Drums in the Studio - part 2 (part 1 here)

performance advice and recording tips - by PDG



The Producers we interviewed

Martin Bisi
Started in the early 80's working mainly with avant-guard and hip hop artists. He later moved into indie and hard rock. He specializes in size and aggression. He worked with Sonic Youth, Swans, Dresden Dolls, Material.

Chris Ribando is an independent producer/engineer from New York City. He has worked with Diamond nights, The Fever, The Black Crowes, and Cadillac.

Chris Zane is aNYC Producer who has worked with Passion Pit, The Walkmen, Ambulance LTD and Asobi Seksu among others.

Drums in the Studio: Tips from the Top
1. Listen to the song, play for it
2. Hit the drums consistently
and in the right places
3. Mantain a consistent tempo
4. Don't Overplay, serve the song
5. Think abou the dynamics of the song
6. Tune Skins according to the song's need
7. Learn how to play with the click
8. Don't rely too much on editing
9. Be gentle on the cymbals
10. No thick heads with built in dampening


What are the most common mistakes you see an emerging drummer make besides the ones weíve mentioned? What other advice would you give a drummer who's wondering what the secrets of the pros are?

B: Overplaying, speeding up and lack of dynamics are the big performance problems of inexperience. Lack of consistency of volume within sections, and not thinking about where on the drum the stick is landing are the big technical problems. Thinking about, and playing for the song seems to be learned the hard way.
R: I think the most common mistake is not listening. Your playing can sound different once itís under the microscope of a recording session. Parts you thought worked well may now seem to clash with the arrangement of the song. Be flexible and open to suggestions. Learning to play with a metronome can also be helpful.
Z: Most emerging drummers can't play with a click track, and/or don't listen to the 'song' - the lyrics, the changes, etc. My only advice is to listen. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to great drummers playing on great songs, and take a step back. See the whole picture; the SONG, not the parts.

Editing can fix a lot of mistakes, but what's the limit of it?

P: Editing to fix a few mistakes in a good drum take can be a necessary part of recording. I think relying on editing for good takes can be dangerous.
B: But when you over-fix, it almost seems to take on a kind of 'sound' that's very Pro-Tools.
Z: It's sad to say, but there aren't many limits to fixing mistakes these days... with Pro-Tools you can edit for days, replace bad drum sounds, even try to shuffle bad drums into time, or just straight up 'reprogram' the drums, by replacing the drums 'with themselves'.

Does rock music need "swing"? Do listeners realize if a song ďswingsĒ? Can editing preserve this human element?

P: Rhythm, melody and pitch are important aspects of all music. When these things work together in a song thatís what people respond to, even if they donít realize it. Over-editing a drum take can make it sound worse than one thatís a little sloppy.
Z: Rock music generally does not "swing", in the traditional sense of the word. Sure, there is a certain 'pocket' that good drummers play with, and I think some people are aware of that kind of stuff, but most probably aren't.
B: Rock doesn't have to swing; it depends on the song. If swing is part of a song's chemistry, people might not know it intellectually; they'll just move around more. Some people are very tuned in to 'feel' and swing issues when they edit drums.

When you hear older recordings, even by amazing bands (The Beatles, for example), you realize there are often small timing issues, but this didn't prevent the bands from selling a lot of albums. Does today's maniacal attention to the drumsí details and their timing make any difference in the actual quality of the music?

Z: Being maniacal about drum sounds and timing makes absolutely no difference in the quality of music. In fact, itís pretty obvious that itís the opposite. Itís insecurity. Someone who spends 5 hours in the mirror getting ready isn't doing it because theyíre perfect and they want to make themselves better. Itís kind of a 'cover up', I think. Divert attention elsewhere, and make an attempt to tap into some systematic, perfect rhythm machine that 'perhaps' ties in more with your pulse or heartbeat and makes you feel good. Maybe perfect drums will hypnotize you, and you'll go out and buy more Creed records, I don't know. I couldnít care less. Is the song good? - done. Really, thatís what it comes down to, so letís just call it what it isÖbut thatís a whole separate story, sorry.
B: I do think that some commercial rock would be exactly as successful with less editing of the rhythmic timing, or without the copying and pasting of sections.
P: I think over-attention to any one detail can be destructive. The drums should work in the context of the song, thatís all that matters. I doubt those older, amazing bands spent days obsessing over drum takes. Also, itís hard to ruin a great song, even with sloppy playing.

It seems like there are 2 schools of thought about recording drums: the minimal ď3-4 micsĒ approach, and the "mic-every-single-drum" one. Which do you belong to?

B: The minimal mic approach is only good with light, low-density music. The more instruments you add, or the thicker the sounds of the instruments, the more control you need of the drum sound, and the less you want to be stuck with the limited options of just a few mics.
Z: I belong to both camps at once. I'm all about options. Songs change so much in the process, the last thing I want to hear is, "Oh man, we should've micíd the toms! Dammit!" So I tend to mic a lot of stuff, and then, just don't use it. Thatís another production technique that I think gets neglected a lot these days. Just don't use it! That way you can be flexible, and get a tight drum sound in the mix, or a big one.
P: I would say somewhere in between, depending on the musical style and equipment available.

What's the importance of the room?

P: The drums can only sound as good on tape as they do in the room.
B: A big room is important if you don't want to automatically have to use reverb. In a small room, the 'boxiness' of the room can come through even on the close mics.
Z: I'm a huge fan of roomy drums. Bonham just got me, so I love it and always record it, and try to use it. Itís just one of my things. It also is a staple in my drum school of thought. Drums are just ONE instrument. People forget that all the time, and we get all caught up with snare, kick, tom 1, tom 2, HH, blah, blah, blah. Itís ONE instrument, just like guitar or bass. And recording with room mics helps present it that way.

How do you normally place mics to capture the sound of a room?

B: Usually 2 mics at opposite ends of the room. For slow tempo - up to 45 ft. from the kit. For fast tempo - 15 or 20 ft.
P: Usually a pair as far away as possible, then some ambient mics lower to the floor and closer to the kit.
Z: Ha, my room mic placement changes all the time! Itís an ongoing experiment. Usually kinda far away, or facing away from the drums. Kind of like a "wall mic", if you will, but itís a revolving cast of characters, some which will remain secret! (kidding)

You have 50 words to review a tool that you find extremely helpful when recording/mixing drums.

P: Patience. Take the time to get it right during the recording. Get the right drum tones, mic placement and performances while you can. Rushing for the sake of perceived progress will seem like a waste later on. Especially if youíre sitting on the couch while someone is editing and replacing your drum sounds. Ugh.
Z: One tool that I find extremely useful is a box called the ďTransient DesignerĒ, made by SPL. It allows you to add or take away attack or decay on audio. Itís great; it helps get out 'clacky'- sounding midrange build-up in snare drums, or tighten kicks up. It can also do what I call "juice- up" sounds by pumping up flat sounds by raising both attack and decay.

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