5 Tips For Awesome Drums In Your Home Studio

5TipsForAwesomeDrums

Recording drums in your home studio can be one of the most complex and tricky instruments you will ever get to record.

With so many drums that make up a complete kit and so many mics and mic choices it can be a bit overwhelming at first. But fear not! You can capture a great drum recording in your home studio if you follow these simple guidelines:

1 - Start with a great drummer. Duh!

There is really is no substitute for starting with a great musician. There are infinite possibilities in how a drummer can hit the drums creating a variety of sounds and tones. And if the drummer has a great touch and tone when playing the kit it will make the whole drum kit sound better. When the drum kit sounds better your mics sound better, no matter what mic you choose.

And of course there are also an endless number of drum grooves to choose from too. You can take a group of drummers all playing the same exact groove, but each will have a different flavor and style to the way they play that groove. So choose someone that plays with great feel and makes it fun for you to play guitar and sing (if you are playing along).

Now of course some of us like to play drums ourselves, and that’s just fine. If you are a great drummer yourself then you’ve already got that covered and can get right down to recording. However if you are a wanna be drummer (like me) then you might really want to consider bringing in a ‘real’ drummer for the session. I don’t want to discourage you from playing drums if you really enjoy it. But if you decide to bring in someone really good then you may discover that the groove feels better, the fills are more solid, and the tones are far more consistent.

At the end of the recording  journey you may find that its far easier to mix a pro drummer than it is to mix your own drumming. Plus when you engineer a pro drummer you can hear what the results are a you set the mic positions and levels. When you record yourself its more of a guessing game to get the mics just right.

2. Start with a well selected, tuned, or treated drum kit.

Drums are like guitars and need to be in tune to sound their best. When a drum is well tuned it can have a great tone and really sing. In fact the whole kit can sound better if you have chosen the best drum shells, heads, and cymbals as a group. No this doesn’t mean that you have to have an expensive or fancy kit. In fact I have a motley collection of drums in my studio that I have gathered over the years, but they are mostly drums that I really like the sound of when I first found them.

I have a collection of snares (around 6?) and they all sound a little different from each other. Some are student snares with only 6 lugs, some are wooden, and the others are metal. There are two snares that have consistently proven to be great choices for rock songs (or just about any song for that matter), The Ludwig Supraphonic, and the Ludwig Acrolite snare drums are both excellent affordable choices for an all around rock snare that can be tuned up or down depending on the song.

Ludwig Supraphonic Snare

Ludwig Acrolite Snare

3. Start with one mic and work your way up from there.

We all get excited about having a great mic closet full of amazing mics, and of course a drum kit can be the one instrument that we record where we use the most mics in the studio. But it’s best to start out simple and really get to know and understand what each mic is doing.

I started out with the Marshall 2001s which later became MXL. This a large diaphragm condenser mic that sounded pretty great (back then at only at only $100 each). And you would be surprised just how good a single mic on the drums can sound.

If you're ready to get something really well built an excellent and affordable large diaphragm mic for drums is the Roswell Pro Audio Mini K47. You can find these brand new with a shock mount and case for only $299 each. They sound killer and are modeled after the vintage U47 capsule. So you get a sweet boost in the upper mids that is smooth for recording exciting drums without getting harsh when you mix.

Roswell Mini K47

There are many ways you can mic a drum kit with one mic:

  • Try placing a mic above the kit looking down so that it can see all the drums and cymbals.
  • Try placing the mic near the drummer’s head so that it looks at the kit like the drummer does.
  • Try placing the mic on the floor in front of the kit.
  • Try placing the mic above the kick pointing toward the side of snare and top of the kick so that it can hear both the kick drum and the snare in a balanced way while picking up the rest of the kit at the same time.

Listen for the balance of the drums coming out of the speakers. If you need more of a particular drum simply move the mic closer and if you need less of something move it away. Once you feel like you understand what’s going on with the single mic then you can better understand what’s missing and start to add close mics on the drums to help bring out what the single mic lacks.

4. Try The Recorderman Setup For A Simple Mic Configuration.

If you have a pair of mics you can try the Recorderman setup. Basically you take one mic above the drum kit pointing down at the rack tom and snare and measure the distance to the center of the snare drum and also the kick beater.

Then you take the second mic and place it near the drummer’s shoulder on the floor tom side (the image below is a right handed drummer). Measure the shoulder mic so that it is also the same distance away from the center of the snare and the kick beater.

Then you can pan both mics stereo all the way to the left and right and the snare and kick sound will stay in the center image since they both reach the two mics at the same time through the air.

If you want to take the Recorderman to the next level you can try what I’ve loosely been calling the “Lijman” technique where you add a third mic out in front of the kick, but measure it to be the same distance to the kick beater as the other two mics. That way you can get a little more impact, focus, and body out of the kick drum. And because it is the same distance from the beater as the other two mics the attack will stay focused right in the center image.

5. Be Aware Of The Sound Of Your Room.

If you are lucky to have a great sounding room for the drums in your house then congrats, and go ahead and start recording! But if you are like most of us the room might sound a little funny. Perhaps the walls are all hard dry wall and the space sounds like an boxy empty office space. Or maybe you are in a basement with a lot of splashy sound coming back off the concrete walls.

The best way to treat the bad sound is to start adding elements that are the opposite of the bad sound. So if the space is too boxy and the echo in the room doesn’t sound good then go ahead and start adding elements to the walls and space that soak up the junky reverb. For example if you add blanket and soft artwork to the walls then it will soften the reflection of the mids and high frequencies bouncing back off the walls toward the drums.

But beware that the easiest frequencies to deaden are the upper frequencies which can often leave the low frequencies still bouncing around in an uncontrolled way. Undesirable room modes are usually the cause for this. One effective way to treat bad room modes is to start filling up the space with overstuffed furniture. If you can find an old couch and put it in the corner or add huge stacks of cushions to the corners then you might find it tightens up bass response of the drums.

Use careful mic placement to help alleviate the room problem too. You might rely on close mics a little more. Or bring your overhead mics down a little closer to the drums so that they hear the direct drums more, and reflections off the walls and ceiling less.

In fact you can even add a third overhead mic in the center to balance out the stereo image better. So one mic near the hihat, another near the ride, and a third one above the center of the kit with the hi hat and ride mics panned out to the sides in the mix.

Try these 5 tips for recording drums in your home studio, and you should see some awesome results. I can only cover so much in a single blog article. So if you are interested in getting much deeper into recording, editing, and mixing drums in your home studio you should check out Rockstars Of Drums.

Are you ready to take your drum recording, editing, and mixing to the next level? 

Check out my pro drum course:

 Rockstars Of Drums.

Learn how to record, edit, and mix pro sounding drums with Nashville session drummer Mike Radovsky and Grammy studio owner Lij Shaw. 

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