Capturing Drums in A Live Performance
-by Daniel Ayittah
1. The Drum Kit.
Your choice of the drum kit or instrument for that matter will greatly influence your recording. This is because each instrument sounds different sonically depending on the material used to build it. The choice of kit is as critical as the microphones used. If your drums are cheap you should expect a cheap sound in your recordings.
The first step to getting a good drum recording is to use a good drummer. A bad performance cannot be fixed later in post production. If you’re willing to invest in a live recording you might as well invest in a good drummer.
3. Tuning and Changing heads.
Second on the checklist is to make sure your drums sound good using your ears first. The drums have to be tuned appropriately to achieve this. Tuning your drums properly will help them to blend in the mix properly. It’s also preferable to change your drum heads prior to a recording. You should also have spare heads available. If you don’t know how to get your drums to sound good, get a drum technician or a professional drummer to help. You can’t expect to record a bad snare with a good mic and expect the microphone to do the magic. Many a time I find people making the mistake of using the “we’ll fix it in the mix” path. That’s a trap for failure. Check drum parts for unnecessary noises which can affect the recording. An example is the rattling of snare wires. These can be silence by adjusting the lever on the side of the snare else you can place a towel or cloth in between the wire and the bottom of the snare. It is also advisable to have spare snares available. Squeaking drum thrones can be dealt with by applying some oil to the joints.
Cymbals cannot be tuned unfortunately so you may have to replace them if they don’t sound good.
Dampen your drum heads where appropriate to avoid unwanted resonance. You can put a small cushion or padding at the bottom of the kick mic to deal with too much sustain. However don’t stuff your whole laundry into it. Padding it too much will change the sound of the kick drum into a less interesting thud.
4. Placing microphones
Proper mic placement will help you to get a good signal from your drums. This is a wide topic but a rule of thumb is to have the mics for the snare and toms pointing to the Center of the drum heads instead of the sides. Overhead mics should not be too close to the cymbals as well. It is also advisable to do a test recording of the kit and adjust mic positions till you get the right sound. There are several resources online about drum miking techniques which you can check out if you’re not sure of what you’re doing.
Using good microphones is crucial to the fidelity of your recording. If you use cheap mics you should not expect a pro sounding recording.
There are many mics to choose from hence we’ll not dwell on that. However it goes without saying that a shure sm57 has been an all time favorite for snares. Speaking of snares it’s always preferable to record the top and bottom of the snare. You can get away with using a single mic for the kick but make sure you’re doing it right. If in doubt consult a professional recording engineer. Your FOH(Front of House) engineer would be the best place to start.
5. Drum Enclosures
There's usually a debate about whether to use enclosures or not, also popularly known as a drum cage. I would suggest that if you have a lot going on the stage, it may be advisable to use an enclosure. Same goes if your stage space is too small. The enclosure not only helps to isolate the drums but also prevents the drum sound from bleeding into other sources on stage. That's worth taking note of.
See you in the next episode...