This is an excerpt from Chapter 5: How to Record Drums that Rock from Recording Strategies – Planning the Perfect Session. Get your copy here.
Recording drums is one of the most challenging tasks an engineer can face. One of the requirements of my final project back at SAE (School of Audio Engineering) was that it had to have drums.
The school wanted you to know how to record drums, or at least be familiar with every aspect of recording drums. Now I’ll try to condense all those lessons I learned back then, as well as the other ones I’ve learned since.
The easiest way to get a good drum sound is to have a drum kit that’s actually in tune. Many beginners overlook the importance of tuning the drum kit. Tuning isn’t only for guitars and other instruments. Drums need to be tuned just as well. A well-tuned drum kit needs much less work on the engineering side than a bad sounding one.
It’s a bit more difficult to tune a drum than a guitar. Unless you’re a really good drummer (most engineers aren’t), then you will need a tool like a drum dial to get an accurate tuning.
If you are replacing the heads of all your drums and re-tuning them, follow this guide:
- Once you’ve put the heads on, push down on the head to stretch them out. You don’t want to tune a head that hasn’t been stretched out. It won’t stay in tune.
- Using a drum key, tighten the lugs in a star pattern until they’re not loose anymore. Don’t tighten them much, just enough so that they aren’t rattling.
- Put the drum dial an inch or so away from each lug and measure the pressure. Aim for 80 on the drum dial for each of the higher toms and a little lower on the floor toms.
- Tighten the lugs in a star pattern until you’ve accomplished the desired pressure at each lug.
- Now lightly tap on each part of the drum hit, about one inch from the lug to hear if all parts of the drum sound the same.
- If one part of the drum sounds higher or lower than all of the others you need to modify it so that each place has the same sound. This will give an even tone to the whole drum.
- Repeat for all the other drums, both top and bottom heads.
If your drums all sound in tune but they ring too much you can dampen them with Moongels or tissue paper and tape. You don’t want toms ringing too loudly; you just want a tight tone that decays rapidly but naturally. When it comes to the kick drum, you don’t want it to be empty. Dampen the kick drum by stuffing some blankets into it. This tightens the sound up considerably, and will give you a punchier and less resonant tone.
Tuning the drums is one of most important things to do to a drum-kit before recording. - Click to Tweet!
Tune them correctly and your job will be easier.
Recording Drums in Different Rooms
Like you’ve undoubtedly noticed, not all rooms sound alike. A large concert hall sounds significantly different than your living room; therefore, your drums are going to sound different depending on the room they’re recorded in. No one room is the most desirable of the bunch. The reason why we have so many different reverb modes is that we all have different tastes in what a good room sounds like. Some prefer halls, other prefer rooms.
The room you’re recording in is going to have some effect on your drum sound. How much depends on the microphone technique you are using. Close mics are relatively unaffected compared to overhead and room microphones. Room microphones are affected especially by the room around them, not surprisingly.
I realize that you might not have an abundance of room types to choose from, but if you have access to nice sounding studio rooms or natural sounding halls then by all means give them a go. Living rooms and bedroom studios are usually the worst choices when it comes to tracking drums. Low ceilings, tight walls and carpets don’t do much for a great drum sound. High ceilings, larger rooms and hard floors can really make a drum sound come to life.
If you are stuck with your carpeted living room, then don’t despair. There are a few different ways to jazz up a drum-kit to make it sound a little better…