Contrary to popular belief there is no one correct way to record drums. In fact there are literally hundreds of ways to record a drum kit. Which is awesome! But for some reason, a few age old myths remain floating around the halls of audio “wisdom” and I’d like debunk them here for you.
Joe and I covered these myths in detail in a recent podcast episode but thought they could use repeating here on the blog. Please read with an open mind.
Via xmith xmith Flickr
Myth #1 – You Have To Record Drums With Stereo Overheads
This is my favorite myth, so let’s hit it first. It’s common knowledge that just about everybody records drum overheads with two mics. Right? Right?! Well, you sure do see it a lot. And it makes plenty of sense if you want to capture a stereo balance of the kit. But this brings up the question. Why do you need a stereo balance of the kit in the overheads anyway?
The answer: you don’t! Especially when it comes to mixing, the drums tend to sit straight up the middle in much modern music. In fact, so many people fail to see just how awesome a mono drum overhead is. It rids you of any phase issues, can give you a punchy “centered” view of the kit, and best of all you can use your best microphone for the job instead of a matched pair of two sub-par mics. Give it a try next time. It might just open your mind up.
Myth #2 – You Should Have Spot Mics On Every/Most Drums
You see this myth a lot, likely because so many magazines show pro drummers with lots of mics on each drum. One for the snare top, snare bottom, kick outside, kick inside, hi-hat, etc. The list never ends. The problem with this thinking is that you need a lot of microphones, a lot of preamps, and a lot of time to deal with phase issues. It can be an awesome way to record, but it’s not the only way.
Since your drum overheads are really where your sound is coming from, you should view the spot/close mics as enhancers. I like to take a minimalist approach to recording drums whenever I can. And some great minimalist methods are the Recorderman method, the Glyn Johns technique, and of course my favorite one mic approach. A great example of a band who is shattering both myths #1 and #2 is The Black Keys. They typically record drums with 3 mics, using a mono overhead. And it sounds fat!
Myth #3 You Have To Record Drums In A Big Room
Let me start out by saying that most of the drum tracks we grew up listening to were tracked in a nice big drum room. There’s almost no substitute for that sound. I’m not against it (or either of the above myths). I just would like to point out that it’s not necessary for a great drum sound.
When limited to recording drums in small spaces (like I am a lot of the times) you benefit from throwing around some makeshift acoustic treatment and keeping the mics a little closer to the kit. The lower your mics are the, the fewer room reflections they will pick up. Then bring in a bit of reverb or a compressed room mic from down the hall to create a sense of space and energy. It will go a long way, trust me!
As a final thought, I want to challenge you to be courageous in the studio. Learn as much as you can, but then go out and try some crazy stuff. Challenge the accepted ways of doing things and find something new that sounds even better. Don’t just digest and spit out what you read on a blog or forum. Try things, experiment, get after it.