Recording Drums – Fireworks

My first recording session of this EP was arranged for the 21st March and the goal was to record the drums for the opening song Fireworks. Having already sent my drummer Casey the arrangement of what I would like for the track and him confirming that it would work, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry too much about getting a great performance of him and this was shown as soon as he started playing the kit. It was also great that my assistant engineer Daniel Marnie would be helping with the session and this would let me take a step back and think about the session creatively and managerially whilst the technical aspects were covered.

Before we even began setting up I made sure I was focused on all three of my roles simultaneously and because of this I was able to get Casey (officially ‘Christopher’) and Daniel to complete my Waiver and Release forms, which I discussed in a previous blog post.

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Because this was the first session with my drummer, I spent a lot of times with Daniel on microphone placement and setting up while Casey tuned his drums and prepared for the recording session ahead. I really liked that he spent so long crafting the perfect sound as this would really help the drums to cut through and I shared this belief with my careful approach to miking. Here are some pictures from early in the session:

Here is Casey tuning up with Guitarist Robbie Caswell-Jones.

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We set up the drum set in the drum booth as it would give us a ‘dead’ sound that would be more workable in the mixdown stage. I begin by micing the kick drum with the Audix D6 mic, being careful not to get too close to the skin whilst not too far away to pick up a muffled sound. I placed a pillow in the bass drum and covered the mic outside with a duvet to dampen the sound and reduce any unwanted frequencies picked up. This would also aid the clarity of the other mics as less of the kick was escaping through the back of the drum, which would equal less bleed picked up.

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The Top of the Snare was recorded with the famous Shure SM57 microphone and was aimed at a 45 degree angle, just off centre of the middle of the drum. This was because Casey played a mixture of full snare hits, rim shots and dampened hits using an empty wallet. Therefore the best way to pick all of these sounds up evenly was to compromise in the middle of all three. The snare mic was also coming from underneath the hi-hats, pointing as far away as possible to cancel as much of it out as possible.

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The bottom snare was miked with the Audix i5 and provided more of the top end when blending both snare mic signals.

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The Rack Tom was recorded using the Audix D2 microphone. We had a few issues getting it to stay on the clip but improvised with some spare tape I found in the studio. For the next session I’m making sure I buy my own just in case!

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The Floor Tom was recorded using the Audix D4 and was pointed at a 45 degree angle (like the rack tom) as close to the centre as possible without getting in the way for Casey.

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I used the Audix ADX51’s for overheads which would be used to pick up the cymbals and provide high end to the drum track.

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After Daniel and I had finished miking I got Casey into the drum booth to start playing and see if he was comfortable with where we had placed the microphones. After a few tweaks here and there to best get the mics out of the way without compromising the potential sound we managed to find a great placement for each mic. I then explained to Casey that I would go into the studio and get levels for each of the drums but I would give him constant feedback through the talkback. I proceeded to adjust the gain on each track to get the correct levels and checked the phase on certain mics including both snares. Daniel and I labelled each track in Pro tools and assigned the mics and drums to faders in the same order shown in the pictures.

I then took a step back and really listened to the drum set.

Was this the sound I wanted?

The answer was no.

I brought this up politely to Casey and stated that his playing was great but the kit didn’t sound quite right so we discussed what we could do to achieve a better sound. I realised that the sound was very boomy so I went back into the drum booth and after a few more tweaks between us in mic placement and tuning / dampening the floor tom with tape we achieved a much more balanced drum sound that I was very happy with.

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After getting a level for a tracking acoustic guitar in the live room we were ready to record. We agreed to record without a click track and really go with the feel of the song and only use it as a last resort. After a few recordings it wasn’t quite working out so I suggested if it would be a good idea to have the guide vocal over the top as well to guide him as to where we were in the song. However we didn’t have another microphone left! In order to over come this I placed the SM57 used to record the guitar in a ‘happy medium’ position that picked up vocals and guitar evenly. This wasn’t ideal but it was only tracking so I kept reminding myself that the drums were the most important part. I shall make sure I remember to bring a spare microphone next time.

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The introduction of the vocal melody really helped Casey out and I was pleased that my suggestion had worked. We had a great drum take within the space of an hour recording. After listening back numerous times we were all pleased with the take and I deemed it to be perfect for the track.

I was extremely pleased with how my first session went although I still feel I could have been more organised and express my views creatively. For example Casey dropped the motown drum sound for a sound that he preferred and to be fair did also sound great but I feel I should have suggested trying out an alternate method. For future sessions I aim to put these views forward.

Here is the session sheet for this recording.

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