Setting up your drums so that it feels good to play and sounds good on the recording is no easy task. On your set you may have ten cymbals, six toms, two bass drums, two snares and some windchimes. Do your ergonomics go hand in hand with the sound or is there something worth considering here. Lets find out.
It's the crack of dawn (10am) and I'm drinking my third cup of morning coffee while setting up some tracks on the studio computer. The phone rings. "Sorry that I'm a bit late" she says" But there was a huge traffic and..." I zone out and continue to name the tracks I just created on screen. A moment goes by, then a sudden silence "...great!" I blurt "I'll come and open the door for you". We start carrying the drums in. Not a single case or bag. Everything separate. Ten trips to the car and back later everything is in. Lock the doors and point the drummer to the restroom and then to the coffee. I'll start assessing the situation. There is a lot of stuff. Most of which will get hit probably once or twice during the session. I already visualize the hour manually finding and editing the three hits we had on that sixth floor tom (on which I used half an hour tuning and the drummer 30€ on new skins). I start talking with the drummer to get some of the vibe she is after. "I took everything with me just in case. But lets only use what's necessary" I smile in relief, take a sip of my coffee and start babbling about the upcoming Star Wars movie whilst starting to tune the drums.
Once the drums are up and set to the drummers liking, I start squeezing in the mics. "Would it be possible to bring up this crash a bit? I can't get the mic in" "Sure" she replies. "How much?" Maybe the caffeine is kicking in but my morning is getting brighter and brighter.
I then proceed to negotiate to put the crashes, that sound a bit low in volume, a bit higher and closer to the overheads than the, a bit louder, chinas she has. We go thru the whole set like this. And not because it makes my job easier (it doesn't at this point) but because I know we need everything coming in the mics well separated and balanced. The recording will sound much clearer and more "professional" (for lack of a better word). And this way I get the maximum amount of control for mixing. A super loud hi-hat in the snare mic is something that will ruin ones week. If you can't raise the volume of your snare in the mix because of the snare mic being more of a hi-hat mic you are faced with some compromises. And one should never step on that path in making music.
- Bring in only what you truly need or an alternative (i.e. a different snare)
- Have your cymbals high. Cymbal bleed in the rack tom mics is vomit inducing.
- Have an idea where the snare mic could fit in. That's if you have three rack toms.
- Have your crash and china cymbals preferably close to one level. Or purposefully so that the louder ones are on the lower layer and the quieter ones higher. The overheads love to hear balanced cymbal arsenals.
- Separation gives you clearer drum-sound and eliminates rattle (i.e. cymbals hitting each-other)
- A smaller set records better and is less time consuming (read: cheaper for you)
In the end you should express yourself freely when arranging and playing drums. Don't suddenly lose half of your set for the sake of recording, but have these ideas silently humming on your hard-drive while thinking about the upcoming recording session. It's fun to have a huge drum-set but sadly fun doesn't always equal good sound. Know what you are after and go make better records.
Do you disagree or do you have a horror story of an engineer ruining your vibe messing with your setup? Shoot a line and let's find some common ground.