Probably the single most troublesome instrument when it comes to recording is the drum kit. Engineers obsess over the drum sound, and well they should since the drums are the heartbeat of virtually all modern music. It’s a fact that drums that sound small in the track will make the rest of the track sound small as well, regardless of how well everything else is recorded. The drum recording must go well and a great sound kit is the first step.
While it’s true that different people have different ideas of what constitutes a great sounding drum kit, in the studio it usually means a kit that’s well-tuned and free of buzzes and sympathetic vibrations. Free of sympathetic vibrations means that when you hit the snare drum, for instance, the toms don’t ring along with it. Or if you hit the rack toms, the snare and the other toms don’t ring along as well.
The way to achieve this is all in the tuning and the kit maintenance. Here’s a simple checklist from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook that outlines how to get a drum kit up to speed before you even set up any mics.
- Have the heads on all the drums been changed? Be sure to change at least the top heads before recording
- Have the drums been tuned? Are all drums tuned to work both by themselves and with each other?
- Are there any sympathetic vibrations occurring? Tune the drums so that any drum that’s hit does not cause another to ring.
- Is there an unwanted ring? Suppress it with tape, a muffling ring, or MoonGel.
- Is the hardware quiet? Spray with a lubricant like WD-40 if not.
- Is the level of the cymbals all the same? Balance the level with lighter or heavier cymbals as needed.
- Is there another snare drum available? A song may call for a different snare drum sound.
If the drum kit sounds great in the room, it’s that much easier for it to sound great when recorded. Spend whatever time is required to get your kit to work acoustically and your drum recording will greatly benefit.
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.