CATCH THE VISION
If you are a recording engineer, you should really see yourself as an audio historian. You are essentially capturing moments that will never happen again. Are you approaching your craft with the utmost care and thoughtfulness? If you don't bring your A game at all times to your craft, then what are you doing? You have to change your perspective. No more old hat. None of us has all of this stuff figured out. Successful engineering many times is a back catalog of happy accidents (or divine moments) built on a foundation of hungry learning.
When I first started getting into audio, I started on this quest in reading everything I could get my hands on. Most of it was the old school engineer's methods of recording and such. I devoured it day after day. I interviewed, I called, I watched, and I improved (I am still improving).
"If you don't bring your A- game at all times to your craft, then what are you doing? You have to change your perspective. No more old hat. None of us has all of this stuff figured out. Successful engineering many times is a back catalog of happy accidents (or divine moments) built on a foundation of hungry learning."
All of the above has everything to do with how you amplify or record a drumset. Yes, that level of care and expertise should be taken. Don't just throw a bunch of microphones up there and hope for the best.
a DRUMSET IS JUST ONE INSTRUMENT, NOT A BUNCH OF INSTRUMENTS PUT TOGETHER
The sound of your drumset will always lack that special "something" if you view it as a bunch of separate drums and cymbals put together. A set has to have a cohesiveness to it when you are presenting it (like one instrument), or you have failed in that area as an engineer.
You may be asking, "How do I get it to have that sound?" Well keep reading, and this question will be answered shortly.
STEP ONE - THE MUSICIAN
If your drummer is not up to snuff, can't play to a metronome, can't decide on a solid kick pattern so that the bassist doesn't put him in a judo hold and choke him out, never hits the snare in the same place twice, loves to punish his/her hats, lacks dynamics, plays one big drum solo the whole time, and....well, you may be getting the point.
The first step in drumset cohesiveness is the musician (most of the world refers to them as drummers). A great musician will strike each part of his/her kit dynamically with what's going on in the song. They will bring glue to their own kit. They know what cymbals need to be struck where, the best place to strike their toms, what the beater material needs to be for the song, etc. This is something that comes with experience.
STEP TWO - THE INSTRUMENT
Does the set sound good? Fresh heads? Cymbals that sound better than old tin trashcan lids? A pedal that doesn't squeak? The same kind of dude that'll spend $200 on a pair of shoes, or $1000 on a watch, will buy the cheapest cymbals so thick that they could be used for battle armor. "I'll sacrifice for bling, but not for my art."
STEP 3 - FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LEARN HOW TO TUNE YOUR DRUMS!
If you are a drummer reading this, and you don't know how to tune a drumset, then please read the above title of this section over and over. There are plenty of good tuning lessons and videos online you can watch for free. DW drums has a great one. Dave Weckl does too.
STEP 4 - THE DRUMMER IS THE LEADER OF THE BAND
You may be thinking..."Oh no, I knew it...the dude writing this is a drummer." Nope, I'm a guitar player - but the sooner the band realizes this concept, the tighter and more jelled they will be! How cool would it be if a whole band would lock into what the drummer is doing. As a guitarist, I will purposely lock in what I am playing according to what the drummer is playing. As an engineer, I always make sure the rhythm section is the very foundation of my mix. If the drummer and the bassist cannot be heard in a mix, you are doing it wrong!
STEP 5 - MIC PLACEMENT, MIC PLACEMENT, MIC PLACEMENT (OH, DID I MENTION MIC PLACEMENT?)
Learn microphone placement. This is an art in itself. Stop being lazy. Learn your craft. There are particular guidelines you can follow to get you close, and then from there you adjust each microphone to get the voicing(s) you need from the instrument. YOU ARE MIC'ING THE DRUMSET FOR THE PURPOSE OF PRESENTING IT AS ONE INSTRUMENT, NOT AS A BUNCH OF INSTRUMENTS PUT TOGETHER.
You may be saying:
THE OVERHEAD MICROPHONE(S) SHOULD BE FOR THE WHOLE SET, NOT JUST FOR THE CYMBALS! THE SOUND OF YOUR SET RESIDES MOSTLY IN YOUR OVERHEAD MICS, WHILE THE KICK, SNARE, AND TOM MICROPHONES PROVIDE SUPPORT AND TONE.
I know, I know, I know. All of you recording engineers are shaking your heads. I know I've lost my mind.
I KNOW WHAT YOU BE SAYIN': "YOU ARE FULL OF IT DUDE!"
Nowadays it's "use as many microphones as possible on a set to record it, and then replace them all with samples! HA HA HA HA HA HA.... cRAzY!
I know that's the current state of affairs lately.
I know that's usually what the client wants. Let's make everything as huge as possible! "Dude, I've got three kick samples going, doesn't it sound absolutely HUGE?"
I came from a time that if a drummer caught you "replacing" or augmenting a snare, they would be highly offended. We had to leave that work to after hours after everyone else went home. We called this "arthuring" or "georging." This is the method in which you place a raw frame speaker on top of a good sounding snare, run the original snare track through it with it mic'd, and blend it with the original track.
Whose idea was it to make the kick drum the BIGGEST instrument in every mix. I mean jeez, it's getting ridiculous. You'll have this totally dry massive kick drum smacking me upside the earlobes, but the rest of the drumset is highly spiced with room mics...like as if the kick drum is in a totally separate room than the rest of the set! And that's another thing: enough with the friggin' room microphones. A little is OK, but it's gotten WAY out of hand.
Phil Collins did it in the 90's with "I can feeeel it, cawmin' in de air to-night, Oh Lawd." Here comes the drum roll....
Ever since then, room mics galore! Weeee! Huge & dry kick drums with really verby room mics. Makes no sense.
RANDOM TIPS FOR CAPTURING AND PRESENTING DRUMS
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
Make sure your drums are tuned well.
My Opinion: If your drums are tuned well, you won't need any type of muting on the toms nor snare. This is highly subjective I realize - both according to what the musician wants and what the song my dictate.
Use a pillow for your kick drum. Yes, the kind you lay on. Nice and fluffy. Forget about those goofy little oblong overpriced pads that fly up every time you smack the kick drum.
Know the difference in tone between these two scenarios:
Or this (2 positions compared):
Learn the difference in microphone types, and the voices they can lend to your set.
The least amount of microphones on a set is advisable.
Learn about phase, polarity, and different stereo mic'ing techniques for drum overheads.
One overhead condenser microphone over the right shoulder of the drummer, pointing at the toms, is a great way to mic a set if you don't have many microphones to work with.
The old "rule": Anything with a head, use a dynamic microphone.
Point your overhead mics at the toms rather than the cymbals. Don't worry, your cymbals will be heard! So will your snare.
Learn that EQ is your last resort. Equalization is to fix a problem. It's not supposed to be "the given." Oooooh, alright! With that said: A boost around 7khz can bring out more snare or cymbal "sizzle." 200hz'ish range is warmth. 50hz is the low warm boom. 80hz is the low punch. 100hz is the thud. Around 400hz in a kick drum is mud, while in a bass guitar, it's note definition.
Plate verbs can be cool for snare drums.
Sending your drums to a sub-bus, and then using compression on that bus can add some glue to a set. Same can be said with using the same verb on a sub-bus as well.
Make the drums as realistic sounding as possible, not as big sounding as possible - unless of course you are mixing metal. All click and no tone! Rah, Rah Raaaaaah!!! Yeeeaaaahhhh! Yeaaaaaah! <---- you gotta have a ton of "yeaaahhhhhs" in a metal song. Each drum should sound as plastic as possible with HUGE kick drums and a click sound every time the drummer hits a drum. Ha!!!!
Don't use compression for your overheads, or use very little with light ratios (unless of course you are going for that really squishy thing). 2:1, compressing not more than 3-4 db as an example.
Never play around with Low-Pass filters for your kick. Let it bleed...just like in real life.
If recording, feel free to take off the front resonant head off the kick drum, and then place a heavy quilt over the front of it after you have found a good mic position inside the drum. After that, you may have to adjust the mic to get the perfect tone. For more attack, move the mic closer to the beater head (or change the beater type), for more boom - move it further away from the beater head.
Allot of times, a better tone in a kick drum can be found with the mic closer to the inside of the shell rather than in the very middle of the drum.
Learn about the vibrational modes of a circular membrane (as mentioned above).
Gates are a plague. Never use a gate.....ever. Let your drums ring. How would you like it if someone cut off the last part of every one of your words in an important conversation? Ha!
Compression: slower attacks to let the initial transient through will add a degree of "punch" to a drum. Start around 15-20ms. Adjust to taste.
Hard Knees for bass instruments, soft knees for treble/mid instruments - like cymbals or a snare...
Ok I'm tired...Much love everyone!
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