Recording drums in the studio

Once upon a time in the department of sound engineers of the Institute. Gnesins, a meeting was organized with the famous sound engineer Yuri Bogdanov. He told various stories from his life for a long time, about that. that a sound engineer is a complex, ambiguous profession, that knowledge of psychology and the like is often required. Everyone listened very attentively, with respect, taking notes. When the monologue came to an end and Yuri Ivanovich offered to ask him questions, the first one was: "Tell me, please, how do you record drums?".
It is quite natural that practical questions excite novice sound engineers much more than philosophical aspects. Therefore, let me remind you of a few completely backward, but not always obvious rules, thanks to which recording drums will become a holiday for you, and not torment with the selection of microphones, their placement, balance and similar problems.


First:
do your best to have well-tuned, good-sounding instruments on the record. If you don't have one, rent it. This will pay off in full not only due to good sound, but also due to saving studio time, which will not have to be spent fighting a bad instrument. You don't have to be nervous that the bass drum doesn't sound at all, and the snare has such a parasitic resonance that you don't often see. Drums are probably the only instrument, half of the sound of which, if not more, depends on the quality of the instrument itself, and only the rest depends on the performer.

Second:
If you don't know anything about the musician you're about to record, try to find out about all of his strengths and weaknesses from your fellow sound engineers or musician friends. This will help in finding a common language with the performer as soon as possible, and will also prevent you from doing stupid things during the recording process. A typical mistake is to be too picky about a musician who is not capable of more. Ask yourself, and if you consider it possible, and the musicians the question: "Will it be better?". Depending on the answer and act, remember that often the first take in recording is the most natural and emotional. With each subsequent take, this freshness begins to be lost, and, thank God, if, in the end, you achieve evenness, dynamics, hitting the metronome and all the rest that you lacked, and dont drop your hands looking at the sweaty drummer, so not understanding - what do they want from him?


Sometimes, having learned in advance about an upcoming meeting with a not-so-good, but "very promising young drummer", it is worth taking the liberty of talking to the producer or recording artists about the possibility of inviting a session musician to replace him, since working in the studio is quite different from the process rehearsals and concert activities. And in this case, as experience shows, one or two rehearsals with a professional are enough - and again you will save both quite expensive studio time and your own strength, as well as the emotions of the musicians.
Let's go directly to practice. It is very important to plan the session correctly. The fact that well-tuned drums are needed for recording has already been said. The methods for their correct tuning are known to the musicians themselves, and for those who wish to get acquainted, there is also special literature. But in our time of ubiquitous "loops", that is, ready-made sampled rhythmic figures, it's a shame to spend precious in every sense studio time on tuning, when you are required to quickly, but qualitatively rebuild all the acoustic and electrical aspects of the recording, without spending hours on selection microphones, their placement. It is worth saving the strength of the performer, during the tuning stupidly playing quarters for each of the instruments. If you dont have enough experience in something yet or just dont have confidence, try to structure the session so that all the technical part of the work is done on the eve of the recording, and in the morning you can start creating. It is more convenient not only for you, but also, first of all, for the musicians.

Each drum kit, tone hall, and even the song (composition) itself require a new approach from the sound engineer each time. Therefore, the very technique of recording drums is determined only by the experience and ingenuity of the sound engineer. If you are sure what the sound image of the piece should be in the final version, feel free to experiment and immediately achieve the sound of the drums that will correspond to it, instead of prescribing some standard average sound, and then twisting the knobs on the remote control and devices while mixing processing, trying to find something bright, special, not like other records.
If you're not sure, try to have at least one mic for each of the drums, and record it on a separate track. In the future, this gives greater freedom when mixing, not only regarding the balance between them, but also the ability to supplement (mix) or replace some beats with samples using a trigger, and not only drum samples, but any others. I will only repeat that each style, and indeed each work, needs an individual approach.
As an example, let's look at jazz aesthetics. Everything here requires naturalness, naturalness and liveliness. This also applies to recording drums. The main character of the sound can be obtained by overhead microphones (overhead), which are almost always condenser. But some recording monsters are very touting the sound of tape. Let's face it, not every studio in our country has at least one microphone in its park, not to mention two pairs. If you have a couple of Beyerdynamic 160s at your disposal - feel free to put them on the overhead, and low, that is, close to the drums - and you will get an "expensive" jazz sound on the phonogram. At the same time, the B&K 4007 is good on toms and snare drums, especially if the drummer uses brushes. The Sanken CU-41 is suitable for the kick drum, and the Sanken CMS-2 M/S pair is suitable for the studio sound.


The rest of the path is quite simple:
microphones are connected directly to some old Neve type 8068, where, if necessary, you can wind up an equalizer, use a gate and supplement the picture with a compressor like UREI 11761.N, or, in extreme cases, Fairchild 670 (worth 20 thousand dollars - ed.). Do not take such a set for a mockery, but this is exactly what our overseas colleagues advise us. Its hard to argue with them, but its almost impossible to get all of the above equipment for a low-budget (as a rule) jazz recording, not to mention the fact that you wont find such a set in any studio in our country, and there is no system for renting equipment of this class in our country .
Therefore, let's return "from heaven to earth" and see what is applicable in our conditions. A very good result can be achieved using two PZM microphones mounted on plexiglass at an angle of 90 to 180". Beautiful, clear and absolutely monocompatible sound. which each of the drums will have a natural timbre and at the same time be part of a single whole.This technique has been known for a long time, but it turned out to be quite applicable for recording the modern style of "drum and bass" (drum'n'bass) due to the open sound premises.

Time is money. Therefore, the number of microphones on the record is constantly decreasing. Few people now sound both plastics of tom-toms, because even with only three of these drums, you need to substitute, connect and, finally, rebuild six microphones in terms of level, timbre, pan and phase!
The very aesthetics of recording, one might say, has come full circle. Like forty years ago, low-mic recordings are now very common and it does not depend on the budget or the capabilities of the studio. Modern music very often requires the same "loopy" aesthetics of sound, which is distinguished by the monolithic sound of the installation as a single instrument. It is worth remembering how the drums sounded on the records of big bands in the seventies, and everything will become clear. And the drum kits themselves are becoming more and more similar to those used in those years: the front head of the bass drum is missing, and the snare drums are flatter and higher-tuned. For such a recording, ideally, you only need from one to three, maximum four microphones, which capture not only the direct signal, but also transmit the acoustic atmosphere, with all the resonances and reflections of a real room. In addition, the so-called "dirt" in the sound is achieved by applying compression, often very strong and with a long release time.


In this case, the compressor, acting on the peaks received directly from the beats and smoothing them out, "pulls out" everything that is heard between the beats, that is, the acoustics of the room. The fact that overcompressed cymbals sound rather strange at the same time is quite natural. Here you just need to "conjure" with the recovery time, and try to make it rhythmic in relation to the tempo of the work, as if forcing the music to "breathe" to the beat. This is usually done by ear.
Let's take a look at the individual instruments that make up the drum kit and find the right microphones for them.
I'll start with microphones for picking up room acoustics and overhead microphones. It is only natural to use good condenser microphones, as their job is to convey the brightest, most open picture of the entire drum kit in a given studio. For room microphones, microphones with large diaphragm diameters are usually selected. These can be AKG 414 or C12, Neumann U47 or U87, KM-83, Telefunken 201. There is usually no time to find a good point for two microphones, so I often use either a stereo microphone like Neumann 69 (it is easy enough to move, and phase purity provided), or I just put only one microphone and record the acoustics of the room in mono, and achieve volume with a pair of overhead. Various stereo recording methods, both A-B and X-Y, are suitable for this, but microphones with a smaller diaphragm diameter are preferable here, although I have repeatedly convinced that the AKG 414 in a stereo pair is no less good than more compact microphones. By the way, at the Capitol Records studio in Los Angeles I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that among such rarities as RCA 44 and 77 in the microphone park, there are our Russian Oktava microphones used for X / Y recording overhead and hi-hat.

For bass drum recording, the classic microphone is the AKG D112, but "how many people, so many opinions." Someone loves Shure. I really like the density of the Electro-Voice RE 20 microphone, which is recommended for drums by the best DW drum company in my opinion. If I don't have enough tonal color in the bass drum, I add a second one, usually a condenser, to the dynamic microphone, and find the best ratio between them.
It is customary to place microphones on the snare drum both from above and below, which emphasizes the upper middle, which is so necessary for the sound of the snare drum. But for a good recording of drums, adherence to the canons is not required.


Sometimes you can combine the sound of dynamic and condenser microphones: for example, dynamic from below, and condenser from above, or both from above, taping them to each other with electrical tape.
For tom-toms, there is a wonderful Sennheiser 421 microphone. It is flat enough to fit between the cymbals and the drum itself. And the sound is quite bright and at the same time deep. The Shure SM57 also sounds good. Neumann KM-54 are also good. Speaking of tom-tom condenser microphones, I will only mention my favorite AKG C535. However, it is worth remembering that they will capture the entire surrounding sound set, which requires more painstaking work to find the correct phase relationships with other microphones.
As for the location of the microphones themselves in relation to the drums, this issue has two sides. First: how this drum sounds - meaning the timbre. Second: what kind of sound would you like to get on the record. The timbre pattern is such that any drum sounds higher, the closer the microphone is placed to the rim.
If you need a bright, high, even "ringing" snare drum, you need to place the microphone directly above the rim and direct its axis to the edge of the plastic perpendicular to the plane. If you want a deeper and lower impact - the microphone is "aimed" from the edge to the center of the drum at an acute angle to the plastic plane.
Same thing with tom-toms. I prefer to place the mics some distance (up to 10 cm) from the heads to create more volume, but this is where the problem often arises - the performer hangs the cymbals too low. Therefore, in order to get the maximum separation between drums and cymbals without increasing the input sensitivity on the console (without "accelerating" the gain), you have to place the microphones as close as possible.


The kick drum is often the most difficult part of tuning. One of the main points is its further compatibility with the bass (I already wrote about this in one of the previous articles). If you have a good setup, you shouldn't have any problems. Just have someone go into the acoustic room and put on headphones and move the mic inside the kick drum. You, being in the control room, carefully listen to the sound and, having found the optimal one, stop the assistant.
Some sound engineers place microphones both inside the kick drum and outside, on the side of the pedal. This is very suitable for jazz, as the dynamic range in this music is quite large. I often put two mics inside the kick drum, one condenser and one dynamic. Dynamic gives density and pressure, and condenser gives a wide spectrum. In this case, most often, the dynamic one is deeper, and the condenser one is closer to the outer plastic. This combination allows you to do whatever you want with the sound in the future, when mixing.
You can clarify the task by asking the performer a few questions immediately before recording. Ask him what role in this work he assigns to the ride cymbal or, for example, to the cow bell, if it is used. If the drummer answers that "big" - I recommend putting an additional microphone in addition to the overhead in order to have a clearer and more specific sound of these or any other additional instruments.

So, let's recap a little what it takes to get the best sounding drums: a good drum kit, solidly mounted, with fresh heads, in an acoustically high quality studio... And, of course, a talented and competent drummer. Plus - the sound engineer's experience in finding the correct location of the drums in the room, the correct placement of microphones, the correct selection of microphone preamps. It is possible to add a gate and compression, and finally, you need to bring all this to the tape recorder without losing the naturalness of the sound.
And that's all, isn't it?