Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drum Tone / New Episodes / Updates in Gear

Sorry for the delay folks...we're going to get up two or three new episodes very soon for Recording Lounge. We've got one coming for our FOURTH and final episode in the series about project studios, and then we've got one on SM57s and guitar amps. What we did was this: we recorded a DI track and reamped it through a tube amp. We then moved an SM57 around and recorded the differences in tone. Why? Well you always see shootouts between different mics. Most people have at least a 57, so we decided to do a shootout with ITSELF! Seeing what can you do with a 57 that best suits your tonal needs? We're going to show you!

Today I'd like to do a very thorough demonstration of how to get great drum sounds in a project studio environment. I'll start by giving a list of the most important factors to drum tone, and then we can go into what each entails. The following list is in order of most importance to least:

1. A great drummer.
2. A great arrangement.
3. Good drum tuning / maintenance.
4. A great space.
5. Good engineering (placement, number of mics)
6. Good mixing (compression, eq, gating, reverb, etc)
7. Preamp Choice / Mic Choice. Mic Choice.
8. The Drums/Shells themselves.

This can be verified by some of the seasoned drummers of our time and past generations. The quality of the drumkit is not nearly as important as the quality of the drummer tuning it. If you can't tune a drumkit, LEARN. It's an INVALUABLE skill that will save you plenty of headaches later. Let's go through these slowly.

1. A great drummer.

Having a great drummer is key to drum tone. Without this, your band will suffer. A drummer that can play in time, play when he is needed, be dynamic in stick rudiments and motions, be creative and different, use cymbals wisely (not always banging away on the china or crash, but using the RIDE!) and understanding how to make their drums sound great right from the source.

2. A great arrangement.

Having the drummer play a certain beat at a certain time can make a song sound COMPLETELY different. Imagine if Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" had been played with a very complicated beat. Would it have been as popular as it was? Probably not. TASTE is so much more important than SPEED and COMPLEXITY.

3. Good drum tuning / Maintenance

Any good drummer should know how to tune his or her own drums. Any good engineer should know the same. It's an invaluable skill that you should have. Go to youtube and look up the videos from Bob Gatzen. He is the best instructor for drum tuning there is. He explains how to make your kit sound AMAZING from the source. His videos are priceless, yet, they're all free. Watch "Quick Tips" and all the drum tuning videos. The way you set up your kit, its orientation, your hoop selection and style, your stick selection, your snare wire selection, your head selection...it's EXTREMELY important to the drum sound.

4. A Good Space.

Having a good room for drumming is EXTREMELY important. Generally drums sound best when recorded in a room with nonparallel walls and a high ceiling (>10ft, usually somewhere around 15-25ft). This lets the drums really ring and have a certain fullness that we all love. When mics are placed closely, you can still get a very detailed sound, and you can always gate the mics to some extent later, but for most rock applications, a nice big room can be the ticket. If you're working in a smaller room (smaller than 15x15x10) it will probably be in your best interest to treat it deader (with good treatments...not foam crap...good high quality bass traps made of rigid fiberglass). You can add reverb later. In a room that small, the drums don't have enough room to develop and resonate freely, so it'd be better to control the reflections and tone rather than let it ring wild and sound muddy or boxy.

5. Good engineering (placement, number of mics)

Some of the best drum sounds on classic and modern records have been recorded with fewer than six mics. One of the most revered "drum tones" is that of John Bonham...the drummer from Led Zepplin. It's been said that Bonham's kit was recorded with three large diaphragm condenser mics (valve) in an amazing space. The clarity and depth of some of those sounds is amazing, and it's just three mics. That tells you what good engineering can do!

Some great drum sounds have been made with 2-6 microphones, which usually means 2 Overheads, 2 Room, Kick, Snare. The overheads capture the clarity and depth of the heads and stick attack. Toms and snare are all captured well on these mics. The warmth, depth, and ambience is captured by the room mics (usually placed no closer than 8-10ft from the snare). The kick and snare mics are extremely important as they are played more than probably any other drum.

6. Good mixing (compression, eq, gating, reverb, etc)

As you will hear in some of the clips to come, having good mixing techniques can really make the drums come alive. Creative and thoughtful use of compression, EQ, saturation, gating, reverb, etc, can bring the drums to life, adding punch and clarity to the kit, as well as controlling ring and rumble, plus sympathetic vibrations within the kit.

7. Preamp / Mic Choice.

Having high quality microphones is important. It'd be in your best interest to spend the MOST money on your overhead/room mics. I prefer Neumann KM184s for Overheads, AKG 414s for Room Mics, SM57 for snare, MD421 for toms, RE20 for Kick, SM81 for ride or hihat, and if I do add a mic on the snare resonant head, it'll be an SM57. For preamps I prefer Helios and API 500 series modules. It's in your best interest to use the SAME or SIMILAR preamps for one kit. As in, try to use ALL API or ALL Helios or ALL Presonus or ALL your Mixer for the drums. That will give you a great "pre-eq" if you will; the drums will all have the same preamp model, thus they will all sound similar initially.

8. The Drums themselves.

Ironically, the least important thing is probably the drums themselves. Obviously it's important to some degree but when compared to everything else, the shells are not that important. If you've got a crappy kit that has 5 lugs per tom, you probably should get a better drumset, but generally anything made decently can be made to sound amazing. Learn everything mentioned in point #3 and you can make your drums sound twice the price.

Thanks! Demos soon...


Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year, New Gear, New Information

Hey Everyone! If you're reading this, you survived the change between 2009 and 2010. Resolutions, kissing at midnight, Times Square, happiness, joy, regret, hope, et cetera. All of this reminds me of Y2K. What a joke, haha. People were canning food and buying storm / bomb shelters to be installed in their yards and all of this. Give me a break, you would think Bill Gates would be smart enough to just tell the PC Clocks to reset. He's smart enough to create Windows, why did they think everything was going to end? What a weird day that ways.

So what are my resolutions?

A) Lose some weight. Every winter the cooking kills me. I love home cooked meals, so I've got to make sure and keep myself healthy.

B) Get some new gear! I've got a lot of gear planned for this year. API stuff, some acoustic isolation materials, some instruments, and some other things.

C) Continue to do the RECORDING LOUNGE PODCAST and get people interested in recording, music, and audio!

D) Listen to some good albums, watch some good movies, have some good memories.


Stay tuned, folks. Soon will be two or three episodes of RLP for you to enjoy. ITunes is a great way to get people interested in the podcast, and I'm glad we have the ability to share this information on such a big market. I love technology.