THE HOME RECORDING CHRONICLES PART II
The Drum Miking and Tuning Conundrum
Hello, and welcome back to the Home recording Chronicles! In this second installment, I will be discussing the miking techniques used in recording the drum set. Some consider drums to be the most difficult instrument to record because there are so many variables from one drum set to the next, and one room to the next. Additionally, every drummer, engineer and producer has his or her preferences with regard to drum sizes and head type, so for all practical purposes, I will use my drum setup and microphones for this article. Below, you will find a detailed list of my equipment.
Pearl® Prestige Session Select with:
10" x 8" tom tom
12" x 9" tom tom
14" x 10" tom tom
16" x 14" tom tom
18" x 22" bass drum
14"x 4" copper shell snare drum
All drums have Maple/Mahogany/Maple shells
Microphone Set up:
Snare Drum: Shure® SM57
Bass Drum: Shure® SM52
Rack toms: Shure® SM57s
Overheads: Shure® SM81s
The first step to getting your perfect drum sound is to determine which type of sound you want. The room in which you are recording can make a huge difference in this category, so it is important to know what you are looking for before you even begin setting up. Depending on your style, you will either want to use a room that has a lot of sound absorbent surfaces, or one that has a lot of reflective surfaces (see The Home recording Chronicles I). A room with many absorbent surfaces will cause the sound of the drum to stop almost immediately after the attack; therefore, the room itself adds no ambient sound to the recording. This particular drum sound is frequently used in R & B music.
Adversely, if you are looking for a hard rock sound, the room with many reflective surfaces can give the drums an amazingly huge sound. The reason for this is that the sound is reflected, or reverberated, around the room, and the drum mikes pick up that additional sound. To achieve this particular effect, you may use rooms such as basements, garages, school gymnasiums, or auditoriums. The bigger the room, the more ambient sound you add to the drums.
THE KICK DRUM
From my experience recording, I have found the 22" kick drum to be the easiest to record for rock music. They usually have the perfect balance of ‘snap’ and ‘boom’. 24" and 26" drums are generally too boomy and too hard to control in the studio. Smaller kick drums such as the 18" and the 20" have a lot of the snap sound, but not enough bottom end, and are used often in fusion music where definition of sound is more important than the bottom end. To get a strong, present kick drum sound, I use a thick two ply clear Remo® Emperor batter head, and I always make sure to take off the front head and stuff the drum with at least one pillow that rests against the front head, which keeps the shell from resonating. Additionally, in rock music, I usually use a hard wood or composite beater to give the drum a lot of ‘pop’ on the recording.
Tuning the kick drum can also be very tricky. Usually, when a drummer tunes a drum, the tighter the drum is tuned, the higher the pitch. This is not true with the kick drum apparently. When the kick drum head is loosened, the pitch does not go lower, but it goes higher. This is because the human ear is unable to hear the kick drum’s tone after it is tuned so low. At this point, the drum gains more of a snap sound, and loses its boom. On the other hand, tuning the drum higher actually brings back the boomy sound, and takes away a lot of the definition. Personally, I prefer to have more attack than boom, so I try to find a nice medium tightness, which will offer a good combination of the two. So if you are not getting enough attack out of the drum, the solution is not to tighten the head, but to loosen it.
Kick Drum Miking Technique
When miking the kick drum, I always start with the basic setup of positioning the mike about three inches away from the head angled at a thirty degree angle from the center, and facing away from the floor tom. This prevents a lot of bleed over from the floor tom. Depending on how much attack a drummer is looking for, you would bring the mike closer to the head (for more attack), or further away from the head (for less attack).
Where my tom toms are concerned, I prefer a pretty standard approach to the head type, tuning and mike placement. I generally like to have my toms sound off in notes (or close approximations thereof). To do this I always begin with the thinnest head that I can get away with, that will also hold up through heavy playing. I have had the best results with the clear Remo® Ambassador batters on the top, and Clear Diplomats on the bottom. The next step is to take a root note off the piano (or instrument of your choice), and start with say, an A note. I will then tune the top head of the first tom to that note, or as close as I can get it, all the while making sure that the tension at each tuning screw is equal. After that is accomplished, I will then tune the bottom head to a note that is roughly a half step lower or higher. This will cut down some of the sustain of the drum, as opposed to having the drumheads in exact tune. The latter will cause the drumheads to resonate sympathetically, which thereby increases the sustain, and can cause problems in the studio.
Repeat each step on the rest of the drums, but tune them to notes that are a third apart each time (e.g. Rack tom 1: A note, Rack tom 2: C note, Rack tom 3: E note, Rack tom 4: G note, etc.). This will give the drums a more melodic sound.
Tom Tom Miking Technique
When miking the tom toms, I will always angle the mike down at roughly a 25degree angle to the drumhead, and I will make sure they are pointed at the snare. This particular technique gives the toms a full sound, and adds a little ambience to the snare drum. Miking the floor tom(s) is a little different from miking the rack toms. Since the floor tom is in the same frequency range as the bass drum, it is important to angle the mike in such a way that it does not pick up the bass drum, which can be almost impossible to get rid of once it is recorded. To accomplish this, you must angle the mike at about 30degrees to the head facing the rear of the kit, and away from the bass drum.
For rock music, I prefer to use a metal shell snare with a coated Remo® Ambassador Batter head. I discourage the use of oil-filled heads for this application, because although they are good for live play because they last, they tend to have a muffled sound to them. Tuning the snare as opposed to the tuning of the tom toms is quite subjective. It depends on the style of music you are playing, and more importantly where the snare sounds good. I will generally tune the snare lower for slower ballad-type songs, and then tune it up higher to give it more of a pop on faster songs that require definition on the drum kit.
Snare Drum Miking Technique
When I mike the snare drum, I come in on the snare from an angle of about 30degrees, with the tip of the mike pointing toward the center of the head. Additionally, I make sure that the mike is pointing away from the hi-hats. This will insure a truer separation of the two.
For those on a budget, like myself, we do not always have the luxury of separately miking all of the cymbals, so we instead rely on a technique called overhead miking. Basically, overhead miking involves a strategic placement of two condenser microphones (in this case, the Shure® SM81s) in front of the kit. One mike is angled at the right hand side of the kit, and the other is angled at the left hand side of the kit. I have found that the most effective placement is about three feet in front of the kit, with the mikes about four feet higher than the kit and angled down toward the hi-hats and ride cymbal respectively. This will give the true ‘stereo spread’ on the final recording, and will establish the sound as three dimensional.
After everything is set up and recorded, you will want to EQ the drum sounds. The following settings are ones that I have found work the best with kits in general to bring out the true ‘live’ sound of the drum set.
EQ TECHNIQUE FOR DRUMSET – IN SHORT
Depending on how much ‘smack’ you want the kick drum to have, you will adjust the upper EQ registers accordingly. I will usually give the range at 3K a boost of about 3dB, and on occasion, I will give a small boost of about 1dB to the frequencies between 6K and 8K. this gives the drum a ‘click’, an example of which would be Lars Ulrich’s sound on the …And justice for all album by Metallica.
To boost the bottom end, you will want to raise the 100Hz setting by about 10dB, or about ten times the amount that I have boosted the 6-8K range.. This will give the drum its bottom end. With these frequencies boosted, the kick drum will have the upper end ‘smack, as well as the ‘woof’ sound of the lower end.
Since I enjoy a very present ‘bangy’ snare sound, I will go over the EQ settings for that style. If you are not a fan of that particular sound, you can experiment with other EQ settings. I start by bring out the ‘bang’ if you will, and to do this, I will boost the frequencies between 1K and 3K by about 5dB. For mor clarity, I will boost the frequency at 5K, whick will bring out the stick attack and snares, and will give the snare a ‘click’ sound. At the bottom end, I will again boost the frequency at 100hZ by about 10dB so the listener can ‘feel’ the snare in the mix.
Being more concerned about how well the toms sound in the track as opposed to how they sound by themselves, I EQ accordingly. I will normally start by EQ the top ranges of 7-8K with about a 3dB boost which brings out the stick attack and the high end of the drum. I will then add about 2dBs at the 3K range, which will give the tom its power, and then a small boost of about 2dB at the 100Hz range, to give them their bottom ends. Additionally, depending on how opaque or solid you want the tom to sound, you may then boost or cut the frequency at 500Hz.
When Eqing the overhead mikes, I always make sure I bring out the cymbal clarity and definition first. To accomplish this, I will boost the signal in the 10 – 12K range by about 5dB, as well as a boost in the 15K range, which will bring out more of the room ambience on the whole kit. After that, I will add a small boost at the 3K range of about 2dB to encompass the rest of the kit. Finally, I will cut some of the frequency range at 200Hz to lend further clarity to the signal.
Stay tuned next time, when I will be focusing on recording vocals, and the related EQ techniques. Until then, good day, and Happy Recording!