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  #1  
Old 09-04-2013, 07:26 AM
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Default Myths of recording studio drums?

Any studio drummers out there - here are some naive questions I always wondered about.

Why are drums almost always recorded first in laying down tracks for a song, or is that just old school? I mean one could follow basic parts or structure of a song by its rhythm guitar.

Also, why does it take SO long to get a good enough drum sound to start. I have read accounts of many hours to days to get the drums 'right' for a track. Is this myth? I would have thought since days of multi-track and basic eq'ing (i.e. since mid 1970's) this need not be.

In your opinions, in rock music, who are the best record producers of drum sounds, or what are great examples of drum recording? I have read for example Roger Waters quite admired drum sounds on recording by the Band (esp. Big Pink).
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Old 09-04-2013, 08:32 AM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

Drums are usually tracked first, typically with bass and often additional instruments, because they're the foundation of the track. It's much easier for other players to follow a drum track, than for most drummers to successfully and quickly add drums to an existing track. Sure it's done all the time, but it's easier and tends to sound more natural - as if the band had actually played together - if the drums are included from the start. I've tracked in every imaginable way, and I definitely prefer doing drums first with as many instruments as needed to give the track the right feel. Sometimes it's drums only, and that works too.

Drum sounds are very subjective, and success depends on the tuning, damping, miking, ambience, processing, and of course the player and engineer. I've also heard stories of taking lengthy periods to get sounds, but I've never encountered it. Al's long-time engineer was a drummer, and we got fabulous sounds in maybe 15 minutes. New engineer gets them in the same time.

Best producers? Depends what you like. I don't think there are any bad drum sounds, but some are more interesting or have a better feel than others. But, it's really subjective, there is no aboslute "best". I mean, who's the best drummer? What's the best car? Who makes the best hamburgers?

See?

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Old 09-04-2013, 09:13 AM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Originally Posted by opentune View Post
Also, why does it take SO long to get a good enough drum sound to start..
A guitar player, a bassist, a vocalist, a cellist -- they all produce one mono audio signal, easily and often captured with a single microphone.

A kit has many voices, usually more than eight, and some voices are to the right, left, or center of the instrument. Lots of mics to set up, and placement matters.

When you close mic each drum, you're hearing the kit differently than if you just used your ears as you played. Quite naturally, the drums and mic placement will need tweaking.

Then there is the mood of the music, and how it relates to the drum sizes, tuning, and touch of the player...
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Old 09-04-2013, 09:24 AM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

I recall Stewart Copeland saying there were a few Police tracks that they tracked backwards - meaning that because they had drum machines at their disposal, Sting and Andy could record their parts with a static drum machine rhythm, and then Stewart got to come in and overdub 'like the rest of the adults'. I thought that was pretty cool. But I guess it depends on how good your other players are. If you're working with guys who need the drums tracked first, I guess that's what you do.

For the little bit of tracking I've done on small projects, the one myth that I think isn't a myth is that the engineer will come at you with gaff tape, and fabrics and tell you to remove the front bass drum head. People tracking live resonant drums in a big room with one or two mics seems pretty mythical to me ;)
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Old 09-04-2013, 09:55 AM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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I mean, who's the best drummer? What's the best car? Who makes the best hamburgers?
I can't help you on the first two questions, but on the third one: In "N" Out Double-Double is the best hands down.
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Old 09-04-2013, 10:03 AM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Originally Posted by Bo Eder View Post
For the little bit of tracking I've done on small projects, the one myth that I think isn't a myth is that the engineer will come at you with gaff tape, and fabrics and tell you to remove the front bass drum head. People tracking live resonant drums in a big room with one or two mics seems pretty mythical to me ;)
Hear hear. I hated it, but it's true.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:27 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Originally Posted by Bo Eder View Post
For the little bit of tracking I've done on small projects, the one myth that I think isn't a myth is that the engineer will come at you with gaff tape, and fabrics and tell you to remove the front bass drum head. People tracking live resonant drums in a big room with one or two mics seems pretty mythical to me ;)
I know that as drummers we hate to hear this but it is absolutely true. Im not sure, however, that it is as big of a deal as we make it out to be. In the recording sessions I am currently in my guitarist showed up with his amazing Marshall plexi and was basically told it sounded like shit. He ended up playing through an axe-fx digital processor with a cabinet simulator. As a guitarist it was as bad as plastering gaffer tape all over the drums, but all of us agree it sounds great. The bassist went through a similar thing with his bass rig. Its all part of being in the studio.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:11 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Originally Posted by Bo Eder View Post
People tracking live resonant drums in a big room with one or two mics seems pretty mythical to me ;)
It depends on the sound needed. Drums sound different 2" from the batter head or inside the kick - the normal miking positions - than they do a foot away, or across the room. The "air" between an instrument and the listener (mic in this case) greatly affects the sound. That includes how amps are mic'd, horns, etc.

I recently did a session with marching bass, snare and cymbals. Should they have been close mic'd the way a kit might be? No way! Why? Because the way an audience perceives the sound of a marching drum is at a distance, with some air between them and the marching band. Now, we didn't mic from 50 yds away, but we did mic from as far across the room as possible, and got an authentic sound as a result.*

Bermuda

* Yes I used a 26" bass drum and real marching mallets, 10x14" marching snare with 2S sticks, and 2 sets of marching band cymbals.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:12 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Best producers? Depends what you like. I don't think there are any bad drum sounds, but some are more interesting or have a better feel than others. But, it's really subjective, there is no aboslute "best". I mean, who's the best drummer? What's the best car? Who makes the best hamburgers?
Well yes, but I just mean opinions. In one's opinion, what are some good examples?

For example it seems in the 60's some bands the drums were not well recorded at all, and in others (say the Who) they were quite well-recorded for the time.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:53 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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For example it seems in the 60's some bands the drums were not well recorded at all, and in others (say the Who) they were quite well-recorded for the time.
I don't know if I'd pick out '60s Who as having good or advanced drum sounds, I think Moonie's playing overshadowed any sonic quality or production value the drums may actually have had. Conversely, let's look at Led Zeppelin, where the drum sound (resulting from miking) was as famous as the playing and the player. Put Bonzo on a bop kit, and no, it would not still sound like him (from the commonly held belief that the drummer is primarily responsible for the drum sound vs the drums or the production, and that he could play any kit and sound the same.)

But there were some groundbreaking producers, maybe the first in the rock era was Joe Meek, who I thinkk was the first engineer/producer to pad up a bass drum and put a mic inside. George Martin (Beatles et al) explored close-miking by the mid-'60s, and Glyn Johns and to a greater extent, Eddie Kramer were responsible for Bonzo's sound, definitely a turning point from the norm (although nobody else could really get away with using that sound.)

Doesn't seem like much must have been going on here in the States at the time, although there were some hot and up & coming producers. They just didn't seem to focus on groundbreaking drum sounds.

But later, the advent of new outboard gear more spurred some creative sounds, and just about anyone with an imagination and a control room could make a kit sound bold or different oe ear-catching. Bob Clearmountain comes to mind, and Butch Vig who's also a player. But, I'm still talking '80/90s here.

Hard to say who's a recognizable producer today known for their standout drum sounds. With samples, outboard gear, plug-ins... sounds are limited only by one's imagination. I don't think I've heard anything amazing or really different for a while. Some of the extreme sounds we hear are just the exploitation of plug-ins, more like "yeah, it was just a matter of time before someone used that on drums." Anyone with a MacBook and Logic could do the same.

Bermuda

Last edited by bermuda; 09-04-2013 at 06:24 PM.
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  #11  
Old 09-04-2013, 07:13 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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Conversely, let's look at Led Zeppelin, where the drum sound (resulting from miking) was as famous as the playing and the player.
For sure Led Zep I seemed a turning point. The drums on Jeff Beck's Truth (out just months before) were equally in your face.

I guess in the USA, the Stax sound was somewhat notable, but maybe not for its drum sounds, more the overall picture. I always thought it a pity most Motown drums and drumming were not very well recorded, and down in the mix.

I realize all this is kind of a lost art in the digital age.
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Old 09-04-2013, 08:32 PM
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Default Re: myths of recording studio drums?

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I guess in the USA, the Stax sound was somewhat notable, but maybe not for its drum sounds, more the overall picture. I always thought it a pity most Motown drums and drumming were not very well recorded, and down in the mix.

I realize all this is kind of a lost art in the digital age.
Don't forget that drums being up in the mix was never the norm until fairly recently, maybe the mid '70s with disco. Then again, those mixes seem pretty tame by today's standards.It wasn't that they were ever too quiet, they were simply more balanced with the other instruments. If someone in the '60s or '70s heard a rock or dance mix from the 21st century, they'd surely say the kick and snare were overpowering and unnatural.

In hindsight, the old mixes and sounds weren't bad, they were what they were. Often, they were state of the art, but that's an ever-changing concept anyway. SOTA from 40 years ago wouldn't fly today, just as the hyper-mixes of today would be completely foreign to even the most visionary and cutting edge players, producers and engineers of the past.

But, many musical sounds are different today, particularly in pop music. They're "designed", they don't originate from traditional acoustic or electric instruments. They cover a much wider bandwidth, and other instruments, like drums and bass, need to compete to be heard and felt. It's much more than just a balancing act with levels, there's EQ and processing that must help carve out a sonic place for each within that spectrum, so that everything can be heard better without fighting volume-wise.

Best example I can cite is where the kick and bass guitar ranges live. If the bass is really low, the kick needs to be higher and possess more attack, so they're not competing too heavily for the same frequencies. And vice versa, if the bass guitar has more attack, then the kick can get more thump and control the bottom end.

Bermuda
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Old 09-05-2013, 05:11 AM
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Default Re: Myths of recording studio drums?

I think there's certainly a "bad" sound as it relates to the music- for example, this might have worked in an electronic or experimental group. Probably not metal though.

As far as good sounds go- even though the snare was triggered, I think Images & Words had really good drum sounds that still sound good today. Certainly, mostly fitting of Mike's playing and conducive to the music.
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Old 09-06-2013, 01:10 AM
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Default Re: Myths of recording studio drums?

Yes. I'm usually first to track and the others use me as the click. They will build their parts around me. I'm usually recording to a "scratch" track, and they build from there.
I've been in the studio for 8 hours to get 2 songs done, go home sleep and do it again the next day. We try to capture the most lively sounding drums to get the right feel for the tune. It takes that long because in my case, the artist/producer always wants to have options that they can splice in later into the track, maybe a fill here or another fill there. Sometimes the feel isn't there and they want a different feel. It's not a myth, and yes it can be grueling process, but I have tons of fun in the studio. It's live where I tend to tense up because I want to play it right, like I did in the studio!!!
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Old 09-06-2013, 03:57 AM
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Default Re: Myths of recording studio drums?

A lot of the time (and what I like to do) is back into a track.
The band or artists records a demo of the song to a click or programed drum track.
Then I come in and lay down the drums. All the scratch tracks are then deleted and the rest of the musicians use my drumming to record their parts at a later date.

So the drums are done first... kinda....lol
Check out my You Tube channel, I have a whole playlist of studio sessions and just about ever one is me recording by myself to scratch tracks and no other live musicians.

http://www.youtube.com/masonni

As far as taking forever to get a good drum sound... a lot goes into it. Some drums sound better in other rooms, sometimes this drum or that drum may or may not sound right with this song. I'm not going to record a popcorn snare with a 6/8 rock ballad. And I don't want giant rock drums on a punk song...
More drummers than you know also dont know how to tune. If you can tune your own kit, and I mean really know how to tune it, getting sounds for a track is much faster.
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Old 09-06-2013, 08:43 AM
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Default Re: Myths of recording studio drums?

Disco was also probably the beginning of the widespread use of what you might call "foley" in drum replacement. 5 gal ice cream cartons with tympani mallets for bass drums, slapping two boards together for clap tracks and so on. From there, early samplers and triggerable digital boxes like the TC2290 allowed for tailored sounds to be replaced for every hit.

As to the sequence, in my own home recording thing, I get better results leaving the drums for later. They follow the groove and react to dynamics better that way. Unless you're playing something highly rehearsed or with highly arranged dynamics and cues. I got started doing it this way for audio reasons. 4 track cassettes and 1/4" reel to reels. Reading about how early multi-track assembled recordings where done when there was lots of bouncing. The drums sounded clearer when there were less generations. While bass, rhythm guitar or keyboard pads could suffer being bounced more without sounding bad.
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