How To Record Drums In A Home Studio
Learning how to record drums can be one of the most intimidating processes for a DIY musician.
Lets face it, most of us home studio owners do not have the dream set up for recording drums in our small home studios.
We may have a spare bedroom, a converted garage, basement, or a shed out back with a window unit. Maybe some of you are in an apartment and have to ask your neighbors for permission to record drums during the day so you don’t get evicted.
We may not have the large acoustically designed studios you see in all the pictures of those million dollar studios, but we can still work with what we have.
If your recording space is anything like mine, then you have about a 12′ x 12′ space to set up the drums and mic them. Not the most ideal space you could dream of, BUT I make it work with great results.
Whatever your home studio limitation is, there are some steps you can take to better position yourself for a great drum recording at home.
There are some 1st steps you can take that are important for starting out on the right foot. One is acoustic treatment.
This doesn’t have to be high dollar acoustic panels you see online, but a little will go a long way.
You can get some affordable acoustic room kits at places like Sweetwater and Amazon. Or you can go the DIY route like me and buy some Safe N Sound Roxul insulation batts from Lowes. I made some 2′ x 4′ wooden frames, pushed in the 2′ x 4′ insulation batts, covered them with burlap and hung them on my walls.
I also put some insulation in the corners to tame the low end build up that tends to happen in corners of rooms.
Even just a little bit of acoustic treatment can help tame the harshness of cymbals and help out our less than ideal room sound.
New(ish) and Tuned Drum Heads
Now most of us may be working on a budget, and don’t have the most expensive best sounding drum kits on the market. That’s ok.
New or newer drum heads can help out a budget kit. Dead old heads will give you a dead old sounding recording no matter what recording techniques you use. Even expensive kits will sound way better with new heads.
Tuning Is key as will. There are lots of youtube videos and drum sites that can teach you how to properly tune your drums.
New and properly tuned heads can make a $500 dollar kit sound amazing. I know heads can be a little expensive, but around a hundred dollars, maybe a little more, is better than thinking you need to buy a $2k drumset in order to get a good drum sound.
I’m honest with myself. I know I suck at drums. I can keep a beat, but in order for me to get the best drum recording I can, I need to barter, or hire out a good drummer for my session.
I like the barter idea a lot. I will ask good players I know to come play on my records in exchange for studio time.
If you know a good drummer in the scene, don’t be afraid to go up to him or her and ask if they would play on your session. You would be surprised how good of a player you could get for around $100.
You may be fortunate to have a great drummer in your band already and you’re good to go. This person may be YOU!
Just try and get a good player who is experienced playing drums and you should be good to go.
When first learning how to record drums you may think the mics you use are the most important. WRONG.
I am a firm believer that mic positioning is way more important than the mics themselves.
This is wear you should spend most of your time. It may take hours, but the end result is worth it.
I was just recording drums the other day, and the drummer and I spent about 2-3 hours setting up the mics, recording a little, then listening back and analyzing.
If we didn’t like the sound of the overheads for example, we would move them into another position, record a little, listen back and analyze.
We would do this 2-3 times for each drum mic and pick the best one. That way you know you are starting out with the best drum sounds you can get in your room.
A little more work on the front end, “Getting It Right At The Source”, will save you a lot of headache in the mixing phase. I believe you should have the mixing phase in mind when recording. There are some things you just can’t fix in the mix.
In fact, my goal, though not always achieved, is to make the recording sound like it’s already mixed. You can think of the mic position as EQ. You move a mic here and it has more low end. You don’t want more low end? Move it over here and you get less low end.
If you are thinking like this, then you will be setting yourself up for success in the end.
With any player, and especially a drummer, I like to capture whole performances instead of punching into the recording a section at a time.
Meaning, I like to give the drummer whole takes when recording so he or she can get into the song. If you’re able to have other players record with your drummer, this can help capture that full band performance.
If you are only able to record the drummer, make sure you have good “guide tracks” or “scratch tracks” already recorded for you drummer to play along to while he/she is recording.
A guide track can be an acoustic or electric guitar with a vocal so the drummer knows where they are while recording. For example, for my drummers guide track the other day, I recorded 2 acoustics panned hard left and right, a shaker, tambourine, and my vocals, all played to a metronome (click track) so that we were all on the same tempo.
When it was time to record drums, I could adjust the volume of each piece of the guide track to the drummers preference. If he wanted more click and less vocals, I could easily turn up the fader with the click, and turn down the fader with the vocals.
The acoustics and percussion elements were to make it feel like the drummer wasn’t alone while recording, and could get into the vibe of the song.
I gave the drummer 3-5 takes all the way through so that I had a good amount of takes to choose from when editing the takes into 1 solid performance. They call this “Comping takes”. You can pick between the best part of each take and “comp” them into one awesome solid performance.
If you are like me, then you learn a lot more by seeing this all done in a real home studio set up.
I’ve put together several videos below on how to record drums in a home studio. My home studio.
I hope this helps you understand how to record drums in a home studio a little better.
How To Record Drums - One Mic!
If you think of the drums as one instrument instead of a bunch of different drums, then it will make sense if you just use one mic. Kind of like how you would mic an acoustic or vocal.
You can actually get a good drum sound with one mic if you experiment with where you put the mic in your particular room.
Here is a video where I show you 2 places you can try to position the mic to get a usable drum sound.
Over Head Mic Positions
In the video below I show you 4 ways you can set up your over head mics to get a nice drum sound.
XY position. When using more than one mic on anything, you need to be careful about the phase of the mics.
In this case, recording drums, just make sure that the two OH mics are the SAME distance from the snare.
That way the waveforms of the audio hit the two mics at the same time.
If they hit at different times, the sound waves could possibly cancel eachother out and cause what you hear to have all kinds of negative issues.
With out going diving deeper into phase issues, just know that setting your mics up this way will help you to avoid any problems.
XY is the easiest way to set up OH mics to ovoid this issue. See below
2. Recorder Man Position
This position will help you guys and gals if your room isn't the best sounding room, and you don't have a lot of acoustic treatment.
It positions the mics a little closer than usual to the kit so you don't have as much room noise, and you capture more of the direct sound of the snare, kick and toms.
Hopefully you can find a sweet spot where the cymbals are not too loud in the recording as well. (In video above)
3. Glyn Johns Position
Glyn Johns is a famous engineer and know for recording bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others.
He sets the OHs up in a slightly different way. Check it out in the video above
4. Spaced Pair Position
The last position I show you in the video above is Space Pair.
It's exactly how it sounds. You just space the two mics apart, keeping the same distance from the snare, and find the best overall sound of the kit. Pretty simple. See above.
OHs and Close Mics
After you have gotten a decent sound from your OH positions, you can start to think about incorporating some close mics on the Kick, Snare, and Toms.
This can add a little more UMPH and control over your sound than just the OH mics.
I'll show you a simple way to do this below.
How To Mix Drums In Your Home Studio
Below I'll show you some different tools you can use to mix your drums you've just recorded.
These videos are not in context with a whole song and all the different instruments, BUT a lot of the times I start mixing a song with the drums 1st.
I use tools like Gates, EQ, Compression, Effects, and some sampling if needed.
Take a look below.
How To Mix Drums - Gates/Expanders
How To Mix Drums – EQ
How To Mix Drums – Compression
How To Mix Drums - Using Samples
How To Mix Drums – Reverb
Don't be discouraged by the "limitations" of your home studio set up.
Just use what you have EVEN if it's only one mic as I've showed you.
TIP: When mixing the track with one mic, you can actually duplicate the track, and then mix one for low end and one for top end.
On the low end, you could roll off all the top end of the track with a Low Pass filter until you get close to the low end frequencies you wish to keep.
Then you can process that track like its the Kick and Toms for example.
Then do the opposite with the top end side with a High Pass Filter and process that like it's your Snare and cymbals.
You will have to experiment and see what you can do to get the most out of this single track.
Or you can just process this track with EQ and compression alone and that's your drum sound! There are no rules!
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