Basic guide to recording drums

It’s one of the biggest and most daunting of recording tasks, but also one of the most important. Your tunes need a groove, otherwise no one’s gonna move! With so many elements to a drum kit, it’s difficult to know where to start. This article should give you the basic knowledge to begin your journey towards that epic drum sound. A couple of pointers to begin with: it’s common sense but make sure the drum kit is in good condition and tuned well. Some useful accessories to have around are a drum key, some gaffer tape and extra padding. It’s best to start simple – follow some basic guidelines and you can get pretty impressive results with just a kick, snare and overhead mic.

Kick in the face…

Where better to start than the kick or bass drum – it’s the driving force behind your rhythm section and cements the beat to the floor of your track. In order to capture it properly, you’ll need a microphone designed for bass frequencies. Industry standard models include the AKG D112 and Shure Beta 52, but there are plenty of starter models available. Depending on the design of the kick, you can either use a short stand to position the mic, or simply place it inside the bass drum itself. A quick test recording is always a good idea to check the tone, so you can adjust things as necessary. If you’re finding the sound too thin, you can make it weightier by moving the mic further into the drum. If the front skin prohibits this, it’s usually worth taking it off. If you’re after a tighter sound, you can add some more padding to dampen things down a bit.

Snappy Snare…

The snare is the most musical part of the drum kit and, as such, can make the difference between a lively and lifeless drum recording. The common approach is to use a dynamic mic such as a Shure SM57, which will easily handle the loudness and give you plenty of tone to work. If you want a chunkier sound – try a clip on mic like the Sennheiser E604. If you’re after a brighter, snappier tone – miking the underside of the snare as well will give you a good blend to work with. When it comes to EQ, there are a couple of guidelines to work to. For rock drums, you can add more chunk by boosting around the 200Hz mark. Some snare drums can have a bit of a ring. I find a lot of drummers seem to like a bit of ring – but if it sounds too much, you’ll struggle to remove it later. Use your ears and if it needs taming, try a bit of tape on the skin, or use a dampening product such as Moongel. If there’s still too much ringing going on, look to cut in the region of 700Hz on an EQ to smooth the rest out. This should give you the best blank canvas to work with.

Over the head…

The overhead mic does exactly what it says on the tin. It sits over the top of the drums, capturing an overall sound of the kit with detail across all the different elements. A condenser mic is your best bet for this. You can get very respectable results with one but if you have enough mics, a pair will give you a nice stereo image. The overhead is probably the most difficult to position. In fact, I often catch myself walking round the kit several times to check spacing and distances before settling on a final position. Make sure you get a decent height without ending up with too much room sound – and if you’re using two mics, try to spread them roughly evenly across the kit and at the same height.

Putting it all together…

Once you’ve recorded your drums, you can experiment with blending different proportions of the signals to see what effect it has on the sound. Depending on the style of music, it should be pretty easy to find a blend you like. When it comes to processing; EQs, gates and compressors are common on most drum signals. The kick and toms can be tightened up with gates and you can put some level of compression on every channel. I usually find it helps to group the drum channels to a stereo bus, so the final sculpting can be done to the kit as a whole. If you need some inspiration, listen carefully to the drums on your favourite records and try to emulate what you hear.

REMEMBER – trust your ears and sonic glory will soon be yours!

The following two tabs change content below.
Alex Fenton is an experienced sound engineer and music producer who started out by setting up his own company, Fentek Audio, after gaining an honours degree in Music Technology. Alex has helped many local bands enhance their status with the likes of White Heath and Birdhead gaining label deals off the back of his recordings and creative production style. He now runs Swanfield Studios, a custom built studio in Leith offering recording, mixing and mastering as well as training in music technology and recording techniques.

Latest posts by Alex Fenton (see all)

One Response to “Basic guide to recording drums”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Gordon says:

    Stick an RE20 on that kick drum and you’ll get a nice wee blend with the D112!

Join the discussion! What do you think?