A couple of recording questions re drums/vox

September 6, 2010 6:50 PM

Looking for advice on simple drum miking set-ups, and an upgrade to my audio interface.

1. I want to try recording drums but I don't want to spend a whole lot on mics. I currently have an SM58 and a Studio Projects B1 and was thinking about trying the Recorderman technique using a matched pair of overheads, with the SM58 on the kick without the shield (which basically makes it an SM57). Any other recommendations for a nice ambient sound with minimal miking?

2. Related, I'm gonna need a new audio interface if I do this (currently only have 2xXLR in). I'm also running into needing to compress vocals before they hit the interface and would quite like some kind of channel strip I think. So is there anything that's, like, 4 balanced inputs with phantom power and some channel stripping, that's not gonna break the bank? Or is there another way to get a basic compressor in the signal chain?

Thanks, all.
posted by unSane (22 comments total)

Unless you want only ambient room sound it's kind of hard to record drums with less than 4 mics (this assumes you're using more than kick, snare and one high hat/cymbal). I have a pretty limited recording setup for recording live instruments and can only record 2 channels at a time using an M-Audio MobilePre USB. What I usually do for drums is use a pair of cheap pencil condenser mics record 2 takes -- one up close on the kick and snare/high-hat and another with the mics either high above the cymbals or far off in the corners of the room.

Probably the best outcome I've gotten with this setup was a cover of Sunday Morning I did for a challenge a while back.

The trick with this setup is you have to play pretty much the same drum part twice.

I'll let someone else tell you about how you really should at least use a large diameter mic for recording the kick.
posted by mexican at 12:07 AM on September 7, 2010

I don't have great advice per se on your first point, since I'm still mucking around blindly with drum recording myself and not really thrilled with my results to date, but what I'm using is a six mic kit into a little Yamaha mixer out to a stereo mix. Two overheads, kick, snare, and two additional mics covering my three toms in a rough left-middle-right stereo spread.

It's certainly giving me more control over the overall drum mix than I was getting with just my B1 on a stand nearby, but finding the right balance of mics remains a challenge. One of these weeks I need to just seriously bang my head against drum set up, maybe have a serious recordist friend over to give me some hands-on advice. It probably also doesn't help with control that it's a drumset sitting in a big unfinished basement: great for when I want the Large Concrete Space ambiance in the recording, not so great if I want a tight dry signal.

For point two, sleepy pete has done some drum recording in my basement and I've seen him using the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra for that; he just grabs four of my mic cords away from the mixer (overheads and kick and snare I guess) and plugs them into the Ultra and pulls those four tracks in that way. Seems like a pretty nice way to go, I may make a move like that eventually as well. Right now I pull my stereo mix into the Fast Track Pro, which is basically the half-as-big brother to the Ultra with two powered balanced ins.

While we're talking drum shit, I'm a bit tired of my snare having so much ring to it in my recordings, and while I know I could manage that a little bit with mic positioning it feels like that's just partly fundamentally how my snare sounds; I find I can get a more attractive (to me, at least) dry wham-and-rattle sound with no tom-ish ring if I lean a thumb hard on the head near the edge and strike, but that's hardly practical. Is there a standard quick fix for this? Does that jelly shit do this job well? Change heads? Tune the snare differently?
posted by cortex at 7:14 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cortex, if you want the snare to ring less you can either use some of those Remo O-rings (I use them on my toms, and you can layer them to get more effect) or just tape a wad of cloth or something to the head, basically wherever it sounds good when you put your thumb. You are just trying to dampen the resonance which is bothering you. You can also try tuning it out.

The O-rings are so cheap you can buy a bunch of them, but if it's a severe case you may need to resort to the tape, or some drum gum or a similar project. Personally I like the rings a lot.

More info here.
posted by unSane at 7:39 AM on September 7, 2010

(also you can change heads and go to a thicker, coated head -- I also did this on my toms)
posted by unSane at 7:39 AM on September 7, 2010

Thanks for the input everyone. Well, I'm halfway there. I ordered a pair of MXL 603s condensers for the overheads and will use the SM58 with the shield off for the snare. Just thinking about the bass drum now. Am looking at the Tascam US 800 as the interface, but not many reviews out there yet. Conveniently small as my drums are in the basement and will need to be recorded on laptop.
posted by unSane at 7:43 AM on September 7, 2010

Don't bother with using a pair of overheads; a single mono overhead can sound great and make mixing much easier. How often do your songs really need noticeable L/R panning of cymbal crashes and tom fills?

With just those two, I'd put the B1 over the drummer's head pointing down at the snare, and the 58 about a foot in front of the kick drum. You'll need to move things around to tweak for best sound. The 57/58 is a pretty poor kick mic though.

With another condenser mic on hand, try putting it 3 or 4 feet out from the front of the kit, aiming at the snare (about thigh level). This will capture much more of how the kit sounds in the room, so the ambient nature of the space become more important. Bad reverberation or excessive brightness is going to be noticeable.

My typical setup is an Shure omni dynamic overhead, 57 on snare, old EV dynamic on kick, and an even older Altec "saltshaker" under the snare pointing up (phase reversed). A few mics in a good sounding room can be all you need.

Check this for inspiration on a 1 or 2 mic setup: Recording for Daptone Records
posted by Paid In Full at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whoops, I was typing while you were ordering. The 603s will be a good addition.
posted by Paid In Full at 7:57 AM on September 7, 2010

That Daptone link is great. I love the sound on the Daktari tracks.
posted by unSane at 8:08 AM on September 7, 2010

Here is a good tutorial from Ronan Chris Murphy about recording drums with 2 mics.

Also, once you have those 2 MXL mics, try the Glyn Johns Drum mic method.

One tip that I can give about recording drums is to always make them sound as good as possible before you mic them up. Try to make them sound the way you imagine them sounding on the recording. Having properly tuned drums is key. Most drummers don't know how to tune their drums really well. It's hard.

Try to eliminate any resonant frequencies and buzzing or weird vibrations before you record. If you have a piece of foam, try clipping that to a mic stand and them placing the edge of the foam right up against the side of the hi-hats to prevent it from being overbearing on the recording.

For good sounding mics that don't break the bank I recommend:
Audio Technika AT3035
AKG 3000b
AKG C2000 B
Rode NT1, NT2

If you record at 24bit, you should be okay if you don't record your signal so hot. Then you can just use a compressor plugin when you mix.

As far as interface is concerned, I recommend interfaces by RME. Great quality, great compatibility. They have some great USB interfaces that might interest you.

If you want to take an intermediate step and invest in a really great Mic preamp and compressor, I recommend the RNP and the RNC from FMR Audio. It might be a bit more than you are willing to spend but for the price, it is really good and it's a good initial investment in decent sounding gear.

Any other questions, mefimail me.
posted by chillmost at 11:58 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, now, a bit of a follow-up.

How do you track the drums when you're recording solo? Put down guide tracks to a click or a scratch drum machine pattern, then overdub the drums to the click? Write out your drum part as a midi track and play to that?

Whenever I've recorded with a drummer in a real studio we've always tracked the drums first, with the whole band playing along, but I can't see any way of that solo lobo.
posted by unSane at 5:03 AM on September 8, 2010

If I am tracking drums solo, I usually lay down a rhythm loop of some kind like a tambourine or shaker. I think this works better than a metronome because a tambourine or shaker sounds less robotic than a metronome and it might have its own little groove that will add to your performance when you play to it.

I also usually lay down a midi bass line. If you are going to pretty much arrange the song before laying down the drums, you can put in a few pick up notes or a bass run when you change into different phrases. When you hear these while tracking, you can use them to know where to put in a fill or small flourish to add to the dynamic. Does that make sense?

Sometimes I also go through with a mic and give myself vocal cues. "Here comes the bridge, 1 2 3 4!"

Sometimes it helps to loop record the whole song. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of pre and post roll to account for crashes and getting a rest before you start again. Once you do it a few times, you can go through the takes and comp the best parts together.

But that is just me.
posted by chillmost at 6:43 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

My process at this point goes like so:

1. Record clicktrack output onto internal mic on laptop to get it on tape so I can boost the volume on it. (This is a stupid step. But it's a simple, fast way to get around the fact that you can't fucking boost the volume on Garageband's metronome, which is way too quiet by default. I know I should probably use like pre-existing loops or whatever, but I haven't bothered to look into it.)

2. Record scratch guitar-and-vox guide track to move through the shape of the song; vox are a loose guide, I'll often mix in warnings about changes coming up (back to the verse vamp for four, now to the bridge, big drop out coming up, etc) so that I don't have to concentrate too hard on following the song when I'm playing drums.

3. Turn click up, turn scratch down, and do drum takes against that until I get a take or a couple of half-takes that feel good.

4. Record everything else, easing out the click and the scratch track as they become superfluous. (Which may be immediately for the click track if the song has drums going steady all the way through.)

I rarely know what I'm going to play on the drums before I sit down to start tracking, so my first couple of goes are guaranteed throwaways where I just try to figure out what my basic kick and snare rhythm figures are gonna be and try to get my body comfy with executing those consistently. So I don't use any kind of more complicated rhythm figure than the click track.

The scratch track and the shouted cues are helpful for me because I tend to think of songs in large structural terms—the verse, the chorus, the pre-chorus, the bridge, the solo, the outro is the level I'm mostly looking at, and I don't think of a dynamic change in a song in terms of "now it's gets quieter" so much as "verse with a volume cut", for example.

So the shouted cues when there's changes helps keep me oriented in the arc of the song—I'm not so much telling my future-drumming-self what to play as reminding him which block of the arrangement is coming up. That's handy for me when I decided to rework an arrangement shortly before recording, because if the blocks are moved around and I want to put all of my attention on the actual physical drumming (something I really, really have to do at this point), not spending extra effort trying to remember if this is the first or the second chorus and what that means transition-wise is really helpful.
posted by cortex at 7:15 AM on September 8, 2010

great thread. and i have to second the tuning the drums approach. it takes time, is as boring as anything i can think of but it really pays off. i was recording drums for a mate at the weekend (D12 on the kick, 57 on the snare and a pair of oktava condensers on the overheads. . no eq or compression and it sounded greart but it was definitely the kit sound an (old heyman with gretsch snare) that did the trick.
posted by peterkins at 5:20 PM on September 8, 2010

For solo recording I always record the drums last, or next to last if i'm adding vocals. For rhythm reference when recording the other parts i either make my own click track with some midi percussion sound on quarter notes or i make a rough midi drum part with the basic kick pattern i want.

when i get to recording the drums i'll usually use a midi track to count the tempo for before the drums come in unless some other instrument starts, i which case i don't use any reference outside of the tracks i'm planning on using for the final mix.
posted by mexican at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2010

Thanks again. I filled out the package with an uber-cheap CAD kick drum mic (at $50 I figured what the hell) and a used Tascam 1641 interface.

Now I just have to learn to play properly...
posted by unSane at 4:53 AM on September 9, 2010

Hey unSane, sorry - a bit late to the party. Maybe not...anyway, for future reference perhaps?

I was just going to say some of the best drum sounds I've ever gotten were with a ribbon mic on the overhead and for support using an egg in the kick and a few 57s around on snare and toms - but not much. I managed to borrow a vintage Coles ribbon mic from a friend. Noisy as hell, but the sound was amazing.
posted by Jon-A-Thon at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2010

One of the most important things that hasn't been mentioned here is phase cancellation. If any of the mics are out of phase, they can cancel out part of what's being heard in the room. The easiest, best way to insure the least possibility of this is to use an "X/Y" pattern, and I've found it's the best way to record drums for a live mix.

X/Y means take two mics, and put them next to each other in the front of the kit. Point both downward and then in so that the front of the mics almost touch. Point them at the toms. Then one mic points at the right side of the kit, and the other to the left. If they are in close proximity, you'll see that they resemble an Y, and their pattern resembles an X. They cancel out reflections from behind, and tend to pick up the toms, and cymbals really well.

Then you need one more mic for snare/hihat, and one more for the kick drum. That is a basic setup. I suggest your SM 58 for kick, or something made for that... I always buy from Sweetwater Music in Indiana, you can call them, and they'll assign a sales person to your account. They all have great knowledge, and are very helpful. They'll clue you in to the best mics for the money.

Hope that helps. X/Y is the best micing technique for a limited number of mics.
posted by Disbro at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

By the way, new heads, correct TUNING of the heads, oiling the moving parts such as the kick pedal, high hat, cleaning the cymbals, will make a big difference in a drum sound. In general, back to your question of two mics, high hat snare, and bass drum will make the biggest difference. If you use dynamic mics as room mics, you will not be happy with the results. I rarely use to much ambient micing without close micing backing up that sound. Even in live situations.
posted by Disbro at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have one more question... getting closer to actually recording this damn drum part but it's taking a lot of practice to get my playing into the ballpark of the ballpark...

An old drummer of mine suggested that I track the basic beats separately from the fills and crashes, or at least anything but the very basic ones, and then overdub. Is this an even remotely sensible suggestion? I think that when we recorded with him in the past he actually only overdubbed the crashes and the odd roll that he wanted to fix.
posted by unSane at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2010

It is remotely sensible...but it depends largely on the song and how far out you are (or how close). For a non-seasoned drummer, fills in particular tend to throw off the timing; they tend to over-anticipate (possibly because it's an exciting part) and miss the downbeat.

One thing you might be in danger of killing with this method, though, is the groove. A great track benefits enormously from a good drummer who feels through the groove and doesn't necessarily play all the parts directly on the beat. Again, depending on the song (and the player), it could be that the kick drum is leading...or the snare...or the hat. Getting the fills and crashes in the right spot depends on knowing where all those bits lie and which to follow. Since they're flourishes/ornamentation, if they don't hit it quite right they can actually throw everything way off. In that case, it's almost better to leave them out entirely.

Having said that, it's easier to just drop crashes in with overdubs than fills.
posted by Jon-A-Thon at 11:44 AM on September 22, 2010

I agree totally that the groove could be affected, and I'd only try this with a seasoned drummer that's willing to try. Another fix to this, is that you add cymbals from a sampled source such as a free demo of Fruity Loops, if you record them on a separate track, and have the ability to move them where you will to fill over the existing crashes, etc.

I can remember trying to get a decent drum sound on a Tascam Porta studio in the early eighties. You live and learn! I wish I had a forum like that back then! I paid a sound engineer to come over and give me pointers back then, and it still took many, many years to come up with a good drum mic technique. People tend to disagree about it quite a bit... so in reality, it's taking a lot of these suggestions and coming up with your own thing eventually.

I am not a drummer, and so on my music (which is a hobby) I bought DrumCore. Google it, and I think there's a free demo. It's not too expensive, but with it you can write to great drummers who've sampled kits for your use. Pretty cool technology!
posted by Disbro at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2010

For samples I'm now using the Native Instruments Abbey Road 60s and 70s sets for Kontakt. They are astoundingly lifelike because they're ridiculously oversampled in terms of velocity and variety of hit, and because you can mix all the mics -- kicks, snare, overheads, room -- independently. They're also not processed at all, so you can treat them just like real drums.

A lot of the other samples I've used sound good but they're already compressed and EQd and they really don't leave much room for maneuver.

There's no way I can compete with the samples in terms of sound. However a big lesson for me was when I plugged in the DM-5 and started playing along with some of my songs and recording it into midi. Even with shitty lo-rez samples it sounded WAY more like a real drummer. I also really liked some of the sounds I heard on Cortex, Chococat and Chillmost's songs which were recorded using pretty minimal techniques.
posted by unSane at 5:30 PM on September 22, 2010

« Older Stumbling on the Stairs, a new Rock Anthem?   |   Setting recording levels Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments