Getting a big‑sounding drum recording in a small space is never easy — but it can be done...
Read the accompanying Session Notes article at www.soundonsound.com/techniques/session-notes-magicians-nephew-big-drum-sound.
For more information about this session, you can check out a special video I've posted at www.cambridge-mt.com/youtube.htm.
The audio examples below illustrate the different mic techniques I used, and you can also find the raw multitracks for this whole song at www.cambridge-mt.com/ms-mtk.htm#MagiciansNephew if you'd like to try mixing these drum recordings in context.
The ZIP file in the righthand sidebar of the main Session Notes article www.soundonsound.com/techniques/session-notes-magicians-nephew-big-drum-sound contains these notes, plus hi-res WAVs and MP3s.
The filenames of these audio examples should be fairly self-explanatory, but here are some additional notes to describe exactly what you're hearing in each case.
This is my initial microphone position for the pair of Rode NT2A microphones I was using for the main stereo pickup. Each mic was set to its omnidirectional polar pattern and had the -10dB pad engaged. The mics were placed just above the player's head, spaced about 18 inches apart, and angled towards the snare drum to give that the benefit of their inherent on-axis high-frequency enhancement. This is a position that often works for me as a 'first call', and it did capture a reasonably smooth-sounding picture of the kit overall, with an appealing snare tone. However the toms felt like they were dominating the balance unduly, so I decided to move the mics closer to the cymbals to see if I could adjust that.
The second position we tried for the main stereo pair involved widening the spacing of the mics to place them closer to the cymbals. I also angled the mics towards the cymbals. As expected, this emphasised and brightened the cymbals in the balance, but at the expense of the snare timbre, and the toms imbalance became even worse than before, if you compare it with the MainMicsPositioning02 audio file.
Listening again in the recording room, I finally realised that a floor-to-ceiling room resonance was causing a low-frequency tip-up that was the root cause of the toms imbalance illustrated in the MainMicsPositioning01 and MainMicsPositioning02 audio files. By moving the mics lower down, to a height about three feet above the floor, I was able to achieve a better balanced sound, as you can hear in this audio example. However, the floor tom still felt overloud (because of its proximity to one of the mics) and stick noise from the ride cymbal was now also overemphasised.
I tried another couple of variations on the mic position showcased in the MainMicsPositioning03 audio file, but without achieving any dramatic improvement in the floor tom balance and cymbal stick noise problems. So for the sixth position attempt I decided to move the mics to the other side of the kit, where they'd be further from the floor tom and where the cymbals itself would partially shield the mics from its stick noise. To begin with I tried a position recommended by the band themselves, with the mics about two feet aparta little off to one side of the drum's centre line.
The drum capture demonstrated in the MainMicsPositioning04 audio file had the best overall kit balance so far, but the tone of the instrument felt a little congested in the lower midrange, so I decided to bring the mics to a more central position and raise their position a few inches in search of a clearer tonality, and you can hear the improved sound in this audio file.
Although the drum balance and tone of the MainMicsPositioning05 already passed muster as far as I was concerned, the band felt they wanted a wider stereo image, so we shifter the mics a foot wider apart to reach the final setup you can hear in this audio file.
To demonstrate the impact of the main stereo mics (as heard in the MainMicsPositioning06 audio file) on the overall drum timbre, here's a basic mix of the drum kit, including the main mics and all the close mics. Processing is very basic with just 9 high-pass filters, 3 EQ notches, and a drums buss compressor. Compare this with the BasicDrumMix_CloseMics audio file to hear how much the main stereo mics are enhancing the overall kit tone.
This is the same basic drums mics as heard in the BasicDrumMix_AllMics audio file, but with the main stereo mics muted.
The drum kit had no hole cut into the drum's resonant head, so they'd been close-miking it from outside. As a result the sound felt a bit too acoustic and polite for mainstream rock, lacking low-end weight and midrange attack.
For the new setup, Mike suggested removing the drum's resonant head entirely to give a much tighter sound, and then the band's Audix D6 mic was positioned for better low end and angled towards the beater contact point for a more aggressive attack to cut through the mix. Compare this with the KickBefore audio file to hear the improvement more clearly.
Because the band had used a very close position for the snare mic, it had captured a lot of head resonance and attack, but not much genuine drum tone or sustain, and the mic's strong proximity effect had also rendered the overall timbre rather woolly.
By pulling the snare mic away from the snare drum a few inches, the captured drum tone improved significantly, becoming brighter, noisier, and more tonally complex, without such strong pitched resonances. Compare this with the SnareBefore audio file to hear the improvement more clearly.
In addition to the more traditional close mics, Mike also added a 'kicksnare' mic, placed in the small space between the kick and snare drums, to add extra sustain and attitude to those drum sounds. Here's what that sounded like on its own. To hear its effect in context, check out the KicksnareMicContext audio files.
To demonstrate the impact of the 'kicksnare' mic showcased in the KicksnareMic audio file, here's a basic drums mix (total processing: 9 high-pass filters, 3 EQ notches, and a drums buss compressor) with all the drums mics in action. Now compare this with the KicksnareMicContext_KicksnareOut audio file, which is identical, except that I've muted the 'kicksnare' mic.
A basic mix of all the drum mics, with the exception of the 'kicksnare' mic. For comparison with the KicksnareMicContext_KicksnareIn audio file. For the clearest comparison, import these files into your DAW so you can instantaneously A/B them side-by-side.
Here's a section I mixed of the completed song, to give you an impression of how the raw drum recordings might sound like in context. You can hear the band's mix of this song on their third album, 'Today's News For Tomorrow's World'.
Magician's Nephew are a young rock power trio from North London, comprising Josh Lima (lead vocals, guitar), his brother Noah Lima (drums, alto sax), and Euan Campbell (bass, keyboards). Despite a combined age of just 40, they've been gigging local festivals for years, have already released their third album, and have recently appeared on BBC Introducing and The Voice Kids UK. The song featured this month is called 'Get Out Of Bed', from their album Today's News For Tomorrow's World, and you can hear their latest single 'Symphony Of Silence' (also recorded and mixed by Mike) on their website now. www.magiciansnephewband.com