The three major components that you should concentrate on and prioritize when recording a drum kit are; the kick drum sound, the snare drum sound and the choice and placement of overhead mics. In some situations, you may not want anything more complex than that, for example when recording a simple three piece kit or a jazz band then the overheads will provide enough definition on the toms without making them sound too close. Even pop or rock tracks might not need close mic’d toms if you are going for an open drum sound, or if it’s mostly acoustic anyway then slightly ambient toms probably work better.
You might be surprised at how decent the toms sound on just overheads, and it’s something that you should make the time to double check. If you don’t make the effort to get the toms sounding ok before putting close mics up, then you will have to battle against the tone that the overheads pick up, which will probably be up in the mix for the whole track. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can just fix them in the mix, because it will take a lot more time and hard work then, especially considering how little they are actually hit in the average song.
Get The Acoustic Sound Right First
- Tuning – always have a drum key to hand!
By re-tuning the top and bottom heads, you can completely change tone and the sustain of a drum. There are so many different ways of tuning a drum, and every drummer has their own preference but for something reliable that will usually work, here are Travis Whitmore‘s thought on tuning:
“I always tune both the top and bottom to the exact same pitch. If I’m after a higher or lower pitch out of the tom, depending on what the music and style is calling for, I’ll re-tune both top and bottom. For me, tuning the tom head at different pitches always produces troublesome tones that I don’t personally care for. If I’m still having trouble with overtones and “boooiiing” under the mics, I’ll try light spot dampening to pull some of that out.”
- Damping – although it would be nice to have a drum that just sounds nice when it’s been tuned, in practice you may find that they ring too much
Drum rings can be a simple way to tame overtones or excessive ringing, but if you don’t have any then you can usually fix unwanted overtones with a piece of moon-gel. If you really can’t tone down more difficult ringing then try attaching a small loop or two of gaffa tape to the resonant head, an inch or two from the rim. Always ask first though, some drummers might not appreciate you attaching bits of very sticky tape to their much-loved drums and may have a better solution.
Mic Choice And Placement
When it comes to mics you can’t go far wrong if you keep it simple. An sm57 on each will almost always sound great, but if you happen to have a few SM58‘s in your home studio then don’t blow your budget on buying new mics before you’ve tried them out, as some people prefer them to ’57s. If you want to try something a bit different, then condensers will give you a very different sound, AKG 414’s are a good bet if you have them, but as always experiment with what you do have and see what works!
In terms of placement, a good starting point is 2 inches in from the rim and 2 inches above the head, aimed towards the center of the drum. If you want more tone then move the mic closer to the center (but be careful that it won’t get hit with a drumstick!), and for more of the just initial impulse then more towards the rim a little.
What’s your preference? The standard ’57s, something a bit different, or stick with the overheads?
[image via Derek K. Miller]