in the Studio - part 2 (part
advice and recording tips
What are the most common mistakes you see an emerging
drummer make besides the ones we’ve mentioned? What
other advice would you give a drummer who's wondering what
the secrets of the pros are?
B: Overplaying, speeding up and lack of dynamics are the
big performance problems of inexperience. Lack of consistency
of volume within sections, and not thinking about where
on the drum the stick is landing are the big technical problems.
Thinking about, and playing for the song seems to be learned
the hard way.
R: I think the most common mistake is not listening. Your
playing can sound different once it’s under the microscope
of a recording session. Parts you thought worked well may
now seem to clash with the arrangement of the song. Be flexible
and open to suggestions. Learning to play with a metronome
can also be helpful.
Z: Most emerging drummers can't play with a click track,
and/or don't listen to the 'song' - the lyrics, the changes,
etc. My only advice is to listen. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to great drummers playing on great songs, and take
a step back. See the whole picture; the SONG, not the parts.
Editing can fix a
lot of mistakes, but what's the limit of it?
P: Editing to fix a few mistakes in a good drum take can
be a necessary part of recording. I think relying on editing
for good takes can be dangerous.
B: But when you over-fix, it almost seems to take on a kind
of 'sound' that's very Pro-Tools.
Z: Its sad to say, but there aren't many limits to fixing
mistakes these days...with Pro-Tools you can edit for days,
replace bad drum sounds, even try to shuffle bad drums into
time, or just straight up 'reprogram' the drums, by replacing
the drums 'with themselves'.
Does rock music need
"swing"? Do listeners realize if a song “swings”?
Can editing preserve this human element?
P: Rhythm, melody and pitch are important aspects of all
music. When these things work together in a song that’s
what people respond to, even if they don’t realize
it. Over-editing a drum take can make it sound worse than
one that’s a little sloppy.
Z: Rock music generally does not "swing", in the
traditional sense of the word. Sure, there is a certain
'pocket' that good drummers play with, and I think some
people are aware of that kind of stuff, but most probably
B: Rock doesn't have to swing; it depends on the song. If
swing is part of a song's chemistry, people might not know
it intellectually; they'll just move around more. Some people
are very tuned in to 'feel' and swing issues when they edit
When you hear older
recordings, even by amazing bands (The Beatles, for example),
you realize there are often small timing issues, but this
didn't prevent the bands from selling a lot of albums. Does
today's maniacal attention to the drums’ details and
their timing make any difference in the actual quality of
Z: Being maniacal about drum sounds and timing makes absolutely
no difference in the quality of music. In fact, it’s
pretty obvious that it’s the opposite. It’s
insecurity. Someone who spends 5 hours in the mirror getting
ready isn't doing it because they’re perfect and they
want to make themselves better. It’s kind of a 'cover
up', I think. Divert attention elsewhere, and make an attempt
to tap into some systematic, perfect rhythm machine that
'perhaps' ties in more with your pulse or heartbeat and
makes you feel good. Maybe perfect drums will hypnotize
you, and you'll go out and buy more Creed records, I don't
know. I couldn’t care less. Is the song good? - done.
Really, that’s what it comes down to, so let’s
just call it what it is…but that’s a whole separate
B: I do think that some commercial rock would be exactly
as successful with less editing of the rhythmic timing,
or without the copying and pasting of sections.
P: I think over-attention to any one detail can be destructive.
The drums should work in the context of the song, that’s
all that matters. I doubt those older, amazing bands spent
days obsessing over drum takes. Also, it’s hard to
ruin a great song, even with sloppy playing.
It seems like there
are 2 schools of thought about recording drums: the minimal
“3-4 mics” approach, and the "mic-every-single-drum"
one. Which do you belong to?
B: The minimal mic approach is only good with light, low-density
music. The more instruments you add, or the thicker the
sounds of the instruments, the more control you need of
the drum sound, and the less you want to be stuck with the
limited options of just a few mics.
Z: I belong to both camps at once. I'm all about options.
Songs change so much in the process, the last thing I want
to hear is, "Oh man, we should've mic’d the toms!
Dammit!" So I tend to mic a lot of stuff, and then,
just don't use it. That’s another production technique
that I think gets neglected a lot these days. Just don't
use it! That way you can be flexible, and get a tight drum
sound in the mix, or a big one.
P: I would say somewhere in between, depending on the musical
style and equipment available.
What's the importance
of the room?
P: The drums can only sound as good on tape as they do in
B: A big room is important if you don't want to automatically
have to use reverb. In a small room, the 'boxiness' of the
room can come through even on the close mics.
Z: I'm a huge fan of roomy drums. Bonham just got me, so
I love it and always record it, and try to use it. It’s
just one of my things. It also is a staple in my drum school
of thought. Drums are just ONE instrument. People forget
that all the time, and we get all caught up with snare,
kick, tom 1, tom 2, HH, blah, blah, blah. It’s ONE
instrument, just like guitar or bass. And recording with
room mics helps present it that way.
How do you normally
place mics to capture the sound of a room?
B: Usually 2 mics at opposite ends of the room. For slow
tempo - up to 45 ft. from the kit. For fast tempo - 15 or
P: Usually a pair as far away as possible, then some ambient
mics lower to the floor and closer to the kit.
Z: Ha, my room mic placement changes all the time! It’s
an ongoing experiment. Usually kinda far away, or facing
away from the drums. Kind of like a "wall mic",
if you will, but it’s a revolving cast of characters,
some which will remain secret! (kidding)
You have 50 words
to review a tool that you find extremely helpful when recording/mixing
P: Patience. Take the time to get it right during the recording.
Get the right drum tones, mic placement and performances
while you can. Rushing for the sake of perceived progress
will seem like a waste later on. Especially if you’re
sitting on the couch while someone is editing and replacing
your drum sounds. Ugh.
Z: One tool that I find extremely useful is a box called
the “Transient Designer”, made by SPL. It allows
you to add or take away attack or decay on audio. It’s
great; it helps get out 'clacky'- sounding midrange build-up
in snare drums, or tighten kicks up. It can also do what
I call "juice- up" sounds by pumping up flat sounds
by raising both attack and decay.
"The minimal mic approach
is only good with light, low-density music. The more
instruments you add, or the thicker the sounds of the
instruments, the more control you need of the drum sound,
and the less you want to be stuck with the limited options
of just a few mics."
GOOD ON DRUMS
We asked producer extraordinaire Joel
Hamilaton (Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Unsane,
The Giraffes, Sparklehorse, Frank Black) to review
some of his favorite gear for mixing drums.
Neve 33609 compressor/limiter.
When I am mixing, I like the sounds to really
engage the listener, and flatter the performance.
When you are in a room with drums, they are LOUD!
I give the illusion of loud with the use of dynamics
enhancing devices almost all the time. The Neve
33609, the original one, with metal knobs... probably
my favorite compressor ever made, helps me get
the explosive sound of the drums to the listener,
with an appropriate "fit" in the mix
as well. This device would be my desert island
compressor for making a record. I have a ton of
choices in my mix room here at Studio G Brooklyn,
as I have been collecting for some time, and so
has my partner, Tony Maimone. All of these devices
are chosen to bring music forward, and make it
larger than life in the end result. The 33609
is just one of those devices that can go from
really, really aggressive to fairly transparent
and everywhere in between, in the right hands.
This is a vintage piece, and it is not cheap.
Expect to pay between $3000- $4000 USD for a good
one. They have been re-issued a few times, but
never with quite the "bang" that the
original has. With just this compressor used across
an entire drum group, you could make a very good
Collins 26-1U compressor.
A giant in the rack, based around the revered
6386 "vari-mu" tube no longer in production,
this big old tube compressor by Collins is one
of the finest for kick drum. Nothing "seeks
out" the right kind of beater attack like
this crazy old bruiser. This compressor is also
very vintage, made in the 50's. Also not very
cheap, but prices vary insanely on these things.
Expect to find one on ebay for around $1200 USD,
but deals can be found, even in this day an age.
Many of these were found in old radio stations,
or new radio stations old gear closets or basement.
They were used in broadcast, and Collins made
many broadcast devices. This one just seems to
have the right time constants (attack/release)
for kick drum. Big transformers, lots of tubes,
a giant VU meter, big knobs...all the marks of
a cool, fun piece of gear that is fun to use and
sounds GREAT. When I am mixing, I use this compressor
to give me a consistent kick drum sound across
the whole song without sounding too "squished."
Amazing that this compressor will do that. I can
be really headlocking the kick into place, and
it never sounds too "compressor-y."
No EQ, just this compressor usually. If you are
into great sounds, this compressor will do the
vintage "ringo" type pumping on the
drums, or it will get very "modern rock"
for you as well. That's how it justifies its enormous
size in the rack, it is by no means a one trick
pony. This compressor is awesome for just about
anything you throw at it.