How to Record Drums: Recording a Full Drum Kit: Kick Drum, Snare, Rack toms or Floor Toms and Cymbals
–Henri Rapp – Bad Racket Recording Studio
How you record a drum has a big influence on how it will sound. From the drum itself, to the type of head, mic placement, and type of microphone, and proper position can all change the sound drastically. Moving the microphone even 1 cm can make a noticeable difference in the sound. Here are some pro-tips to getting a great drum sound from your recordings at home or in the studio.
Drum shells can be made of Birch, Mahogany, Acrylic, metal, even Concrete. In general, a denser harder wood will have a sharper tone. Metal shells will be more ringing. For example a Birch Snare will have a brighter crisper sound than an identical mahogany shell with the same head in theory. It’s also worth mentioning that your choice of drum head and tuning makes up 80% or more influence on how the sound. In other words, the shell choice doesn’t matter as much as what type of head and tuning. You can have a really crappy shell with a brand new head and proper tuning, and it will sound better than a really great snare drum with horrible condition heads, and improper tuning.
Drum heads make a big difference as mentioned before. Much could be discussed about drum head selection, as well as tuning, so we’ll keep it basic. There are “dry” heads with mostly attack, and less ringing and then thin heads without any coating or dampening will be more ringing and wet sounding. There are several ways that drum head manufactures can dampen the response of a drum head. From coatings and rings, to moon gels, and the addition of tape during the tuning process can make the drum sound dryer and with less overtones.
Proper tuned drum is a big factor too. Drum heads can be tuned loose and deep, or stretched tighter and higher. A whole book could be written on drum tuning methods, but in general, you want the resonant head (bottom head) higher. The ratio of how much tighter the bottom head is effects the way the sound resonates, and the proper way to tune a drum may vary depending on style and type of music.
Microphone selection also effects the character of the sound and is essential to getting a good drum sound going. Condenser, or dynamic microphones can both be used. Dynamic microphones like Shure SM57 are popular for snare drum. I’ve heard that 70% of the recordings recorded 1960 to present day had an SM57 used in some way. Its just a good all around mic that can be used. Brighter condenser mics, or other characteristics of the microphone will affect the sound as well. Having a few options for each drummer and changing it up to a darker microphone if you want to fatten up the sound, or a brighter microphone with more highs if the sound is dull and needs brightening is a good approach. Find out what your favorite recordings used and try to find that exact model of microphone. For example, say you loved Fleetwood Mac. SM57 on almost everything for Fleetwood Mac sound.
The pickup pattern of the microphone as well as the angle and distance away from the drum will make a difference in how much bleed from other drums, and how much proximity effect, or “bassy” or bright the sound from the drum will be. In general, place microphones with a rejection pattern towards what you want to reject, and pick-up pattern towards the source. How close the microphone is to the source will determine the balance between highs and lows for mics with proximity effect (most dynamic, and condenser cardioid mics)
Guess what also affects the microphone signal? If you guessed microphone preamp, you get one smart point.
Using a compressor on the way in or after during the mixing or mastering process will change the dynamics of the drum recording sound. I usually keep it conservative on the way in during recording, but you can experiment with lots of compression options during the mix phase to your heart’s content.
EQ and Mixing
EQ can be done while recording, and during the mix phase. Keep it light handed at first, but big cuts during the mix phase are common including cuts to kill the low-end garbage and bleed from Kick drum are usually a good idea.
Putting it All together
Drums can sound cool! Don’t be afraid to experiment. If all else fails, drums can be replaced in post production with fancy plugins, or layered with samples of other drums.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or borrow a good snare for recording. Set up your drums the day before, and don’t forget tuning and new heads for whatever you are using!
We have many snare drum options at Bad Racket for people to use, so don’t be afraid to ask about that too!