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Contents

Acknowledgments6
Preface7

PART I Source
Drummer10
Drum Kit12
Kick Drum and Toms12
Snare Drum13
Hardware15
Cymbals16
Drum Tuning & Damping19
Recording Engineers Toolbox20
General Tips21
Snare22
Kick23
Toms23
Drumheads24
Drumsticks25
Recording Room26
Room Size27
Untreated Rooms28
Room Sweet Spot30

PART II Gear

Microphone Types32
Condenser, Dynamic and Ribbon32
Polar Patterns34
Preamps, Levels and Pre-Processing35
Transformer-Coupled, Transformerless or Tube design?36
Classic Microphone Preamp Types38
AD Converters39
Levels and Gain Staging39
Processing On the Way In41
Building a Headphone Mix and a Tempo Map42
Headphones43
Listen Mic and Talkback44
PART III Recording Tactics

Dynamic Envelope46
Phase Coherency47
Listening In Mono48
Cymbals49
The Stereo Overhead Approach49
Hi-Hat and Ride Mic Placement51
Microphone Choices52
3:1 Rule53
The Mic per Cymbal Approach54
Underheads54
Recording Cymbals Separately55
Snare Drum57
Kick Drum60
Toms63
Ambience65
360 Degrees of Room (Blumlein)68
Wide Stereo Room (A-B pair)69
Other Stereo Techniques70
Drum Triggers73
Cowbell74
Recording Raw Drums75
Overheads75
Ambience77
Snare78
Kick78
Toms78
Conclusions79
Sampling the Drumkit80
PART IV Post-Production

Combining, Time-Aligning & Editing82


Combining82
Weeding Out the Weak82
Phase & Time-Aligning83
Editing85
Final Preparations Before Mixing87
Mix Those Drums No Time To Explain!88
Kick89
Snare90
Toms90
Overheads91
Drums91
Ambience92
DrumsParaComp93
DrumVerb94
Master Fader94

Final Words95

Appendix A Example Setups96


Comprehensive Setup (20 ch)96
Basic Setup (14 ch)97
No-Frills Setup (8 ch)98
Basic Pre-Production Setup (4 ch)99
Simple Pre-Production Setup (2 ch)99
Super Simple Pre-Production Setup (1 ch)100
Appendix B Example Schedule for First Recording Day101
Appendix C Microphone Polar Patterns102
Sources103
www.DrumRecGuide.com
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Version 1.1 | 19.11.2013

Copyright 2013 Santeri Salmi. All rights reserved. These materials may
not be reproduced, republished, redistributed, or resold in any form without
written permission from the author. Any trademarks, service marks, product
names or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective
owners, and are used only for reference.

Photos and illustrations by Santeri Salmi unless otherwise specifically stated.


Proofreading and additional editing by Jon Tidey.
Acknowledgments
I wish to thank various people for their contribution to this project; Matias
Helle, Tuomo Latvala, Sami Niittykoski, Daniel Rantanen, Jaakko Viitalhde,
Jarno Hnninen, Jon Tidey and Ola Sonmark.

I would also like to thank all the bands, musicians, producers and audio
engineers I have worked with during the 20 years of my musical journey.

Finally, I wish to thank my wife Elina for her support and encouragement
throughout the project.

6
Preface
Recording powerful and punchy drums is something I have been after since
I started my audio engineering journey. I have read countless articles and
books about drum recording, but most of them have failed to give me the
results I am after. I have been recording mostly metal and rock bands.

Most of the time, the biggest limiting factor of aggressive drum sound is the
tempo. If you want the faster parts not to sound like a complete mess, you
need to have total control over the sound. This book is about my way of
doing things to get the sounds I hear in my head.

Im a drummer. I used to play drums in a death metal


band called Dauntless (1993-2008) and in various other
projects before focusing into recording and mixing. I
have played drums for 20 years and have 10 years of
professional recording experience. I run my little studio
called Drop Hammer Studios and I have also worked in
many other studios. I have had the honour of recording
many different drummers, and many of them have
been a lot better than me.

Todays drum sound is not very acoustic. Most records have some sample
replacement or augmenting going on to make the sound more powerful and
consistent. Sometimes using samples is inevitable, especially if you are going
for a specific sound. Theres nothing wrong with that, but I like to challenge
myself. I want to create a great drum sound right from the start and try to
keep it acoustic in the mix. Sure, there are some styles where the laws of
physics make this task very hard (tempo can go up to 280 bpm!) at least
with the current drums and technology available.

One thing to keep in mind is that no matter how good the raw sound you get
from acoustic drums is, it still wont sound like on a typical modern record.
Just compare some raw drum samples from commercial sample libraries
(if you can find any raw samples...). These guys had the knowledge, great
studios and a great drummer. They used the best gear and optimal mic
positioning without having to worry about bleed. It still sounds raw and not
even close to the final sound! Thats why 99% of drum samples you hear are
heavily processed.

So, whats the point of this guide? Well... crap in, crap out! The sound is
cumulative. Get it right in the beginning and the mixing engineer will get

7
100% out of your tracks. Even if he is going to use sample replacement. You
may not have all the best gear at your disposal, but you can still make kick-
ass recordings with careful tuning and microphone positioning.

When you have reached the point where every element in your drum
recording works in a mix context, you can start breaking the rules! Numerous
times Ive had to step out of my comfort zone to achieve the sound in my
head. The studio you are working in might not have all their gear available at
the time of recording. Use whatever youve got and try to get great results!

I will go through every detail of drum recording from my own point of view.
The approach is based on my experience on how to get a sound where the
power, separation and definition is taken to its maximum level. After you
have gone through the first part, you can find one chapter dedicated to raw
drums. It features examples of what I do differently when the end result calls
for more traditional, organic drum sound.

Ok, back to basics. The three key elements of a great drum recording are:

The drummer must have a good recording touch suitable for the style
The drums and tuning need to be top-notch
The recording gear, room acoustics and microphone placement needs to
be appropriate

Each part needs to be completed with the uttermost precision. The drummer
and engineer needs to hear the final result in their heads before even starting
to tune the drums! If any of these three elements fail, the result will only be
ok instead of great! If you dont have the best gear available, its not an
excuse to make bad recordings. Once you learn all the right techniques and
start hearing the end result in your head, you can go to ANY studio and start
making great recordings.

If you are a beginner making your first drum recordings, it might be wise to
start with the No-Frills Setup presented in Appendix A. It includes all the core
elements to begin your journey.

Making great drum recordings is not easy. Its not cheap. It will drive you to
the edge! It will drive the drummer to the edge! I know these techniques
work in practice. Still, there might be better ways to do them. Let me know
if you find one!

Remember! Everything in this guide is subjective. Feel free to disagree.

8
PART I
Source
Aggressive Drums I
Drummer

Drummer
To get great results you need a great drummer. No gear will save you from
a poor drum performance. What makes a drummer great? Or to be more
specific, what makes a drummer great to record? Heres a short list:

Consistent and hard-hitting, can keep high


intensity level throughout the session.

Lighter touch on the hi-hat and cymbals


(if this fails, everything else will too).

Hits the drums in the sweet spot zone.

Can adapt to different settings with his or her kit


(cymbals higher, toms flat etc.).

Doesnt challenge gravity by sitting too low.

Can play to a click. Not only to keep time,


but also to make it sound good.

Can perform in a stressful situation and adapt to different


arrangements and changes in songs when needed.

When you meet a drummer with all these qualities, your job will be easy.
Consistency is really the key to a solid drum sound. Processing the drums is
much easier when the sound and feel is not changing all the time. Even if the
performance is not world-class, consistent playing will give you more sound
shaping options.

But remember, its your job to keep a relaxed atmosphere in the studio.
Make sure the room temperature and lighting is pleasant for the drummer
and fresh water is available at all times. Keep the champagne cool and serve
only the best caviar. Basic stuff, you know!

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Aggressive Drums I
Drummer

You really need to use some psychology when things are not moving in the
right direction. Some drummers perform better when pushed. Others dont.
If you encounter any technical problems during the recording process, dont
make it everybodys problem. It is your problem. Make sure the drummer
has something to do while you are taking care of it. Warming up would be
one those things.

Make sure the drummer knows how to play and


make sure you know how to record.
Christopher Sauter 2006

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

Drum Kit
The world is full of great drums. Why is it that most drummers use the crappy
ones? We all know the answer: money. Good drums cost money. Different
woods have different sounds. Most quality drums are made of either maple
or birch. Maple has a warm and smooth sound, while birch is brighter and
has more presence. One thing to keep in mind is that the thickness of the
shell affects the sound very much. You want the drummer to hit hard, so
choose a shell thickness somewhere between medium to thick (6-10 ply).

Louder drums = less cymbal bleed

Kick Drum and Toms


Most drummers use 20 or 22 inch kicks. Theyre both fine and sound good
recorded, though smaller kick drums make it easier to place the toms. If the
tempo is not very high, I would recommend at least 22 kicks.

Something that can greatly affect the tone of the kick drums is the material
of the beater; it can be felt, wood, plastic or rubber. My favorites are felt and
wood, but experiment with different options if you have the chance.

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

One or two kicks? We all know that you need two kick drums to get chicks,
but in the studio one is enough. It makes the microphone positioning easier
and not many studios have two sets of kick drum microphones. It goes
without saying that you need a pair of good quality double pedals.

How about toms? Lets put it this way: toms on George Kollias (Nile) kit:
8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16. Toms on Vinnie Pauls (Hellyeah, ex-Pantera, ex-
Damage Plan), kit: 14, 15 and 18. You get the idea. Smaller toms have
better articulation. Same goes for the depth. Deeper toms have more volume
and power. The problem with deeper toms is that they are harder to set flat.

We all know that you need two kick drums to get


chicks, but in the studio one is enough.

You will get the best results when the toms have a two inch difference in size
between them. The tuning will be much easier. A one inch only difference
will not be enough. For some unknown reason, most old drum sets have 12
and 13 toms.

Placement

Toms should not be attached to the kick drum! It will affect the kick
drum sound in a bad way. Set the toms as flat as you can. Not like Lars
Ulrich did in the 80s. It will improve the sound a lot. The stick will hit the
head at a smaller angle and you will get more power. Just make sure the
drummer isnt hitting the rims.

Snare Drum
You can find even more options when it
comes to snare drums. My favorite material is
metal (brass, bronze, steel, aluminium, etc.).
It sounds brighter and louder than wood and
to me that's a good thing. One of the most
popular snare drums in human history is
Ludwig Supra-Phonic (aluminium shell) and
there is a reason for it. Aluminium has the
tone warmth between steel & brass.

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

Thick (8-10 ply) wood snares can also have metal like qualities in sound.

How deep should the snare drum be? Most of the time 8 inches is too much
for faster stuff. Anything below 8 inches will work fine. Even piccolo snares
(14"/3") can have a full sound. If the music is very fast, you want the snare
drum to react faster.

Tip! If you are going to record bands regularly, buy a good snare drum
for the studio. Believe it or not but most of the time you will be using
your own snare and the drummer will agree with you after hearing a
short comparison.

Material for kick and toms Birch (loud & bright) or maple (warm)

Kick drum size 20-22

Kick drum depth 18-22

Shell thickness Medium to thick (6-10 ply)

Tom shell size Up to taste and style. Usually 10-14 for


rack toms. Two inch difference in size
between the toms recommended. For
floor toms 16 or 18 is the standard size.

Tom shell depth Deeper is stronger, but harder to set flat.


You want to have at least 8 depth on
smaller toms.

Snare drum size 14 recommended.

Snare drum depth Anything below 8 is usually fine.

Snare drum material Metal or thick wood (birch/maple).

Bearing edges Single 45 or double 45 degree. These will


give the best attack and widest tuning
range.

Hardware Sturdy is the key.

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

Hardware
Rack or stands? Its really up to the drummers preference. Sturdy is the key.
Just make sure you dont hear any squeaks from the pedals and drum throne.
Double bass drum pedals are also one of the personal items in a drum set.
Metal drum playing is usually very technical and the feel of a double pedal is
highly important to a drummer. Some prefer the feel of Axis AX-X2 and some
others Pearl Eliminator. Not to mention all other manufacturers. The pedals
can also have dozens of different adjustments. You get the idea, double
pedals are not a very simple thing. In fact, they are the most complicated
thing in all drum hardware. If you are going to buy a double pedal for your
studio drum kit, I would recommend something basic such as Tama Iron
Cobra Power Glide.

How many cymbals stands do you need? I would get one for hi-hat, four for
accent cymbals and one for ride. Not all of them need stand on the floor. You
can replace some of them with cymbal arms and attach them to tom stands.
Again, toms should have their own stands and not attached to a kick drum.

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

Cymbals
Thinner and smaller cymbals tend to sound better recorded. They have a
lower pitch which blends better with the rest of the instruments. The reason
why rock and metal labeled cymbals are so heavy is the fact that heavier
cymbals have better durability and loudness. They may fit the hard-hitting
style of many drummers but tend to sound harsh in the studio. Loud cymbals
also make it very hard to get a good separation due to excessive bleed in the
close mics. There is one exception to the rule though: ride cymbal.

Remember: if the cymbals sound cheap, the whole mix will sound cheap.

Pitch Sustain

Small Size high short

Big Size low long

Thin low short

Heavy high long

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

Hi-Hat

Hi-hat is the primary timekeeper and therefore the core element in a cymbal
setup. The most common size is 14 but 13 is also great for recording. The
worst-case scenario is a bad drummer with a 15-inch heavy hi-hat! Also,
make sure that the hi-hat is not opened too much. Some drummers have hi-
hats on both sides of the kit. Most of the time its due to ergonomics in fast
playing.

Ride

This is the only cymbal where you want to go heavy. Heavy rides have a
better stick articulation and "ping" that will come through a dense mix. You
dont want too much sustain here. Most common sizes are 20 or 22. Its
important that the bell has some nice ping in it.

Crash

Most drummers have at least two crashes in their setup. The typical sizes
range from 14-19. In the studio the most usable sizes are 16, 17 and
18. When you go bigger than 18, the crashes start to sound more like ride
cymbals and the sustain might become a problem. Smaller than 16 can be
good for accenting but too fast for laying a beat.

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Aggressive Drums I
Drum Kit

China

Chinas can be very important in aggressive music. They get often a lot of use
and not only for accenting. It can also be the most problematic cymbal due
to the loud and piercing sound. The typical sizes range from 12 to 22 with
18 being the most common size.

Splashes, Bells and Saw Blades

These are almost purely accent cymbals with sizes ranging from 6"-12". They
are usually placed exactly where your tom mics should be!

All cymbal manufacturers have great cymbals. Just pick the ones that are
low or medium volume. My personal favorites to record are the Zildjian A
Custom, Paiste 2002/Signature and Sabian HHX.

Tip! Listen to your favorite records and find out what cymbals were
used. It is one of the few things that is not usually heavily processed on
a dense mix.

18
I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

Drum Tuning & Damping


All drummers know how to tune their drums, right? They are really passionate
about it, because it is so important part of a great drum sound. Wrong. Most
drummers would rather be shot in the face than to learn drum tuning. Thats
why you must know how to do it!

Most drummers would rather be shot


in the face than to learn drum tuning.

la 2012
tva
Tuomo La
Image

It is so important, to the point that if you feel uncertain, hire a drum tech to
do it. A good tech will do it in one hour and it will not be too expensive. You
will also learn a lot by watching a pro tune the kit.

If you still want to tune the drums yourself, learn the basics and then buy a
drum tuner like the Tune-Bot or DrumDial. It will make the tuning job faster.
But remember, you still need to fine-tune drums with your ears! If you use the
DrumDial or similar tuner, place the drum on the floor or other flat surface.

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I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

Always try to bring the drums to the recording space at least 12 hours before
the session. This way you will avoid the tuning problems caused by a different
humidity and temperature. After all, drums are made out of wood!

Listen to the tuned kit as a whole, but remember that you might need to do
some fine tuning and muffling after hearing the drums through your close
mics. This is where you will really hear the small details.

Recording Engineers Toolbox


When Im recording in other studios than my own, I always carry the following
tools around.

Multi-tool
Flashlight + extra batteries
Gaffer tape
Gun Oil
Scissors
Tape measure
Pen & paper
Earmuffs
Drum key
TuneBot
Moongel Damping Pads
Drumsticks
External HDD

The earmuffs are especially essential, I always wear them when the drummer
has sticks in his/her hand and Im near the drums. You dont want to destroy
your hearing just before youre trying to hear those little nuances!

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I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

General Tips
When changing new heads, start by tightening all lugs to just finger-tight and
continue tuning in a star pattern with the key. Half a turn at a time is enough.
Change and seat the heads ideally at least 12 hours before final tuning. By
"seating" I mean tune the heads high and press them with your palm. You
will hear a crackling sound. Ive found Remo heads to require more seating
than other brands. Be extra careful when you seat the resonant heads. They
are usually much thinner, especially on the snare drum. Seating is just like
stretching new guitar or bass strings and is essential to stable tuning.

When tuning down and loosening a lug, always do a small re-tightening before
continuing with the next one. It will stop the lug moving unintentionally. In
other words: always tune upwards. Always tune one side at a time and mute
the head you are not tuning by placing the drum on a stool. When you are
comparing the pitch between different spots, press the center of the head
with your finger and tap two inches from each lug.

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I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

Tip! It is very likely that you will get a great sound by tuning the batter
head lower than the resonant head.

Snare
You want the snare to sound tight and fat at the same time. I always tune the
resonant head high and start adjusting the batter head to my liking. Most of
the time you need to muffle the snare just a little bit to reduce the ringing
overtones. It will also make the sweet spot bigger. Remember, the real meat
is in the texture, not in the attack.

My favorite damping/muffling material is


Moongel. Strips of gaffer, masking or painter
tape works too, but it is not reusable. Duct
tape should be your last option because it
leaves a nasty residue. Try to position the
muffling so that the drummer won't strike
it and the microphone won't point directly
at it. Wood snares sound darker and usually
require less damping than metal ones.

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I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

If you feel uncertain with your first tuning record it and try another one.
Usually three different tunings is enough and youll find the best pitch. After
that you can move on to a different snare drum. Listen to the results with
the drummer and make your decision. Most of the time you dont need to do
any drastic changes to the resonant head after you find the optimal tuning.

Many extreme drummers tend to favor relatively high tunings. I personally


find the overtones to be a bit problematic in many cases. I would recommend
using slightly lower tunings than in practice/live situations. Lower tuning
smooths out the ringing and produces more consistent results.

Also pay attention to the wires. If you have to make them really tight, there
is something wrong with your tuning. Dont choke the drum. Remember to
check the tuning after every song!

Kick
I like to tune the kick drum very low, so low that the lugs on the batter side
are almost rattling. The resonant side can be tuned a little higher. If the
drummer can't play with the low tuning, tighten it a little bit. After all, you
want the drummer to perform well. Go for "punch," not "boom" with the
tuning. Muffle the kick with cloth, foam, pillow or whatever is available or
use a commercial muffling pad. Just don't make it too tight and don't use too
much of it. If you need to use more muffling than a regular pillow, theres
something wrong with your kickdrum, skin or tuning. Flip the front hole to
the top for easier microphone positioning.

Toms
I want the toms to have lots of power and bottom but not a lot of sustain. I
usually tune the batter head lower than the resonant head. The difference
doesn't have to be huge. Start the tuning from the smallest tom. Or if you want
a very low tuning, start from the biggest floor tom. All drums are different,
so you really need to experiment with different tunings. The lower you go
the less you need damping. Floor toms can have a lower tuning compared to
rack toms, but make sure all toms sound like theyre from the same kit.

23
I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

Tip! Floor toms love muting rings. Consider buying 16 and 18 for the
studio. They will last forever. Or go DIY and cut them from old drumheads.

It is essential to have a tight sound because the tempos can go up to 280 bpm!
Usually low tunings sound best but it might not be practical with hyperfast
stuff. The drummer could need a little more stick bounce from the skins.

Snare wires rattling?

This can happen if the tuning is too close between the snare and the
offending tom. It is called sympathetic resonance. First you can try
loosening the four lugs around the bottom wire by just a little. If it doesnt
work the cure is to retune either the tom or the snare. Its very hard to
get rid of buzz completely, but small amounts wont really do any harm.

If youre going to record the band live in the studio, the bass amplifier
will most likely cause similar trouble. For sludgy type of sound it can
even be desirable!

Drumheads
There are hundreds of different drumheads on the market. You are going to
record some real hard hitting drummers, so the heads need to be durable.
Thats why 2-ply or thick 1-ply heads are a good choice. Pronounced attack
with medium sustain is good for recording. Thick heads also generate more
bottom end. Select coated head for snare and clear heads for kick and toms.
Not all snare drum heads are coated but most of the time they are white.

The kick drum head often has some type of damping built-in. It will reduce
the amount of stuffing youll need to place inside the kick. It is also a good
idea to use some type of "patch" where the beater hits to give more punch
and durability.

I also like to have some tonal control in my snare head and most coated
heads with a dot in the center have proven to work. Especially with metal
snares. They seem to filter out some unwanted ringing and thus reduce the
amount of additional damping.

24
I
Drum Tuning & Damping
Aggressive Drums

Some examples from the REMO catalog


Kick: Powerstroke III Clear & Falam Double Kick Slam
Snare: CS Batter Coated (batter) & Hazy Ambassador (resonant)
Toms: Emperor Clear (batter) & Ambassador (resonant)

Some examples from the AQUARIAN catalog


Kick: Aquarian Force I & Aquarian Kick Pad
Snare: Aquarian Hi-Energy (batter) & Classic Clear Snare Bottom
(resonant)
Toms: Aquarian Response 2 Clear (batter) & Classic Clear (resonant)

Some examples from the EVANS catalog


Kick: EQ2/EQ3 & EQ Patch Clear
Snare: Power Center Reverse Dot (batter) & Hazy 300 (resonant)
Toms: G2 Clear (batter) & G1 Clear (resonant)

Drumsticks
Drumsticks are always up to the drummers preference, but theres few
things you should know about them. The most common size is 5A made out
of hickory. Its like the medium of drumsticks. Nothing wrong with that but
a little heavier would be better. Id recommend 5B, 2B, Rock or Metal
thickness. You know, heavier sticks produce more volume with less effort.

The material and shape of the tip is also going to affect the sound of cymbals.
The most important factor is the material. Basically you have two choices:
wood and nylon. Nylon tip produces the brightest sound on cymbals. Without
hearing the actual cymbals its impossible to say which ones to choose. Use
your ears! I personally go with wood tips most of the time.

25
Aggressive Drums I
Recording Room

Recording Room
We all know that acoustically treated large rooms sound great. Drums need
the space. However, much of the drum sound you hear in many aggressive
music styles comes from the close mics. I have recorded drums in very small
and low rooms and have still gotten good results. If you are going to book
a studio, make sure the drum room is decent sized and not completely
dead sounding. It will be very hard to get a "live" drum sound without any
reflections from the room. It will also make the drummer to hit the cymbals
too hard. Trust me, you don't want that!

The images above are of my first drum recording room. Eight square meters
of floor space next to a boiler with very low ceiling! I have recorded albums
funded by labels in this room!

26
Aggressive Drums I
Recording Room

Room Size
Drums are the most demanding instrument for ambience sounds. For
aggressive and fast music you dont need the biggest drum room in town.
Usually the medium sized rooms with adjustable acoustics (movable gobos
etc.) will give you the room sound you need. You can also get great results
in a very small room if its acoustically treated for drum recording by a
professional studio designer.

If the room is big, it is a good idea to place some non-reflective gobos or


office walls around the kit. This way you will get a tighter sound but without
the problems of a small room. The need to do this goes hand in hand with
the tempo of the music. For fast music you want less room in the overheads
and close mics.

I find rooms sized around 860 ft2 (80 m2) with high ceiling and adjustable
acoustics to be perfect for most drum recording. It is also a good idea to have
absorptive material above the drums. It allows you to adjust the overhead
microphone height more freely without capturing too much room ambience.

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Aggressive Drums I
Recording Room

Untreated Rooms
If you are recording in a completely untreated room, its time for some for
some guerilla acoustics! Buy some rockwool/fiberglass/mineral wool boards
from your local hardware store and stack it in the corners. Those piles will
work as a very effective bass traps. You dont need to remove the plastic,
because you are trying to tame the lower frequencies. These frequencies
go right through the plastic. For example if your kick drums low-frequency
peak is at 60 Hz, the sound wave is roughly 16 feet (5 meters) long! You can
imagine how hard it would be to soundproof the room completely. And yes,
soundproofing is a completely different thing than acoustic treatment.

Absorption and Diffusion

Absorption means that you Diffusion means that you scatter


convert the sound energy into a the reflections instead of absorbing.
very small amount of heat using It can help in maintaining live
sound-absorptive materials like sound in a small room when used
rockwool, foam or heavy drapery. together with absorbers. If you
How much sound absorption want predictable results, you can
actually happens is very dependant build or buy diffusors based on
on the material thickness and exact mathematical calculations.
frequency. You can find many Using a bookcase filled with odd-
excellent online DIY tutorials for sized books can also work, but it
building your own bass traps, will also absorb sound. So, it is not
gobos and other absorbers. purely a diffusor.

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Aggressive Drums I
Recording Room

If you dont have the possibility to use pro materials, add some furniture,
blankets and mattresses.The easiest way to tame the first reflections from
side walls is to place blankets or rugs on a microphone stand with the boom
aligned horizontally. Add these around the kit. If you have access to office
walls, they can sometimes be very good for this application too.

Dont use egg cartons on your walls! They do absolutely nothing for acoustics
and just make you look like an amateur. Hang some heavy drapery from the
walls but not too much it will kill the high end. Leave some space behind
the fabric for greater absorption. Low ceilings are also bad for your drum
sound and hard to tame with acoustic treatment. Try to avoid them.

The rigidity of the walls is usually the reason for boxy sound. Concrete and
brick walls are very reflective on lower frequencies and the mud will pile up
on your tracks very quickly. If you have the possibility, try to find a nicely
sized living room with wood floors. It will be much better than your average
garage or basement! Damn, you could even rent a nice timber cabin in the
middle of nowhere!

On the other hand, if the room is too dead sounding to start with, place
some angled large wood panels against the walls. Start with one wall and go
from there. You might wonder, how can a room be too dead sounding? Isnt
that exactly what you want with bad rooms, to kill the room sound? Let me
give an example. There was this one drummer who destroyed his cymbals
during a gig at a cruising ship. The venue was carpeted all over and the
drummer had to use excessive force to actually hear what he was playing!
Bye bye vintage Paiste 602 cymbals... A dead room kills all the sustain of an
instrument leaving it dull and lifeless.

29
Aggressive Drums I
Recording Room

Room Sweet Spot


All rooms have a sweet spot where the drums really come alive. The easiest
way to find it is to grab a floor tom and walk around the room while playing
some hard hits on it. You will notice how the sound changes in different parts
of the room. Try to find a spot where you get most guts and resonance.

What you are trying to achieve here is to find a spot where the standing
waves are not canceling out your low end. The reason for using a floor tom
is that it has all the sound qualities you need to find this spot. When you find
it, build the kit around the floor tom. Done.

Absorption Coefficient Chart

30
PART II
Gear
II
Microphone Types
Aggressive Drums

Microphone Types
Condenser, Dynamic and Ribbon
There are many types of microphones but the following ones are the most
common for drum recording. Most of the dynamic microphones mentioned
in this guide are very common in a typical live setting as well. On the next
page you can see my suggestions how to use each type.

Where there's an SM57, there's hope.


Santeri Salmi 2012

32
II
Microphone Types
Aggressive Drums

Condenser Dynamic Ribbon


(capacitor) (moving coil)

The most sensitive and Can handle high sound Very smooth and
transparent sounding pressure levels without natural sounding
microphone type. distorting and have very microphone type.
Very fast and detailed robust construction. More detailed than
transient response. Not necessary neutral other dynamic
Requires phantom sounding, but frequency microphones but
power response is tailored high end is tamer
(+48 V) from the for close miking than in condenser
preamp. applications, including microphones. The
a very common 5 kHz polar pattern is
boost for better attack. typically bidirectional.

Small-Diaphragm Small-Diaphragm Very good in room


Suitable for overheads Best for snare and rack ambience stereo pairs.
and cymbal close mics. toms due to smaller Not usually used in
Can also work very well size. drum close miking
on snare bottom. due to fragility of
the ribbon. Can work
Large-Diaphragm Large-Diaphragm well on overheads
Very good in room Optimal for kick drums in sludgier type of
microphone stereo and floor toms due to music.
pairs and on hi-hat. Can extended low frequency
work on overheads, response. Some models
but picks up more work very well on rack
low-end and ambience toms too, but bigger size
than small-diaphragm can be problematic.
condensers.

33
II
Microphone Types
Aggressive Drums

Polar Patterns
Polar pattern defines how the microphone hears sound from different
directions. The most common polar pattern is cardioid . It is a good all-
arounder. If you are not familiar with different polar patterns, see Appendix
C for images.

Pay close attention to the null points seen in the patterns. You can use
them very efficiently when fighting with cymbal bleed between different
parts of the kit.

34
Preamps, Levels and Pre-Processing
Aggressive Drums II

Preamps, Levels and


Pre-Processing
I tend to add quite a lot of saturation to the drums in the mixing stage. Why
is that? It's because the sound is usually not aggressive enough to start with.
I'm not talking about inserting a Big Muff in the snare chain. I'm talking about
subtle console, tube or tape-like saturation.

Well, why don't I just make the drums sound aggressive in the first place?
There is one big reason for it. It's not possible with most average-quality
gear. The saturation just sounds bad. More like clipping. Many higher end
preamps and compressors have great saturation characteristics when you
drive them hard. The problem is that they are very expensive. Not many
people have access to 16-24 channels of high-end preamps.

Analog tape recorders are also expensive and require a lot of knowledge
to use and maintain. Besides, not many bands these days could survive a
recording session without modern editing techniques. Luckily, there is one
cheaper way to get good preamps. Some older mixing consoles sound great

35
Preamps, Levels and Pre-Processing
Aggressive Drums II

and you can find them pretty cheap these days. They just take a lot of space
sometimes more than would be considered practical in a small studio. They
can also be expensive to maintain if you run into problems.

So, what makes a preamp good? To me, it's not a neutral and transparent
sound. To be honest, I hate that. The sound I want for aggressive music is not
transparent. Its not neutral either. Most of the time you need to do some
very radical post-processing to get the sounds you want. After all, your goal
is to make the drums sound larger than life! I love preamps that saturate
nicely and have a full and colorful sound. To saturate the preamp, you need
to have separate input and output controls.

There are no rules as to what types of preamps you should use for each part
of the kit. Just make sure you are using the best preamps for overheads,
snare and kick. The safest bet is to use the neutral ones for overheads and
colored ones for snare and kick. Cymbals are the most sensitive part of the
drums due to very wide frequency spectrum. Experiment! The old school
approach would be to use the same preamp for all tracks as engineers used
to do when they had only console preamps available. There's nothing wrong
with that either, as long as the preamps are good.

If you are new to recording, you might not notice huge differences between
preamps at first. Thats ok. The difference in raw sound on one channel might
not be night and day, but when you start processing the tracks and have
them all playing at the same time... KABOOM!

Tip! When comparing different mics, preamps or even snare drums,


match the levels between the samples. Otherwise the loudest sample
will get unfair advantage over the quieter ones.

Transformer-Coupled, Transformerless or Tube design?


Before I start this section I need to make a disclaimer. None of these
descriptions are presented as facts. They are based on common opinions
and my personal experience! Basically you have three types of preamps.
Transformer-Coupled (Solid State) designs are the ones that give you color.
Transformerless designs are the transparent and neutral ones. Tube designs
will give warmth and smoothness.

36
Preamps, Levels and Pre-Processing
Aggressive Drums II

Lets use an analogy from camera world:

Transformer- That really nice photo taken with a film


Coupled Design camera which makes the photo look better
(Solid State) than real life!

State of the art digital photo with all the


Transformerless
details you can imagine but leaves you kinda
Design
cold.

Really cool old photo, but sometimes a bit too


Tube Design rounded in details. That being said, can also
be anything between the first two examples.

Of course this is not the whole truth, but you get the idea. You can also
find hybrid preamps which try to combine all these qualities in one box. Be
aware of those cheap tube preamps (basically anything below $500 per
channel). They will give you the wrong idea of a tube sound because the tube
is not really an integral element but just a spice. Tube preamps are actually
the hardest ones to describe, because they come in many different forms
depending on the design.

37
Preamps, Levels and Pre-Processing
Aggressive Drums II

Classic Microphone Preamp Types

Type Design Description

Neve style Transformer- Punchy, lots of low end. Silky top end. Great
coupled for all drum close mics and ambience. Good for
(Solid State) overheads when a more traditional approach
is taken. Great saturation characteristics.

API style Transformer- Clear sound and fast transients. Forward


coupled midrange. Suits for close mics, ambience and
(Solid State) cymbals. Especially good for snare drum.

Other Old Transformerless Can be anything between transparent and


Mixing or Transformer- colored. Most mid to high level consoles made
Console Coupled (Solid in the 70s, 80s or 90s are very good for
Preamps State) drum recording due to the ability to drive the
preamps very hard without clipping.

Tube Tube Depends on the preamp. Can be very smooth


and warm or even transparent. Smoothness
might not be the optimal choice for aggressive
in-your-face sound but for ambience it
will work very well. Tube preamps tend to
smooth out the high-frequency content which
means the attack can suffer, but it can not be
generalized.

Transparent/ Transformerless Clear sound and fast transients. Not much


Neutral saturation. Closest true-to-life reproduction
of sound. Great for cymbals. Many Millenia,
SSL and Grace Designs preamps fall into this
category.

Modern Basic Transformerless You can find this type of preamps from many
Preamp audio interfaces or small format mixers. Most
of them offer neutral or even sterile sound.
Not very exciting at all. Be extra careful with
gain levels or youll end up with nasty clipping.

38
II
Levels and Gain Staging
Aggressive Drums

AD Converters
The last device in the chain is the AD converter. You can quite easily tell the
difference between a bad and a good AD converter. It gets harder when
you need to choose between two good AD converters. Usually you dont
have lots of options available when you record almost 20 tracks of drums. If
you do, use the highest quality for overheads. They are the most demanding
part of the kit in terms of frequency response. However, one thing to keep
in mind is that many great sounding records were recorded to Alesis ADAT
machines, which had poor AD converters compared to today's standards.

Levels and Gain Staging


The recording medium used in this guide is digital.
Analog recording has become fairly rare these days. It
is a sad fact in a world of hefty editing, small budgets
and tight schedules. Digital modeling technology has
produced some pretty authentic results, but at the
time of writing (2013) it is not as widely used in the
recording stage as it is in post-processing.

When setting the recording levels on your inputs, aim


between -8 and 12 dB on highest peaks. Make sure your
level meter is set to "peak" not "RMS". Remember,
the drummer will always hit harder when the actual
recording starts! Leave some headroom. The reason
why you should not record hotter than this is that the analog line amplifiers
in many AD converters begin to distort way before exceeding 0 dB. This is
especially true with cheap converters.

Yellow is the new red in digital recording!


Unknown

Start the check from overheads/cymbals, then snare, kick, toms and finally
room microphones. If you use stereo overheads, make sure the snare is
peaking equally on both channels. You want a balanced stereo image.

39
II
Levels and Gain Staging
Aggressive Drums

Always record at 24 bits. You can use any sample rate you like, but 44.1 kHz
is still the most common one. If you have the possibility, why not record at
96 kHz (or 88.2 kHz)! Higher sample rates are definitely going to become
more common in the near future (whatever that means) as many digital
formats already support them. The only drawback is that you need lots of
CPU power and hard drive space. Check that your plugins support higher
sample rates such would be sample-based drum replacers or convolution
reverbs. Also make sure everything else after the drums will be recorded
with the same sample rate as well.

Before going crazy and recording everything at 192 kHz, remember that most
of your favorite albums were recorded either at 44.1/48 kHz or to analog
tape. Unfortunately the final result still needs to be converted to 44.1 kHz
for CD or MP3. Once again, if you are not mixing the project, consult the
mixing engineer before making final decisions.

Gain Staging
Make sure all your gear uses the same line level. It is usually +4 dBu with
professional equipment. Also pay attention to gain staging when using
outboard gear such as compressors or equalizers. It basically means that the
signal-to-noise ratio must stay optimal throughout the chain. For example, if
you compress the ambience channels 6 dB, you also have to boost the output
of the compressor 6 dB. Same applies to equalizers as well. Remember to use
your eyes AND your ears. You can always break the rules, if it sounds better.

When working with analog recording consoles, start by setting the fader
to unity gain (0 dB) and adjust the input trim knob until you have optimal
level for each channel. If you want to push the preamp harder as mentioned
earlier, lower the fader accordingly. Make sure the channel EQ is set to out
when setting levels. In the absence of such switch, make sure all EQ gain
knobs are set to zero.

It can also happen that the the channel fader or EQ has no effect on the
signal. It usually means that the direct outs are configured to pre-fader
setting. It is the optimal setting from signal-to-noise ratio point of view, but
only if you dont want to use the EQ section. The other problem is that it
also complicates the preamp saturation experiments due to missing output
control. See if there is a pre-fader switch next to direct out connection in the
back.

40
II
Processing On the Way In
Aggressive Drums

If you get a signal too hot from the microphone and run out of headroom
in the mic preamp, check if there is a pad switch in the mic itself. If not, see
if there is a pad switch in the mic preamp. Do it in this order for optimal
results. This usually only occurs with sensitive condenser microphones.

Processing On the Way In


If you are are absolutely sure what you are doing, you can process the drums
on their way in. You need a soundproofed control room to do this properly.
What I mean is that you need to adjust the EQs and compressors while the
drummer is hitting the drums. Being in the same space with the drums makes
it very hard. The gear you are using also has to be top quality to make it really
worthwhile.

Many of todays studios dont have large recording consoles and patchbays
anymore, so it has almost become an exception to process the drums during
recording. The use of digital medium has also moved the processing decisions
further to mixing stage. Back in the analog recording days you had to make
sure everything was bright enough to start with, so that you didnt have to
boost any more tape hiss than absolutely necessary after recording.

Lets say you have a nice recording console in front of you, or maybe you have
a nice array of rack EQs. Either way, what you want to do is fix the problem
areas and add some sparkle. You will get a lot of respect from other mixing
engineers if you can provide tracks that have a healthy sound without any
mud or boom that need to be fixed before the mixing can really start.

The processing is not usually as radical as in the mixing. Many modern drum
microphones have a pre-selected EQ curves to start with. Most common EQ
principles include cutting low-mid mud (usually between 250-500 Hz) from
close mic channels and maybe boosting the attack a bit (4-8 kHz). Be sure not
to cut too much meat when cutting mud. Use as narrow (higher Q value)
cuts as possible. You need to find optimal EQ for each drum by ear.

41
II
Headphone Mix and Tempo Map
Aggressive Drums

Be extra careful when boosting high frequencies. You dont want to add any
more cymbal bleed than absolutely necessary. Use lower Q values when
boosting. If you need to go surgical with your EQ, theres something wrong
with your microphone choice, positioning or in the sound source.

Cut narrow, boost wide

The most typical compressing example would be the room microphones if


high quality hardware is available. Compressing close mics and overheads
during recording is a difficult task if you dont have a clear vision how the
final mix will come together. Recording though noise gates is a big no-no.
They are very unpredictable and you might miss important transients.

Building a Headphone Mix


and a Tempo Map
To make the drummer perform well, you need to create a headphone mix
that will inspire the drummer. Usually sending the kick, overheads and click
track plus all the other instruments the drummer wants to hear is enough.
I make the kick very clicky sounding by boosting the highs and cutting the
lows. This way the headphone amplifier will have more headroom. Make
sure the drummer is hearing the stereo image of the overheads correctly: he
might be wearing the headphones backwards! If the drummer is hitting the
hi-hat like a maniac, a good trick is to send it to the drummer's headphones
very loudly.

The easiest way to build a headphone mix is using an aux channel in your
DAW. Start by creating a new aux channel and bus, then change the name to
Drummer. Route the aux output to your headphone amplifier. Now go to
your kick, overhead and instrument tracks and send them to the Drummer
aux. Make them pre-fader so that the control room level/mute/solo
adjustments dont affect the drummers headphone mix. Make sure your
interface is configured to lowest possible workable latency settings when
doing it this way.

42
II
Headphone Mix and Tempo Map
Aggressive Drums

If you cant live with the latency, use the zero latency routing mixer of your
interface when available. Or just do it the old school way and use an analog
mixer combined with patchbays.

When you build a click track, use the tempo map functions in your DAW!
This is very important. You will see a grid that will make editing, "punching,"
overdubbing and mixing much easier. Most DAW's support importing MIDI,
so it will be your best bet when importing from other platforms. The click
tracks should be done in pre-production. If not, the band needs to know
exactly how many bars each part lasts, time signature and the tempo they
want. It can be a very time consuming task!

It can be a huge time saver if the drummer has had the possibility to practice
with the same backing tracks and clicks which will be used in the studio.

Headphones
Any closed headphones with good isolation will do. However, the best ones
for in my opinion are the ones that have the same construction as ear muffs.
Extreme Isolation makes good ones. Make sure the cable does not get in
the way of the drummer. I usually run it behind my back under the shirt if
needed.

43
II
Headphone Mix and Tempo Map
Aggressive Drums

Listen Mic and Talkback


It goes without saying that you need a talkback mic to communicate with the
drummer. At least when you are tracking in a studio with a separate control
room. Also, if possible, set up a separate listen mic near the drummer.
Its actually very difficult to hear what the drummer is saying through the
overheads when the levels are set for loud drums! Make sure you mute the
listen mic channel whenever the drummer starts playing. It is a good idea
place a limiter on the channel in case you forget muting it (yes, you will...).
You can also find listen mic or talkback plugins specially designed for this
purpose.

44
PART III
Recording Tactics
III
Dynamic Envelope
Aggressive Drums

Dynamic Envelope
Before setting the microphones, you must understand one thing. The real
meat is in the texture, not in the attack. It includes the resonance, phase
and blending of all microphones together. Attack is just a burst of energy
and what really counts is what comes after it in the dynamic envelope. If you
want huge sounding drums you must focus on the texture. This is also the
reason why all your drum tracks need to have a good phase coherency.

46
Aggressive Drums III
Phase Coherency

Phase Coherency
This is a very brief introduction to typical phase problems in a drum recording
situation.

What you see here is a phase problem in the left overhead. The reason for
this is that the distance from the snare is not equal in both overheads. It
should be fixed in the recording stage, not in the mix. What happens here is
that you will not get the full spectrum of frequencies as some of them are
cancelled out when you listen in mono. Well, how can you fix this? Make
the distance equal or at least make sure it sounds good. You will find more
information in the following section.

47
Aggressive Drums III
Phase Coherency

Tip! Also make sure the left/right tracks have the same polarity (both
go up and down in conjunction)! Sometimes it can be incorrect if the
microphone cable is wired backwards (pin 2 & 3 not soldered correctly
at other end).

Im sure you notice that the snare drum was not in phase with the overheads
either. Dont worry about this yet- its something that will be fixed later in
the Time-Aligning section if needed. It would require some very special
equipment to do it at this point.

Another place where to look for phase problems is the snare drum. The
bottom microphone will have different polarity by nature, because the
sound waves move opposite directions. See Snare Drum Bottom Mic for
more information.

Listening In Mono
The easiest way to check your recordings in
mono is to use the monitor controllers mono
button. If you dont have one, you can pan
your left/right channels to center (overheads,
ambience etc.) or use a dedicated plugin. You
might be wondering why you should listen in
mono, because thats not how your mix will
be listened? Its just the easiest way to discover
phase coherency problems using your ears without
the need for any phase analyzers. Believe it or not, but
many in-shop and PA speaker systems still use mono playback.

48
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

Cymbals
The Stereo Overhead Approach

49
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

The traditional approach to overhead miking is to have a great full kit image.
Theres nothing wrong with it, but I want more separation when going for
modern in-your-face sound. The snare drum in the overheads can be your
worst enemy in the mix. It will always be there, but just try to minimize it.
I want to be able to adjust the cymbal balance in the mix without affecting
snare or kick too much.

If the room ambience is very present in your


overheads, you need to tame it with some gobos
or office walls placed around the kit. Ambience
tracks should be your primary source for room
ambience, not the overheads. You want a tight
sound. It will also affect all other close-mics.
Thick rug under the drums is also a good idea,
otherwise you will get a lot of unwanted snare
reflections from the floor. It will also break
potential standing waves between the floor
and ceiling.

A spaced pair of small-diaphragm condensers


with a cardioid pattern works well in this
application. Aim them at the cymbals at a
small angle (up to 45 degrees), away from the snare. Hmm, ok... but wait!
Why not keeping them vertically aligned like any normal people would do?
Two reasons. When the microphone is facing away from the snare, you get
less of it. The second reason is that it will also pick up less cymbals from
the other side of the kit. Better separation = wider overheads. Dont worry,
everything in the middle will be picked up as well if the angle is reasonable.

Think of the cymbals as two groups: left and right. Set both microphones at
equal distances from the snare center. When you pan the overheads wide,
the snare will be in the center. It will also minimize the phase coherency
problems. You can use a microphone cable as a tape measure. It would
be great to have the kick in the center too, but most of the time this will be
very hard to do. When the drummer is using two kick drums, it is impossible.
Dont stress about it, the kick will be very low in the overhead tracks anyway.

50
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

Listen to the cymbals and try to have them in a good balance. Dont set
the microphones too high or you will end up getting too much room sound.
Something like 1.5 to 2.5 feet (45-75 cm) from the cymbals is usually fine.
Listen the overheads in mono to check the phase coherency. If you lose any
frequencies, adjust the mic positions and try again. Ask the drummer to play
all kinds of parts of the songs to make sure you are hearing everything. Dont
worry if the microphone placement looks weird as long as it sounds good!

If you want something very quick and easy, try XY or ORTF configurations.
See Other Stereo Techniques for more information. The problem with these
two is that youll end up picking much more snare and a narrower stereo
image. Therefore I dont recommend using them in this context. However, if
you still want to use them, make sure the snare stays in center.

Wild idea! Use darker sounding ribbon mics during the verses and open
the condenser channels in the choruses! Instant hugeness!

Hi-Hat and Ride Mic Placement


Use a separate microphone for the hi-hat and ride. Place the hi-hat
microphone on top of the hats at a small angle and again try to avoid getting
too much snare by setting the angle so that the microphone does not
see the snare. A dynamic Shure SM7B sounds great here as well as most
condenser microphones.

Tip! If you have a mic screen or other acoustic treatment laying around
the studio, place it near the hi-hat at an angle so that it is blocking the
direct hi-hat bleed towards ambience and overhead microphones.
Placing these type of walls between other cymbals and close
microphones can also be very beneficial in terms of bleed control. Even
cardboard can work very well if better materials are not available.

Mic the ride from underneath at a small angle, aiming at the bell. You will get
great separation this way. Small or large-diaphragm condensers work fine in
this application. Move the mic until you hear the sharpest attack. You dont
want the ride track sounding all washy. You can also place the microphone
on top if it suits better in your setup. Aim close to the bell and try to avoid
snare drum.

51
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

Microphone Choices
For overheads you dont want the microphones to have a lot of high-end
boost. It will make the mixing very hard. I prefer small-diaphragm condensers
because they dont pick up the low end and room ambience as much as large-
diaphragm condensers. Remember, you are recording the cymbals here, you
dont want the kick and snare to dominate the sound. Cymbals are actually
the only thing in the drumkit that you want to sound as natural as possible!

Tip! If the room is really good, large-diaphragm condensers can add


some real beef to the bottom. Once again its up to the flavour you are
looking for. For more raw type of sound it can be a valid option.

There are lots of good overhead microphones out there. The most common
overhead microphones are the Shure SM81, Neumann KM184 and AKG
C451B. One of my favorite cheaper options is the Oktava MK-012 with
the Michael Joly mod. Basically any high-quality condenser with a cardioid
pattern will do. Use a matched pair if possible.

When you get the sounds you want, hi-pass the overheads at around 400-
600 Hz in your DAW for monitoring. It will make the following steps easier
due to a cleaner sound.

52
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

3:1 Rule
To minimize phase problems, try to follow the 3:1 rule in all microphone
placement. In practice it means that if you place microphone X one inch
away from the source, microphone Z should be at least three inches
away from microphone X. It creates a level difference of roughly 10
dB between the microphones. When following this rule with cymbals,
consider cymbal groups as source: left, right, center and so on. But if
you get a good sound without following the rule, go for it! Its just a
guideline.

53
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

The Mic per Cymbal Approach


If you want better separation between cymbals, you need to record the
accent cymbals, hi-hats and ride each with a dedicated microphone. In many
cases this is overkill recording the cymbals in pairs is usually enough and
will give plenty of separation. But why not do it, if the drummer has only few
cymbals and/or you have access to a large amount of quality microphones.

Tip! If you really want to go wild, you can also add a stereo overhead
pair just in case the mixing engineer prefers it over the individual cymbal
tracks.

Place the mic aimed at the area between the outer edge and bell, so that a
cymbal itself will block some sound coming from snare. Outer edge means
furthest edge from the snare. Also watch out for hi-hat bleed. Use a separate
mic for the china, because it will usually be louder than the other cymbals.
The optimal distance is between 1.5 to 2.5 feet (45-75 cm).

With this approach the mic distance from snare doesnt have to be matched
between the tracks because it would not be possible without repositioning
the cymbals. You will anyway hear less snare due to bigger distance, louder
source and the cymbal itself blocking some sound from it. You can also time-
align the tracks later if needed.

The microphones dont have to be identical, but try to use the most natural
sounding ones. You can even mix large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm
condensers, but it might be a good idea to use them in left/right pairs for a
better balance.

When you are done balancing the tracks, hi-pass them at around 400-600 Hz
for monitoring. See appendix A for track naming examples.

Tip! Remember to draw a picture of the microphone setup! It will be


very hard to figure it out later without any visual information.

Underheads
To get even more separation, try using underhead mics on all cymbals. This
is a trick used mainly in live situations using mic adapters attached directly to
cymbal stands to save space. Big Mick Hughes (FOH engineer for Metallica)

54
Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

is one of the most well-known engineers to use this technique live. He uses
Audio-Technica ATM350, but of course you can use whatever condensers
and regular mic stands you have.

Its not hugely popular in the studio, mainly because the sound is pretty
different from what we are used to. Start with aiming at the area between
the outer edge and bell. If it sounds too gongy, aim more into the edges
direction. Dont go too close to the cymbal or you will get a very annoying
wobbly cymbal sound.

Recording Cymbals Separately


Ok, this method is only for the real tweakers! What you want to achieve here
is to have a clean cymbal tracks without any bleed from the shells and clean
shell and room tracks without any bleed from the cymbals. Sounding good
so far?

What you need to do is to record two different takes on the drums. First the
shells and then the cymbals. The real problem is that not many drummers
can do it without sacrificing their performance. You must record to a click
with this method or otherwise theres really no point in doing it. If you know
that everything will be edited to a grid, then this method is very useful.

Be prepared that it will take a lot more time than doing it the normal way.
The good thing is that it doesnt require any expensive gear and it can be
executed in any studio. As long as you have loads of time and a willing
drummer.

I am not personally a huge fan of this method. Some drummers can really
pull it off, but its not the natural way for most drummers. Thats why the
final result might require a lot of editing and punch-ins during recording.
Some engineers go even further and record the kicks first, then the shells
and finally the cymbals. Whatever floats your boat!

This method used to be popular in the 1980s when many hard rock
producers prefered drum machines and electric drums over acoustic drums
(Def Leppard anyone?). The problem was that the cymbal sound was just too
fake sounding. Cymbals have always been the weak spot of drum samples,
so it can still be a valid practice in the 2010s when using electronic drums.

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Aggressive Drums III
Cymbals

If you want to go really cheap and still get professional results, buy a pair
of good condenser mics, mic the cymbals and program the rest of the kit. It
can be a very time consuming task to get right, but Im sure your results will
sound more realistic than the records made 30 years ago...

Recording the Shells Recording the Cymbals

You need to replace the hi-hat Place a rubber mat or a towel on


and ride with a practice pad top of the batter heads. If time
or something similar for the and money is not an issue, mesh
drummer to keep time. Just make heads are the most professional
sure you dont hear the clacks option. Remove the kickdrum
of the practice pads in the beaters or make the kick dead
recording. with heavy damping. Whatever
you use, make sure its barely
audible in the cymbal tracks. Also
check out Evans SoundOff Drum
Silencer Pads.

Examples

Lamb of God Ashes Of The Wake (only kick drum recorded separately)
Queens Of The Stone Age Songs For The Deaf
Eighteen Visions S/T

Im sure there are lots of other examples out there, but it very hard to find
reliable information!

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Aggressive Drums III
Snare Drum

Snare Drum
Before I start, theres one thing to keep in mind when recording snare drum.
You will very rarely get a radio-ready sound from a live snare drum. It will
almost always need some (usually a lot) processing to sound great in a mix.
You dont have to worry about it at this point. Just make sure you get the
best sound you possibly can with minimal bleed.

The first thing to make sure of is that the drummer is hitting the snare in
the right spot. The best spot is usually around the center of the drum. After
you find the spot, you can mark it with an X (or a pentagram!) to guide the
drummer.

You can find all types of recording techniques for snare drum. Many of them
sound good, but there are three critical things which will make a snare drum
sound great: the drummer, tuning and separation. From mic positioning point
of view, preventing the hi-hat bleed should be one of your top priorities.

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Snare Drum

Top Mic
I like to set my top mic at a pretty flat angle (20-35 degrees) aimed at where
the drummer hits. If you aim closer towards the edge, you will get more
resonance and high overtones than attack. Its usually not the optimal area.
Just a little bit over the edge of the rim is a good starting point for placement.
Many dynamic microphones work well with the snare, the Shure SM57 being
the most obvious choice. It will always do the job well. Some other good
microphones: Audix i5 , EV Co4 and Sennheiser MD421/MD441/E905.

Bottom Mic
The bottom mic is very important, because it it helps in controlling the crack
and brightness of the snare. Sometimes it can be very low in the mix but I
always ask others to record it if Im not attending the session.

Small-diaphragm condensers or bright sounding dynamics are good here


and the trusted old SM57 always delivers too. Place the mic in the same spot
as the top mic, but dont use a very flat angle, because you dont want to
capture too much kick drum bleed.

Solo your snare tracks and flip the polarity on your preamp (or DAW) to
hear if it sounds better inverted (180 degrees). The sound that has more
body is the way to go. Some smaller snares like piccolos dont necessarily
require polarity flipping. Use your ears!

The snare drum is usually the loudest element


in a mix, so better to make it perfect!

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Snare Drum

Separation

The snare drum is the most difficult to get


right because you get a lot of bleed from the
hi-hat. When you place the mic, make sure
the backside of the mic is facing the hi-hat.
Make the drummer raise the hi-hat as high as
possible and as far as possible from the snare
(horizontally and vertically), and use a baffle
between the mic and the hi-hat. Buy one or build
one yourself (look for Auralex Aural Xpander).

Listen to the bleed very carefully when placing the microphone, not only
from the hi-hat but also from the ride. Bleed will be your worst enemy in
the mixing stage! You dont want those lo-fi cymbals in your mix!

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Kick Drum

Kick Drum
I usually try capture the kick drum with two microphones, one focusing on
the low end and the other on the attack. There are lots of different sounding
kick drum microphones. Most of them are dynamics. For aggressive sound,
the most common ones are the Shure Beta 52/91A, AKG D112, Audix D6 and
Sennheiser E602/E902. Audix D6 has the most ready pre EQ curve. For very
fast playing, my favorite is Beyerdynamic M88. It has a really tight sounding
bottom and well-pronounced mids and highs. When the tempo reaches 280
bpm, you want those mids to be there there wont be much attack when
hits get softer.

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Kick Drum

The Shure Beta 91A is a special half-cardioid condenser boundary microphone.


You will get a lot of attack and definition, but not a lot of bottom. Its usually
combined with another microphone to reinforce the frequency range. The
placement is also different you place it on a pillow inside the kick drum.

Start by placing your microphone inside the kick on-axis, about four inches
(10 cm) away from the beater. The closer you go, the more attack you will
get. If it sounds too thin, you can try to change the angle a bit or move it
further away from the beater. This applies especially for slower stuff. For a
really nice thud you can place the mic 2 inches (5 cm) inside from the hole.
Most of the time you will need another mic (closer to the beater) to capture
the attack.

One of my favorite combinations is Beta 91A (centered inside on a pillow) +


Beta 52 (2 inches inside). This way both microphones have their own special
function and you can get a very ready sound by just playing with the faders.
Thats how we like it, huh?

I have not found much use for an outside mic, unless we are talking about a
subkick type of thing. Some engineers like to build tunnels in front of the kick
and place a large-diaphragm condenser microphone to catch the low end
resonance. You can easily build one using chairs and heavy blankets.

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Kick Drum

To me, a subkick-type microphone works better. Its basically a woofer


that is wired backwards. It will capture the frequencies below 100 Hz. You
can buy the Yamaha Subkick or build your own. All you need is a 6-8 woofer
and a stand. Search the web for DIY subkick. The separation you get from
these types of microphones is very good without the need to build a tunnel.
You might want to flip the polarity on this channel if you get more more
low-end by flipping, keep it.

Separation
Most kick drum microphones have a tight polar pattern. It means that you
wont get much bleed from snare or other the drums. If you do, you are
probably using a cheap microphone or the drummer is not kicking hard
enough. You can also reduce the snare bleed by aiming the microphone
towards the bottom of the floor tom at a small angle.

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Toms

Toms
Toms are really easy to record if you know how to tune them and if you
have some good mics. Oh, and a good drummer! The microphones you
choose are important, but not as important as the tuning. Just use decent
dynamic microphones that have a tight polar pattern. I like to use kick drum
microphones on floor toms, because of the low-end extension and EQ curve
they have.

You can use the same type of mic positioning as with the snare, but be careful
with the angle so that you are not pointing directly at snare drum. Hell, I
have mixed projects with tom tracks having more snare drum in them than
the actual tom hits! Be extra careful with floor tom mic placement. The ring

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Toms

can become uncontrollable if the mic is pointed too much towards the edge
of the drum. In my opinion bottom mics on toms are just a waste of time.

Tip! Replacing the toms with samples in the mix is a nightmare. It is very
time consuming task to get right and it will still sound lame for the most
part. Many engineers hate it, so please try to record some decent tom
tracks.

One thing I really recommend is to not use those clips you can attach to the
tom rim. The resonance you get from the shell will make the sound worse.
Ok, some clips dont affect the sound that much, but I use stands anyway. Its
also easier to find a good spot for the mic this way, especially with smaller
toms.

Some microphones that are common on toms: Sennheiser E604/E902/


MD421, Shure Beta 56/SM57 and Audix D Series. If you use microphones
with a hyper/supercardioid pattern (such as Shure Beta 56 or Audix D
Series), try to place them so that the backside of the mic is not pointing
directly at cymbals.

When you are done with the toms, place a gate on each tom track. It will
make the sound a lot cleaner to monitor. Just dont record the gated sound!
Also pan the toms at this point. Its up to you to decide whether to do it from
audience or drummer perspective. Just pan everything else accordingly.

Separation
Cymbal bleed is your worst enemy here. Make the drummer raise his
cymbals. It is the best and most secure way to prevent bleed. You can
also use some baffles if you like. Snare drum bleed is another thing to
listen for.

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Ambience

Ambience
Besides the obvious room sound, good ambience tracks can add "glue" to
the drum sound. If you are recording in a very good room, they can make the
drum sound very three-dimensional. They can help to bring back the "whole
kit image" you lose with the overheads.

You want the ambience mics to capture the room and the kit. Try to find a
spot in the room with your ears where both of these qualities match. The
snare is the most important element of the kit. Listen to it carefully. Again,
cymbals are your enemy. What you really want to hear are the drums, not the
cymbals. You can hang some blankets around the drums using microphone
stands to help this.

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Ambience

What you really want to hear in your ambience tracks is the texture (a.k.a.
meat). Attack is irrelevant here. Think the ambience as an extension to the
close mic tracks. Just listen to Sad But True by Metallica. Now theres some
snare ambience for you! One of the biggest reasons why you dont hear that
much room ambience on records these days is the excessive use of accent
cymbals and loud hi-hats. Remember what I said in the Drummer part?
Cymbals are just pure noise when it comes to compressing the ambience
tracks.

Its also the reason why many engineers prefer convolution-based room
modeling instead of mediocre room ambience. It works like a normal
algorithmic reverb but sounds more realistic. Still, it cant replace a good
drum room. The room will always leave its imprint an all drum tracks including
the close mics.

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Ambience

Tip! Place thick rugs around the kit so that they are hanging roughly 3 ft
(1 m) above the floor. You will get less direct cymbals in the room, but
the kick and snare shoot right through! You can achieve this by using
microphone boom stands aligned vertically.

Ribbon microphones work great in capturing the room ambience. Most


of them have a bi-directional polar pattern. If you dont have access to
Royers or other high-end ribbons, the cheap chinese built t.Bone/Apex/Nady
alternatives are just fine. Ribbon microphones tend to have a darker sound,
which can help with controlling the high end. They take EQ very well and will
rarely sound harsh.

If you have to place the microphones close to the kit, try to follow the
"center line" of the kick and snare drum. You will get less phase problems
and a better stereo image. This is also a foolproof method in a large room
to keep the kick/snare centered. Also experiment with different condensers
and dynamics in stereo or mono configurations.

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Ambience

360 Degrees of Room (Blumlein)


By using two bi-directional mics in a Blumlein configuration, you will get 360
degrees of room sound! Most ribbon microphones have this pattern. Just
place two bi-directional mics crossed at 90 degrees and you have it. Place
them somewhere between knee and waist height to capture less direct
cymbal sound.

+ +

- -
L R

Pros and cons

+ No phase issues
+ Very solid centered image
+ Easy to get a balanced stereo image
- Not as wide as many other configurations

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Ambience

Wide Stereo Room (A-B pair)


Place a wide A-B pair on opposite ends of the room. The distance from the kit
should be 10-45 feet (3-14 meters) depending on the tempo. As you might
have already guessed, slower songs can have a bigger distance. You can also
adjust the distance between the microphones to your liking. Check mono
compatibility to point out any phase problems.

Make sure the snare or kick doesnt pull too much to either side. Small amount
is not harmful and can actually make the ambience tracks stand out better in
the mix. Be careful with the low end though. Again, low positioning means
less cymbals. You can try to match the distance from the snare drum, but it
might not have a much relevance due to to the complex room reflections.

If the drummer is doing lots of


ghost notes, this might not be the
best stereo room setup. When the
tracks are compressed heavily, it
can sound very distracting due to
the wideness. You can use any
microphone polar patterns in this
setup.
Wikipedia.com: Galak76

Pros and cons

+ Can be very wide, almost like reverb


- Can have some serious phasing issues if not done correctly

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Ambience

Other Stereo Techniques

X-Y

This is exactly same as Blumlein but with mics having cardioid pattern
instead. It doesnt have the same depth and space as Blumlein or A-B, but
can be useful if space is limited and you dont have access to bi-directional
mics. The other reason to use X-Y would be if you dont want to pick up sound
behind the mics (guitar amp for example). You can try a bigger angle than 90
degrees for a wider stereo sound. Twin microphone bar is recommended for
convenience.

Wikipedia.com: Galak76

ORTF

This one combines the A-B and X-Y. What you do is place two cardioid
microphones 6.5 (17 cm) apart (rough human ear distance). Set the angle
to 110 degrees between the mics. ORTF sounds a little wider than X-Y but
not as wide as A-B. Once again, check in mono for phase issues.
Wikipedia.com: Galak76

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Ambience

Mid-Side (MS)

Mid-side is a little bit tricky to set


up but offers more flexibility. What
you need is a microphone with a
cardioid (or omni ) pattern. This
will be the Mid microphone. You also
need a mic with a symmetrical bi-
+ -
directional pattern. This will be the
Side microphone. It is recommended
that these microphones have a fairly
similar sound.

Place these microphones very close to


each other (capsules aligned) and so M S+ S-
that the mid microphone is pointing
towards the drums and the side
microphone towards the side walls.

Now you need to matrix and decode


the channels. On the console or in the
DAW, split the Side microphone to
two channels. Pan one side channel left and other right. Flip the polarity
on right channel. You are done! Now you can adjust the amount of stereo
wideness by using the side channel faders! You will get a wide and mono
compatible image with this technique.

Mono Room

Front Mic

Sometimes it is not possible to have a stereo pair in the room due to equipment
or space limitations. One of the most common mono room techniques is to
take any microphone and aim it at the top front edge of the kickdrum. A good
starting point distance would be 5 ft (1.5 m) and height 2 ft (60 cm). This is
what I use to record quick ideas in band rehearsals. A carefully positioned
SM57 can save the mixers ass while trying to bring life back to drums!

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Ambience

Mono Shotgun

If you have access to a shotgun or other microphones with a very narrow


polar pattern, this is a really cool trick. Place the microphone high and try
to shoot the snare drum without hitting anything else. You will get a great
snare room ambience!

Wild Ideas

Grab any microphone and aim it at the drums, wall, floor or ceiling. Place it
behind the door or in the corridor, mic the wall with a kick drum mic, you
could even try one inside the trash can! Do whatever it takes to make it
smashing! Go crazy!

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Drum Triggers

Drum Triggers
The primary reason to record trigger splats is to capture the hits for sample
replacement use. The separation you get is very good and only attack is
captured. My opinion is that you dont need to do this anymore unless the
mixing engineer requires it. It used to be pretty common in the 00s but the
triggering algorithms have developed a lot since then. With high tempos and
very fast double kicks it can still be a valid practice.

If you choose to record them,


treat them just as any other
microphones. No magic here.
Its just a piezo microphone.
No MIDI going through it.
Recording triggers does not
mean the same as recording
an output of a drum module,
were talking about the raw
audio signal directly from the
trigger itself.

You can use drum trigger


tracks for other things as well. The raw sound you
get is just high end splat. It can be blended with the kick or snare sound. It
can also be compressed and limited hard, because the bleed is not a problem.
You can also use them to drive gates using sidechaining functions. The result
will be very accurate. Just remember to mute these tracks when monitoring
the takes! One swedish producer has even used two triggers (top & bottom)
on a snare drum as his main source of sound, and believe it or not, the album
sounded great.

DDrum and Roland manufacture the most commonly used drum triggers.
DDrum is the classic choice, but Roland seems to be more reliable. The sound
and behavior is also a little different. Roland has more sustain, less high-end
and narrower dynamic range (a good thing). I dont recommend the cheap
DDrum Red Shot triggers. While they may produce the same results, the
design is very poor and unreliable!

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Cowbell

Cowbell
You cant have a drum recording book without cowbell recording tips!
Sometimes the cowbell doesnt require its own close microphone if its not
overdubbed the overhead microphones might pick it just fine. If not, a
Shure SM57 works very well in this application. Aim it at the nose of the bell
in a slight angle using a distance from 12 to 20 inches (30-50 cm). If you want
the cowbell to blend better with the drums, you can use bigger distance or
just use the same overhead mic setup you used earlier. My favorite cowbell
is the LP Rock Ridge Rider.

Ive got a fever and the only


prescription is more cowbell!
Bruce Dickinson (SNL skit)

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III
Recording Raw Drums
Aggressive Drums

Recording Raw Drums


Sometimes a project calls for a more traditional approach. In this context
it basically means that the end result will be much closer to the raw sound
than it usually is in so-called "modern" productions. In other words, the
drum sound doesn't need all the separation and the drum kit itself can be a
lot smaller in many aspects. Not usually in shell or cymbal size though.

Todays modern drum sounds are based on extensive use of close-mics. It


usually means the end result is very detailed and in many cases it works very
well. When you want to have a more organic vibe, the air becomes your
mixer. It means that you base the whole drum sound on overhead and room
mics with the close mics only supporting the sound. The drummer must have
a great playing balance to get most out of this approach.

If the tempo is slower, it gives more options in terms of experimentation with


microphone positions. Musical sounding bleed can also be used as a sound
tool to a greater extent. The sound can rely heavily on room ambience. To
get great results, the room needs to be really good and suitable for the style.
Songs can have lots of variation in dynamics and tempo, so it is not unusual
to modify the room size for each song.

I will not go through every microphone choice and technique. Instead I want
to describe the different approaches I take on each part of the kit when a
rawer sound is desired.

Overheads
If I would have to name just one part of drum recording that is different
between my separation-oriented and raw recording approach, it would be
the overheads. In my opinion, rawer drum sound calls for a more traditional
approach. Overheads are a good place to build the whole drum sound on.

It will act as the big picture. Sure, kick drum will not have all the power you
need or snare drum the attack, but everything should sound pretty damn
good to start with. You also want to make sure the toms will be where you
want them to be in the stereo field when you add close microphones. Instead
of tilting the microphones as described previously, this time point straight
down. You actually want to hear the snare drum. For that same reason you
can use colored and saturated preamps such as tube preamps to give some
more character to the overall sound.

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Recording Raw Drums

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III
Recording Raw Drums
Aggressive Drums

The most obvious microphone choice would be a pair of small-diaphragm


condensers. If the room is really good, large-diaphragm condensers can add
some real beef to the bottom. Using equal distance from snare drum is a
good starting point, but the most important thing is to listen to the phase
coherency. Check your overheads in mono and make sure it still sounds
balanced.

If you are having trouble getting a good balance and stereo image with the
traditional AB setup, try XY. It will give you faster results and kick and snare
will be in phase between left and right for sure. It will not be as wide, but
that might not be a problem. Add a separate hi-hat and ride microphone if
you feel like you need them.

Tip! Consider not using a rug under the drums. You will get much
brighter snare sound this way and might not need a bottom mic for the
snare at all. Experiment! You never know how it will sound in your
recording room. But we aware that It could also cause new acoustic
problems you didnt have before.

Ambience
When recording in a great room, it is very likely that these tracks will be very
high in the mix. Make sure you are happy with the balance between the
room ambience, drums and cymbals. If you are relying on on the overheads
as your main source, try to avoid capturing lots of cymbals by placing the
microphones fairly low or even adding some gobos or blankets in the way of
direct cymbal sound.

All the stereo techniques described previously in this book will work here.
You just need to find which one fits the room best. The only one I would try
to avoid is the wide AB pair if these tracks will be very high in the mix. It will
only break the stereo image when you want the whole drum kit to be one
solid instrument. That also leads to a conclusion that mono rooms can be
used more efficiently in this approach.

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Snare
Theres not really much difference when recording the snare drum for any
type of sound. Most of the time you want to avoid hi-hat bleed as much as
possible so it pretty much sets your placement. You can angle the mic a bit
off center (from where the stick hits) to get more resonance and less actual
stick attack.

Just as it is crucial with any approach, the tuning and the drum itself need to
be suitable for the music. In many mainstream music styles it is very common
to change tunings and snare drums for each song. Its actually something
that could be used a lot more instead just sticking to one chosen album
drum sound.

Kick
The kick can have a little more sustain and resonance (less damping),
because tempo will very likely be slower, and you dont have to worry about
separation between each hit so much. One basic mistake that many do is
adding too much high-end to the kick drum when it really isnt necessary. I
usually go more for thud rather than click when recording slower raw
stuff.

Using two microphones, one for low and the other for high end is a good
idea but it is also possible to get get great results with only one carefully
placed microphone. Usually it would be placed a few inches inside the hole
aimed at the beaters direction.

Toms
When having fewer toms and less other stuff around the kit, theres
more possibilities for experimentation. The microphone doesnt need to
be identical for rack and floor toms. Try different combinations and even
condenser microphones if possible. If the heavy-handed drummer keeps
hitting the tom mics constantly, you might want to think twice before
using the studios vintage U47s here! Whichever mics you decide to use,
remember that excessive cymbal bleed is not a desirable thing in here either.
It will always be there, but try to minimize it.

You know, sometimes you dont even need the tom tracks at all when you
are building the sound on overheads and room ambience.

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Conclusions
The difference is definitely not huge between my these two approaches.
Many times it can be so small that it would not make a big difference in the
end result. But it can be. Just trust your instinct and try to capture a drum
sound as close to the final sound as you can. I could have included all this
info under their respective sections, but I wanted to show the two extreme
ends of my drum recording methods.

Drum recording methods can be very different depending on the engineers


preferences. Thats cool, its not an exact science. If you wonder why I didnt
add this or that technique in this book, its because I dont use it regularly.
Maybe I will use it in the future, who knows.

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Sampling the Drumkit
Aggressive Drums

Sampling the Drumkit


After you have found the sound you are after and the drums are still in
perfect tuning, sample the kit. Record at least 20 hits for each drum. Hard
hits are the most important ones, so focus on them. Don't forget the kick
drum. And yes, record all tracks for each drum. The ambience/bleed can be
very important when creating your own drum samples.

You may need these hits in the editing and mixing stage. It takes only ten
minutes of your time. You can also use them as reference when you check
the tuning between songs. You can also sample the cymbals if you like.

Post the samples to an online forum for others' enjoyment!

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PART IV
Combining, Editing & 
Time-Aligning
Combining & Weeding Out the Weak
Aggressive Drums IV

Combining, Time-Aligning & Editing


Combining
The ideal situation would be to record the songs in one take. Reality is usually
a little different. Using a tempo map is important when combining different
takes, as it allows you to see the grid. Always start by grouping the drum
tracks.

If the drums have pauses during the song, it is quite easy to record the song
in a few different passes. Another method would be to record the song many
times from the start to the end until you have enough takes to choose from.
Just decide the best overall take and find the errors. Copy/paste the needed
parts from the other takes. Some DAW's have great features for "take
management." Pro Tools has Playlists and Cubase has Lanes.

If you punch in the drums in the middle of a song, make sure the drummer
starts playing at least 4-8 bars before the part and continues playing same
amount. This way you will have more choices where to merge the takes.
Hi-hats and other cymbals are very hard to match sound wise. Be extremely
meticulous with this.

The decay is also longer than in any other part of the kit. Sometimes longer
crossfades help. The best spot to merge the tracks is usually just before a
snare hit. It has the largest transient burst that will help to reset the cymbal
timbre differences.

Weeding Out the Weak


When you are looking for perfect sound, there is no room for weak hits. This
is where you need those samples recorded earlier. Basically you listen the
drum tracks thoroughly and replace any weak hits with the samples recorded
in the session. Usually replacing the close mic hits is enough.

It is very common that the drummer hits the crash cymbal at the end of fill.
That leaves you fighting with the cymbal bleed. What you can to do is to
replace the last infected transient with a clean sample. Just select the right
dynamic strength and thats it. You dont need to do this with every tom fill,
just the ones that will potentially cause trouble.

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Phase & Time-Aligning
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Once again, this is very subjective. Perfect or polished sound might not be
what you are looking for. Just listen to Mastodon or older Slipknot albums
(pre 2008) for example. It is not a shame to leave some human feel in the
performance. I personally dont use this method very often.

Phase & Time-Aligning


Time-Aligning is optional. Some engineers use it as a standard procedure
and some think it represents everything that is wrong with digital audio
processing. Thats why you must consult the mixing engineer before doing
it. Its not something you should do by default.

The old school way of phase-aligning was to solo your overheads and bring
up one close mic. Then you would flip the polarity on the close mic channel
and listen which position gives you more body. The general rule is that more
bottom means better phase. However this technique is quite limited. The
phase difference is very rarely exactly 180 degrees. However, some engineers
still prefer this method, because it doesnt alter the time relations between
the microphones and thus sounds more natural.

The modern way is to time-align the tracks using your DAWs editing
functions. Before you start, make sure all the drum tracks you are going to
move have the same polarity (ups and downs going same direction). Flip the
polarity if needed.

Nudge the close mic tracks backward (to the right) or the overheads forward
(to the left). A solution which will work both in editing and mixing stages, is
to use the snare drum close mic as focal point. What I mean is that overheads
receive transients later than close mics. When you move the overheads, your
most important transient the snare will stay in place and will not affect
the timing of other instruments (guitars etc.). I know its only about 2 ms but
why not do it properly. But remember, doing it this way will affect all close
mics.

The snare is once again the most critical part of the kit to get right. Ambience
tracks however are a different animal. They are very rarely out of phase
because the distance from the source is much bigger and there are some
very complex room reflections going on. You might actually want them to
have a little pre-delay for better sense of space, especially if you have a
nice recording room.

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IV
Phase & Time-Aligning
Aggressive Drums

Dont go crazy about this. Sometimes time-aligning makes a big difference


and sometimes it doesnt. It can also suck all the life out. Its just something
you should be aware of. Give it a shot before you start editing, it doesnt take
too long. For me personally aligning the snare is usually enough (moving only
the snare tracks).

Before time-aligning

After time-aligning

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Aggressive Drums IV
Editing

Editing
There are many styles of drum editing. Some engineers just fix the few
off hits and go with the natural feel otherwise. On the other hand, some
engineers will quantize the drums to a grid, no questions asked. Who makes
the decision? The drummer, producer, label representative, guitarist or
janitor? Whose opinion counts most?

Drum editing is likely the main cause of


psychedelic drug-abuse in the studio.
Mike Gilliland 2011

Its really down to the feel you are looking for. Do you want the material to
have a more relaxed old school vibe or highly technical modern tightness?
Its really the drummers performance that defines the need for editing. If
the songs have programmed percussive elements, you need to decide which
ones will be the ruling element for possible editing. The expectation for tight
and accurate drums is extremely high these days, but dont let it affect your
opinion too much. Do what feels right.

Superhuman tightness may suit some styles, but to me personally aggressive


music needs to have some sharp edges. The well-played timing fluctuations
can even be the highlight of a song for me. I love hearing some personality
in the drum playing.

Just listen to some classic records from 80s or early 90s. They didnt have
the editing tools we have today. Sure, editing has always been present, but
it really started to go crazy when digital audio workstations and Pro Tools
revolutionised the record making in the mid 90s.

However, if you are going to perform some serious quantization, you should
do it before recording other instruments. Sometimes its not possible due to
time limitations. If thats the case, record the other instruments to a click very
tightly and edit the drums later. This is by no means an optimal solution, but
sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The result will sound mechanical,
but that may not be a problem if its the sound you are looking for. Just listen
to Fear Factory for example.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Editing

Theres one thing you should always remember when editing the timing of
acoustic drums. Group the tracks. When you move a snare hit, everything
else needs to be moved accordingly. It is critical to maintain the phase
relationships between the tracks! Very fast kicks are the only exception. It
is not always necessary to move the other tracks along the kick. The bleed
you hear in the overheads or ambience tracks is usually just a muddy rumble
without any clear attack.

Another very common drum edit is to remove anything but the actual hits
from tom tracks. Some prefer to use noise gates in the mixing stage and
others dont use them at all. So, once again dont do this without consulting
the mixing engineer. If you decide to do it, create a very short fade just before
the first hit and a another fade after the last hit in the fill. Usually good spot
to end the fade is right before next snare hit. If you already replaced the last
hit with a sample, you dont need to do any end fades.

General Tips for Quantizing

These tips should work with most multitrack drum editing tools utilizing the
slice & quantize type of process.

Use only your kick, snare and tom tracks to create the trigger points.
These are the first transients in time.
Always group the tracks before quantizing. The only exception being fast
kick parts, which can be edited separately.
Proceed in 4-8 bar sections, never try to quantize a whole song at once.
Make sure the tempo or time signature doesnt change in between the
selected section.
If the drummer is rushing/dragging badly, nudge the whole section (or
song!) roughly to a grid before quantizing.
Use crossfade times of 2-5 ms.
Keep the original tracks on a different playlist (Pro Tools). If anything
goes wrong, you can quickly reference or copy-paste the original
performance and redo that part.

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Final Preparations Before Mixing
Aggressive Drums IV

Multitrack drum editing tools capable of quantizing

Pro Tools Beat Detective


Cubase Quantize (from version 6)
Nuendo Quantize (from version 5.5)
Samplitude Audio Quantize (from version 10)
Sonar AudioSnap
Logic Pro Audio Quantize (from version 9)

There are also alternatives to slicing audio, such as elastic time or slip editing,
but the most popular is still the slice & quantize method.

Final Preparations Before Mixing


Ok, the drums and all other tracks are now as ready as they can be? Everything
sounds perfect? Before you (or someone else) can start mixing, make sure
you go through this list.

Track names are in understandable and consistent format. For example


John 6 is not a good name for a left rhythm guitar track!
All tracks start from the same position (extremely important!).
MIDI file with all tempo information is included.
All songs have their own folders.
All tracks are in audio format unless otherwise agreed (for example
keyboards in MIDI format).
All unused tracks and takes have been removed.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

Mix Those Drums


No Time To Explain!
Ok, so you are done with editing and need to create some mixes for guitar
overdubbing. Or maybe the drummer is calling you three times a night
demanding to hear the drums (and the copy-paste editing you did without
asking). The drums still sound raw and not exciting at all? No matter who
is going to mix your project, you still need good sounding drum mixes to
continue recording other instruments.

I will show an example how to create a good sounding drum mix using only
plugins included in basic version of Pro Tools 9. These are not the plugins
I would normally use, but I want to keep things simple. You can use any
plugins or host you like. The settings are very dependent on source and tools
used, so they might not be suitable for your tracks.

I wont go much into detail because mixing drums would require another
book! This is just an example how to get a quick mix for overdubbing
purposes. But who knows, if you have done your recording properly and find
the right tools and settings it might not require much more tweaking for
the final sound!

88
Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

Start by importing all songs to one big session and create the
following buses (Aux):

Kick (mono)
Snare (mono)
Toms (stereo)
Overheads (stereo)
Drums (stereo)
Ambience (stereo)
DrumsParaComp (stereo)
DrumVerb (stereo)
Master Fader (stereo)

Kick

Compressor
Fast/medium fast attack EQ
Medium release Narrow 2-4 dB boost at 70 Hz
Ratio 4:1 2-6 dB cut at around 360 Hz
Gain reduction 3-6 dB 3-10 dB boost at around 7 kHz

Route all kick tracks to Kick bus. Adjust the levels to a good balance by ear.
Add a compressor and EQ to the Kick bus. This is a key element when tracking
other instruments. Make it loud!

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

Snare

Compressor
Fast/medium fast attack
Medium release
Ratio 4:1
Gain reduction 3-6 dB

Route all snare tracks to Snare bus. Adjust the bottom mic 6-10 db lower
than the top mic. Add a compressor to the Snare bus. This is another key
element when tracking other instruments!

Toms

Gate
Fastest attack EQ
Hold 100 ms 2-6 dB cut at around 360 Hz
Release 100 ms 3-8 dB boost at around 5 kHz
Low-pass filter at around 8 kHz

Pan tom tracks from audience perspective. Route all tom tracks to Toms bus.
Insert gate on each tom track. Match threshold to source. Insert EQ on Toms
bus.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

Overheads

EQ
High-pass filter at 400 Hz

Pan all cymbal tracks from audience perspective (including Hi-Hat and ride).
Make them sound balanced level wise. Route them to Overheads bus. Insert
EQ on Overheads bus.

Drums
Now route all the previous buses to Drums bus.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

Ambience

Compressor
Fast attack
Fast release EQ
Ratio 6:1 High-pass filter at 150 Hz
Gain reduction 6-12 dB Low-pass filter at 3 kHz

Route all ambience tracks to Ambience bus. Add a compressor and EQ to the
Ambience bus. You can push the compressor pretty hard. Set the level 6-10
db lower than rest of the buses.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

DrumsParaComp

Compressor
Fast attack
Fast release
Ratio 6:1
Gain reduction 6-12 dB

Ok, now the fun starts! Go to Drums bus and an add aux send to
DrumsParaComp bus. Make it pre-fader and bring the fader all the way up
to zero. Add a compressor to DrumsParaComp bus. Really push it this time.
Bring the fader down and slowly raise it until you hear a healthy dose fat
drums! Be careful with the cymbal spill.

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Aggressive Drums IV
Mix Those Drums

DrumVerb

Reverb
Plate or room reverb
Decay 1 sec

Add a reverb to the DrumVerb bus. Play with the sends from Snare and Kick
buses until you are are happy. What you want here is just a little bit of air
and space.

Master Fader

Limiter
Very fast release
Ceiling -0.3 dB

Insert a limiter to your Master Fader bus. Dont push it too hard, leave some
healthy dynamics. Check all levels once again by ear, most likely you will
have to lower the Overheads bus, because cymbals are now bleeding from
other tracks. Export the mixes when you are done. Make sure the starting
point matches with the tempo tracks and count-in! Always snap to grid when
bouncing/exporting a mixdown.

94
Final Words

Final Words
If you do everything as I wrote, you will end up with 10-20 tracks for drums.
You don't need to use all of them, but it's great to have options. You might
think that gear means everything. To get world-class results, it is important.
Just don't forget that the most important thing is to capture a great
performance. After that everything else will be easy.

The raw drum sound will rarely be the final sound (unless you have heavily
processed it on the way in). You will need to do a lot of saturating, compressing
and equalizing to make it really powerful and aggressive. If the worst-case
scenario happens and you need to replace everything with samples, the
sound you have gotten with this guide will be suitable for that use too.

After a few successful drum recording sessions, you will start to hear when
the sound is right and no further tweaking is needed. You will know when
the tuning is perfect. The microphones will find the right positions without
you having to run between the monitors and drums all day long.

Have fun recording and make some history!

95
Appendix A Example Setups
Aggressive Drums

Appendix A Example Setups


Comprehensive Setup (20 ch)
Heres a comprehensive setup with tremendous amounts of separation.
Cymbals are recorded individually (or in pairs), kick drum has three
microphones and one additional ambience microphone is added. To go even
further, you could record trigger splats for each drum.

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION


BD In Kick, inside microphone
BD 91 Kick, Shure Beta 91
BD Sub Subkick, outside
SN Top Snare top
SN Bot Snare bottom
RT 1 Rack tom 1
RT 2 Rack tom 2
FT L Floor tom, left
FT R Floor tom, right
OH L1 Cymbals, back left (audience perspective)
OH L2 Cymbals, front left
OH R1 Cymbals, front right
OH R2 Cymbals, back right
Ride L Ride cymbal
HH R Hi-Hats
China L China
Splash C Splashes, center
Amb L Stereo room microphone, left
(audience perspective)
Amb R Stereo room microphone, right
Hallway Mono Hallway ambience microphone

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Appendix A Example Setups
Aggressive Drums

Basic Setup (14 ch)


This is the typical setup for me. It features everything I want for a typical
aggressive mix. An additional china mic may be needed if it has a bigger role
than just accenting.

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION

BD In Kick, inside microphone

BD Sub Subkick, outside

SN Top Snare top

SN Bot Snare bottom

RT 1 Rack tom 1

RT 2 Rack tom 2

FT 1 Floor tom 1

FT 2 Floor tom 2

OH L Stereo overhead, left (audience perspective)

OH R Stereo overhead, right

Ride L Ride cymbal

HH R Hi-Hats

Amb L Stereo room microphone, left (audience


perspective)

Amb R Stereo room microphone, right

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Appendix A Example Setups
Aggressive Drums

No-Frills Setup (8 ch)


This setup features all the basic elements in 8 channels. If the drummer has
only two toms, I would replace that channel with either mono room or ride
mic. A dedicated hi-hat mic is not really that important due its overpowering
nature. Most of the time you actually want less of it in the overheads!

In case of more than three toms, drop one off. Im serious. Snare bottom mic
is more important. Without the snare bottom mic you will most likely end up
having too dark snare drum sound. However, if dropping one tom off is not
possible, place a bi-directional microphone between the first two toms.
Its not an optimal solution, but works.

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION

BD In Kick, inside microphone

SN Top Snare top

SN Bot Snare bottom

RT 1 Rack tom 1

RT 2 Rack tom 2

FT Floor tom

OH L Overhead, left (audience perspective)

OH R Overhead, right

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Appendix A Example Setups
Aggressive Drums

Basic Pre-Production Setup (4 ch)


Ok, the channels and mics are limited, but you want a good drum sound?
Try this. Place the overheads in X-Y pattern. It is very easy to set up and
works every time. Add a kick mic and snare top mic. In the context of getting
great separation this is a pre-production setup, but it could be everything
you want from your drum sound.

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION

BD In Kick, inside microphone

SN Top Snare top

OH L Overhead, left (audience perspective)

OH R Overhead, right

Simple Pre-Production Setup (2 ch)


For two channel recordings, I have found that placing one overhead on-axis
over the snare can give amazing results. Place it as low as you can without
it being in the way. Two drumsticks length from the snare is a pretty damn
good starting point. Add a kick microphone. Thats it! Some call this the
Bonham method. Whats great about this technique is that the snare drum
is always dead center and you get plenty of attack from snare and toms.
I actually prefer this sound over the 4 ch setup but the mono overhead is
pretty limiting from mixing point of view.

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION

BD In Kick, inside microphone


OH Overhead

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Appendix A Example Setups
Aggressive Drums

Super Simple Pre-Production Setup (1 ch)


For recording quick ideas and band rehearsals, grab any microphone and aim
it at the top front edge of the kickdrum. A good distance is 5 ft (1.5 m) and
height 2 ft (60 cm). In a good room with a good drummer, this setup delivers
instant punchy sound!

CHANNEL NAME DESCRIPTION

Drums Drums, front microphone

100
Appendix B Example Schedule
Aggressive Drums

Appendix B
Example Schedule for First
Recording Day

9:00 AM Drum load in and setup.

10:00 AM Discussion about the objectives and general sound


goals. What would be the appropriate cymbal recording
strategy? Any wishes from the mixing engineer?

10:15 AM Drum tuning.

11:15 AM Basic microphone setup.

12:00 AM Lunch break.

12:30 PM Soundcheck begins. After levels are checked,


experimentation with alternative mics, preamps and
snare drums. Different tunings and room microphone
setups. Possible pre-processing settings (EQ &
compression).

14:00 PM Metronome/tempo map setup and headphone mix.

14:30 PM Drum tuning check. Drummer warm-up.

14:45 PM Drum recording starts! Level check after first take.

17:00 PM First 1-3 songs are now recorded and compiled from few
different takes!

101
Appendix C Microphone Polar Patterns
Aggressive Drums

Appendix C
Microphone Polar Patterns

Cardioid Bi-directional/Figure of 8

Supercardioid Omnidirectional

Polar pattern images by Wikipedia.com: Galak76

102
Sources
Barry Rudolph: Drum Miking Techniques pt. 2-5. ProRec.com, 2000.
Brian Knave: Capturing The Kit. Electronic Musician, July 2004.
Christopher Sauter: Techniques for Drumset Recording. Ebay Guides, 2006.
Daniel Allocca: Recording Drums the Affordable Way! Rudimentstudies.com, 2006.
Daniel Keller: Mid-Side (MS) Mic Recording Basics. Uaudio.com/blog, May 2011.
Don Zulaica: Joey Castillo: Walking The Walk. DRUM! Magazine, April 2005.
Ermin Hamidovic: Systematic Mixing Guide. 2012.
Glenn Fricker: Acoustic Drums for Metal: A Guide. 2005-2012.
J. Scott Johnson: Prof.Sound's Drum Tuning Bible v3. 1999.
Jared Falk: Drum Tuning Guide. Totaldrumsets.com, 2008.
Jukka Laaksonen: nityn kivijalka. Idemco Oy, 2006.
Mark Mynett: The SOS Guide To Recording & Producing Modern Metal.
Sound On Sound, November 2009.
Martin Ranscombe: 14 simple steps to tuning your snare drum;
17 seriously useful drum tuning tips. Rhythm Magazine, March 2009.
Matt McGlynn: Five Techniques for Stereo Miking Drums. shure.eu/blog, 2012.
Mike Gilliland: How to Record Drums: Space Plus Placement. Ezinearticles.com,
March 2012.
Nagrath: Drum Sizing & Head Selection. ExtremeDrumming.net
Preamp: Buying Guide. sweetwater.com, 2012.
Preamps Buying Guide. musiciansfriend.com, 2010.
Robert Dennis: The Three to One Rule & Phase Cancellation Fully Explained.
Recordingeq.com, 1997.
SAE Institute: Absorption Coefficient Chart. 2012.
SAE Institute: Drums and Percussion. SAE.edu
Sarah Jones : Big Mick Hughes at the Board. Mix Magazine, November 2007.
Silja Suntola: Luova Studiotyo. Idemco Oy, 2000.
Steve Kindig: Room Acoustics. Crutchfield Learning Center. December 2012.
Tip #6: The 3 to 1 Rule. Crown Audio, Inc., 2002-2012.
Toms Howie: Tuning. Drummingweb.com, 1996-2012.
West Coast Drum Center: Cymbal Info.
Wikipedia: various
Wood and Thickness Options. Pearldrum.com

103
Images
Wikipedia.com: Galak76 (A-B pair, X-Y, ORTF, Cardioid, Bi-directional,
Supercardioid, Omnidirectional)

Internet Forums
Andy Sneap Ultimate Metal Forum
Gearslutz.com Forum
Mixerman.net: The Womb Forum
Muusikoiden.net Forum
ProSoundWeb Forum

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