Drum kits are a swine to record.
Just set the kit up, shove microphones all over it, press record, let rip, and it will sound like a lump of turd.
Musically speaking, “the drums” is a single acoustic instrument. Yet it comprises many different instruments recorded across multiple channels simultaneously, with many microphones potentially pushing and pulling against each other. Drum recording requires a bit of time and thought.
“Fix it in the mix” is an approach to recording you might have come across.
The Beat Shed drum recording ethos is the absolute opposite.
Most drummers will be able to relate to this experience…
You’re in the studio and you’ve just played the take of your life. Feeling pumped-up and great about your performance, you bounce into the control room to listen back. The engineer presses play, and the speakers produce the noise of an elephant farting into some tupaware.
With your ego in tatters, struggling to choke the disappointment, the engineer responds to your dismay by shouting “Hey! Don’t worry! It WILL sound great!”
And more often that not… it does sound okay in the end. But at what cost? WHY didn’t it sound great from the start? Or at the very least, just GOOD?
How much effort and processing went into polishing those elephant fartboxes? And how much of the original performance was compromised with all that processing?
No say we!
The following is The Beat Shed mission statement and our drum recording ethos; a reminder of how we think the best possible drums sound is achieved AT SOURCE. It’s the principles, techniques and approach we use to our drum recordings, whether it be our Loops, Song Slices, Samples or a custom online session.
This is not a judgement about anyone else’s approach to drum recording, mixing drums, mix preparation, or mixing philosophy. Neither is it a statement about how to or how not to record drums – there are no wrongs and rights in music and recording.
That said, we’re pretty certain most engineers/producers would agree with our approach…
The Beat Shed Drum Recording Ethos
1) The kit must sound great
Assemble different instruments and purpose-build a set of drums to suit the recording through trial and error. Tune them, damp them, move them around in the space. Make the drums sound GREAT in the room. If they don’t, keep moving and adjusting until they do.
2) Work digital, think ANALOGUE
At the recording stage, use the computer as a tape machine (or hard disk recorder) and nothing more.
Get a good balance by adjusting preamps, pads, and hi/lo passes at the outboard hardware stage to achieve a peak recording level of around -15 DB on all channels.
Set the desk completely flat (all channels to unity gain) and put the stereo components hard left and right. Experiment with phase polarity on all/any channels. (Top/bottom snare and room mics need special attention).
Zero EQ. No compression. No corrective processing.
The only exceptions would be anything really outrageous; our kick sub doesn’t have a pad, so we knock this down -10db and heavily low pass it.
If a test recording doesn’t sound GREAT (at the very least GOOD) then it’s time to get things moved around. Rinse and repeat.
3) Physically change it until it is right
Move microphones. Swap microphones. Change angles. Change directions. Get crazy and experiment.
You can effectively EQ the recording of an instrument JUST by changing the position of a microphone!
(Ryan Earnhardt over at Creative Sound Labs has a lot of interesting things to say on this topic).
Change the kick EQ? Pull the mic towards the edge or centre of the head. Snare EQ? Move the angles and distance relationship between the top and bottom. Hats? Well, try pointing it at the bell (backwards away from the snare) and see how it sounds.
Keep changing and moving mics it all until it works, even if that happens by luck rather than design. Sometimes a subtle phasing between 2 mics can actually HELP to knock out a problem frequency or unpleasant resonance. Keep moving, keep taking notes, keep making test recordings, keep listening.
4) Natural performance – “Right” versus “Correct”
If you have listened to any of the Beat Shed products already, you will know that a nice natural feel is generally favoured above the technically perfect. If it feels “right”, then it’s better than if it is “correct”.
This was the basis of the idea for the “Songs Slices” category. Essentially very long loops that have the space and time to move around a little – breathe and feel natural – before returning to a perfect pulse at the end so that they can be used as looping sections. This is so that “Song Slices” can be used by songwriters as building blocks in an arrangement in a musically sympathetic way.
NB: We’re currently looking at extending this idea further and recording some songs with no clicks whatsoever! Could be interesting for tracking other instruments afterwards as they will have to push and pull with the drums – just like the good old days – rather than fix to a metronomic pulse. Watch this space…
5) Once the recording of the kit sounds GREAT
If the drum tracks SOUND good at a base level and the performance FEELS good… then we have a great recording we can work with.
NOW we can get the big box of toys out! There’s lots of room to make it SPARKLE with processing.
The scope for using these incredible tools is so much greater if you’re working with a good solid sound to begin with.
Tell us what you thought about The Beat Shed Recording Ethos. Do you agree with the principles and technical approach? Anything you would add or do differently? Drop us a line here and let us know. We’d be interested to hear from you.