What’s the reasoning?
Why should you get sounds with the Overhead microphones first? Well, think about the perspective of a drum set at shows, in practice spaces, at clinics, and in store demos. A drum set is perceived at a distance, so why shouldn’t that be the first thing you check when you are finding the sound of your drum set? You don’t place a microphone on every single individual person in a choir, but rather you find the right balance with suspended microphones at great distances. Afterwards you place spot microphones to enhance one section or another, but it’s the overall sound that you are attempting to capture. The same logic should apply to a drum set when finding the right tone of your drum set.
If you feel that your drum recordings sound detached or just not right when compared with a reference track, then it could be that you are treating each part of the drum set as an individual instrument. Rather than starting with each drum, understand the sound of the drum set as a whole inside of the room initially, and then place your microphones. Each drummer sets up their toms, snare, high-hat, cymbals and kick drums differently, so it’s important to pick an overhead configuration and distance that has a nice balance of all the drums. Here is where you can manage how much kick drum is making it into your Overhead microphones, or detect any strange sounds like a broken cymbal or loose lug nut. It’s good practice to sum the Overhead microphones to mono to check how they work in both stereo and mono configurations. If you are passing these off to a mixing engineer you want to make sure that they have options when working with your tracks.
Drums are strictly acoustic instruments that involve many different overtones and complex frequencies all bouncing around inside of a single space. These initial reflections, late reflections, and the sound of the room all bounce off the walls and come back to your Overheads microphones so make sure to dial these in first!
The sound of the room will influence the final sound.
The room you pick to record drums in will have a lot of influence on the overall sound of the drums. It makes sense doesn’t it? The room amplifies the drum’s sound much like a guitar amp amplifies the signal of a guitar’s tone. Rooms that have noticeably bad acoustics will yield bad results. Things like, having an equal amount of snare and cymbals in your snare microphone can be obvious signs of a bad room. Pick your rooms wisely, or get an opinion from an engineer about types of rooms that are good for drum tracking in your area. I’ve found that some of the best rooms I have recorded in have either been treated by a professional, or are just naturally ambient spaces with tons of nooks and crannies that generate good-sounding natural reverb.
Blending the rest of the drum set.
Once you have found the sound you are looking for with the overhead microphones start placing and getting sounds for the Snare microphones. Compare each of them with the overhead microphones and flip the phase button on each channel to understand the phase relationships between the snare microphones and your overhead microphones.
Next, move to the kick drum. Blend your Kick In, Kick Out, Sub Kick, Trigger, and any other parts of the low end into the sound of your drum set so that you can start to get an idea of those microphones. A great way to understand your sounds is to compare them to a reference track. Listen to the drums, then switch to reference track to hear differences in sonic characteristics. Using a reference track can always come in handy.
When blending your tom microphones make sure to close your eyes and listen to overhead microphones. Understand and place the toms where they sit in the stereo image of the overheads and pan them accordingly. Panning toms too wide results in too much separation from the whole kit and can be distracting.
Next time you’re tracking drums, try working from the Overhead microphones and downward to really lock in your drum sounds. These are a major part of the overall drum sound, so don’t skip out on really understanding how they affect your drums.
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