Acoustic drums

DrumsI am from the school of thought that a snare drum should have a serious crack to the attack and a good throaty girth that seems to live in the low-mids.  Piccolo snares are great in funk, salsa, latino and orchestral applications when used sparingly but they don’t have a commanding sound in rock, punk, hardcore, metal, black metal and the like. I personally think that a snare drum should sound like a clap of thunder not a five year old banging on a coffee can with a cooking spoon.

One of the things that I ask of bands before they record is that they MUST have new heads on the drums and new strings on all stringed instruments a day or two prior to recording. This can be especially demanding on a drummer’s budget as the price of drum heads and cymbals are costly. However, the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” really does ring true in a recording situation. I have found that quite a few drummers really are challenged by the idea of how to properly tune drums themselves and find the voice of each drum and what I call “golden range voicing” for each individual drum.  For example, you could ask a flute player to play a tuba part but you will definitely not hear or feel the low-end rumble and air move that a tuba can make. I have found it helpful to have a drumming background and I do know how to properly tune a drum and seat the drum head to the drum itself. There is a window of time that any drum will sound great if properly tuned and re-tuned throughout a recording session but it is short-lived as a drummer who really works the drums over and hits hard can make a drum head go past it’s sweet spot and into the used up and lifeless stage within a couple of hours or less.

There is a lot of work that goes into making a set of drums sound good to the human ear, and quite a different beast to make it sound great in a recording. Phase coherency among the drum mics can be really challenging. Drums being out of phase with themselves between the mics can make or break a recording and if the source miking technique isn’t really scrutinized and experimented with, drums can sound thin and lifeless. To a degree, drums are always out-of-phase with themselves by nature and not a lot can be done to prevent this from happening but with extra care and diligence a lot of little tweaks can make all the difference in the world. I actually spend the lion’s share of a bands set up time on miking the drums for this reason and I take more time tuning the drums and playing around with moving the drum mics around slightly until I hear something I like. One of the symptoms of drums being out-of-phase with themselves is sounding thin and lifeless. I play around with mic placement to minimize phase cancellation and listen for when the drums sound their fullest vs. when they sound thinner.  Recording a full set of drums is an art form unto itself and at the very least challenging. Sometimes less mics on drums are better to insure phase coherency and also may be a consideration if the band is pressed for time or budget constraints.

Generally, the more time spent on preparation before the record button is pressed the better the end result will be. This concept applies to rehearsals prior to recording as well. I actively encourage a band to demo their songs before coming to the studio even if it’s a quick and dirty two-track cassette recording or a cell phone/mp3 demo so the band can hear what the song structure sounds like and what the songs are actually doing as a whole while they are not playing the songs. Listener’s perspective can be very telling and often times a song will sound different than when you are actually playing the music.