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Session Notes: Recording Percussion | Media

The Practical Craft Of Recording By Mike Senior
Published April 2015

Audio files to accompany the article.

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Session Notes: Audio Examples

The audio files on this page are designed to illustrate my ‘Session Notes’ article in SOS April 2015 about recording shaker overdubs for the indie-rock band Brushes Held Like Hammers. The file names are fairly self-explanatory, but here are some additional notes to describe exactly what you’re hearing in each case:


Seeing that I’d set up a stereo microphone pair (Shure KSM141s in a near-coincident rig) for recording purposes, the band wanted to experiment with performing the shaker part very close to the mic array in order to create a wide stereo auto-panning style effect in time with the track. This is what that recording sounded like in isolation. As you can hear, the alternating stereo positioning is clearly apparent, but the extreme close-miking has also delivered an over-transient, over-bright, and gutless instrument timbre. To hear how this sounded in the context of the mix, check out the Shaker02_CloseMix file.


Not only is the apparent spikiness and lack of body of the close-miked shaker sound exacerbated once the lower-level details of the sound are masked by the drums and guitars, but the shaker also fails to blend at all with other instruments on account of its very dry capture — it just sounds stuck-on. Note that there is absolutely no processing or effects applied to the shaker recording here at all.


Moving the microphone array three feet away from the shaker made a dramatic improvement to the subjective appeal and naturalness of the recorded tone, filling out the direct sound with a complex pattern of strong early reflections from the recording room, which I’d deliberately stripped of any acoustic deadening for the purpose. You can hear how this sounded within the context of the mix by listening to the Shaker04_MidMix file.


Here’s what the shaker recording in the Shaker03_MidSolo audio example sounds like when balanced into a full-band backing mix. Again, no processing or effects have been used on the shaker at all here. Note that the shaker sounds more like an actual shaker, rather than two pencils being clicked together! However, I felt that it was also still a bit too forward-sounding compared with the other instruments, and that it might be better captured with even more room reflections.


Moving the stereo microphone array another foot or so further from the shaker resulted in the recording in this audio example. Notice that although it now has an appreciable degree of room reverb, it’s by no means lost its percussive drive — it’s just that the sound is less dependent on its initial spikes and delivers more body and sustain on each shake. The effects of this on the shaker’s placement within the full-band mix can be heard in the Shaker06_FarMix file.


Here’s how the final shaker recording setup put the instrument across within the full-band mix texture. Although the shaker is still clearly audible as a rhythmic element, it still sits comfortably together with the drums and guitars, rather than standing in front of them as in Shaker04_MidMix. Once again, no additional processing or effects were applied to the shaker recording for this audio file.


This is the rough full-band backing balance I used to provide mix context for the shaker recordings in the Shaker02_CloseMix, Shaker04_MidMix, and Shaker06_FarMix audio examples above. As I would in a tracking situation, I’ve used only basic EQ and compression processing (a total of 11 plug-ins across as many channels, eight of those being Cockos Reaper’s bundled ReaEQ equaliser) as well as an SSL-style bus compressor on the master output. No other effects (such as delay or reverb) or mix automation was used at all.