Getting a studio quality drum recording at home can be difficult. I’m here to offer some tips to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes and make the most of your home studio.
If this is our first time meeting, my name is Kyle. Welcome to Audio University!
By the way, today we’ve got Ernesto Doural Jr. on drums. If you’re a drummer, check out Ernesto’s YouTube channel for drumming tutorials and reviews.
Studio Setup For Recording Drums
The first step is to set up a good space for recording your drums.
Most of us won’t have a specifically designed live room in our own house. You’ll probably end up recording in a basement or another small room with reflective walls.
I know you’re eager to get started recording, but I want you to take just a minute to optimize your setup first. You can’t fix these things later so it’s important to make sure to take care of them now.
First we want to make sure that the room is as quiet as possible. Take a moment to listen for any noises.
Now, I understand you might be living with roommates or neighbors but if you can temporarily turn off any noisy appliances you’ll get a cleaner recording.
This could include refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, or anything else that might normally go unnoticed.
In addition to reducing the noise in a room you should also listen for any acoustical problems.
The reverb of a live room in a recording studio might add to the drum sound but chances are your room doesn’t sound very good.
In most cases, it’s best to minimize the reverb in your space for recording. You can always use a reverb plugin while mixing.
You can test your room by clapping your hands and listening for the reverb or echo. Try placing absorptive objects in front of any reflective surfaces.
Finally, I want you to tune your drums before going any further. It’s really difficult to fix a ringing snare drum with EQ, so it’s best to fix it at the source.
If you’re not sure how to tune drums properly, you’re not alone. It’s an art and a science. Ernesto has a video on tuning drums that you can watch right here.
Trust me – taking these basic steps will dramatically improve the quality of your recording.
Microphone Selection & Placement For Drums
Once you’ve set up your room, it’s time to place the microphones for recording your drum kit.
I used to think more microphones meant a better recording. But the truth is that, at a certain point, more microphones will just muddy up your recording.
In fact you might be recording with an interface that’s only got two or four inputs anyway. The key is to choose mics strategically for the sound you’re going for.
Let me show you how I would place microphones depending on how many mics I’ve got and what genre of music I’m recording.
Recording Drums With One Microphone
If I only had one microphone to work with, I’d probably start by placing it right above the kick drum facing the drummer.
The reason I would start here is because I want to capture the whole kit without getting too much brightness from the cymbals.
You can use pretty much any microphone for this method. Dynamic or condenser will work.
Pointing the microphone away from any particular component of the kit like this will give us both a close and a balanced sound.
This is just a starting point though. Record a short clip and adjust as necessary.
Recording Drums With Two Microphones
If I had two microphones, the placement would depend on the genre. I would ask myself “What kick drum sound are we going for?”.
If you’re recording drums for a metal song that requires that close, wet kick sound, I’d recommend adding a close mic to the kick drum. This will give you more control over the kick drum while still capturing the full kit with the first technique.
In almost every other case you can get a good kick drum sound without a close mic on the kick. Your best option is probably two mics in a stereo overhead configuration.
I would probably start with some variation of the Glyn Johns method that he used to record John Bonham’s drums. Start with one microphone above the floor tom and the other one above the kit.
The key here is to get both microphones the same distance away from the snare drum.
Now, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Of course, I’m kind of a geek so I’m going to actually measure them out but remember: if you get close, you’ll be set.
The reason you want to try to place the microphones the same distance from the snare is so that the snare is in phase when it reaches both microphones.
If you’re unfamiliar with phase interference and comb filtering check out this post.
It’s also helpful to place the mics above the cymbals. Sometimes placing the microphone level with the cymbals will cause a swirling effect as the cymbal tilts up and down.
Again, listen to a test recording and adjust the mics for the best placement.
I would generally choose a pair of small diaphragm condenser mics like the Shure SM81s, but this can be done with dynamic microphones too.
With two overhead mics on the drums, you’ll have a good overall drum sound.
Recording Drums With Three or Four Microphones
If you have the option to use a third or fourth microphone, here’s what I’d recommend. Listen to the overhead mics and ask yourself if anything is missing or if anything sounds distant.
You could put a close mic on the kick or on the snare. You might even decide to put two mics on the snare or have an internal and external kick mic depending on the sound you’re going for.
I wrote a full post about getting the perfect snare sound. It includes tips for tuning, mic placement, and more.
These are starting points and I encourage you to listen and make adjustments to find the best sound for you.
At this point, you’re ready to record the drums. For tips on setting up your recording software and setting levels, check out my Audio Interface Quick Start Guide.
Again, use these steps as starting points but ultimately you should listen and trust your ears. If you want to improve your ears for recording, check out my post on Ear Training for Audio Engineers.