Musicians are living in an exceptionally dynamic time when it comes to producing and recording content. Thanks to exponential technological advances, skilled musos and engineers can get pretty close to studio-quality recordings at home. However, bad techniques could seriously stunt your recording sessions and put a (literal) dampener on your composition’s quality. Recording drums at home does not require tons of expensive gear or years of experience. In today’s article, we’re going to give you some tips to help you get a great drum sound from your home studio setup.
Treat The Room
A lot of great studios can attribute their quality to having a great-sounding room. Recording studios generally invest a large portion of their energy and funds into calibrating a room’s acoustics. Engineers will usually go into an empty room and test it for any harsh reflections or resonance resulting from sound waves bouncing off the walls while instruments are being played. You can mimic this technique by placing different items or materials around your drum kit to dampen any unwanted echoes or mic bleed while you’re recording. Try to place your drum kit in a central area of the home studio so that you can achieve a roomy sound with your microphones. If you cannot fit your kit in the center, place it in a corner with the kick facing towards the rest of the room and the drummer’s back facing the corner. Line your walls with mattresses, bookshelves, or other boxy, thick items to diffuse any reflections that happen while you play. The less resonant your room is while recording, the cleaner your drum sound will be, especially if you’re using overhead or room mics that are placed further away from your drum kit.
Good mic placement is as essential as room treatment if you wish to get a great drum sound for your recordings. Not only should you have a decent understanding of how mic placement works, but you should also try to learn which mics work best on specific parts of your drum kit and room. Most engineers will choose to place mics at the snare, kick drum, and hi-hat as these are usually the focal point of a drummer’s composition. They’ll then hang two microphones above the drum kit on either side of the kick drum and sometimes place more mics further away from the kit to capture the sound of the room. The hanging mics are known as overheads and are used to record the sounds of the cymbals, toms, and overall space of the drum kit. If you have the means, try to place a mic at each tom respectively so that you have more information to work with when mixing or editing. For close mics, you’re going to want to use a dynamic microphone as they have better mid-frequency response and overall dynamic control.
Condenser mics are great for overhead microphones as they’re highly efficient at capturing directional sound to help you build a clearer stereo image.
It’s no use having great mics and good mic placement if you’re recording your drums into cheap or faulty equipment. Suitable interfaces and preamps will make a world of difference in bringing out your drums’ textural characteristics. To record live drums, you’re going to need a multi-track recording device. This device could be a mixing desk, audio interface, or preferably a preamp with enough channels to track every mic you’re using to record in realtime. Preamplifiers add an irreplaceable warmth to your drum sound and save you a lot of time when you’re in the mixing stages of recording. Checkout units such as the Focusrite OctoPre or True Systems Precision 8 to get you started with your preamp. Both of these machines are exceptionally receptive and deliver rich recording quality at a relatively affordable price. If preamps like these are slightly out of your budget, you can use emulator VST to provide you with a digital recreation of the type of warm sound analog preamps offer. While VST’s may not be the total solution to perfect-sounding drums, they can go a long way in giving you access to the studio-quality recording at a fraction of the price.
A time-tested technique used since before the digital era is layering. You can add some noticeable character and impact to certain drum sounds by layering them with similar-sounding samples. Here are a few handy layering techniques that generally enhance your drum sound:
1. Place a chopped-up sample of white noise over your snare to give it extra color in the mid-frequency range. Alternatively, you can provide your snares some extra color by layering them with recorded or sampled claps.
2. Layer your kick drum with another kick drum and remove the sub and lower frequencies from either one. This technique will introduce a bit of weight and punch to any dull kick drums.
3. You can spice up your hi-hats by adding a shaker or high-frequency synth noise over them. Hi-Hats are a very delicate part of your drum sound and can significantly determine the groove or pocket of a song, so try not to overwhelm your recorded hi-hats with any layers.
4. Lastly, you can liven up your overall drum track by adding percussive elements such as house keys, tin can shakers, glass bottles, or any other cantankerous item you can reach home. Sometimes the stranger the item you use for recording percussion loops, the more unique your overall drum track will sound.
The digital age has provided us with so many efficient and exciting tools that we can utilize to create world-class recordings without ever having to leave our homes. While DIY recording has become increasingly popular and more accessible over the last decade, it’s still a job that requires skill and knowledge for proper execution. As a drummer, engineer, or producer, we encourage you to experiment with different mic placements, equipment, and room treatments to optimize your drum sounds. Try to consult with fellow recording artists to trade information and experience, and – most of all – enjoy the process. Thanks for taking the time to read through or tips for better DIY drum recordings. You’re one step closer to that perfect snare.