15 Essential Tips For Recording Drums
Recording drums in a studio for the first time can be a daunting task, whether it’s in a professional studio or a home setup. Preparing for the session can make all the difference when it comes to the final outcome.
Here are some essential tips for getting the best out of your recording session as a drummer.
Practice and prepare
It goes without saying that you need to know the material before heading to the studio, but what else is required to prepare well for a recording session?
Know your part inside out, as well as solo
As well as knowing the tracks extremely well, it’s important to prepare well for playing your parts without any accompaniment from other musicians or vocalists. There’s a good chance that you’ll be required to play your parts alone, so get to know them well and spend extra time practicing difficult sections. Practicing tricky parts until they are like second nature can put you in a great space to feel more confident heading into the session. It’s common for drums to be recorded first, so the drummer ideally needs to be more prepared than anyone.
Prepare drum charts or notes
Even if you’re confident you have everything memorized, notes and charts can still help, as they can enable you to think of the parts in a different way. They are also really handy if your mind suddenly goes blank in the middle of recording.
Work on your drumming stamina
Recording sessions can run for many hours – some all day, some into the night, so be prepared to drum for longer than you might be used to, and expect to run through every song many times. Practice on both your kit and a drum pad to build stamina in preparation. This goes for recording with conga drums, too. The physicality of playing these drums requires a good deal of flexibility and stamina when it comes to the long and often repetitive nature of the recording process.
Practice for different kit positions
Once your kit is mic’d up, you may find that your kit is no longer in the comfortable position you are used to. To prevent this from being an issue, practice playing with a variety of setups to get you feeling more confident in your adaptability. This is also handy when using different setups like house kits etc., so it pays to not get too dependent upon a certain position for optimal play.
Get some extra supplies
Extra sticks, gaffer tape, drumheads, and some snacks are important extras to take with you when recording. Headphones or in-ear monitors are a good idea too if you have them. Most studios will provide headphones, but not in every case, and your own may be more comfortable.
Photo by Caught In Joy on Unsplash
Listen back to yourself first
It rarely goes well for any musician to have the recording studio be the first time they hear themselves play. You want to stand out for the right reasons! Listening back to your own performing opens up a world of new realizations that can go a long way towards improved performance. It doesn’t matter what you record yourself on. It could be your phone, an old tape-recorder, or even through your laptop’s built-in microphone. It can be even more useful to record a video of yourself too, allowing you to really understand how you play and notice your movements as you do.
When listening back, pay particular attention to:
- The consistency of your flow and beat timings
- The balance between your cymbals and drums
- The timing of your fills
- Your kit’s overall sound – does it need tuning or any new drumheads?
Get used to working with a metronome
If you’ve never played alongside a metronome before, it can feel impossible to successfully record with one. Whilst it’s not essential to use a click to record drums, you should certainly be comfortable doing so. Lots of incredible albums have been made without one, but you never know when the need will arise, and it will likely put you off if you’re not used to it. So, get used to drumming alongside a metronome beforehand, both on your own and with the rest of the band.
Improve your dynamic independence
Depending on the extent of your drumming experience, the way you play in rehearsals or at home may not be optimal once you are in a studio environment, so it’s imperative that you work on your control over your volume levels. A drum recording may require a lighter touch, or the engineer may request that you decrease a cymbal or drum’s volume due to too much bleed through the microphones. Whatever the circumstances, it can be very tricky to manage if you haven’t taken the time to work on improving your control over your play dynamics.
In the studio
If you have taken heed of these preparation pointers, you’ll be in a great position for a good session. Other than that:
- Warm-up before you start recording
- Make sure you tighten up your gear before you get started
- Start with an easier track
- Don’t move your gear around once you’ve started tracking
- Don’t forget to stay well hydrated and fed
- Relax – getting stressed will not improve your performance
Lastly, be nice to the engineer! They are fully in control of the outcome and are often very experienced, so listen to them and make their life easier by following directions. The more experience you have, the easier recording will become, but until then, preparation is key.
Music Analysis, Music Mixing