Drums are one of the hardest instruments to record. Ask anyone who’s done it. Drum kits are comprised of anywhere from 3 to 10 or more pieces, but are played as a single instrument by the drummer. There are innumerable ways to record drums ranging from setting up a single microphone out in front of the kit and maybe a spot mic on the kick (a la the Beatles) to placing close mic’s on every single piece (a la almost everything recorded from the late seventies on). Most of the time the home recordist will fall somewhere between these two extremes, frequently because of inadequacy of the recording space a lack of available microphones.
When I had opportunity to record a drum set for some original music I’m producing for a local worship leader, I looked forward to the challenge. I have a 20-odd-foot tall foyer in the front of my house that I’ve wanted to use for drum recording ever since we bought the place, and this was my chance. It doesn’t have a huge footprint, but I wanted to see if the height could be used to advantage.
I set up my son’s drum kit in the foyer with the drummers back to the open side and pulled out my modest mic collection. I borrowed a few additional mics from a friend, as well as his Zoom 16-track digital recorder. Having had poor results from its preamps on earlier recording sessions, I also brought down my Yamaha mixing board which has outs on the first two channels so I could use its preamps for the overheads.
Speaking of overheads, here’s how I ended up deciding to mic the kit: The overheads are set up in a mid-side pattern with the Avantone small-diaphragm condenser picking up the mids and my Apex ribbon collecting the sides. There are almost as many ways to capture the overheads of a drum kit as there are ways to mic the kit, but one I’ve never seen in the wild is a mid-side configuration. I’ve wanted to try it ever since. I’m happy with the results. You can see my coat rack on the wall in the background – I left it up to provide a little HF damping behind the kit.
Around 6 the drummer and songwriter appeared and we sat down to get to know each other a little better. I had played with the drummer a little when I had made guest appearances at the worship leader’s church. I was surprised to learn that he hadn’t been playing drums for very long as he has a great ear and feel. He also picks up on the form of songs quickly. He had a copy of the song to listen to for a few weeks, so he was well prepared.
Since I didn’t have playback of the track he was playing along with on the Zoom recorder (and wasn’t sure of a way to conveniently do multiple takes if I did) I set him up the same way I did the cello player a year ago. He monitored the track via iPod playback while I listened to the drums as they were being recorded on the Zoom. To sync things up he played quarter notes along with the beginning of the intro (where there are no drums). Later, when I brought the tracks into Sonar I was able to use these hits to line the takes up.
In the screen shot you can see the four tracks of drums properly aligned. Sonar allowed me to group the tracks and as I trimmed the clips and separated them into the individual take lanes. By grouping them I could make sure that all four tracks remained aligned while I cut things up and slid things around. When I first brought the tracks into Sonar they were single 40-minute-long tracks (since that’s the total length of the recording we did that night).
The top two tracks above are the mid and side and on the left of the screenshot you can see the overhead bus where I have the Zoom M/S decoder (the same Zoom that makes the digital recorders) turning the left and right signals into a M/S stereo signal.
Next I need to comb through the four takes and decide what I want to use and how much I want to supplement with MIDI drums.