Miking Drums

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Quick overview of how one band met the challenge of miking drums

Making DrumsMy new band just wrapped up recording drum tracks for our new cd. On this recording we really wanted to try new things. One problem facing most home studios is that people let the fact that they are "home" studios hold them back. The fact is, you really don't need to, we didn't, and let me tell you what, and we got some really awesome sounding drums recorded. I have to tell you guys I'm psyched to finish this recording. For once, instead of having to tell people it was recorded in my house, I can just let them listen to the music without making excuses for the quality. Here's how we got the kick drum sound, which I think is awesome.

Getting the Sound:

First things first: In order to get a good sound recorded from ANY INSTRUMENT it must and I mean must sound good at the source. Ever hear the saying "you can't get squeeze water from a stone"? Well, that's sort of what it's like. Even if you have the most expensive mics/pre-amps/outboard gear money can buy, I assure you that if the source you are recording sounds like garbage (e.g. cheap - poorly tuned drums, disgusting sounding guitar...etc..etc.) Than all you would have recorded is really warm, full sounding, TRASH. After-all, part of the reason home-studios are so convenient is because it saves you from spending your hard-earned cash at studios where you spend a bazillion dollars an hour to get a sound you really don't like. So do yourself a favor and do your music justice...take the time to get a great sound, tune those-drums till they sound immaculate, hunt-out any buzzing or ringing that may come from loose bolts or nuts, or grease up your kick drum pedal so it doesn't! squeak. So in summary...for those of you who like to skim read...maybe this list might catch your eye.

  • Tune the drum as best as you can (try to experiment, loosen the front head while tightening the beater head - or try doing just the opposite, or try taking off the front head altogether)
  • Dampen the kick drum slightly by putting a blanket inside that rests against the head where the Beater makes contact, and weigh it down with something heavy like a weight
  • Listen for any buzzing or ringing that may from a loose nut or bolt somewhere on the drum kit
  • Listen for any squeaking coming from the kick pedal,...and if you hear some, use some WD-40 to lube it up
  • Use some heavy sleeping bags or blankets and drape it over the front (audience side) and top of the kick drum - this helps prevent leakage into other mics and in some cases seems to "simmer" the set down (meaning it prevents the sound of the kick drum from rattling the snares, bringing out obnoxious overtones in the toms, etc.try it and see for yourself)

I really wanted a fully sounding kick that really cut through the mix. I had the body (read: BOOM!!) right from the get-go by placing my AKG-D112 just about anywhere in the drum. The problem I ran into was that the BOOM! was all I had. We started noticing the further we moved the mic away from the head...the closer the sound became to what we had been looking For (p.s. it doesn't hurt to have a general idea before-hand of the kind of sound you are going to be looking for)...problem was, we ended up having the mic outside the drum completely at one point...but...gosh-dang - it was getting better - I pulled it out further and I loved it more and more the further I pulled it out. But because the mic was no longer inside the drum being "protected" by the wooden shell of the kick drum, I started to get concerned about leakage. So to alleviate this problem, I grabbed another bass drum from the back room of my basement and placed it in front of the other one to create a sort of of !

"tunnel" and placed the mic in there (the extra drum was used to extend the "protection" from leakage while allowing me to move the mic completely outside of the original kick altogether) By the time I was done the mic was sitting only about 3 inches inside of the SECOND kick drum...so I draped a heavy sleeping bag over this "tunnel" to extend the amount of isolation and it sounded awesome...

Dynamics/EQ:

The first step I took in mixing the kick was to setup my compressor. Try to follow me through this process as precisely as possible (p.s. I am using CUBASE SX and the plug-ins within it) First I open up the compressor and turn Ratio, Threshold, Attack and Release to the highest they can go, so essentially nothing is happening to the kick drum track right now. Then I pick out a ratio of 3:1, but you can really use anything from 3:1 to 5:1 that all depends on taste (but you can mess with that later) So, my ratio is at 3:1...I slowly lower the threshold till I see it's actually working (I can visually see it working by how the nice little blue light on the meter moves up and down a couple two or tree notches every time the drum is hit). Next, I turn the attack down all the way...then I slowly let it up, you'll hear it working...go with a fast attack...5-15 milliseconds...then I turn the release down all the way...and let it up slowly...(you'll also want a rather fast speed for !

this) you'll hear it really start to add PUNCH to your track...try it...I swear this step by step process works...the paragraph follows is going to explain why I chose the ratio and attack/release settings that I did...

.... Many people believe that compressors are used to control the peaks and valleys of an instrument, or to "baby-sit" them and make sure the peaks don't jump too high and that the valleys don't sink too far and become inaudible in a mix (dada, dada, dada, blah, blah, blah) While this is true, compressors are also used to improve the over-all sound qualities of instruments as well. Particularly on kick drums/snare drums, compressors can be used to add punch, that's right...it ADDS PUNCH. Generally you can always just mess around with thresholds and ratios. I always start at 3:1 and just go from there after I have dialed in my attack and release. As far as attack and release settings, you just need to understand that for most percussive instruments with a lot of attack...a fast attack setting is key (because it starts the compressor working "fast") The release should also be moderately fast...this is due to the fact that percussive instruments are inherently fast themselves..!

.in and out real quick, and if you keep the setting slow...it won't "let-go" fast enough and it'll carry onto the next "hit" or percussive note. These settings increase the punch by letting only the strongest part through and essentially cutting out the after-tones of the drum. It's kind of hard to describe, so for all intensive purposes, why don't you try it?

  • Ratio - ehh...start at 3:1...but I've used anything from 3:1-5:1 with great success
  • Threshold - ehh...also a hard one for me to dictate, you'll have to mess around with this one
  • Attack - fast (5-15 milliseconds usually seems to work for me)
  • Release - also somewhat fast (around 30 milliseconds seems to do the trick for me)
  • I used a 20 band EQ as a directx plug-in from Sonic Foundry Soundforge...first things first...I cut somewhere around 500khZ and a little bit around 400khZ, a lot of people say to cut this to remove the cardboard boxy sound (this could also be cut down by cutting any of the lower mids between 300-700hZ...its just that a cut at 500hZ did the trick for me) They say to cut these out as much as you can - as far as your EQ will let you - Then to improve the presence of the kick add some beater smack at around 2.5khZ or 4hZ (2-5 dB's of boost should be enough, try to never boost by more than 6 dB's when you first start out) whichever frequency out of the two that you choose to boost all depends on preference, but one of these is bound to sound awesome, Also to add additional presence, boost slightly (slightly = 3 dB) at around 10-12khZ...but careful on this one...then lastly...you MAY want to add a low end boost at 60 or 100hZ (choose one, but more than likely, you won't want to u!

se both) The reason why I emphasize "MAY" is because I've never needed to boost here because I've always had enough bottom end...but I'd be cheating you if didn't at least suggest it. (p.s. always try to cut "problem" frequencies before boosting others - cuts sound more natural to the human-ear than boosts in frequency bands)

  • Cut lower mids between 300-700hZ to remove cardboard-boxy sound
  • Boost either 2.5khZ or 4khZ to bring up "beater-smack" and help it cut through the mix
  • Slightly boost around 10khZ or 12khZ to increase presence
  • Boost either 60hz or 100hz to bring up bottom-end

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