Our resident recording experts – Gavin Wiltshire and Guy Perchard – recently took a trip to The Sound Cafe recording studio near Penicuik to record a monster series of Red Dog Music drum recording tutorial videos with Cammy Sinclair, drummer extraordinaire. The focus of this series is to show you how to record drums well. We’re not going to talk about effects and dynamic processing as everyone’s personal taste is different, but getting the best possible sound at source will certainly put you on the right track for getting an incredible drum sound on your record.
Let’s start our ultimate drum recording guide with everyone’s favourite “Track 1”: the Kick Drum.
To compare how different types of microphone react to the same sound source, we decided to pit 5 popular choices against each other in a fight to the death. First up, we chose the closest thing there is to an industry standard for this application: The AKG D112. We realise that many people won’t have the budget for a ‘specialist’ bass drum microphone, so we also chose a famous all-rounder that you find in studios everywhere: The Shure Beta 57a. A common method of capturing the attack from the beater side of the drum is to use a rugged little small diaphragm condenser facing the striking point, so we also chose to compare the sound of a Røde NT5. We also wanted to bring our own personal favourite microphones to the table, Gav’s being the mighty Electro-Voice RE20, and Guy’s being the streamlined Shure Beta 91a.
What we thought
AKG D112 – Nice, girthy low-end with smooth mid-range punch but a lack of high frequency detail. An excellent contender for those wanting a natural sound for Jazz or Blues recordings but you might not get the tight, bright sound required for modern Rock or Metal.
Shure Beta 57a – Quite a tight low-end without too much sub, the 57a has a nice clarity without sounding too muddy. The 57a is famous for sounding great in front of pretty much any sound source, but if you’re wanting a really big sub-punch from your bass drum you’ll need to look elsewhere.
ElectroVoice RE20 – Clear, smooth and warm. The RE20 gives an excellent combination of attack detail, sub power but also gives a clarity to the mid-range detail that other microphones turn into muddiness. An excellent all-rounder for most genres and Gav’s favourite.
Shure Beta 91a – The streamlined 91a gives a massively tight, clear and powerful sound when placed in the shell of the bass drum. Because this microphone is a condenser, it picks up much more of the attack detail from the beater and skin but retains all the lovely low end too. An excellent choice for bright, modern sounding drums and Guy’s favourite.
Røde NT5 – We’re not pretending this little guy is going to give you the “ULTIMATE BASS DRUM SOUND” that you lust after, but placed on the beater side it can add a nice transient attack to any other microphone setup you use. Worth thinking about. Maybe.
It’s all very well and good choosing the right microphone for the job, but where do you put it to get the particular sound you’re after? Well, that’s why we are here! We mentioned before that the the AKG D112 is considered a safe bet, industry standard for bass drum recording, so we used that to compare how different placements sound on the same drum.
What we heard
At port / On-axis – The most obvious mic position yields the most obvious result. The force from the kick creates a big, wooly boom with plenty of power in the attack. This position might need a bit of EQ’ing depending on what kind of music you’re making, but it’s certainly a good starting point.
At port / Off-axis – Keeping the mic in much the same position as it was before but angling it slightly so it faces the middle of the shell on the inside makes the big low frequency sound waves glance off the diaphragm of the microphone. This greatly reduces the sub boom and gives the sound a much tighter focus.
Inside / Facing skin / Central / Off-axis – Laying the mic on the padded floor of the bass drum and aiming it to one side of where the beater strikes the skin gives a lot of mid & high frequency attack, and also gives the best isolated sound of all the placements we tried. Great for modern, edgy drum sounds / Not so great for getting a nice, natural tone.
Facing shell / Under ride – This position is great for a really mid-heavy recording sound, but lacks sub punch and is very subject to bleed from the rest of the kit. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: If you’re after a good budget set-up, this position could be used in tandem with an SM57 between the snare and hi-hat for a sweet sounding, simple drum recording solution.
1m away – Keeping the microphone distant, but aimed directly at the drum gives the most natural of the bunch. You do get some spill from the rest of the kit, but you still get a surprising amount of low end power. It could be very useful for more intimate recording styles where the natural sound is king.
That’s it for now, folks! Stay tuned for more, inluding: Mic choice and placement for snare, hi-hat, toms, overheads and room set-ups, as well as a head-to-head between Gav and Guy in THE ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN. Be warned: Several microphones died during the filming of this one.
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