Recording tips for newer drummers: The studio is *very* different to live/rehearsal

DHA

Member
There's info on just about everything online, but something really lacking is how new(er) drummers should approach their first recording experience.

Most people learn the hard way and kind of have to figure it out themselves (I did!). To change this, I've put together an article on both how to prepare before you arrive, and when you're at the studio. It can be extremely time consuming and expensive (even with a DIY setup, let alone in a pro studio), so it's crucial to get the absolute most out of your time. To add to this, drummers can have it the hardest since we often track our parts first, without any help (although scratch tracks can really help).

You can read the full article here if you're interested in this.
The short TL;DR is:



  • Before the studio:
  • First (and most obvious) know the material - yes this is really important.
  • Record/critique yourself before the studio (don't let the studio be the first time you listen back to yourself). Even if it's just hitting record with your phone.
  • Work on dynamics... the way you play live might be very different what the studio requires. E.g. more consistent snare/bass hits; less hi-hat/cymbals due to the room; mic bleed, etc.
  • Become comfortable playing your parts to a metronome, and playing your parts alone.
  • Improve your stamina - you'll be playing all day, tracking the same songs repeatedly.
  • Rehearse with a click track: 1) to improve your own timing, 2) to get used to it, and 3) because tracks will feel uncomfortable (and therefore record badly) when you're tracking in perfect time, when you're used to speeding up/slowing down parts during rehearsal.
  • Find out what gear the studio has / what gear you need to bring (and ALWAYS make a checklist).
  • Be prepared to use studio gear if yours isn't working (and give all your gear a good tune-up before recording with it).
  • At the studio:
  • Expect to spend a LOT of time setting up / testing when you first arrive. The actual recording part won't happen right away.
  • Warm up, and track the easier stuff first.
  • Don't change tuning/move gear after you've started tracking a song - your sound will change, making it harder to splice together parts from different takes. Obviously you're free to change it up when you move onto the next song, or if something really isn't working.
  • Listen back to what you've recorded, especially at the beginning to check for any problems (listen to your timing, feel, sound, etc).
  • Food and drink is important - keep up your energy and focus, especially if you're tracking all day long.
  • Listen to the engineer - they're trying to give you the best drum sound possible, and from where they're sitting they can zero in on every tiny detail. They've probably dealt with most of the problems you might have, so ask them.

What other drum recording tips would you give newer musicians?

Did you learn the hard way, or wish your first few times turned out better?

Newer drummers, what other Q's do you have about the studio?
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
All good tips.

Just because people know these things in their mind...if they are like me, they have to actually do them to really understand.

Larry, don't touch the hot stove, it's hot and will burn you.

(Larry touches stove) Oh man that's hot!

Just because someone informs you of something....For me, I know I don't fully get it unless I do it myself and make the necessary mistakes.

Still, nothing wrong with discussing what to do, it can only help.
 

DHA

Member
All good tips.

Just because people know these things in their mind...if they are like me, they have to actually do them to really understand.

Larry, don't touch the hot stove, it's hot and will burn you.

(Larry touches stove) Oh man that's hot!

Just because someone informs you of something....For me, I know I don't fully get it unless I do it myself and make the necessary mistakes.

Still, nothing wrong with discussing what to do, it can only help.
True! There's a difference between knowing something intellectually, and actually understanding/feeling it first-hand.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
True! There's a difference between knowing something intellectually, and actually understanding/feeling it first-hand.
Still, a thread like this is a good thing.

Better to be informed beforehand than not.

I know for me I have to detach emotionally in the studio. It's comes across more emotional that way.

It's backwards.

Or maybe that is right and I'm the one that's backwards. That must be it.
 

DHA

Member
Still, a thread like this is a good thing.

Better to be informed beforehand than not...
Exactly - pretty much every drummer I speak to has had to learn this stuff "the hard way", so hopefully we can get a discussion going and share some really useful knowledge.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
Listen to the recording engineers and producers who you've hired to help produce a good recording. Regardless what Neil peart did this one time, or this cool mic setup you read about on drummer world, these guys have been working this studio and it's equipment for a good while.

Be willing to alter your setup a bit to accommodate better sound and mic placement.
 
T

The SunDog

Guest
All good advice except for one thing the OP said. You will not, and should not, be tracking all day. You need to be well rehearsed and you need to be efficient. Drums taking up a bulk of the session will absolutely kill your bottom line. The bulk of the session should be devoted to the lead guitar, the singer and mix down. The guitars will need doubling an solo tracks and the singer will need more doubling and harmony passes. How efficiently you accomplish these things will determine how much time you have to spend on mixing. Mixing is huge! It is crucial to the final product. Find your mark and nail your line! Be prepared to finish your parts with good results in as few takes as possible. GL!
 

PHIL2016

Senior Member
Play as clean as possible, don't go all Terry Bozzio in the booth.

Play Hihats and Rides where they go, I once lost a gig with a country artist because I went to the ride cymbal at the wrong time, doing so can throw an artist off, making them go to a chorus when they are still in the verse.

Remember, its not about you, its all about making an artist feel good when they are singing and serving the song.


I got to watch Nashville Session Great, Jerry Kroon at Hilltop Studios in Nashville TN, Jerry played an entire cut just playing a simple groove on kick, snare, hihat, ride and crash, extremely simple,yet the track sounded ho massive!
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
Speak to the engineer before you even get near the studio. That will save a lot of time and you'll be more prepared when you get there.

Have well tuned drums and a good sound at source. Can't think of an engineer that won't appreciate this. Could argue brand new heads but if you're after a vintage sound played in (not knackered) heads are a must.

Take more than one snare. A good wood snare, metal and brass snare should cover all bases. Use the one that sounds the best in the room.

Good cymbals - no brainer - thinner the better for crashes.

Rule #2, Your bass player is a useless c#nt. If you've not seen the vid the link is below :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw25dOC7H9M&t=147s
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
I would add not to go in with any expectations. You never how things will actually work out in the end.

When my last band went in to record we did a few hours of pre-pro and realized that our singers voice was only at its best for an hour or so, and when it went, it went bad. So the traditional method of tracking all the instruments then doing vocals would have taken us forever. Instead we changed the work flow and tracked 1 song per day. Nobody got tired, the songs still had a great energy and we got the best out of our vocalist. It was a bit of a pain at times but it was by far the most fun i have every had recording.
 

uhtrinity

Senior Member
Speak to the engineer before you even get near the studio. That will save a lot of time and you'll be more prepared when you get there.

Have well tuned drums and a good sound at source. Can't think of an engineer that won't appreciate this. Could argue brand new heads but if you're after a vintage sound played in (not knackered) heads are a must.

Take more than one snare. A good wood snare, metal and brass snare should cover all bases. Use the one that sounds the best in the room.

Good cymbals - no brainer - thinner the better for crashes.

Rule #2, Your bass player is a useless c#nt. If you've not seen the vid the link is below :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw25dOC7H9M&t=147s
Omg, that was so our last bassist. She doesn't know, but her husband and the other guitar player recorded her bass parts when she wasn't around. She (the bassist) couldn't play her own parts.
 

MJD

Silver Member
Tune your drums the way you want them to sound and demonstrate that sound to your engineer. Then do what he says in terms of retuning/muffling etc in order to get that sound to come through on the recording. What drums sound like live in the room and what makes it through the microphone on to the tape can be a night and day difference. This really only applies to original projects. If you are the side man tune the drums the way the engineer tells you to.
 

MJD

Silver Member
All good advice except for one thing the OP said. You will not, and should not, be tracking all day. You need to be well rehearsed and you need to be efficient. Drums taking up a bulk of the session will absolutely kill your bottom line. The bulk of the session should be devoted to the lead guitar, the singer and mix down. The guitars will need doubling an solo tracks and the singer will need more doubling and harmony passes. How efficiently you accomplish these things will determine how much time you have to spend on mixing. Mixing is huge! It is crucial to the final product. Find your mark and nail your line! Be prepared to finish your parts with good results in as few takes as possible. GL!
I've done projects where there was a day set aside for drums only. You go in and do all the drum tracks on one day and then the other days are for the other things you just mentioned.Of course to do this you have to be efficient taking as few takes as possible because you are essentially doing 10 songs in one shot. You don't want to waste time with so much to do.
 

DHA

Member
All good advice except for one thing the OP said. You will not, and should not, be tracking all day. You need to be well rehearsed and you need to be efficient. Drums taking up a bulk of the session will absolutely kill your bottom line. The bulk of the session should be devoted to the lead guitar, the singer and mix down. The guitars will need doubling an solo tracks and the singer will need more doubling and harmony passes. How efficiently you accomplish these things will determine how much time you have to spend on mixing. Mixing is huge! It is crucial to the final product. Find your mark and nail your line! Be prepared to finish your parts with good results in as few takes as possible. GL!
I've done projects where there was a day set aside for drums only. You go in and do all the drum tracks on one day and then the other days are for the other things you just mentioned.Of course to do this you have to be efficient taking as few takes as possible because you are essentially doing 10 songs in one shot. You don't want to waste time with so much to do.
A lot of my projects have been the same - one day set aside just for drums. By the time all the gear is set up and tested (mics, kit, etc), plus doing 10+ songs across a day (usually 2-3 takes per song) and changing tuning/gear depending on the sound of a track, it can end up being a pretty big day. Once drums are down, its time for the other instruments.

To save time/money, we've kept some scratch tracks that were recorded at the same time as drums - especially the bass tracks because they turned out quite good.

One of the reasons I've done a lot of drums across one day is to get a really nice room and sound... For one project we're lucky to have our own setup, including nice vocal booth and great gear to track guitars/vocals/bass/keys. This saves a lot of money to go towards the mixing, which as SunDog says is extremely important. Drums on the other hand really benefit from a great room and require a LOT more mics and gear (which we don't have, and I'm guessing 95% of other drummers out there don't have either). Hence spending a whole day at a studio... drums is one of the only instruments you can't just DI or record yourself if you've got some recording gear/knowledge.
 

w3r1_drums

Senior Member
One thing I learned from my first real studio experience is to try to be involved in the picking and choosing drum parts and splicing of takes as much as possible - you'll be more satisfied, and you'll help eliminate the little mistakes that you made that most people won't notice
 

Juniper

Gold Member
My biggest advice (other than using a click) is take time after your kit is setup to take stock of the situation.

Are the drums tuned and sounding good? Is the click the correct speed?, is everything where you would normally place it? Maybe even go through the song(s) in your head, is the kit setup exactly how you want? Have you listened to how it sounds in the room and the control room?....etc

Everyone is normally so rushed in getting the drums/basic tracks down (i.e. The foundation everything else is based on top of) you can sometimes be rushed by yourself and/or other people and forget basic things you kick yourself about later.

From many years of experience and sometimes getting things wrong I mostly always take five or ten minutes (depending on how relaxed/confident I feel) to run through pre recording checks and slow down my excitement/try and loose some excess adrenaline. Normally those minutes lost actually saves time when when the recording actually starts and ensures for smooth and quick recording.

Once it's down, you've checked your parts and other band members have started started to overdub and you're at the point of no return listening to the songs over and over in the control room (normally the next day with fresh ears!!) is sometimes when you notice things you aren't happy with/things that you normally wouldn't have done that bug you.

Remember it's not a race and if it is you maybe haven't booked enough studio time to deliver the best recording possible.

Maybe even write down a pre recording check sheet and tick that off or whatever tool works for you.

In closing, don't loose your head/get carried away in the moment and loose track of things, even if eager engineers are setting up mics on your kit as you're still setting up.
 
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JohnoWorld

Guest
Practice recording yourself, even if it's just a couple of mics and a cheap laptop.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
In the studio, time is money. Prepare, prepare, prepare. The sessions for this record, I was practicing my parts to a click for over a week - nothing else on the schedule, just nailing those parts. I could tell the difference walking into the room and sitting down... I felt so relaxed and at home, making it easier to focus on the click and not on what to play next.
 
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