. It should be at an angle pointing down towards to centre of the drum. If the sound comes through too harsh it can be moved slightly away from the centre, or with the angle adjusted. Ideally it should be around 2-4 inches away from the sound source.

      ~Microphone: As the hi-hats produce many high frequencies you will want a microphone with a good frequency response. Therefore a condensor is usually selected instead of a dynamic. Like the snare, it will need a tight polar pattern, so therefore should be a small diaphragm condensor.

      Microphone Reccommendations:
      - AKG C451b - £229 RRP - One of the most popular cheaper hi-hat microphones. Small in size and highly reccommended.
      - AKG C1000s - £90 RRP - For the budget studio but still a good microphone.
      - Neumann KM184 - £550 RRP - For the deeper pockets. A lot higher quality microphone with good response. However many people have claimed to get a lot better result with the AKG C451b at half the price.

      ~Position: The microphone can be placed pointing down onto the hi-hat. If pointing directly down it will get more of a deeper sound from the bell, however if a crisper sound is wanted it can be put slightly off axis towards the rim, ideally away from the snare to avoid bleed through.

      TOM DRUM:
      ~Microphone: Although a condensor can be used on the tom-tom drums it is more common to use a dynamic. The main concern when using a condensor on the toms, is that they arent played much during many songs and therefore are just sitting there picking up unwanted spillage. As condensors are very sensitive it will easily pick up a lot of spillage. Ideally the microphone will want a good low end as well as a decent high end to emphersize the toms.

      Microphone Reccommendations:
      - Shure SM57 - £70-80 RRP - As well as being an amazing microphone for the snare, many people use this mike for the toms. It is very cheap and reliable for any one on a low budget.
      - Sennheiser MD421 - £250 RRP - This microphone also is great on the toms for anyone with a bit more money to spend. It can give a very warm low end.

      ~Position: The microphone position is very similar to the snare drum, however it is reccommended to angle the microphones deeper, to once again cut out as much spillage from the rest of the kit as possible.

      ~Microphone: The microphones for the cymbols are known as the overheads. It is reccommended to use a pair of microphones, ideally matching pairs, These can then be panned left and right to give the drums stereo width when recording. Like the hi-hats, with cymbols it is reccommended to use good quality condensor microphones.

      Microphone Reccommendations:
      - AKG C451b - £229 RRP - This small diaphragm condensor is great for the high transients. It picks up the air and the sparkle of the cymbols.
      - AKG C414 - £600 RRP - The mid-price range of microphones with a large diaphragm to pick up more space. A better choice is the kit has many cymbols to record.
      - Neumann U87 - £1500 RRP - Once again, a deep pocket microphone. Used world wide for all different applications, it has fantastic sparkle and produces outstanding results. However the price is very steep.

      ~Position: The microphones should be placed left and right of the drum. One possibly over the ride cymbol side, whilst the other over the crash cymbol. If there are few cymbols then they can be close-miked to minimise spillage being several inches away. However if there are more cymbols then they can be played a couple of feet higher poiting directly down, perhaps slightly angled out to cut out the tom-toms and snare drum.


      After miking up the drums, you may listen back and think that some things just dont sound right. DONT just reach for the EQ knob. The first thing to ever check is the sound at source. Before reaching for any effect or processor in a studio, always check to see if its the sound source thats causing the problem. A bad sound source can not be fixed by any amount of EQ.

      However, EQ can still be used to slightly adjust the sound. I will now give a couple of basic reccommendations. These are however just my personal reccommendations and are not necessary standard and can be varied. The best way to learn is by first hand experience.

      Kick Drum:
      For more of a click boost around 2-3KHz
      For a bigger bottom end try boosting around 100Hz

      Snare Drum:
      For air and a sizzle try boosting around 4-6KHz
      For more low end try boosting around 250-400Hz

      To brighten up add around 6-10KHz
      To remove muddiness cut around 400Hz

      For warmth boost around 200-500Hz
      For more attack boost around 6KHz

      For air add around 10KHz
      To remove muddiness cut around 250Hz. Basically the low end.

      As much as I have mainly said about boosting, it is always best to cut than to boost, as adding EQ also adds gain which increases unwanted noise. Any noise added to a mix is a big no no!

      Ideally, a perfect drum sound should not need to be EQ'd.

      Once its done and sounding good just hit that record button. Now all you can rely on is the performance of the drummer. For the better performance it can be best to have guide tracks from the rest of the band so the drummer gets the live feeling. If its just them sitting with headphones playing to thereself, its not bound to have much energy.

      Sounds one thing, but personally performance is the most important factor.

      Happy recording!


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