Welcome back to the blog everyone, as we embark on the last chapter for our focus for this month surrounding General Tips & Tricks. Ok, I'm not going to lie, I've been looking forward to this particular installment of the focus for 2 reasons: One, the closer we got to this segment the closer I was to the spooky season and the second, I love talking about Drums!
Because we've spoken about them already this year, I want to share with you the best general tips and advice to make sure your future sessions are aimed solely at enjoying the process and performance rather than one of the number of stresses that can manifest in drum recording sessions.
So, let's dive in!
Make It The Last Thing To Do
When I was first starting out, I was rather tentative about the idea of drum recording for a number of reasons, but the main one being that I was very intimidated by the idea. Any number of things can go wrong and I didn't have the experience I have now to solve many of the problems that seem commonplace in any session, let alone drum recordings. But as I built my confidence I started to slowly dive into the inner workings and quickly found that the more prepared you were, the easier things seemed to go.
After a good number of successful sessions, one thing seemed to stay the same which always left a sour taste in my mouth after all was said and done - the drummer always seemed half happy; not because of their performance but because they wished that they had changed the way a part sounded after hearing the last minute changes that other band members had made during the other sessions that followed once their part was finished and done. So, upon realizing this also left me half happy with the result knowing that something could've been better, I set about trying to solve it.
Admittedly, it wasn't myself that solved this problem though and it was upon learning that several of the producers and engineers I admire record drums at the end of the sessions as the last part of recording to allow for the drummer to have a hand in last minute changes. The solution seems so obvious now, but it was simply making sure that a demo of the drums was created for the rest of the band to play to via MIDI drums using any number of sample packs available in today's world!
By working this way, there's a number of positives that also suddenly come into light:
- You encourage one of the band members to learn how to use the technology allowing far greater quality demo's in future
- The MIDI can have the tempo and markers embedded in the file so upon importing it into any session, the skeleton of the song is ready to be built around
- Any changes that the drum makes to the composition can be quickly bounced down to they can practice to the MIDI and the song as it is at the moment in the process to see both if the idea is in fact playable for them and they can replicate it live, and also give them a chance to sit on their kit and figure out any changes that can be applied in the next session to the MIDI information.
When you next have a band in and they have expressed the drummer has wished things could've changed in their performance, try giving this way of working a try - it was a night and day change to my workflow allowing both them and I to walk away from the record feeling much more satisfied at the end!
If you want to help a drummer with limited knowledge on writing drums in MIDI, this is a great short guide by Getgood Drums.
Posit, Prepare, and Perform
It's a little kept secret that the better prepared for anything in life will allow you more freedom to apply it when the time comes. Drum recording sessions benefit from careful planning but also attention to the details that seem small but may become a much larger problem if they're not thought about prior to the sessions taking place.
Having the things that may break between takes or during the day's session is a necessity that has to be accounted for, but the downside to having multiple drum heads, sticks, etc. is that they are rather expensive to purchase in bulk. I've found that making sure you have one of the average sizes of sticks a lot of drummers use (5a, 5b, 7a, 2b) and a couple of the snare heads that you prefer most will never hurt. Once you have to use one of the items, you simply replace it after the session has concluded to make sure you remain stocked up - it's always better to have insurance than not is what I like to think.
Another very easy way to make sure the sessions run smoothly is by having the basic items a drummer might need; like some water bottles and a clean face towel. Drummers are arguably the most active when playing their instrument and it can become somewhat of a workout session, especially if it's an intense song, or they need to do multiple takes of an extensive fill. Not only will the musician be very appreciative of the extra thought and care to his or her wellbeing, but it will help set the vibe for the session much faster knowing that there is a mutual interest to make sure they can perform at their best and you're looking to encourage that. I say it a lot to my closest friends but it really is the small things that can make the biggest differences.
Sticks are the most common thing to break in a session, and there's not a lot that can be done if there aren't an extra pair on hand.
There's More To That Notion of Preparing…
I would say I'm sorry about maintaining focus around being prepared, but it's just too important to ignore. However, this is arguably the most important part to making sure the sessions run smoothly so hopefully it helps greatly for you as it has for me.
Set-up the day before. It's really that simple! Making sure that the kit (other than cymbals) is set up correctly and in position for the drummer to get underway straight away allows you to then start working in the background to position some of the stereo pairs of microphones you may be using for that session. You may be wondering at this point why I mentioned these specifically compared to the common close micíng that usually takes place first but the idea again is simple - the more you put in the way of yourself and the loudest part of the kit (usually the Snare drum), the harder it will be to measure from that point to position the mic's at the back of the room to capture the space the drums are in.
Close mic's are the last thing I usually set up for that reason in particular, after one session I noticed every time I went to reposition the overhead mics, the close mic'd snare and rack tom where having their microphones put out of position causing heavy bleed between the two parts. It also makes it much easier to tune and such without having a microphone in the way of your hand tightening the lug on the furthest size below that microphone I might add!
Lastly, setting up the day before will also allow you time to find the best position in the room for the kit to be placed, even if you know that room well. Every player, and every setup will likely have variations of either shell depth, width, or cymbal types that will carry or wash more in certain parts of the room compared to other areas that may be more beneficial to, in particular, the room mic's that may become overpowered by one particular part of the kit more than another. Hopefully, you try this next time if you've been having trouble with this issue in the past - it can be a game changer!
Overheads are commonly the last thing for me to set up and they are the most intrusive to space around the kit - and once they're knocked out of position, usually you have to start from scratch to find their place again!