How to record your band, part 3: recording drums

Treat the drumkit with respect to get great sounding beats

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The drumkit is the band's biggest beast and needs special treatment. Set it up in the right place and the right way. Add mics and acoustic aids. Get your beats sounding great the quick and easy way.

Before you start mic'ing make sure the kit is tuned and free of buzzes and rattles. You can tame unwanted ringing sounds with dampening products such as gaffa tape and gel strips.

As we mentioned in the previous episode, the dynamic close drum mic's we're going to be using aren't going to pick up too much noise from other instruments, also known as mic spill or bleed, because they'll be close to a loud sound source.

We'll be using condenser mics positioned overhead to capture the sound of the overall kit, but inevitably they will be sensitive enough to pick up some of the guitar sounds too.

Mic'ing up

We're using four drum mic's for this recording to show how to achieve a clean drum sound. We're going to address the overheads' positioning first. As mentioned, these are the mic's that capture more of the ambient, natural sound of your drumkit being played in the room and help produce a clearer cymbal sound.

Positioning our two overhead mic's six feet above ground level and aimed down at the kit will help create a balanced sound for the drum sound.It's important these two mics are equal distances from the kit to ensure the sound from the drums hits them at the same time and avoids unwanted phasing. As a rule of thumb to help with this think 3:1: if the mic's are positioned 2-feet above the cymbals, make sure they are 6-feet wide apart.

You can monitor for phasing by having one signal in the monitor headphone mix and then fading the second in, the sound should remain full with plenty of bottom end as you do so. If there's phasing and the sounds are cancelling each other out, adjust the positioning of the mic's as necessary.

Also, hanging an absorbent material on the wall behind the kit, if that wall is close, can also help reduce unwanted sound reflections off the back wall.

As a general rule, the closer your dynamic mic is positioned to the batter head (the side of the kick drums that gets hit) the more kick drum attack you'll get from the sound. Moving it further away from the batter head will give you a rounder sound. We're using a pillow inside the kick drum as a muffler too; an optional method some players prefer to limit and give a drier kick drum sound.

The snare drum

From the top of the snare, position the second drum dynamic mic a couple of inches above and an inch from the edge of the snare. Positioning here helps to retain the sound of the drum stick impacting the snare. The further you move the mic away from this starting point, the more room 'air' ambience and reverb you'll inevitably pick up, the closer you go the more bottom end you'll add.

Experiment to find the sound you feel is best and make sure you feed back info and guidance to the drummer. A Shure SM57 is a reliable, affordable mic for snare because it can handle the high sound pressure levels and mid range frequencies well.

The hi-hats

Microphone spill from the high hat to the snare mic is a common problem with recording drums.

You can helping address this making sure any other cardioid / dynamic mic for the snare is directly facing away from the high hat. More importantly it might be more a matter of your drummer being more sensitive with their hi hat work to ensure it's not overly dominant. Or even try moving the high hat further away from the snare drum.

Remember to experiment to fine tune angles and make sure someone monitors the sound as you go along, checking the effects of each placement and feeding back info to your drummer on how they might need to change their performance approach.

It's important for the band as a whole to remember to allow for vocals in the dynamics of their performance; because musicians often respond to the vocal in their performances. Play with those vocals in mind, dropping down on certain sections to reflect the vocal lines to be added later.

For the rest of this 10-part weekly series, in association with Steinberg, keep checking our hub page.