Recording Drums at Bad Racket Recording Studios Cleveland
I made my first drum recording when I was 14, with a boombox that looked a lot like this one. The kit was “borrowed” from my cousin for the summer. The boombox was a garage sale gift from my mom, had two mics, and a switch to choose between “diction” and “field” recording modes. I was aiming for the drum sound off Lonesome Crowded West, and I wasn’t satisfied with results.
Then I scored a Nady drum mic kit from a kid at school. He threw stands and XLR cables in with the deal. I was sure that I could now achieve that exact Modest Mouse drum sound. I ran the mics through my Behringer Eurorack mixer and output the stereo mix to cassette tape. Wow, I felt cool – and I was seriously puzzled when the recording turned out much worse than my boombox recordings.
And that’s pretty much how I became interested in audio engineering. How could it possibly be worse?!?! I mean, I had a dang mic on each drum, just like a real recording studio!
The biggest problem – and one I was completely oblivious to – was phase cancellation. Mo’ mics, mo’ problems. For the time being, I resorted to a stereo pair for overheads.
Anyway, that’s ancient history, but it’s revealing. I think a drum kit is one of the harder things to record well – and probably a catalyst to many future audio engineers.[DISCLAIMER]: The opinions that follow do not necessarily represent Bad Racket as a whole. I’m sure my partner and excellent recordist James Kananen would disagree with many of the finer points (and some of the bigger points too!) in this post. That’s okay. We argue, joke, and ultimately learn from each other. There is way more than one way to do things.
Also, tip your hats to the super good drummer behind the samples below, Anthony Foti playing with Thaddeus A. Greene.
The Setup for Recording Drums at Bad Racket
I’m not going to start with gear. The drummer is the most important element in getting a good drum sound. A quality kit with excellent tuning (for the song) is the next most important element. After that comes a great sounding, acoustically treated room (have you seen Bad Racket’s live room?). Now we can start talking about gear.
Personally, I put great emphasis on the overhead microphones. I want them to capture a balanced picture of the whole kit. I use Oktava Mk-012s, or Shure sm81s if I’m lucky and James Kananen agrees to let me use them. Since I use overheads as big-picture-kit-glue, it’s important that the kick & snare are squarely centered in the stereo image. A simple string trick makes sure the sound waves form the kick & snare hit both overheads at the same time.
Recording Kick Drum
I use a Beta 52a poking inside the port hole, if there is one, and a Beta 91a inside the kick. The Beta 91 is a really cool mic, and one of the only ones that made me think “wow, I’ve never heard that sound come out of a kick drum before”. Blending the two is punchy, beefy bliss.
Recording Snare Drum
The Shure SM57 is a freaking classic snare mic. It has a Midrangey grit that just sounds like a snare in a mix. I use it a lot. I also use a Beyerdynamic m201 that I got from Rich Masarik at Vertical Sound. The Beyer sounds awesome for more modern snare sounds. It has extended high end response, fast transients, and a tight hyper-cardioid polar pattern to keep out the hat.
Either another 57, Sennhesier 421, or Audix i5 end up on the bottom snare. Many times this mic gets nearly muted in the mix.
Honestly, I get a fair amount of tom tone out of the overheads. Automation and gain changes is usually at play when I really want to open up the toms. Tom direct microphones, however, are usually the classic Sennhesier 421s. Recently I scored a pair of CAD m179s, which have replaced the 421s as my go-to tom microphones.
U87, in omni, twenty feet away from the kit. I like to grab isolated samples of the snare & kick through this room mic. Then, if the cymbals are really trashing up the room mic, I can still dial in some room tone for the main kit elements with the samples.
Other recording stuff
Sometimes I mic the hi-hat, ride bell, throw up stereo room microphones – who knows what.
All together now
Here are all the parts you heard together:
The Whole Track
And now a sample of the whole track:
Recording at Home
Oh boy. Well, if you read from the beginning, you know I’ve been there. Maybe you have a truly awesome sounding room. If you also have the other parts (good song, drummer, kit) – then you can probably record pretty nice drums at home.
But seriously, drums are the hardest thing to get right in a home studio setting. And please – don’t use virtual drum kits!
So okay, there’s the reverse sales pitch – but I totally get that a studio might not be right for your project. So how do you record better drums at home?
Pick your biggest room to record
Now put a bunch of stuff in it: couches, mattresses, rugs, recliners. Your room is probably going to have some pretty nasty acoustic properties, and big, soft items help to tame it. And no, hanging a bed-sheet on a wall isn’t going to do much. Big stuff.
Pick your best spot.
Walk around the room hitting a snare or low tom. Listen for nasty ringing, hollowness, or buzzing. Use a spot that sounds full and tight.
Turn weakness into character
Your drums aren’t going to sound like the ones on American Idiot. Don’t try to force them to be something they’re not after you record them – that mindset will probably just emphasize the annoying parts of the recording. Embrace the vibe. Make ’em organic / indie / human / whatever. Any kid with an iPad can tap out “perfect” sounding drums. Don’t force your tones into such a small frame.
That’s it! I’m outta here. Thanks for reading if you got this far. See you around maybe.