Where home recording is concerned, drum kits are usually the most difficult part to get right. People recording at home can usually achieve great bass, guitar, and keyboard recordings, but don’t always nail the drums. Still, you can overcome drum-recording challenges and achieve amazing drum sounds with the right techniques and equipment.
Today, we’ll go over some essential steps for recording drums at home to help you create awesome sounds without breaking the bank in a high-end studio.
Drum Recording in Five Steps
Recording of any kind begins with careful preparation. This isn’t any different for drums. You’ll first need to select your preferred microphones to get the best drum sounds in your private studio.
Step #1: Properly Tune Your Drums
Without a properly-tuned drum kit, your chances of coming up with a superb recording are abysmal. You certainly can’t expect a tone-deaf amateur singer to deliver prime Mariah Carey studio vocals. In the same way, you can’t create crisp and precise drum recordings from a drum kit that hasn’t undergone proper tuning and adjustments.
So, get a hold of those drum keys and start tuning. Begin with the snare since it’s considered the leading instrument in the kit. Then, make sure the toms are well-adjusted so that they also sound impeccable. They have to be tuned accurately to deliver low-end girth while not obscuring the final mix.
Step #2: Mic the Kick Drum and Snare Drum
If you’re just starting out and don’t want to invest a big budget into an arsenal of dedicated drum microphones and a big recording interface with lots of inputs, then recording drums with 2 mics can still provide you with a very good drum sound.
These are the two most important drums to mic in your set:
- Kick Drum
Depending on the design of your kick drum and the number of mics available, there are quite a few ways to mic the drum. Most of the time, home recorders will position a large diaphragm dynamic microphone about four inches away from the drum’s exterior head. A couple of good options are the Shure Beta 52 or AKG D112.
If the external head has a circular cut-out, then a mic may be placed in the drum’s interior. As a result, it won’t pick up as much audio bleed from other drums.
- Snare Drum
The snare drum is what delivers the character in your drum recordings. In fact, some argue that it gives definition to the entire recording.
Just listen to some of the most popular rock recordings of all time, and you’ll begin to recognise the distinctive snare tone that each drummer has.
When it comes to snare drums, use a dynamic mic suspended about two inches above the drum’s head. It should lay afloat over the drum’s top portion’s hoop and angled towards the instrument’s center. You can also place extra mics beneath the snare drum to widen your mixing options and create a more interesting blend of tones. A mic underneath the snare drum picks up the ‘crack’ of the snare wires and adds more definition to your snare sound.
Step #3: Add two Overhead Microphones
If you have an extra 2 channels available on your recording interface (4 in total), a four-microphone setup gives you a very good sound.
This four-microphone set-up has been made popular by some of the industry’s most renowned producers and drummers – including Glyn Johns – the producer who recorded John Bonham and Led Zeppelin..
For this set-up, assign one mic each for the kick and snare drum, and hang two overhead microphones over the whole kit. With a decent-enough stereo pair, the rest of the drums in your set should be accounted for.
Step #4: Mic Drums Individually
Of course, we recognize that this may not be an option for most home recorders due to budget constraints. Still, if you have the resources, you shouldn’t hesitate to get more mics into play. After all, that’s what broadens your mixing options and allows you to create higher-quality sounds.
Should your budget allow, add a dedicated mic each to your hi-hat cymbal and individual toms. This provides you with the ability to individually EQ each of these parts fo the drum kit in your mixing stage.
Step #5: Use Compression and processing
Compression is usually added to smooth out the overall dynamics of most drum recordings. If you have outboard compressors or a mic preamps with built in compression options, you can do this during the recording phase. Keep in mind that compressing the audio signal while recording leaves you with no option to acquire it back during the mixing process. These days, there are many excellent compression software plugins that you can add to your audio tracks during the mixing phase.
So, record as pure a tone as possible initially and compress later.
You can also use a saturation plugin on some of your drum tracks – they can help add some attack so the drums cut through the mix better. (Just a little is all that is needed)
All you need to start drum recording at home are some mics and a preamplifier. A four-mic set-up, with one mic each for the snare and kick drum, and a pair for the rest of the drums, will usually be enough to create great drum sounds. Add a preamp into the mix to add a “dirty” element in your recordings, and you’ll be on your way to developing the signature tone that’ll make other drummers seek you out for guidance.