Drum Set Tracking at Indecent Music

Most rock acts that call looking to book studio time at Indecent, are really interested in what kinds of drums sounds I am able to create. It’s very hard to talk about these types of sounds over the phone without listening to audio samples. This posting shows off one of the typical drum mic set-ups that I like to use. Every project has a different flavor, and so every drum/mic set-up has its own unique approach. However there are some techniques that I consistently employ to get the most typical sounds for rock and pop music.

The photos from this particular mic configuration are from the drum tracking sessions for a 5-song project that I am producing for Sierra (http://www.sierrarocks.com/) , a folk-rock artist that I heard for the first time several months ago. Our goal was to get a pretty natural, acoustic drum sound that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a singer-songwriter album based on acoustic guitar and vocals. I already knew that I wanted to work with Penny Jane Larson (http://www.myspace.com/pennylarson) on the record because Penny and I have great chemistry in the studio and and she’s just a great f*ing drummer. Sierra and I worked up tempos and some feels in our pre-production work and sent MP3’s to Penny so she would have an idea of where Sierra was coming from.

Penny and I decided to use the “small” house kit at Indecent, which is a 7-piece birch Premier kit with a 20″ kick and 14″, 12″, 10″, and 8″ toms. Penny only needed the 14″ and the 12″ so we didn’t bother to include the other pieces, because they would just ring, rattle and cause problems. Penny brought a copper Slingerland snare drum that sounds very woody and warm. She used that drum for everything that didn’t require side-sticking and she opted to use another snare with hardwood hoops for the more mellow stuff. I have the Evans EMAD system on the kick drum and Evans 2 ply heads on the toms. Penny did a great job tuning and damping with duct tape and tissue.

After we got the drums to sound really great in the room, I started mic-ing up the kit and choosing mics that I have had good luck with in the past. This first stage is mostly driven by experience. I’m not listening the drum mics at all at this point, but rather placing specific mics where I think that they will sound best. After everything is set-up, then I move to the control room to choose pre-amps and compressors. Basically we arrived at a set-up that looked like this:

Indecent Music Drum Mic Setup

In this particular setup (and in most of the setups that I favor), the majority of the drum sound is derived from the overheads and the room mics. Note in the picture the drum overheads are attached to a heavy studio boom stand and are separated using a Jecklin Disk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jecklin_Disk). This provides for a near-perfect stereo effect. I use two omni-directional mics (TC25’s) from Earthworks’ Drum Kit. I place the mics 7 feet off the ground below an area on the ceiling that has been well treated with acoustic foam. This tends to cause the mics to pick up the drums directly and not the reflection of the sound off of the ceiling. The TC25’s are ruler flat and provide an extremely accurate picture of sound in a room. They don’t color or alter the tone of the drums, the room or anything else.

Jecklin Disk with Earthworks TC25's

I also use a room mic (notice off to the left in the photo) made by Shinybox. This is a ribbon mic called the 46 MXL (http://www.shinybox.com/ShinyBox46.php) complete with a premium Lundahl output transformer. The Shinybox ribbon competes with mics double and triple its price like the Royer 121, for instance. The mic is extremely warm and pleasant sounding with a pronounced roll-off of high frequencies. The mic has a figure 8 pattern which picks up some of the back of the room as well as the drum kit itself.

AKG D112 and Earthworks SR25 in a Kick Drum

The next most important part of the sound is the kick drum. The overheads and the room mic usually get a great snare sound, but most of the time the kick is over-emphasized in my small drum room. There are a lot of different ways to handle a kick drum, but I have been happiest using two mics in the hole on the resonant side of the drum. I usually use an AKG D112 (http://www.akg.com) because it has the classic kick sound with tons of low end. In order to get a little definition I prefer that drummers use either a wood beater or the hard plastic side of the new hybrid beaters. This provides for a certain amount of click. Also in the hole, I point an Earthworks SR25 (http://www.earthworksaudio.com/16.html) small-diaphragm condenser right at where the beater hits the head of the drum. This provides for a much more defined and punchy kick sound. I usually mix the two mics’ signals together pretty equally, or I favor the SR25 slightly.

Snare and Tom mics are only used to emphasize the sounds already in the overhead mics. For the snare drum I use a Shure Beta 56 (http://www.shure.com). It’s basically a Beta 57 with a slightly different body. The mic sounds pretty good, and it has a tight pattern which helps to reject sounds from the hi-hats, kick drum and rack tom. The specially mount on the mic is unfortunately poorly conceived and can make it difficult to patch in a mic cable. It won’t work with the Drum Claw for instance, and usually can only be used with the smallest extension of the boom arm on most stands.

Beta 56 on a copper Slingerland snare drum

With snares and toms, I try to split the difference between close mic-ing and distance mic-ing. The closer the mic is to the rim of the drum, the more ring ends up in your sound. Pointing the mic at the center of the drum helps. This is where your get the least amount of sustain and the most attack. I try to get my mics several inches up and above the rim of the drum pointing dead at the center of the drum. The further away the mic is from the drum head, the more of the drum head the mic actually picks up. To get a natural sound you want the mic far away from the drum head; to get isolation and a more artificial sound, you get closer to the head.

Tom Mics: Shure Beta 57 and Audix D-4

You can see from the picture above that I have moved the mics further back that most typical tom configurations. The creates a more natural sound, but does allow for more potential bleed from other drums. I usually don’t compress the tom mics to help minimize the sustain and bleed of the other toms. Here I am using a Shure Beta 57 (http://www.shure.com/ProAudio/Products/WiredMicrophones/us_pro_Beta57A_content) on the rack tom and an Audix D-4 (http://www.audixusa.com/products.html) on the floor tom. The D-4 sounds fantastic on lower toms and even on kick drums and bass guitar cabs.

The only other consideration is the hi-hat. Here I am using a single Audio Technica AT4041 small diaphragm condenser microphone. I point the mic straight down on the top cymbal a couple of inches from the edge. This helps to reject the sound of the toms and snare and provides a little bit of isolation for the hi-hats. In the configuration below the mic is also rejecting sound from the two crash cymbals on either side of the hi-hats.

AT-4041 on the Hi-Hat

All of the mics went into tube pre-amps except the Shinybox 46MXL which went into a modified T1953 using Burr-Brown OPA2134UA op-amps for all gain stages. The D112 went into an LA-610 with a bit of compression. The Earthworks mics for the overheads went into TL Audio stereo tube pre, and all the other mics went into ART tube pres: 2 Dual MPs and a DPS-II. I opted to record with no additional compression other than the LA-610 on the kick. The tube pres compressed the sound slightly and I was able to get a very natural and warm sound without any extra processing.

Please write if you have any comments or questions!

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