Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where are the Drums?

Hello home recording enthusiasts, and welcome back to the Hit Maker!
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I have been working on a few different rap songs, and there is a lot to say about the percussion in these songs. The beat is the meat and potatoes to the song when it comes to all forms of rap music. I have been using some basic loops, altering the slices that make up the loops, with volume changes only. The loops that are out there are insane both in sound and in number. Pick your loop library carefully as you may want to expand and take them with you to your new setup. I have yet to expand, so the loops I find in Reason are what I am using. I like the sounds, and the cost of the Reason loops too. Look here for your best price for propellerheads Reason 4.

If you are like me, when it comes to good ole' rock and roll, then you like real drums in your music! Look, just because I write some rap doesn't mean that I don't like to rock you know. Anyhoo, real drums can be added in a lot of ways, and we should discuss the many ways, and a little about these ways. Drums are the back bone of our songs, and they need to sound both good, and right!

The way that gives us the less stress and probably the best sound (hands down) has to be recording a drummer playing a set of drums. I like to send a click track to the drummers headphones, as well as a bass or guitar player too. The bass and guitar player need to have their amps in a separate location as the drum set, or else it will enter the mics that we are going to set up all over the drum set. With several players, along with a click track, playing into the drummers headphones, we should be able to take a practice run through the song, and then record him playing it for real! Wait, did we set up the mics yet?

The drums can be mic'ed in a thousand different ways, with a thousand different types of mics. All too often our limiting factor is our budget. Let's take the small budget approach first, and then build on that.

Whichever way you record the drums, you must have the mics going into a mixer, or some type of recorder. Some folks run the drums mics into a mixer, and it is in the mixer that they adjust the mics individual volumes, and then send the mixers' outputs to a recorder. Weather you use a mixer or not is not paramount, but you should know that with a million mics set up all around the drum set, a mixer is the logical choice.

We are starting out with only two microphones though, so you may not need to be a Sir Mix-a-lot. Take a minute and move your ears all around the drum set as the drummer plays. Find the sweet spot, for the "sound" that you desire on your song. Keep in mind that the brass (the cymbals) may cut through the mix, or may be louder than the other drum heads.

Lets say that our drummer is rather predictable, dynamically speaking, and plays each piece of the kit at a steady volume. After listening, we find that just in front of the kit, at about the drummers' head level, sounds killer. Lets place our only two mics at about the drummers head level, and in a sweet spot that is not too close to the brass, and yet not too far away either. Listen through a set of headphones to get the perfect spot, in our sweet spot. Place the mics so that they are pointing down towards the Tom and snare heads, and not the ceiling or the floor. Again, you can aim them best by simply listening through a good pair of headphones.

This technique is widely used in budget minded home recording studios all over the Earth. You will get some great sounding drums using the two mic method, trust me as I always have!

With a little more cash comes the option of using more mics for recording the drums. You don't need a million mics to get the best tone possible, but damn near. The parts of the drums that I would deem in need of their own mic, and in order are: the floor/kick tom, the snare, the toms, the hi-hat, and then the (powerful yet often forgotten) room mics.

Once all of these are covered with mics, then I might add a second mic to the kick and a second mic to the snare. I might place a mic on top of the snare and place one under it. This allows one to capture the "snap", or attack of the snare, and then the one under it captures the tone and the ringing of the snare.

The same holds true with the floor tom or the kick tom as I like to sometimes call it. Place one inside of the floor/kick tom pointed at the striker and a second mic just on the outside of the back of the kick tom itself. All the while listening to the mics with a close ear as you go.

Heck, this is not the only way of doing things you know. Their have been times that I have been short on mics, and so I came up with a cool way of getting a "million mic" sound out of a drum kit. I set up two mics, as we did at the start of the blog, and played the kick and the hi-hat only. Then, I double mic'ed the snare and ran through the song again, recording only the snares' parts. On and on I went, and got a great sound with only two mics. The bad part is that this way of recording the drums needs many, many tracks available to record onto.

Here is a little diddy about the mixer. With all kinds of mics pouring into the mixer, from our heavily mic'ed drum set, one should adjust the input levels so it all sounds good together, as the drums are played. The room mics (these mics pick up the entire set in the room they are in as a reverb feel) need to be kept together in the mixer, or side by side, and adjusted to taste "in to the mix" only after you have the drum set dialed in. The room mics add an ambiance to the entire kit, and not any particular piece of the kit.

Many pros use sub mix groups on the drum tracks in the mixer. This is a smart way to go as the entire kits volume can be raised or lowered with one pair of sliders. This is done by routing all of the separate mics into the mixer, in a "sub group". Once the mics are all dialed in, and the kit sounds perfect, the sliders will be "locked", or not moved again. Instead, the sub mix groups main output is raised or lowered to add volume, or to take it away.

If all of this is not your cup of tea, you can always send out for pizza. Wait, no, not what I meant. You can send out for drums! Yea, that's it, send out for drums.

When a tight budget is the main factor (when it comes to mics and mixers) you can always call 1 (800) DRUMS! What I am teasing at is that there are a growing population of drummers out there that have their drums set up in their million mic studio, and they are ready to play them for your next song! You can talk to these cats and explain what you have in mind for the songs' drum parts, or you can just let the experts cut loose and do their thing! They ship your new drum tracks back to you (via snail mail or the web) in any format you could ever want them to be in. These folks are very, very good at what they do, and you can even listen to some of them here, here, and even here!

Then there is always the digital realm when it comes to "matters of percussion". This is no longer second rate stuff. The samples that I have heard as of late rival the best studio recording that you can ever get! Midi is simple to program (a blog to come soon) once you get the hang of it, and then it can all be swapped around for either different instruments or different parts. Loops are getting better sounding and easier to use than ever before. You simply just drop them into a mix via a midi sequencer. Programing a drum machine can be rather tedious at times, but if that is all that you have, than that is all that you have. Thank goodness for copy and paste!

Add some delay to the bottom/kick toms, and maybe some reverb to the snare, and whammo! A great sounding drum set for your next song. Not too sure that a drum machine will work for your ego? People will be so dang impressed that you wrote a song, that they will not ever know that you used a midi device instead of using Stuart Copeland (drummer of The Police).

You do not need to spend a mint on mics and a mixer, but if you have access to them; then use them! There is no such thing as drums that sound too good. I have over worked parts, and over done some effects, but never had a kit sound too good. I could talk for days on the topic of percussion sound, but I am limited.

In the future I will dive into mixing, and using sub mixes. I can't wait to get into midi sequencing, and programing instrument parts into your songs. I learned how to write with midi on a Korg keyboard. I know that it can be overwhelming at the start, so I really want to help if I can. That is why we blog, right?

Please consider subscribing to this blog, won't you? If the topic of the day is not your favorite flavor than perhaps the next one will be!

Thanks again for reading along, and, well, keep jammin, that's how we all get better!!! Peace to all!!!


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