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PCRECORDING.COM - Recording audio drum tracks

Article written and submitted courtesy of Frank Basile, co-founder of Drag and Drop Drummer.

Recording drums . . . it's one of the most difficult parts of the recording process. It involves understanding how to tune them, what mics to use and where to place them, how many tracks are needed, and how to deal with a performance that may not be as solid as you'd like. Even though this article will mostly deal with the technical side of creating drum tracks, it's important to understand that the absolute most important part of recording good drum tracks is the performance itself.

With styles such as rock, pop, and many others, the drums must be played consistently in order to get the most out of eqs, compressors, and other processing gear. (Not to mention you will be able to take advantage of the full dynamic range of your analog to digital converters). The next time you turn on the radio, listen to the snare drum on beats two and four, and the kick drum pattern. You'll notice the velocities of these instruments are kept within a tight range. Compression can help, but nothing can replace a solid consistent performance. That being said, let's talk about recording drum tracks with some mics, a mixer, and a sound card.

Microphones and placement:

Let's start with the Kick drum. A mic that I use for this instrument is the Audio Technica ATM25. It's a relatively cheap mic designed to capture low frequencies, and can also work good on a bass cab. Other popular bass drum mics include the AKG D112, and the Sennheiser 421, but there are a lot of different mics from different manufactures that will work just fine.

The placement of the Kick mic can vary depending on the sound you are looking for, and you may need to try different positions depending on the drummers style. I like removing the front head, and placing a little towel or pillow inside the drum so that it's just touching the beater head. If the drummer hits lightly, or you want to get more of a "click" sound, place the mic inside the drum around 12" from the beater head, pointing it at the where the beater hits the head, at an angle. Do not place the mic directly in the path of where the beater hits the head. This can produce too much pressure on the kick drum mic. If the drummer hits harder, and/or you want more of an open sound, place the mic just outside of the front of the shell.

The Snare drum mic used by many engineers has historically been the SM57 from Shure. I also use this mic, and the fact that you can find them for under a hundred dollars doesn't hurt. This is a microphone that has stood the test of time, and has proven itself useful in many different applications.

Placement can be difficult because a trap set can have little room to work around. But I like to aim the mic at a 45 degree angle about 1" inside the edge of the drum when possible. By aiming the mic at the center of the drum you can sometimes get more attack. One thing to be aware of is the Hi-Hat bleeding into the snare mic. If the drummer plays the hats loudly, but the snare lightly, you can end up with a snare track full of too much hi-hats, and not enough snare. This goes back to the drummer's performance being consistent, and it's important that he/she understands this and tries to help out. There are a couple things you can do to help the problem. Physically move the Hi-Hats away from the snare drum a little. This is if the drummer feels it will not affect his or her performance. Also, aim the mic at the center of the snare with the back of the mic facing the hi-hats. And if you have the room, you can try putting a piece of think foam around the snare drum mic, again, facing the back of the mic at the hats.

If a drummer uses a very deep snare drum, or the snares on the bottom don't seem to be cutting through enough, consider using a bottom mic. The placement is similar to the top mic (but underneath of course), but you can move the mic in a little closer to the center of the drum, aiming at the snares. If a snare side mic is used, you may need to reverse the phase on that channel so it does not cut out frequencies in the top mic when summed together in the mix. If you have a condenser mic available, use it under the snare, if not, I usually end up using whatever mic I have left over, which does the job fine.

The mic placement for the toms is very similar to the snare, except I very rarely aim at the center of the drum. I feel I get more fullness from the drum when aimed closer to the edge. I also use SM 57s on the toms, but basically because the mics are cheap, and they can be used for many different applications. If I had a choice, I'd use Sennhieser 421s, especially on the low toms and floor toms. 57s can sound great on higher toms.