Welcome back to the blog! If you’ve been following this for some time then you’ll know that this month’s focus is all about Recording Drums, and today I wanted to touch on a couple of topics briefly to hopefully help you in your quest for the perfect drum sound.
We’ve got a lot to talk about, so let’s dive straight in!
Choosing Your Mics
Mic choice can be a tricky thing in general, but when it comes to drum recordings you have to think about the sort of sound you’re after before you even hit record. So to break down the choices you’ll likely have to make, we’ll go through 3 groups of mics you’ll have to make decisions on. Let’s start with the close mics. Often you’ll find most engineers typically like to stick to dynamic mics as they can take a high sound pressure level without risk to the capsule, and in a lot of cases they’re built to be road ready for live shows which will likely mean they can take a beating from the drum sticks if your drummers accuracy isn’t the best.
But over the years I have found that there are a lot of times I prefer a small diaphragm condenser on the Snare drum, or a large diaphragm condenser on the Floor tom and it’s worked perfectly. The only type of mic I wouldn’t suggest on close mic'd drums is a Ribbon mic - if too much air hits the Ribbon within the capsule it will break very easily ruining the mic straight away. The important thing is to experiment as you progress your recordings to find new and exciting ways to bring the performance to life.
So, with the close mics chosen, the natural next starting point is the overheads. I’m a firm believer of this choice changing most of how the kit will end up sounding, so it’s a very important choice to make in the context of the overall sound. There’s only really 3 realistic options here: Large Diaphragm, Small Diaphragm, or Ribbon. I haven’t included dynamic as for me, their polar pattern is much more narrow allowing less stereo image, and often their frequency spectrum won’t be as broad or as neutral as the 3 listed.
When I’m making this choice, I’ll try to think about what it is I want to hear more of; do I want a darker sound or more detailed clarity? Are the cymbals already extremely bright, and if so should I try and counter that with my mic choice? How focused do I want the cymbals to be, and do I want to be able to hear a good amount of the shells in the overhead mics?
There’s a lot of questions you can ask to help you determine what you’re after, but one of the best things you can do is try them all for yourself. I’ve typically stuck with swapping in and out various Large Diaphragm condensers due to wanting a good amount of the entire kit in the sound. But Small Diaphragm condenser mics will usually give you more presence and upper definition as well as clarity however can become very harsh very quickly depending on their placement over the kit. Ribbon mics will pick up sound from both sides of the capsule, which can give you a lovely natural and dark sound, but again, depending on the placement they can become washy and far less defined than the other choices.
Lastly, the room mics. Again, this is arguably the most important choice if you’re after an explosive and energetic vibe to accompany the mix. The drum room will play a big part in this choice as well, and knowing how your mics sound in a few different rooms will allow you far better decision making so try and experiment to find what works best for the sound you’re after. The choices for these mics are similar to the above, but I wouldn’t often choose Small Diaphragm mics as they have always felt more focused for me.
The V11 sounds great as a wide spaced room mic pair, as well as it being a great middle ground between a Large Diaphragm Condenser or almost Ribbon like sound.
So with either Ribbon or Large Diaphragm condensers to choose from, the same questions apply as they did for the overhead mics in terms of what sound are you looking for, but a more interesting question for the room mics is determined by the technique you’re planning to use. As there are a few different ones, I’ll stick to the ones I’ll try to incorporate in most of my drum sessions to explain further.
If I were to use Blumlein for my rooms, a pair of ribbon mics would work perfectly thanks to their polar pattern, but if you have a condenser pair that is able to do various polar patterns, keep them in mind as well and shoot out which to use by testing them back to back. If you’re using a wide spaced pair, ribbon mics can work well for this, but I’d usually choose the condensers in more cases as they are much easier to manipulate within the room to achieve the sound you’re after.
Lastly, an XY pair can be a wonderful choice, but as almost all ribbons I’m aware of have a figure of 8 polar pattern, a condenser pair would be the better choice as it’ll turn into Blumlien without a cardioid pair - a side note here is that a pair of Small Diaphragm mics would work well in this case but I’ll almost always have another pair of room mics in a wide spaced pair to fill out the rest of the wider stereo image.
Tuning the Room
If you’ve not heard this term before, then it may sound rather obscure when reading it for the first time. Essentially, this phrase is used to describe the absorption within the room to taper the length of the decay from the drum kit or any other instrument played within the live room. It’s extremely important to use acoustic treatment in general to help keep the boominess of the lower frequencies piling up in the corners of the room, as well as avoiding a much more washed out or unfocused sound. But having the room too dry will also suck the life out of the recording, so there is a sweet spot you’ll need to find.
A wise investment I made early on was having freestanding baffles I could transport to the location I was recording at in case I needed to place them close to the front of the kit, to help keep the sound more focused. This is a common technique for a lot of metal recording engineers to help provide far more clarity to the close mics when the kit is being played fast. But another great benefit to having freestanding baffles is that you can place them anywhere and if you are in a large room it can be difficult to find the best placement for the room mics, and if you find a place you like but the room isn’t treated as well as it could be, the sound can be washy or leave you wanting when listening back to them. In this case, I’ll place the mics where I like them best, but I’ll place the baffles in front of the mics to help isolate them a little more. You can then play with either facing the capsule towards the baffle between it and the kit, or face it away from the kit towards a back wall to get the reflections still but a far tighter and more defined sound.
These baffles are DIY made and there's many videos and tips online on how to keep costs down by making them yourself.
The main thing above all else is that you experiment and practice recording drums as much as you can. It’ll help you not just make the difficult choices between technique, mic choice, placement, etc. but it’ll also allow you to plan ahead of the sessions and give you time to get to know your microphones. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week's topics, and until next time stay creative!