A Simple Way to Record Drums 5

A Simplified Way to Record DrumsMy band is jumping in to recording a song on our own. I am, by no means, an expert at recording, mixing, or mastering. Quite the opposite. However, I have tried, on multiple occassions, to record and mix on my own. And, recently, I discovered a much better way of recording drums purely by accident.

When we were playing around with streaming our music live on UStream, we were amazed by the drum sound we got from our overhead mics. It really picked up the full sound of the drums. We were really just trying to get the sound of all of us playing at once, and our drummer, who is picky about his drum sound, was pleasantly surprised.

Recording drums with two overheads

In the past, I put the overhead mics as just a way of recording the cymbals. I’d put them really close to the cymbals, and then I’d add individual mics for the snare, kick, and toms. This time, I wanted to simplify our recording process to be as minimalistic as possible with only four microphones: two overheads, kick, and snare.

So, we moved the overhead mics about 12 feet (3.5 meters) away from the drums. I aimed one mic between the snare and hi-hat. The other mic I aimed between the ride cymbal and floor tom. Basically, the two mics created an X-Y configuration for a stereo sound of the drum set.

What I got was a clear stereo recording of the full drum set. It wasn’t over done with the cymbals like when I close-mic’d in the past. And since the mics were far enough away, they also got a great low-frequency response of the kick and toms.

Drum take 30seconds by Shiplosion

It’s not perfect. We’re recording in a basement that isn’t acoustically treated. I’m sure there were sounds from outside and in the house that probably crept in. But, for me, I was extremely happy with the full stereo drum sound. With some EQ’ing and creative mixing, I’m sure I can get 80% of the drum sound I want from this mic configuration.

Kick and Snare

I also direct mic’d the kick drum and snare. After listening to these isolated, I realized that close-mic’ing these two instruments is really for adding “flavor” to a full drum mix. For instance, close-mic’ing the kick gets more of the “attack” sound from the drum beater. We popped that mic inside the kick drum right next to the beater.

Kick take 30seconds (Cubicle Hell) by Shiplosion

For the snare, we just threw an SM57 under the snare. We just liked the way it sounded mic’d underneath rather than on top. Especially since the overhead mics seemed to pick up the top sound of the snare quite nicely. With the isolated snare, I can add more “snap” to the mix.

Snare take 30seconds of Cubicle Hell by Shiplosion

I haven’t played with mixing these, yet, so there still could be some issues. One of the techniques I might try is to duplicate the overhead tracks and isolate the cymbals from the mix so I can make them settle more nicely into the overall sound. This may not be necessary, though. (I have a tendency to overcomplicate things.)

So there’s my super-simplified method of recording drums. I’m sure this process will get more complicated in the future. But what I’ve learned from past mistakes is to NOT over-complicate the recording process! Keep it as simple as possible when you are first starting out.

As you get used to recording, you can definitely start adding more mic’s and different types of takes. But when you’re not a professional mixing engineer, too many tracks just make things confusing. I did that with my last band, and it really turned out nightmarish. (Don’t leave the guitarist and singer alone with the recording equipment.)

Some extra tips for simplified DIY drum recording:

  • When adjust levels, know the drummer is going to play way louder during the actual recording. The snare will easily clip. Go through the song once or twice to get your levels correctly adjusted.
  • Try to keep the levels for the overhead mics as even as possible. This helps later with mixing.
  • Have a long extension cable for headphones.
  • Don’t stand between the overhead mics and the drums. The human body traps frequencies and muffles the sound.
  • For your first attempt at recording drums, only do one song. If there’s any mistakes in recording, you can catch it quick. If you did 12 songs, you’re going to have to go back and re-record everything. Or you’re going to live with the crappy mistake that will eat away at your soul every time you hear the recording.
  • Record once. Listen ten times. Isolate each track and listen to it. Are you really happy with this?
  • Never say, “We can fix that in the mix.” If you have the opportunity to fix it now, do it.

Again, I am not a professional recording engineer. The only reason I’m recording this stuff myself is solely motivated by a lack of finances and a need to just get our music out there. What’s worse than a bad recording of your band? No recording whatsoever.

And when you have the money, you can always re-record it professionally.

So are you recording your band on your own? What do you think are the pros and cons of doing this versus paying a professional?


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “A Simple Way to Record Drums

  • Scott Colesby

    Great article Seth. Seems everyone one on my RSS feed is talking about drums this week.

    I am working on home recording and I think its the way to go. Not even for the argument of not having money to record, but if it turns out you enjoy it, it opens you up to opportunities of recording other bands and networking from there.

    I think your drums are going to sound awesome with the 4 mic setup. I would suggest checking out Graham at therecordingrevolution.com. He just did a video about 4 mic mixing and recording.

    • Chris "Seth" Jackson Post author

      Honestly, I’d prefer to pay someone else to do it for me! Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated with all this stuff, and I love learning about recording and mixing. But, it’s a giant time drain where I could be writing new music, making videos, or just us rehearsing our set for the upcoming show.

      If I had the $$, I would gladly pay someone else. But my plan is to record two to three songs a month. Hitting a recording studio that often would be a quick way to the poor house.

      Then again, once I get the hang of it, I might like it. I’ve felt pretty good about a couple of recordings in the past, and it felt like a great accomplishment.

      Thanks for the link, Scott! I’ll be checking that out.

  • Atul Rana

    We are going for midi drum recordings because of the amazing sound quality and flexibility it can give. Drummer records a midi signal that can be corrected and the. Use the MIDI to trigger samples and voila!

    • Chris "Seth" Jackson Post author

      Heh-heh! I was talking about this with my drummer. I might try this out in the future, but my luck with technology and recording sucks.

      But I’ve heard of quite a few bands doing this. Mixing in MIDI samples with their actual recorded drums.