I’m writing this post on a bit of a whim. Over this weekend, I’ve been listening back to old projects that I’ve worked on from 2013-present, and one thing sets apart the recordings I really like compared to the recordings that don’t sound that great, and that is a good drummer. I’ve realised that you can have all the mics, pres and outboard in the world, but if you don’t have the most fundamental part for getting a great drum recording, then you may as well not bother.
What makes a good drummer? Well, first and foremost, you need a drummer that can actually stay in time with the track/click. Just as importantly, you need a drummer that can make the drums “sing”, by that I mean making the drums resonate in a certain way, hitting the stick consistently in the same area (unless otherwise done so for effect – rim shots, for example), creating dynamics in the performance. For most modern genres of music, you need a drummer that can hit the drums (not cymbals) HARD. Forceful input from the drummer will create a forceful output and drums that “sing” in the mix. A great performance is absolutely essential. I find this to be most apparent with toms, but all drum shells need to be hit hard. If a drummer doesn’t put enough force hitting toms, they’ll sound wimpy in the mix – guaranteed.
Secondly, you need good sounding drums. Don’t come to a session with 10-year-old drum heads covered in duct tape and are out of tune from sitting in a garage for years. What’s the point? Pointing a mic at horrible-sounding drums isn’t going to make them sound like a million bucks. If you have a good drummer with a well-maintained kit, you will absolutely get a great drum recording if you keep phase relationships in mind.
What I’ve realised over the years is that a great performance in a great song mixes itself. It makes the mix engineer’s job a million times easier as they can focus on enhancing a great performance rather than fixing problems.
I’ve recently downloaded the demo of Studio One 3.0 and have been mixing some drums to get somewhat of a feel of it, before deciding whether I commit to buy or not. You may have seen (many blog posts ago) that I added screenshots of Studio One 2.0 when I used to use it. As I work in education as a Music Technician, I got this software for free directly from PreSonus. I found that Studio One 2.0 wasn’t as reliable as Pro Tools 11 when I was using it for a session (ironically, everyone else seemed to say the opposite), so I went back to Pro Tools after using Studio One for one project.
Why I may switch DAW
Since Avid have announced that Pro Tools is becoming a subscription-based service with Pro Tools 12, I thought that now is the best time to jump ship to another DAW which won’t alienate its customers/users with ridiculous marketing strategies, I.E announcing Pro Tools 12 and having the promo video just listing everything about cloud collaboration. When I used Studio One 2.0, I found the GUI to be quite lacklustre and uninspiring; it looked cheap and old. That was the biggest thing that caught my attention with Studio One 3.0 – the GUI.
The Look of Studio One 3.0
Whilst other features of Studio One 3.0 seem cool (the scratch pad and various VSTis and effects), it was the GUI that I was most interested in. Using the demo of Studio One 3.0 inspires me to work; the capability to change the background colours to my liking is also a huge feature that I’ve not seen in other DAWs. The ability to resize faders for higher resolution is also another great feature which I’ll definitely be using a lot when automating or fine-tuning fader adjustments during mixing.
I’m also a guy that wants to use quantizing to tighten up a drum performance when needed, but often find that quantizing does more harm than good (flam artefacts, beats not aligning to the grid properly, etc). Although I don’t think the quantizing algorithm has changed in this version of Studio One (besides their elastique pro 3), I’ve found that quantizing drums in Studio One is so much easier than what it is in Pro Tools. Having to work in 4-8 bar loops in Pro Tools is a very time-consuming process and, in my experience, rarely did the job correctly. In Studio One, I managed to quantize a whole 3 minute song worth of drums and the drums were mostly correct to the grid with barely any flam artefacts. Having said this, I have found that the crossfade and merge events feature much to be desired, as the crossfades will often fade on a transient, and the merge events function doesn’t fill in gaps that the quantizing didn’t clear up. This is a feature that Pro Tools has had in Beat Detective for many years, and I think if Studio One incorporated a “fill gaps and crossfade” feature, quantizing in Studio One 3.0 would be an absolute breeze compared to other DAWs.
The real ‘proof in the pudding’ for me will be if I can record 16 tracks simultaneously without any errors. This is something that I found happened a lot in Studio One 2.0, which is why I went back to using Pro Tools 11. So if I can record 48kHz, 24bit audio (or higher) onto my 2011 Macbook Pro with an i5, 4gb ram and a 250gb hard drive without drop outs, I will use Studio One 3.0 as my primary DAW from now on. Having said this, my first impressions of Studio One 3.0 are good ones, and I’m sure with the incremental updates that will be released, my personal issues with this DAW could be rectified along with other people’s user feedback.
On Monday, I recorded drums for an upcoming (and currently unnamed) project that I’m a part of. We’ve written three songs over the course of about a month, two of which were written anyway from previous projects that we’d been in. I suppose we’re reminiscent of Jimmy Eat World and The American Scene, but these three songs are quite different from one another, as we’re trying to hone in our sound. The band comprises of myself, Max from Light Fire Down and Billy who I’ve known for about a couple of years. We’re still searching for a bassist, but for this EP we’re going to record the parts ourselves and put it out there for any potential bassists to hear.
The drum session went pretty well. It was nice to take as long as I wanted with mic placement and choosing what mics to place on a source without a band getting panicky that I’m eating into their tight budget. We recorded in the back room of the village hall where I recorded Summer Drive Home and Tate, as it’s the best room I’ve found locally that sounds incredible for drums, and it’s super super cheap to hire for a day.
Mics were mainly going into my new Audient ASP008 which was fed into my Universal Audio Apollo via ADAT; the rest of the mics went into pretty coloured pres like my Warm Audios for toms and my newly built Hairball Audio Bronze 500 series pre for the outer kick mic. I tried a couple of different things, but it was my usual go-to array of mics on the sources:
- SM57 inner kick
- NT2000 outer kick
- SM57 top and bottom snare
- SM57 hi tom
- MD421 floor tom
- SM7B hi-hat
- KSM32s overheads
- Fathead II room
This was the first session I had with this setup where I recorded drums, and I’m seriously impressed with how it’s sounding. Everything was right; the room we recorded in was insane, the kit we used sounded incredible and had heads that were pretty new, the mics I was using were all of good quality, and the mic pres and conversion were also pretty high end. I also experimented with some Auralex foam (pictured) that I’d borrowed from work to cut down on some room reflections getting into the close mics, which worked a little bit. I wanted to hang some duvets on the side walls, but there was no way we could’ve held them up. I also used these Studiospares knock-offs of the Primacoustic crash guard for the top snare and hi tom mics which helped a little bit with bleed, but also seemed to give a more focused sound to each drum.
I’ve since comped drums and I’m going to quantize them before we record DI guitar tracks to be reamped at a local studio. Looking forward to the end product of this product!
Today is the day that my buds in Light Fire Down release their new EP that we recorded for digital and physical release. We recorded this EP way back in May/June last year, and the guys have finally put it out for your listening pleasure. I’m extremely happy how this EP turned out, songwriting wise and production. I think we all kicked it up a notch with this one!
I’m also proud of the result considering the circumstances we were faced with. I recorded this whole EP when I would finish work at 5pm each day. We only had four hour windows to get each instrument tracked, and were constantly racing the clock. Not to mention having guitar lessons taking place above us each session, where I’d reluctantly tell them to be quieter or move to another room. We even had a guy walk into the drum session mid-take, and had the door slam behind him. We were basically battling the clock and everyone else every session. It was a nightmare. Having said that, the added pressure made us more focused and work harder.
Despite the added pressures, these sessions were a lot of fun. With us being so absorbed by the recording process, the laughs we had made it more sane for us (that, and having pizza brought to the sessions). Anyway, you can stream the whole EP below.
The Light Fire Down EP I recorded back in the summer had one of its songs, “Carolena”, played on BBC Introducing on the 24th January. I was super happy that it got airtime on a “proper” radio station, and I’m glad that the guys are pushing this release more than their first. I’m glad that I mixed this EP in mono to gain mono compatibility, as the BBC summed the track to mono when it was broadcast. You can listen to the broadcast HERE for the next month or so (their track is the first that was played in the broadcast), and also check out the song that the guys uploaded to YouTube. The EP will be out on the 20th February.
A recent video from The Recording Revolution goes over the idea of writing down what went well/not so well this year in the studio. So, I thought I would write mine down on this medium in hopes of bettering myself in the next year.
What went well:
– Mixing at low volumes.
– Mixing in mono.
– Balancing tracks with faders before adding effects.
– Recording in a studio space with proper monitoring.
– Minimalist mic’ing yields better results than thinking that I have to use all the mics I recorded a source with in a mix.
What went badly:
– Getting too eager about projects, and mixing instruments before the whole project was finished.
– Rushing to get sounds/tones for the sake of getting more recording done and sometimes paying the price later.
– Buying too much equipment that I don’t need/use enough to warrant having it.
– Setting prices too low.
– Less sessions than I hoped by not advertising my services, relying too much on word of mouth to get me work.
I’m hoping that by publishing this post, I’ll be able to better myself in the following year and get more professional results and even more work than this year. I can refer back to this post and remember how I felt at this current time.
I recently used my Universal Audio Apollo for its first recording session. I recorded an acoustic cover of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters for my work colleague, as his anniversary was coming up. I initially thought about using work’s FireStudio Project for the sake of ease (as my UA Apollo is now screwed into a 14U rack), but decided I wanted to hear how the converters performed and how the Apollo performed overall. I also decided to use quite a high sample rate and bit depth to pick up all the little nuances of the delicate performance, so I recorded at 96kHz at 24bit (I usually only record at 44.1kHz at 24bit).
I tracked through my Warm Audio WA12s on acoustic and used the built in pres in the Apollo for vocals. Mics on the acoustic were a Cascade Fathead II and a KSM32 both stacked on top of each other facing where the neck joins the body. Tone button was pushed in on the channel which the Fathead II was plugged into, and KSM32 was left flat. Vocals were tracked using the KSM32.
Overall, I’m really impressed with how the Apollo captured the audio and performed in this session. It’s hard to tell how good the converters compare to my previous FireStudio Projects, as I recorded at such a high bit rate and sample rate, so until I record at my usual 44.1kHz and 24bit, I won’t be able to comment. Recording at such a high quality meant I was able to capture a more dynamic performance; the transient detail of the acoustic was also excellently captured despite going through a relatively dark coloured pre and every nuance of both instruments were captured well.
This was also the first mix I did through my new sE Eggs. These are also excellent! I’m very impressed with these monitors and how well they translate onto other monitor systems… no, seriously. Every monitor company will say this classic line “if your mixes sound good on these, they’ll sound good on anything”, but they seldom do. Mixing on my sE Eggs, bearing in mind it’s my first mix on them and I’m getting used to them, I’ve not had to make any revisions. These truly are honest monitors. As Andy Munro has said in an interview, it’s painful listening to MP3s through these because they make everything sound so distorted… because they are.