Drum Room Mics 

My last recording session involved some experimentation with a few different room mics so thought I would explain them in this blog post. The reference tracks that the band gave me all had big roomy drums, so I used this session to experiment with a few different positions.

The first was a u87 placed around the corner, facing away from the drums. This position had no direct sound, so captured lots of the rooms characteristics. The purpose of this microphone was to add sustain and decay to the drums, especially the snare. As the microphone was so far away from the drum kit it had a slight delay to the close drum mics, which helped to achieve the sustain. The drummer hit the snare drum hard and consistently and I drove this quite hot through the API desk, this helped get a really punchy sound. 

Mixing

This microphone had lots of resonant peaks, so the first process was to use an EQ to attenuate these. By using a lowpass filter it will take out lots of messy rumble and make sure it’s not clashing with the low end of the kick drum. 

To help bring more room tone in the the drums, a compressor added to the chain. It was hit pretty hard to get the most out the rooms with a slow attack and fast release to make sure it didn’t choke the transients.

 

However it was still sounding a bit too natural. It needed more aggression and character to the sound. As this mic is just going to be blended in, there was room to get away with adding more processing to alter the sound. I added the decapitator and add a bit ot drive in the N setting.

 

The next room mic was a Coles 4038 placed above the kick drum facing the edge of the snare drums. The idea was inspired after reading the article: Inside Track: Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color (will add a link at the end). Engineer Shawn Everett talks about how most of the drum sound for some of the songs came from a ribbon microphone (RCA 77) in that position. I was blown away by the drum sound in that record so had to try it! 

The microphone sounded great! It captured loads of punch from kick drum and lots of crack from the snare drum. For this band’s sound it wouldn’t have worked to use this as the main drum mic but blended in it added lots of punch to the drums. For mixing I started by cutting off the extreme lows and attenuated some low mid muddyness. 

To create a console emulation and add some saturation, I selected the Brit 4K E from Slate Digital’s virtual console collection. Then used the SSL eq to boost some highs and add a bit more bottom end. Next I hit the FG-116 compressor at about -5dB, to tighten up the sound. 

Finally to emulate a tape machine I used slate digital’s virtual tape machine. This added a little saturation and smoothed out the high end. 

SOS article: http://www.soundonsound.com/people/inside-track-alabama-shakes-sound-color

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Bottom Snare

Here’s another drum mic post. I’ve always just used a 57 as it’s a go to for so many people but have found myself hardly using it in the mix recently so decided to do a bit of experimentation. Eric Valentine talks about using a large diaphragm condenser microphone underneath the snare but facing at the batter head of the kick drum. This position gets a more of an open sound of the snares and also some attack from the kick drum. It also adds a bit more sustain to the snares, this is real useful as this is one of the first things I do when mixing the bottom snare mic. In a gearslutz post (link at the end) Eric Valentine mentions that this is a go to microphone placement of his and that he has tried this with lots of different microphones, each working in their own way. I’m going to experiment some more with this, trying different microphones and placing the microphone closer to the kick drum to get some more attack from the beater.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/q-eric-valentine/469683-eric-valentines-underhead-issues-2.html

Snare Double Mic

Snare Double Mic

I’ve never experimented too much with different snare drum microphones as the sm57 just tends to work. But when after reading about this, I had to give it a go. The idea is to tape a small diaphragm condenser (akg 451) to a 57 to record to the batter head of the snare drum. The 57 captures lots of midrange punch, whilst the 451 captures a lot more high and low end. The 451 is perfect for this as it has a bump around 3-4kHz which adds lots of attack and crack to the snare and also a – 20dB pad, which makes it possible to close mic such a loud instrument without damaging the microphone. On its own the 451 can sound a little lifeless but when blended with the 57 it works really well. It captures the punch from the 57 with nice extended high end crack from the 451. As its a condenser microphone the bleed from the high hat as a bit more of an issue, but as this microphone is only been used to blend in with the 57 you can get away with gating it more aggressively to minimise the bleed. You can also now buy clips that are designed for this that connect the two microphones together, although i’ve heard that it’s easier to get them in phace by taping them but i’m yet to try it. I’ve attached audio examples of each microphone individually and then both together.

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Room Mics

Room Mics

Room mics play a big part in getting huge sounding drums. Here’s some room mids used in a recent session. The first set were a stereo pair of neumann km184’s. These are omnidirectional condenser microphones, which makes them great at picking up the ambience of the room. However as they pick up sound from every direction and are very sensitive microphones, there was no stopping them from picking up lots of guitar as well as drums. Initially I thought this would be a problem as distorted guitars can tend to get muddy in room mics, but when blended in slightly it gave worked well to gel everything together. Next up I used a stereo pair of coles 4038’s In a blumlein position. The coles are ribbon microphones, which have a nice big lower mid range and a roll off on the high end. This makes them perfect for capturing the body of drums without too much cymbals. These were positioned about 5 – 6 feet in front of the kick drum, however looking back I would have probably put them behind the drummer to minimise bleed from the guitars. Finally a mono room mic, was positioned under the coles facing the floor. This mic is going to be used as a ‘dirty’ room mic, it was drove this pretty hot through the API pre-amp to add some saturation and will compress heavily. When blended in this will help add some aggression to the drums.

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Tracking live

Tracking live

Tracking live

I had the guys from Discount Columbo down to record yesterday. They wanted to record a 7 track EP live with as minimal overdubs as possible. The plan was to overdub the vocals and occasional guitar lead. Due to the studio being a reflective room and not having any iso booths the main problem was trying to minimise bleed between different instruments as much as possible. This was made especially hard with 3 loud guitar amps in the room. Luckily there is a wall half way across the room which helped for separation. We put the drums one side and the guitar amps the other and separated each amp with baffles. We experimented with the position of the baffles until we had as little bleed as possible. This ended up working well, the bleed wasn’t too much of an issue for the sound we were going for and even ended up working in our favour creating a natural blend between everything.

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The next challenge was choosing what mics to use, due to only having 16 channels we didn’t have the luxury to multi mic everything. The drummer brought his gretsch kit, that had a big 24” kick drum that sounded great in this room. We wanted to optimise this and use room mics to get a big roomy drum sound, so we ended up going for a trusty 57 on each guitar amp. Most of the guitar tones were distorted so this ended up working perfectly.