Preparing for Recording Drums
Live drums. A nightmare for some engineers, but not here at AUDIOBEACH. We pride ourselves on our live drum recordings; we don't want you to spend hours tracking drums just for us to replace the lot with digital samples. That's a waste of your time and your money. Plus, it ends up not even being you on the finished recording!
This blog is going to prepare you for recording live drums at AUDIOBEACH, or any studio ultimately. It will offer tips on kit selection, head selection and tuning, snare selection, cymbal selection, and when it's time to stop and move on to another take.
The first, most important thing, before talking about anything to do with drum kits; PRACTICE! Hours and hours of practice; rudiments, beats, click tracks, the song(s) you're going to record... Bring a warm-up with you; a practice pad (with a sheet of exercises) or gyroscopic power ball will help loosen you up.
Kit Selection Most recording studios will have their own kit. In our case, we have two; a vintage 60s Premier Olympic (a great all-round kit, with a warm, classic tone) and a modern Gretsch Brooklyn (punchy, modern sounds with vintage throwback tones. Perfect for more modern styles of music). If a studio has a house kit, and it's similar to your setup, use the house kit! This will save you a ton of time. Why? Many, many reasons...
The house kit will probably already be set up, and probably mic'd up too
This will save you about 30-60 mins in setup time. All you really need to do is adjust the kit so it's comfortable for you to play, and add your cymbals & snare
The house kit will already be tuned to the room for the perfect tone
If that's not the right tone for you, ask the engineer. They'll know what works in their room and will be able to tune the kit perfectly for you. We return our kit here all the time so it always sounds perfect
The engineer knows what the kit sounds like, has probably been working with it for years, so any tone or sound you want, they will know how to get it. And quickly
Working with an unknown kit can slow things down; why does that rack tom sound so weird? When was the last time you tuned this kit? Is that overtone supposed to be there?
Using the house kit, you've just saved yourself about an hour in load in, setup, and sound check. That's an extra to get those takes nailed! If you do your own kit, or the studio you're recording in doesn't have one, you'll need to think about the right heads...
Drum Head Selection and Tuning A good studio wouldn't let their house kit(s) become disasters. So this will really only apply if you're bringing your own snare, or really really want to use your own kit.
Never use heads that are pitted, dented, ripped, or overly warn when in the studio. A good drum recording starts with a good sounding drum. Crap drums = crap recordings. It's a good idea to re-head your kit a day or so before a studio session so the heads are fresh but have had time to settle in. For toms, aim to replace your resonant heads at least every 12-24 months, and your batter heads every 3-6 (sooner if you're gigging a lot). Bass drum heads will last a lot longer, so you can get away with the same resonant head for years, but should look to replace the batter every 12 months (sooner if you're gigging a lot). Snare heads should be replaced every 3 months (much sooner if gigging a lot).
How you choose your heads is up to you. First, you need to work out what tone you're after before you can choose your head. Listen to as many bands as possible that you like and research what their drummer was using. Live videos will be better than studio recordings as you know the drums are live, not samples or triggers. Listen to head reviews and demos on YouTube and manufacturers sites. We can make recommendations if you're unsure, and most brands of heads are available to purchase from us in advance of the session. As a rule, we advise the following for toms;
"Dead" Tone - lots of attack, not much resonance
Aquarian Performance 2, Force Ten
Controlled Tone - good amount of attack, moderate sustain (Recommended for Studio)
Remo Emperor, Vintage Emperor, White Suede Emperor
Aquarian Super 2, Modern Vintage 2, Response 2
Open Tone - good amount of attack, lots of sustain
Remo Ambassador, Vintage A
Aquarian Classic Clear, Modern Vintage Medium
Warm Tone - some attack, good sustain (Great for Jazz style)
Remo Fibreskyn Ambassador, Vintage A
Aquarian Coated StudioX, Modern Vintage Medium
You should tune your drums a day or two before your recording session to allow them to settle. Once you're in the studio and setup, work with your engineer to tune your drums to the room in which they'll be recorded. If your engineer can't tune a drum, pack up your drums and book in here at AUDIOBEACH!
Snare Selection A lot of drummers, and even more engineers, dampen the living daylights out of the snare drums in the studio. Whilst this works for some genres, it's impossible to bring a "dead" snare back to life without the need for samples and triggers. That said, if your music demands a dead, punchy snare, bring on the SlapKlatz! Any studio worth its life will have a tub of SlapKlatz lying around.
Our personal preference for snares here at AUDIOBEACH is our 14"x5.5" Tama Starclassic Maple for almost everything, and for something a little brighter, our custom made 14"x5.5 Noonan Jnr Black Nickel of Steel. Both are extremely versatile drums that work with a load of genres, tuned high and low. Of course, a snare is like a drummers signature and you know what sound you really want. Always bring your own snare with you. If it doesn't work, admit defeat and select one of the studios!
For snare drums, unless your snare tone is going to be very specific and the same for all tracks, we always recommend a fairly open head. It's better to have a snare that rings than one that doesn't, as you can always control the ring but you can't add it if you decide you want it. We recommend the following on snares;
Remo Ambassador Coated, Vintage A, Emperor Coated, CS Coated
Aquarian Texture Coated with Power Dot, Response 2 Coated, Modern Vintage 2
Most decent studios will have a selection of snares available to use in house. We have six here at AUDIOBEACH, all with different tones for different genres. We will always recommend the right snare for your music if you think your own snare isn't working.
Cymbal Selection Choosing cymbals to buy and own is a long and expensive task. Chances are, you're trying them out in a shop on their own with the intention of them sounding good when you play live.
Mistake number one is trying them in a shop on their own. That crash might sound amazing in the shop, but when you get it home and set it up with your other cymbals, it might just not fit; it might be too bright, or too dark, or too cutting. If you can, always take at least one of your cymbals with you to the shop. Get the crash that blends with everything else you own. The second mistake is assuming the cymbals you use that sound great live will also sound great in the studio. Most will, some won't. That 16" left-side crash you use with your 24" ride? Yeah, that probably isn't going to work in the studio. Again, most studios who care about recording drums will have a selection of cymbals you can hire. We have a complete range of handmade Turkish cymbals from Forbes Coleman's personal collection that are available to hire. You might find one crash in our collection that works much better than yours, or maybe one of our ride cymbals has a little less wash than yours and it cutting through the mix way better. Don't be afraid to try out any cymbals in the studio. It might take a few minutes to get the right one, but it'll be worth it in the long rung!
Time to Move On? If you're working on a proper releasable recording, you'll have time to nail each section of the song. You won't even have to record the song in one take; if it's too a click, you can record the intro, then the verse, the chorus, then the next verse........................ That way, if your song is super energetic, you won't be tired by the time you hit that last massive chorus and you'll probably be able to nail that final fill as well! In fact, you could even take a break half way through and try the last chorus again if you wanted...
If you're working on a live demo to get gigs, you're likely to be playing the whole track, end to end, in one take. If you're playing to a click, this will be fine because if you play the whole thing and miss one fill, as long as you nailed it on another take, it can be dropped in easily [this highlights the importance of playing to a click, something that will be discussed in a future blog post!]. However, if you're not playing to a click, and you keep missing that fill, it's time to move on. Perhaps that fill just isn't going to happen today, so rework it to something more simple. If you're trying to record a few tracks in a day, spending 50% of the day trying to nail one fill will push you behind schedule. If it's not happening after four takes, and you're doing three or more songs in a day, it's definitely time to move on to the next track. If you find you've warmed up later in the day, you can always come back to that track later. But if it doesn't happen after two takes this time, choose the best take of the simple fills and go with that. When you come back to record the songs properly for release, you can spend more time getting that fill perfect.
And there we go. Simple prep to get you and your kit ready for recording live drums at AudioBeach Studios! Don't forget to book in with us today!