February 28, 2018
The holy grail of recording is getting good drum sounds on a record. Some engineers can spend a week on a snare sound. Others (with a great drummer) can dial it in much more efficiently. That said, recording at home doesn’t have to be a terrible process yielding poor results. Here are a few tips for recording better drums at home:
- Organization – If you are not mixing, make sure you label everything accurately (Kick In, Kick Out, Snare Top, Snare Bottom, Tom, Floor, Overhead L, Overhead Right, etc.) in your DAW. It’s usually very obvious what is what when a mixing engineer gets your tracks, but it’s just a nice thing to do.
- Room mics – Most people don’t listen to a drum kit with their ear right up on the drum. Most people hear the drums from a distance from the kit. Please always record with room mics. I can give you a more natural sound. The mix engineer might not even use them, but it’s always good to have. A trick I like to use is unmuting a drum room mic in the chorus of a song to add a little punch.
- Click track – Be honest with your drummer. Are they wavering in tempo? Would a click track help them / the song or would it make it worse. Always know when to use one and when not to. Some drummers are just great time keepers and don’t need the click. Others need the guide. Know your drummer. Know your song. Always.
- Oil – Oil up your kick pedal. I am sure Eddie Kramer is still rolling his eyes for all the times people point out John Bonham’s squeaky kick pedal in Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. The point is taking care of your gear and your gear will take care of you.
- Experiment – Move the mics! Most mics don’t always sound awesome in the first place you position them. While monitoring and checking the levels with your drummer ask the drummer to move the mics around. Even a centimeter can make a huge difference. Move the mic closer – how does it change? Move it further away – what happens?
- Tune – Both the resonant (the bottom) and the beater (top) heads on any drum can be tightened or loosened and in turn changing the pitch, tone, and vibe of the drum. Experiment with what sounds best for the song.
- Dampening – You can put a pillow in the kick to help it not sound like an empty beach ball bouncing around. You can tape up cymbals and toms to get them to be a little less bright and more dry. A good trick is a little toilet paper (2-ply, of course) rolled up with little gaff tape on the toms to hinder a little ring.
- Record and listen – Monitoring isn’t always accurate when recording in a basement. Isolation isn’t always ideal. And drums are certainly loud! That said, record a section, then play it back and listen to how it sounds. Can you improve? If so, do it!
- Mic techniques – There are many ways to record a kit. In fact there are an infinite amount of ways. If you are feeling frisky and want to try something new try the Glyn Johns Method, Recorderman, XY/Coincident Pair, Mid-Side, ORTF, and Spaced Pair. Or better yet, invent your own technique!
- Switch out – Switch out cymbals. Switch out snares. Put a towel on the snare. Make sure you have the tools and the sounds that are right for your song.