Report from the dark side ;)

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
A very thoughtful and useful thread (as usual) from you Andy. I actually just played a festival gig and was wondering about what such an event might require from an engineer. I listened to bands before and after our set and despite all kinds of differences in instrumentation and voices, everything sounded great. Since you've been on both sides of these things, I'm wondering if you might have any suggestions for drummers. What seems especially important to help insure the success of these types of performances?

Thanks!

Jason
Cheers Jason :) I'm just back from the event, but having to travel today, so will update here this evening. It'll be a long post, but full of info about the presentation of 20+ drum kits, & how that presentation translates into real world useable sound quality.

Until then, here's a shot of the stage & one from the sound desk of the last night :)
 

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T

The Old Hyde

Guest
every drummer there said the same thing. " that grumpy old tone deaf geezer screwed up my drum sound"...at least that's the report im going with...
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
He also set up wind chimes at the sound desk and added them where he thought it was needed. Not much, just every 8 bars or so of every song that every band played.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
every drummer there said the same thing. " that grumpy old tone deaf geezer screwed up my drum sound"...at least that's the report im going with...
He also set up wind chimes at the sound desk and added them where he thought it was needed. Not much, just every 8 bars or so of every song that every band played.
B*%^$ds ------------ every 4 bars actually ;)

Just back, too late to update now, will do in the morning. Sleep needed :(
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Ok, I'll keep this as short as possible, but it's still going to be a ramble. Hopefully you'll all ask questions, & I can fill in the gaps that way. The idea of this thread is to give some insight into what's important when setting up your kit for live stage through a PA. More specifically, what's relevant in a festival/multi band situation. Hopefully, this is helpful to some of you.

What you're up against: Let's assume your band is 5th up on the 3rd day of the festival. no matter how dedicated & skilful that engineer is, after already running 20+ bands, he/she's going to be jaded to say the least. Scheduling is tight. Anything you can do to make engineering your kit easier will benefit you. If it takes more time to "fix" your sound, that will eat into your band set, & that's if the engineer can even be bothered to "fix" it by day three :( Get used to the fact that drums have a lower priority in rapid mix setup scenarios. The lead vocal, & general vocal - band balance take absolute priority of over quality of individual instrument sounds, especially in a typical line check - 1st song is the sound check situation. Many "engineers" have little understanding or interest in drums, they're not a priority. If you have an engineer who does understand drums, & values them as much as you do, then you've struck gold, but that's very rare.

MYTH - "It doesn't matter wether my kit sounds good or not, because through a big PA system, they all sound the same".
This is BS, & extends way beyond just making sure your kit is tuned appropriately (I'll get into tuning later). Put simply, the better your kit sounds acoustically, the better it will translate how you want it to sound front of house. The more work the engineer has to put into your kit sound, the less like your "vision" it will sound. A kit that's presented appropriately will always sound better. Drums that deliver a balance of rich strong tones but with appropriate control are far easier to place accurately in the mix. Just for my own edification, I put up one of our kits on the setup day, just so I had a translation reference. It's always nice to know wether you're fighting the drums or fighting the room. Somewhat obviously, the Guru sounded superb. Directly afterwards, we put up another high end kit, appropriately tuned, from a well known manufacturer. All drummers present agreed the difference was night & day, even the owner of the alternative kit.

Tuning: This is where your concentration should be focussed, irrespective of the quality of kit you own. There's endless threads here about tuning, so I'll keep this simple & generic. Yes, you're tuning for the room, but to a lesser degree than you'd think. In situations were you have no control of the mic'ing methods or bias, you should tune primarily for close mic capture. This means listening to what your drums sound like 3" from the head, because that's what the mic is hearing. The overhead to close mic bias is variable, usually partially dictated by the stage sound headroom. If you want big ass drum monitoring, expect low overhead involvement. Again, we're not talking about stadium gig headlining act setups here, we're talking about average small - medium festivals/rallies, but this advice applies more widely than that.

Bass drum:
Resonant head issues:
Awe man, as expected, I dealt with every variation imaginable, from the nearly acceptable through to the downright comical. I have a different approach to the average small festival engineer, I willingly accept both ported & non ported resonant heads, but that's not typical, so plan for it. Unless you absolutely must play with a full resonant head, turn up with a small port for the "engineer" who simply has to stuff a mic inside your bass drum. There are some loud stage benefits to doing so, so it's not all bad, & the FOH system will add a lot of sub bass sustain in the room that goes some way to replacing that lost resonant head sustain you covet so dearly. If full resonant head is a must for you, make sure that requirement is prominently highlighted on the tech rider, & try to get a response on that prior to the event.

Muffling:
Of course, depends on the sound you're shooting for, but plan for minimal muffling even if you use a wide open drum. Remember, if you're using a full resonant head, the mic will pick up only what it's hearing from the resonant head, & whatever head sustain you're getting acoustically, will roughly double FOH. In other words, dampening such that your head sustain is cut by half is a good starting point, depending on how good/cooperative your engineer is. Cutting a massive hole in the resonant head & stuffing it near full of pillows is a really bad idea. Your drum will produce almost no tone, & that means the engineer has to fight to get "body" from the drum. Outside of planned audio replacement, don't assume the engineer has either the outboards, time, or inclination to help your poor bass drum to sound good. The simple message is to avoid extremes of muffling. Go with a middle ground approach & prepare to adapt at short notice.

Tuning:
Again, tune for close mic'ing. Outside of a jazz tuning setting, tune the batter a touch lower than usual, & the resonant head a touch higher, but avoid any distinct sympathetic tone from the resonant head. Tuning should offer a shorter note than usual, but still with plenty of body.

Toms:
Bear in mind my comments about potential close mic'ing bias at live events. If you usually tune for maximum head sustain in an acoustic setting, you need to change your approach for close mic'ing (except in a studio setting where you have much more control & time). Think in terms of reducing that head sustain to under 2 seconds, & preferably to between 1 & 1.5 seconds. Remember, you're listening to this at around 3" from the batter head. What appears FOH will be much longer, simply because of the room loading from the PA, & the engineer can always add a touch of reverb to give it "life" if needed. Do not assume the system comes with a full complement of gates, compression, etc, or even the time to set such parameters up. Again, drums that produce a full rich fundamental will always translate better & be much easier to dial in quickly.

Don't go too dead on tuning in the belief that the engineer has either the tools/skills/inclination to build a sound for you. I had one drummer turn up straight from tour dates with the lowest/deadest tuning imaginable. His rationale was that this gives the engineer the widest options to craft a sound. Well, maybe in a stadium gig with time & tools, but not in the average festival. That said, listen carefully to how your toms are speaking close to the batter head. Look out for any dominant overtones that the mic's will pick up & feature above the fundamental. This is guaranteed to have the engineer reaching for the gaffer tape. Tune those overtones out, even if they're not apparent at a distance. Most good engineers can dial overtones out of the capture, but that takes time & willingness. You can guarantee neither.

Snare:
With the exception of tuning out dominant overtones, this is arguably the easiest to tune for close mic capture & reduction of higher/errant overtones. It's also the drum that's likely to translate most to the overheads, even if the OH bias is low.

Ok, that's all I have time for now. I hope you have questions, & I'm happy to flesh this out with detail if you're interested. Below are a few pictures of various drums as presented, both good & bad sounding. See if you can work that out ;) Note Gretsch bass drum with lug directly bottom centre of the shell. Who ever thought that was a good idea? The chrome wrap Pearl kit cost £80, & wasn't the worst sounding kit as presented.

Hope this all helps someone, TTFN, Andy.
 

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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
What a great post chock full of useful information. Riddle me this Batman...for a drummer like myself who prefers everything wide open, zero muffling, with no holes cut....is it problematic to simply back the mics off?

Last time I miced for a festival, I asked the sound man (a friend) if he wouldn't mind if I used 2 overheads, snare and kick. Nothing close miced. OK the kick, sort of. He was very agreeable, stating that would make his job easier.

I really loved the sound of my drums that day. (every band used them so I got to hear them out front....a lot) The drums had atmosphere and sounded very natural. No muffling no porting. Close micing to me...the mics are too close to the head. Usually in a festival, the drum mics are far enough away from the other instruments to not pick up bleed, or very little as to be a non issue. So why not back them off a little?

Why close mic every tom when a pair of overheads works great? (assuming wide open tuning and no muffling) Every soundman knows the less mics onstage the easier the soundperson's job is. Tuning is way more important like this, I wouldn't want a dead thud sounding drum miced like this, but for someone who knows how to tune without muffling, I much prefer "far" micing. The sustain is more natural sounding. Even a bass drum with a full front head, I just make sure the mic is not dead center (too boomy to my ear) then I back mic off maybe 8" and it sounds beautiful to my ear.

Of course I don't have a whole lot of real life micing experience, but the last time I tried it my ideas worked great to my ear.

Thoughts Andy?
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
What a great post chock full of useful information. Riddle me this Batman...for a drummer like myself who prefers everything wide open, zero muffling, with no holes cut....is it problematic to simply back the mics off?

Last time I miced for a festival, I asked the sound man (a friend) if he wouldn't mind if I used 2 overheads, snare and kick. Nothing close miced. OK the kick, sort of. He was very agreeable, stating that would make his job easier.

I really loved the sound of my drums that day. (every band used them so I got to hear them out front....a lot) The drums had atmosphere and sounded very natural. No muffling no porting. Close micing to me...the mics are too close to the head. Usually in a festival, the drum mics are far enough away from the other instruments to not pick up bleed, or very little as to be a non issue. So why not back them off a little?

Why close mic every tom when a pair of overheads works great? (assuming wide open tuning and no muffling) Every soundman knows the less mics onstage the easier the soundperson's job is. Tuning is way more important like this, I wouldn't want a dead thud sounding drum miced like this, but for someone who knows how to tune without muffling, I much prefer "far" micing. The sustain is more natural sounding. Even a bass drum with a full front head, I just make sure the mic is not dead center (too boomy to my ear) then I back mic off maybe 8" and it sounds beautiful to my ear.

Of course I don't have a whole lot of real life micing experience, but the last time I tried it my ideas worked great to my ear.

Thoughts Andy?
Absolutely, on all counts Larry. I often play reasonable size gigs using only bass drum & two overheads, but it takes a well tuned kit that delivers tone to carry that off, & a sound engineer who's willing/able to depart from the norm. The reason that's uncommon in most small - medium festival/multi band gigs it two fold. 1: the engineer wants as much control of the soundscape as possible, & also wants to keep a common tech policy across performances. 2: Trust me, in such situations, you're very lucky if 1 in 20 kits turn up prepared correctly for that mic'ing technique in general amplified popular music presentations. if you mic'd up every kit that arrived on stage with two overheads & a bass drum mic, the result would be mostly horrible & very thin. Close mic'ing is a way of adding "weight" to the presentation, & that's what most engineers shoot for. Indeed, it's what most drummers shoot for, but very few actually achieve. They want that "expensive" sound, but in reality, have no idea how to achieve it, & most don't have the drums or tuning skills that are able to deliver it unreinforced by close mic'ing & a sprinkling of EQ flavouring.
 

wildbill

Platinum Member
I want to go climb that hill.
I'd do it too.


Understatement of the decade! :( Getting to bed at 2:30AM & hauling back out at 10:00AM for yet another full on day is tough on an old boy like me, but I'm enjoying it. No time now, got to go, but I'll be back here with a full update & responses to questions in the next few days. Lots of stories, lots of kits in every state imaginable.

Until then, here's a few pictures so far.

Cheers, Andy.
Love the hay bales in pics #5 and 6. Looks like farm country.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
The gretsch kit has offset lugs and the batter head lugs are spaced so as not to be in the way of the pedal mount. The reso head should not be a problem if the legs are extended a bit to get the center lug off of the ground.
 

spleeeeen

Platinum Member
What a great post chock full of useful information. Riddle me this Batman...for a drummer like myself who prefers everything wide open, zero muffling, with no holes cut....is it problematic to simply back the mics off?

Last time I miced for a festival, I asked the sound man (a friend) if he wouldn't mind if I used 2 overheads, snare and kick. Nothing close miced. OK the kick, sort of. He was very agreeable, stating that would make his job easier.

I really loved the sound of my drums that day. (every band used them so I got to hear them out front....a lot) The drums had atmosphere and sounded very natural. No muffling no porting. Close micing to me...the mics are too close to the head. Usually in a festival, the drum mics are far enough away from the other instruments to not pick up bleed, or very little as to be a non issue. So why not back them off a little?

Why close mic every tom when a pair of overheads works great? (assuming wide open tuning and no muffling) Every soundman knows the less mics onstage the easier the soundperson's job is. Tuning is way more important like this, I wouldn't want a dead thud sounding drum miced like this, but for someone who knows how to tune without muffling, I much prefer "far" micing. The sustain is more natural sounding. Even a bass drum with a full front head, I just make sure the mic is not dead center (too boomy to my ear) then I back mic off maybe 8" and it sounds beautiful to my ear.

Of course I don't have a whole lot of real life micing experience, but the last time I tried it my ideas worked great to my ear.

Thoughts Andy?
Absolutely, on all counts Larry. I often play reasonable size gigs using only bass drum & two overheads, but it takes a well tuned kit that delivers tone to carry that off, & a sound engineer who's willing/able to depart from the norm. The reason that's uncommon in most small - medium festival/multi band gigs it two fold. 1: the engineer wants as much control of the soundscape as possible, & also wants to keep a common tech policy across performances. 2: Trust me, in such situations, you're very lucky if 1 in 20 kits turn up prepared correctly for that mic'ing technique in general amplified popular music presentations. if you mic'd up every kit that arrived on stage with two overheads & a bass drum mic, the result would be mostly horrible & very thin. Close mic'ing is a way of adding "weight" to the presentation, & that's what most engineers shoot for. Indeed, it's what most drummers shoot for, but very few actually achieve. They want that "expensive" sound, but in reality, have no idea how to achieve it, & most don't have the drums or tuning skills that are able to deliver it unreinforced by close mic'ing & a sprinkling of EQ flavouring.
In recent months I've taken to mic'ing my kit (6 pieces) with two overheads, a bass drum mic and a not-close snare mic (Glyn Johns style) and I absolutely love it. For lack of better words, it sounds more "alive" and "natural." But as Andy mentioned, this works great with (a) drums that are tuned well and (b) drummers who can "mix" the kit within their playing (i.e., play different limbs/parts of the kit at different dynamic levels, such as mf hi-hats with ff snare backbeats). I just played a festival where many of the drums/drummers would have sounded crap with this arrangement. And as I expected close-mic'ing to be the order of the day, I put 2-ply heads on my toms and tuned the resos up a whole perfect fourth. As audience members and the recording told me afterward, they sounded wonderful. But with overheads only, I think they would have sounded thin and weak.

Great stuff as usual Andy. Thanks for taking the time to put all of this into a post.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Love the hay bales in pics #5 and 6. Looks like farm country.
Very much farm country. I love this little festival. Great vibe all round :)

The gretsch kit has offset lugs and the batter head lugs are spaced so as not to be in the way of the pedal mount. The reso head should not be a problem if the legs are extended a bit to get the center lug off of the ground.
Agreed Grunt, it's not a big issue, but in my personal opinion, it's just a pointless design. having to jack up the front of the bass drum often places the drum on an angle, & that correspondingly places a warp strain on the batter hoop at the clamping position. As pedal base plate heights are often fixed, or can only be jacked on the mini spurs (that in themselves place the pedal on an angle), it's just a poor piece of design all round with no practical benefit that I can appreciate, but can have both detuning & pedal security implications.

In recent months I've taken to mic'ing my kit (6 pieces) with two overheads, a bass drum mic and a not-close snare mic (Glyn Johns style) and I absolutely love it. For lack of better words, it sounds more "alive" and "natural." But as Andy mentioned, this works great with (a) drums that are tuned well and (b) drummers who can "mix" the kit within their playing (i.e., play different limbs/parts of the kit at different dynamic levels, such as mf hi-hats with ff snare backbeats). I just played a festival where many of the drums/drummers would have sounded crap with this arrangement. And as I expected close-mic'ing to be the order of the day, I put 2-ply heads on my toms and tuned the resos up a whole perfect fourth. As audience members and the recording told me afterward, they sounded wonderful. But with overheads only, I think they would have sounded thin and weak.

Great stuff as usual Andy. Thanks for taking the time to put all of this into a post.
Exactly, it's a balance appraisal thing. Glyn Johns absolutely breathes more life into a kit capture, but that has to benefit the playing style as well as fit into the overall stage vibe. There are technical considerations (mainly monitoring), as well as the suitability of the kit as presented. Such an approach is usually best undertaken by prior discussion between artist & engineer.

Thank you for your appreciation too :) I put this up in the hope it's of some use to some players, & the opportunity to ask questions.
 

whiteknightx

Silver Member
yes, I find this very interesting. As a guy who plays in bar bands primarily, almost any discussions about mic'ing and tuning are in relation to studio recording, and there is very little about live mic'ing. I find it extremely difficult to find any useful info at all on what to do to your kit for live performances.
All I can do really is tune my drums the way I normally do, and then hope the soundman can get a good sound out of them, which is less than ideal, but it's only a couple times a year at most that I'm mic'd up. Sometimes years can go by between these situations.

I wish someone would write up a definitive guide for how to prep your drums for live mic'ing situations!
 

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
One thing I like about playing an acoustic instrument is not having to worry about electronic components. I leave all that mic'ing business to the other guys to deal with. I've never cared to have a loud drum sound anyway, so I'm always happy with whatever extra sound they give me. It probably sounds crazy and ignorant to a guy who does Sound Engineering. One thing I've never cared for is snare mic'ing. It bugs me having something clipped to my snare drum, or finding room for some mic stand to fit a mic between my hats and left cymbal.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I wish someone would write up a definitive guide for how to prep your drums for live mic'ing situations!
Cheers :) A definitive guide to preparing your drums for live mic'ing would be difficult to do, because there's so many variables that are outside of your control. Exceptions being on tour with the same crew each night, or otherwise always using the same team. In terms of very general preparation were you have little idea of what you're walking into, my brief guide here is about as detailed as it's worth taking on board.

One thing I like about playing an acoustic instrument is not having to worry about electronic components. I leave all that mic'ing business to the other guys to deal with. I've never cared to have a loud drum sound anyway, so I'm always happy with whatever extra sound they give me. It probably sounds crazy and ignorant to a guy who does Sound Engineering. One thing I've never cared for is snare mic'ing. It bugs me having something clipped to my snare drum, or finding room for some mic stand to fit a mic between my hats and left cymbal.
Of course, it has nothing to do with a loud drum sound, & everything to do with sitting the drums accurately in the mix. The bigger the venue, the bigger the system, the more reliant any acoustic instrument becomes on reinforcement. You can use PA reinforcement to your advantage too. Adding "weight" to your sound, especially the bass drum, brings your drums in line with the "bigger than life" vibe afforded to the whole band performance. It's all about balance & context.

As for snare mic'ing, I'm with you there, although a good engineer can sneak a mic in without playing compromise or intrusion. You can run a 3 mic capture in almost any scenario (except maybe loud stage & big monitoring), but that relies very much on the quality of the drum sound. Quite honestly, most drummers fall well short in terms of presenting an instrument that's suitable for such an approach, & also, because they don't do this so often, usually lack the skills to augment dynamics accordingly. As a separate but related subject, this is where tactile monitoring works so well.
 

wsabol

Gold Member
MYTH - "It doesn't matter wether my kit sounds good or not, because through a big PA system, they all sound the same".
We all know "good" is as relative a term they come, and I know you are defining "good" here as taken care of and tuned - not trash.. While I agree with you Andy that a big PA system is not going to transform the sound of any kit, there is some truth to this, especially if you take all the advice you've given here. There's a lot of conformity looming in the background of what you're advising - taking what would be a variety of valid sounds and muffling/tuning/micing/mixing all the variety out. Aside from drum diameter/pitch, if your drums are tuned well and moongel/muffling is applied, drums tend to all sound the same, even regardless of what head you use (in the less than extreme cases).

not that all this conformity is a bad thing considering the situation, but I'd argue that for the average drummer whose kit is at least well taken care of, that myth is more or less true. This is to say, it's relatively easy to get a mainstream "politically correct" sounding kit. Given that you can tune heads, slap on some muffling, close mike, comp, and eq, and.. Tah! DAH!!. In the studio, its a different story, but every festival/concert I've been to, there is nothing that distinguishes any kit from any other.

Anyway, the tips you laid out are great, but kinda general. I'd love to hear some specifics and/or anecdotes from the festival on what worked and what didn't, what you liked and what you didn't, etc. For instance, for the kits you posted pictures of: what did you appreciate about the kit/head selection/muffling that made your job easier, and what challenges did each kit present and how did you deal with them?
 
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Diet Kirk

Silver Member
One thing I've never cared for is snare mic'ing. It bugs me having something clipped to my snare drum, or finding room for some mic stand to fit a mic between my hats and left cymbal.
The trick to this is buying a beast of a snare drum that cuts through anything whether the PA is massive or not. I've had numerous sound engineers astounded that they didn't need to mic my snare and yet never had a complaint that it was too loud in context.

As for snare mic'ing, I'm with you there, although a good engineer can sneak a mic in without playing compromise or intrusion. You can run a 3 mic capture in almost any scenario (except maybe loud stage & big monitoring), but that relies very much on the quality of the drum sound. Quite honestly, most drummers fall well short in terms of presenting an instrument that's suitable for such an approach, & also, because they don't do this so often, usually lack the skills to augment dynamics accordingly. As a separate but related subject, this is where tactile monitoring works so well.
What do you think about the close mic'ing ethos in general in a live situation. So much of the drum sound comes from the bottom heads, yet they are rarely mic'd in a live situation (or studio for that matter). You might luck out and get a bottom snare mic, but as someone who prides themselves on making beautiful sounding instruments and is something of a guru (see what I did there?) in terms of tuning drums realtive to their sizes, is there any benefit to mic'ing bottom heads in a live setting?

Anyway, the tips you laid out are great, but kinda general. I'd love to hear some specifics and/or anecdotes from the festival on what worked and what didn't, what you liked and what you didn't, etc. For instance, for the kits you posted pictures of: what did you appreciate about the kit/head selection/muffling that made your job easier, and what challenges did each kit present and how did you deal with them?
seconded :)
 
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