Friday, October 30, 2015

Drum head, cymbal and stick choices

Drum head, cymbal and stick choices affect your drum sound immensely. The only other thing on par is your playing. The most expensive mics, preamps and room won't mean a thing if your drums sound like utter crap.  I'll give you some pointers on how to start building the jigsaw puzzle and make sure that those microphones are actually capturing something worth hearing.

I remember too many instances where a drummer has gone out to get drum heads for a session the night before. He/she walks to the music store, asks for the heads I have recommended for the project at hand, the shopkeeper says: "We don't have those 8" tom heads and that snare drum head seems weird. "Let me give you these heads instead (gives the drummer some mythological cow-skin heads). I used these the last time I myself was in the studio and they are superb." He then continues (without knowing anything about the session I might add) "By the way, you really want to use the same exact heads on the resonant side as well".
It's the last possible hour to get the heads. So the drummer just takes what is offered.
Come the morning of the session. I see the skins and think to myself "not again."
I'll be able to work around it, and new skins are always better than those duct-taped ones the poor drums had before. And we need to get setting up. Time is always of the essence. The first problem for mixing has already surfaced. And we haven't even set up the drums yet.

Here are my tried and true, "go to" drumhead choices for Metal/Rock:

  • Remo coated controlled sound for the snare batter if you are a tip hitter
  • Remo coated Emperor for snare batter if you are a rimshotter or just like some good ol' ring
  • Remo Ambassador resonant hazy for the snare drum resonant side
  • Pure Sound Snare Drum Wires (Get the ones with 24 strands or more)
  • Remo clear Emperors for the tom batter side
  • Remo clear Ambassadors for the tom resonant side
  • Aquarian Superkick II / Aquarian resonator (with the kick pad) for the bass drums
Music is definitely a subjective art and your mileage may vary. But if you are open to suggestions, or lost with all the choices, give this set a shot. You won't be far off (for Metal at least). I'll just point out (even with the risk of sounding repetitive) the list above is not be all end all of drum heads. there is no such a thing. But remember that everything needs to fit together. Your bass drum sound needs to sound fitting with the floor tom, snare drum, guitars, your singers voice, the synth pads... the list goes on. The selection above has been cumulated thru years and years of recording, mixing and making music. The list is far from just simply sounding nice in isolation. From the mixing engineers perspective, how the snare sounds by itself simply doesn't matter, at all. It does not matter until every layer has been recorded. Only then you get to hear what is left audible of the snare. Did I drive that one home? Good. Lets move on.

The heads and the tuning have more effect on the sound of your drum than the actual drum itself. So do yourself a favor and don't skimp on this.
Of course the drum and the skins are only a part of the equation. Now you'll need something to hit them with.
  • Use wooden or plastic bass drum beaters for added attack (there seems to never be enough)
  • Use a stick type that on top of feeling good to play with, suits your preferred sound. Remember: comfort doesn't necessarily equal good sound
  • Don't squeeze the sticks. It really does affect the sound
  • Hit the drums HARD and go easy on the cymbals. Seriously, this one is important
Use cymbals that sound balanced (volume-wise) to each other. And preferably use hi-hats that are a bit quieter. Those hats will always be the loudest and most annoying cymbals come mix time. Also playing easy on the hats is of utmost importance.

Be wise and get the skins from your local shop or from Thomann (or where ever) at least a week or two prior to your session. You'll save money, get the right skins and thus a better drum sound. No downside. Just put them on the drums finger-tight the night before recording. You can take care of the tuning at the studio.

Do you have a preferred set of drumheads for studio use? Drop a comment and give me your reasons for those specific choices. I'm always willing to learn and exchange ideas.

Have fun and go make that noise =)
-Juho Räihä-

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