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Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

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Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Evie McCreevie » Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:39 am

I generally record good drummers with 'decent' kits, using the same room, same mics etc. but have to admit to getting differing results – sometimes great, sometimes just OK.

When 'listening' to a kit played live in the room, it's bloody loud. Can you really tell what the kit sounds like BEFORE you record?

What I'm asking is... what quality should I listen for in the drums themselves in order to gauge how they will sound when recorded?

Or is it always suck-it-and-see?
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Tartaruga » Tue Mar 26, 2013 5:18 am

The ‘Tempo’…
(sorry it’s 20mn past 5’o’clock in the morning).
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:13 am

I think it is suck it and see, yes. Mainly because the close mic position is really an unnatural place for us to listen from (and an unhealthy one) and as we move back the brain interprets the room ambience differently from the mic. We might get a fair idea of what to expect but it's surprising how different it can actually sound. Typically a kick drum that sounded quite solid at the drummers position could end up being really boingy or something, or a tom a lot 'uglier'. There are quite a lot of variables at play. Of course experience of a certain room, kit, head or tuning approach will drastically reduce the random factor. Once you know what a certain room is likley to do, it's a lot more predictable.

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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby The Elf » Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:52 am

There really is no substitute for experience with this. In my work as a tutor I know that people can get overly concerned about how 'raw' a kit can sound when tracking.

You begin to develop a feel for these things, and start to hear through the kit as it sounds *now* to what it will sound like in a mix.

I don't particularly like leaning too heavily on the overheads, or room mic's, so the close mic's have to be right for me. Assuming the kit is well-tuned, this can involve a bit of mic-swapping and shifting until I know what I'm getting will do the job. In this case the sound of the kit in the room isn't really helpful in telling me what I should be getting - only what I'm hearing back in the control room and my ears. It may tell you that the kit sounds great as a whole - then it's up to you to make sure that comes through in the recording, however you approach it.

So, yes, it really is a 'suck it and see' process, but with solid recording principles and the human ear to put all of the pieces in place.

And it's another good reason for sitting in with an experienced engineer to learn the skills, else you're digging in the dark.
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Evie McCreevie » Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:39 pm

Jack Ruston wrote:...Typically a kick drum that sounded quite solid at the drummers position could end up being really boingy or something, or a tom a lot 'uglier'...
J

Yeah, that's what I'm getting at.

But surely we should be able to detect the boingy-ness of the bass drum in your example before miking it? The recording chain doesn't create the boing - it's in the drum somewhere.
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue Mar 26, 2013 2:04 pm

Yeah you can detect it if you stick your head where the mic will go. But why? Why not just listen and address the issues in turn.

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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Wease » Tue Mar 26, 2013 6:00 pm

It's not just the mechanics....the kit, the mics, the room etc

You are capturing a performance....the drummer is the key here....as it is with any musician (the same argument applies to a guitar recording etc etc)

So...how's your drummer feeling....how is the groove going?....does he/she "have it" in the session......make this vibe occur and you'll have a killer drum sound, the drummer will hit the drums properly and groove with the music

I don't think you can ever judge the sound your going to get when you press the record button.....you can use the mics you think will get the best results...you can make sure the skins on the kit are fresh, the drum is in tune, the drummer has good, comfortable monitoring and lines of sight are available (it's really much hard to get a groove on with a bass player and band you can't see IMHO)...and the room is the best it can be...but the performance...mojo...that's up to the band

So....when do the drum recordings not work....is there a pattern (certain times of day...temperature.etc)? Cause it sounds as if your equipment is much the same each recording (as it is with all of us really)
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby GlynB » Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:41 pm

last time we recorded drums we spent a whole evening experimenting with various mic positions, listen, moving, etc before coming up with something that sounded good. Then next day went for the takes.

Apart from toms and bass drum, which were close-mic'd, we found 'looser' microphone positioning for the whole kit yielded best results, one mic between snare and hi-hat and a pair of overheads were the crucical factors in capture the balance of kit and liveliness of the room sound.

we did spot things, like unwanted rings and rattles and 'boings' that were fixed as we went along by tuning and applying padding and so on.

It was a long process to say we only got three songs worth of drums done, but quality takes time, the results were great for a home recording.

I'm hoping that providing we use the same kit and mics and positioning that the 'in-house kit' will remain as good sounding, even if the drummer changes...but we shall see.

The point is it was only possible by listening back to spot some of the issues, whilst rattles and things were spotted live in the room by careful listening.
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby turtles » Thu Mar 28, 2013 5:06 pm

Rule of diminishing thirds for getting a decent drum track:

2/3 quality and skill of drummer, 1/3 'everything else'
Of the 'everything else': 2/3 is the quality and condition of the kit, 1/3 is 'your' bit
Of your bit: 2/3 is mics & proper placement, 1/3 is processing after recording


I've got some absolutely fantastic recordings with a single £50 overhead and an SM57 next to the kick, courtesy of a very fine drummer who took great care of his kit. Conversely, no amount of money and mics can fix a rough drummer- sometimes it's just easier to sample and fake it.
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby BJG145 » Thu Mar 28, 2013 5:31 pm

Putting an 11% valuation on post-production for drum tracks is bit stingy. And no-one should be encouraged to make drum recordings without multiple mics. In a post-Drumagog world it's just irresponsible.
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby chris... » Thu Mar 28, 2013 6:58 pm

BJG145 wrote:Putting an 11% valuation on post-production for drum tracks is bit stingy.

My reading is we're putting an 11/3 = 3.5% valuation on processing after recording

( the other 7.5% being mics and placement )
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby turtles » Thu Mar 28, 2013 7:48 pm

3.5% is a small number- but I still think it's a reasonable estimate. If drummer and kit and mics are all blinding, then 3.5% of polishing is probably all that would be required to bring a great performance together into a phenomenal track.

The skill (which I don't have, not at that level) is working out which tiny adjustments are needed to do it. Too much, or too little, and the end result is compromised.

...Just like not adding the right amount of seasoning (or a tiny amount too much) can ruin a michelin- starred dish, whereas slamming salt all over takeaway chips makes them edible.

Problem is, there are not very many great drummers and well maintained kits- and I get used to 'okay' playing very quickly and compensate by adding more salt than I should. Every so often I hear/ record a blindingly good drummer on a perfect kit, and that resets my internal tastebuds...
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby verysickbeats » Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:49 am

I apologize if this has already been said...I have to say that this is trial and error...In my experience, i've been successful using only one condenser mic for the whole drum set. The trick is in the mic placement which i like to experiment with...Try mic'ing between the top of kick drum and snare..
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby mjfe2 » Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:02 am

verysickbeats wrote:In my experience, i've been successful using only one condenser mic for the whole drum set. The trick is in the mic placement which i like to experiment with...Try mic'ing between the top of kick drum and snare..

+1 I've just started doing this recently too! Two mics then seems like luxury and three just seems excessive. Mixing one mic is difficult though. Parallel compression and judicious EQ are a must (e.g. boosting 80hz for the kick then requires automation so it goes flat for fills on the low toms). Glad to hear someone else has been going back to minimal miking
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby turbodave » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:10 am

Hi Evie, I seem to say this until I am blue in the face, but how big is your recording space? If the ceilings are low and the room is small then close reflections play a big part, and small movements around the room will change the sound of the kit considerably. As others have said , it is down to the performance of the drummer, and in fact, I would go as far as to say that a great drummer playing biscuit tins will sound great. Lastly, I would say to tune and dampen the kit to the room if space is a premium, and consistent striking will win the day!! Dave
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Re: Recording drums - what does the kit actually sound like?

Postby Mixedup » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:26 am

Thing is, you're hardly ever playing back a record at the levels of a hard-hit rock drum kit, or a cranked 100W amp or whatever. And your ear-brain combo naturally compresses and EQs what you are hearing. And you feel more of it in your bones, quite literally.

When it comes to capturing what we think of as an accurate representation of what's in the room, we're actually talking about trying to recreate the same impression from using sounds that are lower in level than when you experienced it in the room. No matter how much you might crank the control room playback level to make the drummer feel happy with the performance, it ultimately *has* to work at lower levels.

...and that's one of the reasons (not the only one) why it has to be trial and error informed by experience, and why compressors can sound so bloody nice on drums when you're seeking a natural-ish result!
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