Whether you do it before you hit the studio or at the studio before the session, the drum kit will need some time to be prepped so it will sound it’s best. Here’s a simple checklist from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook to follow to prep your drums before you set up any mics.
- Have the heads on all the drums been changed? Be sure to change at least the top heads before recording. Just adding new heads can make the difference between a flat out-of-tune kit and one that absolutely sings.
- Have the drums been tuned? Are they tuned to work with the other drums in the kit? Do you have a strategy for tuning or are you just tuning by ear? If you’re not sure, it’s best to either hire someone who’s an expert at it, or at least have a goal in mind of where the tuning is going before you start.
- Are there any sympathetic vibrations occurring? Tune the drums so that any drum that’s hit does not cause another to ring. A well-tuned kit will exhibit this characteristic and lead to a much tighter drum recording.
- Is there an unwanted ring? Sometimes a drum just rings the wrong way no matter how you tune it. Suppress it with a bit of tape, a muffling ring, or Moongel.
- Is the hardware quiet? Once again, squeaky hardware can make you crazy during a playback if it’s heard during a quiet section. If your hardware isn’t as quiet as you want it to be, spray it with a lubricant like WD-40 to suppress or eliminate the noise.
- Is the level of the cymbals all the same? This can be a nightmare for engineers during mixing. Studio drummers typically have thinner cymbals that have the same level when struck. Road drummers tend to use heavier cymbals that don’t break, but also don’t sound as good in the studio. Either way, balance the level with a mixture of lighter or heavier cymbals as needed.
- Is there another snare drum available? Studio drummers might bring a dozen snare drums to a session, since one will be the perfect sound for the song. Make sure at least one other snare is available for the session.
It can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to prep your drums before a session, but however long it takes, it’s necessary time that’s well-spent towards capturing an excellent drum recording.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.