For most musicians, recording your music at home with whatever equipment you could get your hands on was simply the only way to get around the expense of established studios with all the gear you wish you had.
However, with a pandemic locking creatives inside, we’ve seen a new rise in entrepreneurial artists making astonishing music all from the comfort of their own homes! To accompany this rise, more affordable microphones and interfaces have flooded the market, with features that further blur the line between beginner and professional. The question that remains is just how to get the best out of these tools.
Us drummers have possibly one of the most difficult instruments to record on any sort of budget, with so much of the final sound coming down to the room we record in amongst other big factors. In lieu of being able to record at Abbey Road, many of us are honing our craft in our rooms, myself included. Over the last three weeks I’ve challenged myself to record with a single microphone in varying proximity to the kit, and finally recorded with four microphones in my bedroom to see what I could make of my space, here’s what I found.
Treat Your Drums
All the mixing and post-processing in the world can only do so much for drums that don’t sound good in the room without the recording gear. If you have a sound in your head that you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s the crunchy and organic sounds of Tame Impala, or the modern and powerful tones of Animals as Leaders, your choice of drum heads, tuning, and room treatment will make the difference in any recording situation. I’ve linked some helpful resources at the bottom of this post that have aided me in my understanding of drum treatment/recording and may guide you to your drum destination.
Once you have your drums sounding the way you want in the room, it’s now time to get into the next important aspect of home drum recording, mic placement.
Placement Is Everything
Before hitting record, taking the time to move your microphone/s around and listening back to your playing is a great way to understand what sound you’ll be working with when you get off the drums and sit down to mix.
When you’ve only got one microphone to work with, your placement of the mic in relation to the kit will become much more noticeable when trying to reach a comfortable balance of each drum and the cymbals.
Below is a sample of some playing, with my Warm Audio WA-47jr placed about 20cm away from my right knee between my rack tom and floor tom, with the omnidirectional polar pattern engaged.
This second example has the same microphone placed high above my shoulder overlooking the kit with the cardioid polar pattern engaged aimed at the snare drum.
These two short clips show that you can get very usable sounds with just a single microphone, and that where you place the microphone can achieve a very different sound. The balance between drums as well as overall frequency content can create drastically different vibes!
As you build your microphone collection, you’ll be able to capture more detailed and specific sounds out of your kit. I recommend starting with a Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone, such as the Warm Audio WA-47jr, that includes multiple polar patterns. Having access to different polar patterns will allow you to expand your sound palette without even moving the microphone!
The second microphone you add will likely be your toughest choice, as you’ll want to compliment your existing mic whilst also adding more tonal options. There really is no right answer here, just consider what void you’re looking to fill from your first microphone, and look for something that does the trick sonically!
A four-microphone setup is the extent to which I can currently record with my Audient ID44 interface so I pushed those limits with a few extra microphones in the configuration below:
In order to get more punch from the kick, a Shure Beta 52a was positioned just inside the port of the bass drum pointed directly at the beater. This added to the definition and attack of the low end.
Here is a clip of the raw sound of the four microphones, with only some balancing of the levels and no post-processing applied:
There is a noticeable increase in the overall body and weight of the sound, with the 57 and 52a playing their part of bringing the kick and snare to the front of the mix.
Here is the same clip again but with some post-processing using only the plugins provided with Logic Pro X:
The use of Gating, Equalisation, Compression, along with a sprinkle of Reverb gives the clip some needed high-end presence and space whilst conserving the punch and feel of the raw tracks.
Technical jargon aside, what I hope this experiment shows is that recording drums at home is as viable and great alternative to the studio, as it is a means to expanding your vocabulary for when you find yourself in a professional recording space and want to articulate your goals to a producer in order to make your music on your terms!
Devon Brassfield is a drummer and producer based in Wellington with 6 years of playing/recording experience. He spends most of his free time messing about with experimental drum sounds for sessions or just for fun! You can catch him in the Wellington branch if you're keen for a yarn or some help on anything audio related.