So, it’s been a while since I’ve written a post, so I decided I would take the time to write about some drum recording I did a couple of days ago… yeah, sorry; it’s not a helpful tip or mic suggestion this time! The band WeWhoDare are from my hometown, they’re a Metalcore band which haven’t been on the scene long, and they wanted to record their first single with me, which I was pretty excited about.
While She Sleeps is a huge influence on the band, and so I wanted to capture that ambience which is a notable feature in their tracks, whilst still capturing that punch and crack. I decided the theatre at my work would be the perfect place to record drums; a huge room with wooden floors and about a 20ft high ceiling where I could experiment with room mics.
For drums, I went all out; I used about 14 channels worth. On kick, I had a newly-acquired SM57 for the inner mic to pick up the snap and click, and on the outside, I had my DIY subkick made from a Studio Spares speaker cone. On snare, a 57 again, top and bottom. For toms, I used a 57 for the hi tom and my 421 for the floor. Hi-hat, I used my trusty Sontronics STC-1 and for overheads I used my pair of Shure KSM32s. For the room, I used my Rode NT2000 and set it to omni and placed it about 20ft back from the kit and aimed it at the belly of the drummer. I also had a “close room” mic, which was my Rode NT1-A about 8ft away from the kit, in the end I decided not to use this.
I wanted to play with samples during the mix for this track, so I taped down the drum triggers I made to the snare and toms. A trigger on the kick wasn’t necessary, as I was able to use my DIY subkick to act as the trigger.
Once all the mics and levels were set, we started to track. I recorded as many takes as I could get from a 4 hour time window, an hour each end, of which, was used to set up and pack down mics.
Below are some pictures from the session.
How many of you have been in this situation? You’ve got a recording session underway, and you’re going about your usual workflow, and someone questions your judgment. It’s something which seems to happen quite a lot. When a band comes into the studio to record, they have a vision on how they want their tracks to sound, but don’t know how to go about achieving that vision in the recording process. They worry/panic because they’re paying money (usually) for you to realise their vision.
Don’t succumb to a client’s potential panic/worry. If you do, they take control of your session rather than you, and as a result, the final finished product isn’t up-to-par because they don’t know the recording craft as well as you do. This track is branded with your name all over it, and can seriously affect your perceived professional image if you let a client take control of YOUR session. You’ll be doing what they want, rather than you making the creative choices in the studio and continuing with your tried and tested method of working.
By all means, listen to what a band has to say if they have some ideas on how they want their instruments to sound “I want the choruses to sound beefier than the jangly cleans in the verse”, “we want the drums to really smack in the mix” or “we were thinking about having some cool lo-fi ambient part on the bridge”.
At the end of it, you’re a fresh pair of ears for a band, you also have creative input to get the best out of each and every musician. If you feel like that vocal take could be performed better, then get that performance out of them. Say things like, “that take was very close, but let’s get another couple for safety so we can choose between them”. There’s ways about getting what you want, but you have to be pretty euphemistic with it.
By taking control of your sessions and working the way YOU want, you not only provide the musicians with confidence in their performances, but they have confidence and trust in you that you know what you’re doing. They open up, and allow you to almost be a part of their band. So, TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR RECORDING SESSIONS! The final result will benefit from it.
Today, I recorded some grand piano in the studio at work using my KSM32s. The last time I used these mics for a session was back when I was at uni and recorded acoustic guitar and vocals (yes I know, it’s criminal that it’s been so long); the blog post of which, can be found below. I’ve been dying to try these mics out again, and piano seemed like a great instrument to put them through their paces.
I thought I’d go for the classic spaced pair configuration to give me the wide stereo image but to also capture the wide tonal possibility from such a big instrument. I also used my Sontronics STC-1s which I positioned in XY to see which one I preferred (the below clip just being the KSM32s).
I’m astounded by how realistic these mics are. The example below (albeit compressed by Soundcloud) gives an extremely good example of how the piano sounded in the room. Our Kawai at work is very mellow sounding, tonally, yet still loud and aggressive. Listen to the sample below. No mixing whatsoever has been done here besides panning.
I’ve recently been obsessing over getting a Heil PR-30 for kick drums, as I’ve recently sold my Audix D6. Nowhere really sells them here in the UK, and so I was looking at American sellers and calculating import duty. After a lot of thought and some persuasion from others, I’ve realised that I fell into the trap again of wanting a certain mic because I thought it was going to my make my recordings a bit better by using a certain mic.
You’ll see one of my early blog posts was called Using The Cheaper Alternative, where I discuss that sometimes using a microphone that’s cheaper will sound better than one that’s more expensive. This got me thinking as to why I was obsessing over gear that I didn’t need, “why do I need this mic?“, “what will it bring to the table that my other mics don’t?”. With these questions in mind, and listening to kick drum mic shootouts, and the like, I realised that the differences between these mics on certain sound sources are not as substantial as I wanted to believe. These mics more-or-less do the same thing.
So, with that said, a microphone which is primarily used on a bass drum will have frequencies which will optimize sound for a bass drum. I already have an AKG D112, and it’s possible to get a more than useable sound from this mic when positioned correctly. It’s hard to accept that cheaper microphones can live-up to their more expensive brothers, so my challenge to you is to not obsess over gear like I do (and I’m sure you do) and get great results with your cheap gear. Yeah, it’s great spending money on a nice shiny microphone that we can put in our mic locker, but save your money, as you can get great results with your cheaper gear. If it sounds great, it is great!
For the home studio enthusiast, recording great sounding drum tracks can be a difficult task. We’re restricted mainly by these three things:
- Our room may not be great to record drums in
- We may not have the money to buy a bunch of microphones to record a whole kit
- Perhaps our kit just doesn’t sound good (having said that, maintaining your instrument and putting a new set of heads on the kit will improve the sound vastly)
One way to improve your drum sounds is by using pre-recorded samples from a sampler such as EzDrummer, Studio Drummer or Steven Slate Drums, and by building your own drum triggers.
Drum triggers are basically contact microphones which are placed on certain drums. The recorded signal of these lo-fi microphones is good enough to capture the initial transient of say, a snare a hit, but due to their lo-fi nature, they’re able to reject bleed from other drums from entering the microphone.
Building The Triggers
Building drum triggers is cheap and relatively easy. First off, you’ll need contact microphones or piezo microphones (I bought a set of 5 microphones on eBay for 99p) and a connector of some kind, typically XLR or 1/4″ jack.
When looking at the piezo microphone, you’ll see two wires attached. These wires are the tip and ground wires, the tip being the wire which is near the centre and the ground wire being the wire near the edge.
Solder these wires to their respective connections on the connector you’ve chosen (for an explanation on which connector is which, look at my previous blog post “A Crash Course in Fixing Your Cables”).
So now you’ve made a drum trigger for under £5. You need it to trigger something in software. For this example, I’m using Studio One 2.5, but you can do this in more-or-less any DAW.
First off, create a new audio track and an instrument track:
Next, put a gate on the audio track (piezo mic track), and set your gate settings. Use mine as a guideline if you want. Notice I’ve made the trigger at the top right of the gate plugin active and set its note to D1 (a snare note).
Once you’ve set your gate settings, go to the instrument track and set its input to be the gate plugin.
Record enable and monitor both of the tracks and you’re now set to use your newly built drum trigger on a real drum kit!
So as you can see, building your own drum triggers is cheap, quick and easy. You can get professional sounding drum tracks for an insanely cheap price. What’s more is, you won’t have to manually input every MIDI note and have unrealistic sounding drums. Even if you have a great sounding kit, you can use a little bit of sample with your recorded drums to add more snap and bring your drums forward in a mix without increasing the volume of individual drums; something that almost every professionally recorded song has these days.
So, it’s been a while since I wrote a post on my blog. I’ve been busy with work recently, and I’ve been trying to find something worth-while to discuss. I thought that sharing some basic knowledge on how to fix your cables would be a good asset to have for you home studio enthusiasts! So, let’s get started!
The main cables that you work with in a studio are going to be XLR cables (microphone cables) and 1/4″ cables (instrument cables). Being able to fix these two cables will save you a lot of money when your cables suddenly stop working, and will give you the ability to build your own at a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay for them normally.
Tools You’ll Need
- Soldering Iron (30 watts or higher)
- Wire Strippers
- Wire Cutters
- Stanley Knife/Craft Knife
1/4″ cabling will only usually have two strands of wire inside (unless it’s a balanced cable). The wires inside are the tip and the shield wires (hence the name TS as opposed to TRS which is tip, ring and sleeve (shield)). The tip, or “hot wire”, is connected to the prong which is shorter than the ground prong. This wire will be insulated with a PVC coating. The shield wire will just be bare copper wire, this is usually soldered to the bit of metal where the remainder of the cable rests.
XLR cables contain three connectors on them, each pin serves a different purpose and are usually labelled for ease of reference. Pin 1 of the cable is ground, think of this as the “waste pipe” of the signal. When you strip the cable of an XLR, you’ll see two of the cables have PVC insulation around them (usually red and blue) and there’s a strand of bare copper wire; this copper wire is what you connect to pin 1 of the connector. Pin 2 of the connector is where the “hot wire” is soldered, this is usually marked red, this is what will carry your positive audio signal to whatever it is you’re plugging your XLR cable into. Pin 3 is where the “cold wire” is soldered, usually blue, this connector is the negative polarity of the audio signal and also carries the audio signal.
Hints and Tips
- Before you do anything, always put the boot (plastic with the threading) on the cable first. Once you solder the connector to the wires, you won’t be able to screw the boot onto the connector, and you’ll have to start again.
- Push the unstripped cable against the connector, this will give you a rough idea of how much of the rubber insulation you need to strip back to expose the inner wires with a craft knife.
- Always twist exposed wires so they provide good conduction to the various connectors.
- When soldering, heat up the exposed wire and put some solder on it. This is called tinning.
- Heat up the area you want to solder thoroughly so that you don’t get “cold” or “dry” solder joints, your solder should look shiney.
- Be sparing with the amount of solder you use, more does not mean better.
- Try to make sure the wires don’t move much as the solder is setting, as this will also create a weak connection.
- Use pliers on 1/4″ cables to clamp down the strain relief onto the outer cable so that your cables don’t break as easily.
- A sponge is usually provided with a soldering iron, dampen the sponge and regularly brush the soldering iron onto it to clean its tip.
- When clamping 1/4″ cables in a vice, make sure the strain relief which is surrounding the rubber cable is making contact with the vice itself. You can use the vice as a heat sink to stop the rubber cable melting as you’re soldering.
Today, I changed the drum heads on the kit where I work. Below you’ll see how the kit was, there was duct tape all over the heads, the heads were battered and wouldn’t tune properly and the cymbals were rusting. In this post I want to show how I went about changing these drum heads and tuning them. Please bear in mind that I’m not a drummer at all, nor am I a tuning master for drums, but nonetheless I wanted to share this potentially helpful info.
So first off, let’s start with the kick drum. Like with all the drums loosen all the tension rods for the head you’re about to change, I suggest you start with the batter head first because you can fine-tune the resonant head to work well with the batter head after. Once all the tension rods are loose and the old head is off, give everything a wipe with a cloth to get rid of dust and debris which has built up in the drum.
Secondly, put the new head on and position all the tension rods to fit into their appropriate holes. Make sure that the head is seated properly and push down with your whole hand in the centre of the drum and keep constant pressure, you’ll see a lot of wrinkles appear in the head. Tighten each lug until the wrinkles disappear and then loosen back about a quarter of a turn. Once you’ve tightened all the tension rods, release your hand from the batter head. Do the same for the resonant head and then fine-tune to taste so it works well with the batter head. Done.
Now onto the snare, in my experience this is the hardest drum to get right. You’re dealing with a lot variables such as the relationship between the top and bottom heads due to them being tuned differently and the snare wires themselves and how tight they rest against the head.
Drummers tend to start with the bottom head; once you’ve wiped the drum shell with a cloth removing dust and wood chippings, put the new head on and seat it correctly. Put a drum stick under the snares and rest it on each side of the rim. Even tension needs to be maintained here so that the drum’s tuning is consistent, tune the drums using the star pattern method (Google this). Tune the bottom head up to a high A note and fine-tune if necessary.
For the top head, again, wipe the shell and put the new head on. Even tension needs to be maintained again so use the star pattern method. Typically, this drum is tuned to a C note, but it’s by no means the next octave higher than what you’re tuning the bottom head to, in fact it’s lower. Fine-tune if necessary.
Toms are relatively easy, a lot easier than the snare! When you put the new head on after wiping the shell, push three fingers onto the centre of the drum and keep the pressure there (much like the kick drum but on a smaller scale). You’ll see wrinkles again and you need to tighten each lug until they go away, but don’t loosen the tuning like the kick drum – leave it! Do the same thing with the bottom head and tune fine-tune them so that the top and bottom heads sound the same. Bear in mind that some drummers purposefully detune the bottom head while others tune it higher, it’s all personal preference.
Knowing how to tune drums is a valuable asset to have when you’re in the studio. It means that, if need be, you can step in to tune the drums if the drummer in the session doesn’t know how to. If drum heads break and there’s some spares, you don’t have to rely on the drummer to change the heads as you’re able to do it! In other words, whenever you need to tune drums, you’ll have a basic knowledge on how to do it!