8 Tips for Better Drum Recording

Oct 28, 2015

blog drum kit

Following with the same theme we have been exploring over the last few weeks, we are again going to take a look as some tips to get the very best recording you can get in a small or home studio. This week we’re going to take a look at the core of the rhythm section of most any bands; the drum section, specifically, the drum kit. As with the previous entries of this theme, this is by no means a comprehensive “how-to” guide for recording your drums. Take these tips as a general starting point and experiment until you find the setup that gives you the right sound you’re looking for. Ultimately, how you set up your mics will depend on your kit, your room, your music, and of course, your own abilities.

There are really only two basic ways to record drums. The first uses overhead mics to achieve an overall sound, supported with close mics. The other builds the kit using many individual close mics, reserving the overheads for the cymbals. Which you go with depends on your preferences. For more open and live sound, rely more on the overheads, and use as few close mics as you can. Try the opposite for a heavier, closed in sound.

Now that we’ve got the mic setups sorted out, lets take a look at some actual tips.

  1. Tune Your Kit

As always, before you can expect to have a great sounding recording, you need to make sure all your equipment is top working order. Each and every drum should be tuned, as they are all critical to good sound. If any of your skins are too tight or too slack, the drum wont sound right. If the tension is lopsided your results, and your sound, could be all over the place. However, some people try things to use this to their advantage. Try adding tape or other damping materials to the skin, or inside the drum to alter the sound as you see fit.

  1. Tune Your Space

Once you’ve made sure your kit sounds it’s best, you need to make sure that the room your recording it allows the kit to sound its best. It may not seem like it at first, but this is something you can affect. If the room you are using is carpeted you may end up with a sort of dead sound. This can be fixed by adding more reflective surfaces to the room. You can do this with sheets of plywood. If you have the opposite problem, and you are recording in a garage or other hard surfaced room, your sound may come off too bright or lively. You can fix this problem with carpet, or even comforters or duvets.

  1. Begin With the Overheads

Start with a stereo pair of overhead mics to see how your kit sounds. Do you have a decent, balanced sound? Sometimes it’s just that easy! Unfortunately, this is where your skill as a drummer comes into play. Just using this simple setup will only work for fairly decent players. If you not hitting this drum hard enough, or beating on that cymbal too hard, you’ll need a more precise microphone setup. It is better to decide at this point whether you want t use the overall sound of the kit utilizing the overheads, or if you want or need more separation of the drums with close mics.

  1. Experiment With the Overheads

If you decide you prefer the full sound of the compete kit that the overheads receive, but maybe it’s just a little unbalanced, try moving your “overheads” around. They don’t need to necessarily be “overhead.” Moving them around your kit can produce a number of effects. If you are going to be filtering out the bass, try moving the overheads near your cymbals. To find the best microphone arrangement your best bet is to experiment, listen, and re-place your mics. Keep moving them until you find your best sound.

  1. Mic Up Close

Using individual close mics is also an experience in trial and error. Experiment with the angle of your mics to find your sound. Many drummers prefer a fairly steep angle on their mics; if you use a steep angle of about 70 degrees into the drum, you get a nice heavy sound with a full body. Overhead mics get a lot more of the open sound of kit, but single, close mics get a lot more separation of sounds, and gives each more punch.

  1. Move Your Mics Around

If you are having a problem with your drums sounding great in the room, but not so great on the recording, try moving the mic around the head of the drum. Move it towards the edge, or more towards centre. Turn the actual mic towards centre or away. The combinations are endless, and you’ll be surprised how much the sound can change with just a few small movements.

  1. Think About Micing the Kick Drum

Quite a lot of kick drums feature a big hole in the front. Try sitting the mic near or on this hole, or even try putting the mic just inside the hole in front of the beater. Or you can completely ignore the hole all together and mic the drum skin as you would any other drum. This configuration can give you a nice natural sound. Once again, try it out, give it a listen, and adjust accordingly.

  1. Forget Your Hi-Hat

Again, as usual, this is another point of personal preference. That being said, you might want to simply forget about your hi-hat when it comes time to mic up your kit. You may choose to ignore this last tip and use one, but if you do, beware you may have to spend a lot of time fixing it afterwards. A common complaint is the hi-hat sound spilling into the snare mic, leading to a lot of work later to fix it. So it is strongly suggested that you just let the overheads take care of the hi-hat to save yourself a headache later on.

You might be beginning to notice a trend: trial and error. To get the best recording you can you will be required to do a lot of microphone experimentation. If you just set things up and go, you’ll certainly be less stressed, but you will simply not have the best sound you can get. Hopefully these few tips have been helpful. Happy recording!