In this multi-part series we look at different approaches to recording a drum kit.
In part one we take a minimalist approach and mic the kit for a “vintage” sound.
In each of the coming instalments we'll mic up a different kit with a different selection of microphones in our Sydney Recording Studios.
THE SONG: You Made Me Love You
We needed to record an old jazz classic, You Made Me Love You, for the soundtrack to a short film. The piece will have live recorded drums, bass and trumpet as well as a synth string part. The feel is lazy and laid-back, and the sound of the drum kit needs to suit the music and the era. For this reason we've chosen the RCA77DX as the mono drum overhead microphone, to impart a vintage character to the sound.
THE DRUM KIT: Gretsch 'Green Strata'
Gretsch 'Stop Sign Badge' drum kit from 1971. Green Strata is a rare original 'wrap' not featured in any Gretsch catalogue.
Affectionately known as Kermit, this is one of our most cherished kits at the studio. It has an incredible tone and is in superb, original condition.
The classic “pill-shaped” microphone introduced in 1954 and seen in so many studio photos from the 50's. A ribbon microphone, it has a somewhat dark, rich tone. The frequency response changes as the microphone is tilted and the ribbon 'sags' slightly! It definitely has a lot of character. Long out of production, it was last seen in an RCA product catalogue in 1967.
A classic Dynamic microphone. Originally intended for vocals, engineers found the D12 (and its close relatives like the D25) to be perfect for low frequency instruments like bass and kick drum. The D12 is no longer in production. The D12VR is the modern replacement from AKG, though it's quite a different looking and sounding microphone.
Often called the “Beatle” microphone because it was used extensively throughout the Beatles' recording career. This classic dynamic microphone was commonly used on snare, toms and overhead. No longer in production.
Made by AKG the same as their D19C but badged Telefunken and with a different colour paint job. This wasn't uncommon. AKG also made a white D19C and badged it for Philips.
When close-miking drums, there are a number of general principles to be aware of.
The closer the microphone to the drum the more bottom end (due to proximity effect) and the less spill from other drums & cymbals. However, having the mic too close gives a very narrow, dull sound. Placing the mic further back captures more of the 'complete sound' of the drum, including harmonics coming off different areas like the rim.
Aiming the microphone at the centre of the drum will give more 'attack'. For more overtones (harmonics) have the mic capsule above the rim of the drum. For a drier sound with less ring, have the mic capsule outside the rim of the drum.
Kick Drum: placing the mic off-centre will give more bottom end, as the very centre tends to be more 'dead'.
These principles along with various hi-hat, cymbal, room and overhead miking configurations and phase considerations will be explored further in the coming installments of this series.
Placed about 3 inches in front of the kick drum head, halfway between the centre of the drum and the rim.
The snare drum microphone is positioned just outside the rim, a couple of inches up, and aimed just short of the centre of the drum.
The wallet is on the snare for dampening.
OVERHEAD: RCA 77DX
A classic ribbon microphone for a vintage overhead kit sound. Placed above the drummer's head and aimed at the toms.
You probably haven't heard of the 'Wurst' mic before, and you're probably thinking this must be some kind of joke. Well it isn't. The wurst mic position was discovered by German Producer Moses Schneider in the 1980's. Regardless of the reasoning behind its name, the 'wurst' microphone is often the best mic position of them all, as it picks up an equal amount of pretty much every element of the drum kit.
IN THE MIX
It's important to remember there is no such thing as the "ultimate" drum sound. The sound of the drum kit (or any instrument for that matter) should always suit the music you're recording. That could mean a 'trashy' drum sound for garage rock; a tight, clean & crisp sound for pop; or a more natural, open sound for jazz. In this case, a 'vintage' tone is gained from using the RCA 77DX as the overhead microphone.
The RCA 77DX was put through a Teletronix LA2A. Not an obvious compressor choice for drums (being a slow compressor) but worked nicely just riding the level of the overhead mic.
The Kick (D12) was EQ'd with an API 550A to bring out the low thud at 40Hz and to dip out some of the frequencies above (where the bass sits). The signal was gated through a Valley People Kepex II to tighten-up the punch.
The Wurst mic (D19C) was put through a Universal Audio 1176 compressor/limiter.
We didn't end up using the Snare mic (AKG D19C) in the mix. Why? Because the kit sound was 'there' with the overhead (RCA 77DX), the Wurst mic (Telefunken D19C) and Kick mic (AKG D12). The snare mic just didn't add anything, and there was just the right amount of snare in the 'Wurst' mic, so we left the snare mic out.
LESS IS MORE
So there you go: just three great microphones and one great 'vintage' drum sound! What could be easier?