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Recording Drums

Recording Drums

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In your career as an Audio Engineer you will most probably be required to record acoustic drum kits - whether it's for a paid project of just for fun. The standard 5- piece drum kit consists of a Kick drum ( bass drum), Snare drum, 3 Tom toms (small, medium and floor tom). Note that no cymbals were mentioned!

We see the drum kit as one instrument, when it actually is a group of instruments known as percussion.

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We’ve established that the drum kit is actually made up of a few individual instruments, but how do we record it? The short answer is as a group, just like recording a choir or string section. It's primarily about capturing the entire kit and how it sounds like in the space where it’s placed. After this consideration, make use of closer microphone placement on the individual drums to enhance the sound if it doesn't have enough detail or punch. When multiple microphones are used, always remember to check for phasing.

Tips and tricks

  1. Try to place your room microphone(s) first and move it around until you get a well-balanced sound.  Also experiment with the height of the microphones, this could have some interesting results. An example would be placing the microphones lower, resulting in more drums and less cymbals.
  2. When using stereo room microphones, use a piece of string or a cable and measure the distance from the kick or snare to the microphone and try to match the distance.
  3. Get the best possible sound from the drum kit. If you want a big snare sound, get a big snare. Also consider replacing the drum skins. Use single layer skins for a bright tone and thick double layer skins for darker tones.
  4. If you get a lot of cymbal bleed into the other microphones (especially tom mics), lift the cymbals a little higher. If you have an electronic drum kit or cymbal triggers with a midi trigger converter, record the cymbals as MIDI notes and trigger cymbal samples. If the drummer needs to do cymbal swells simply overdub it. If you do regular drum recordings, consider getting a Zildjian Gen16 cymbal pack.
  5. Take the time and do proper drum tuning. It is highly important to get the best possible sound from the source (each drum). Once again choose the correct skin for the type of sound that you are looking for. Once you have a good tuning on the drums but you have one tuning lug that resonates more than the others, use moon-gel or even a piece of prestik to tame the resonance at the lug.

Bonus tips:

  • When recording hard rock or heavy metal, try to use a harder beater type (eg. wood) for more attack.
  • When a cymbal decays for too long use prestik or duct tape with a small folder paper and stick it underneath the cymbal toward the edge to bring an imbalance to the cymbal. This will result in a shorter decay time.
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