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Acoustic Drums for Metal: A Guide

Discussion in 'F.O.H.' started by Glenn Fricker, Nov 30, 2005.

  1. Glenn Fricker

    Glenn Fricker Very Metal &Very Bad News

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    Due to popular demand, here's my guide for recording drums. I'm going to break it down into five parts: Intro, essentials, setup/mics, tracking, and mixing. These will be spread out over the next two weeks or so, as I'm balancing my day job with studio demands, so please be patient!
    Once again, this is my way of giving back to the board, as you guys have helped me fine tune my guitar recording techniques more than you could know.
    Authour's note: If you're a drummer, you're going to find this article offensive. It never amazes me how easily big, tough heavy metal drummers get offended.... But what I'm about to write down is based on my personal experience.

    So, here we go:


    INTRODUCTION
    For the record, I'm not going to hide behind my handle for this article. My real name is Glenn Fricker, and i'm located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.... right across the river from Detroit. I've got about 15 years experience in the studio, mostly doing indie bands. I've also got a few small label albums under my belt, and I even record the occasional rock star. Making records is what I love to do... and the foundation is the drums.

    That being said,

    I fucking hate drummers. I really do. These are the meatheads that show up to the studio with broken cymbals, a shit kit, with six year old skins held together by duct tape, give a crap performance, wonder why they don't sound like Lars on "the Black Album" then look at you, the engineer, like it's your fault.
    Don't get me wrong, I've had the pleasure of recording some truly amazing drummers in my time, but they're rare birds. As an indie engineer, I mostly have to record "the other kind."

    My passion for recording drums goes back to 1990, during my college years. I was doing a music video for my band, and needed to record the audio track. After spending a day in the studio, I found myself asking, "Why do the drums sound like shit?" It took over ten years to find the answer.

    This arcticle isn't going to be a magic bullet. Don't expect to be cranking out the next "When the Levee Breaks" tomorrow. Learning to record drums is like learning a whole new instrument. It takes passion & perserverance. The whole point of this article is to be a guideline.... to hopefully save you some time in the trial & error process. Here's a really important rule of thumb: "If the drums sound like shit, the whole mix sounds like shit." You can have the heaviest guitar tone known to man, but if the drums are lame, your song will sound weak. Unforntuately, drums are a bitch to record if you're a newbie.

    I take an "old school' (or so I've been accused of) approach to drums. I like the sound of wood. Snares should go "crack" and not "clang." Bells go "clang." Toms should go "boom" not "tick." But I do love speed metal "click kicks." In other words, I'm not a very big fan of the drum sound on Metallica's "St. Awful."

    Drum sounds I DO like: Iron Maiden, "Where Eagles Dare." or "Powerslave." Wonderful toms on that record! Judas Priest: Anything on "British Steel" and the snare on "Heading out to the Highway." I also really dig Les Bink's work on "Stained Class."
    Of course there's Slayer's "Seasons in the Abyss," Metallica's "Black Album," and Pantera's "Cowboys." Those go without saying.
    I'm also a big fan of the drum sound on Corrosion's "Blind" album, and Kyuss' "Blues for the Red Sun" ....I guess you could say I'm into organic, natural sounding drums.... for the most part.



    Ok, Ok, I realize there wasn't much meat on the intro, but it's important to know where I stand on things before I start in on mic techniques & that sort of shit. If you know where I'm coming from, hopefully it'll get my suggestions across better. But, time is winding down, and I've gotta get my ass to work. I build Minivans at my day job :cry: Tomorrow or the next day, will be part two: CRITICAL ESSESNTIALS or "shit you really need to know."

    In the meantime, check out the drumsound on this clip. There's no sound replacement going on here... it's all natural.
    http://www.spectresound.ca/sound/In4Life - clip.mp3

    --Glenn
     
  2. SPLASTiK

    SPLASTiK Member

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    Sounds like my last recording! Floor tom had a 6 inch gash around the rim held up by duct tape.

    I couldn't get a sound out of it for the life of me. It was just a dead thud. Hitting your first against a wall would have sounded better.

    Sounds good already, looking forward to part II
     
  3. NathanSoulfracture

    NathanSoulfracture myspace.com/soulfracture

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    the old drummer i used to play with used to hold his stands together with sellotape.

    that soundclip sounds awesome to say its all natural, i like the snare especially.
     
  4. silverwulf

    silverwulf Ghost in the Machine

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    Sounds nice...and when you get the chance, (as I'm sure it's expected will be asked) please do include what your mics and signal chain were for recording drums on that clip...:kickass:
     
  5. Seizure.

    Seizure. Member

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    check what this guy achieved!!!

    Done ITB Nuendo. Guitars were fender jazzmaster > vox ac30 + fulldrive distortion. Not much I could do about them not sounding modern but I think it has a cool vibe.
    Attached Files

    http://gearslutz.com/board/attachment.php3?attachmentid=10781

    recorded at my studio..... www.castleultimate.com
    Vocalists voice is really challenging to get to sound right. I found it was either too thin and weak or too overcompressed sounding. Perhaps its because I dont have very good gear. Vocals were Rode NTK>DBX386 tube pre. Waves RVox and RDeEsser.

    Thanks for the tips. Do you think that if I didnt have the guitars and drums panned so wide that it would be more interferance with the vocals?
    Ive only been doing this for about 3 years so I will take any advice (including getting better gear hahah)

    OK HERE GOES!

    I guess I will start with gear list....

    Drums - Orange County Custom Maple Set (most of drums were plugged into presonus digimax which is transformerless preamp with built in variable limiters which i used on alot of the drums to get a "hotter" signal) (in general i do not like the sound of the preamp without the limiter at all)


    kick inside - d112 > presonus digimax
    kick outside - rode NT2 > digimax
    snare - 57 > digimax
    rack tom - 58 with the pop screen off > digimax
    floor tom - 421 > digimax
    overheads rode NT5s (recorderman style) > digimax
    rooms - marshall mxl large caps > dbx 386 tube pre

    The drummer knew how to play his kit in a very recording friendly way. Not to mention he had a nice ass kit with great cymbals for recording. "K Custom" crashes and "sweet ride" ride cymbal.

    Mostly Waves RenEQ on drums.... Did parallel compression with a "compression" buss and mixed that with non compressed drums into a "drum buss"
    Rooms and overheads mixed pretty high and since i did recorder man style, the drums cut through more than the cymbals so i used waves L1 lightly to bring up the cymbals in the overheads track which i guess made the snare/toms sound in the overheads sound even bigger.

    Bass was 70s P-Bass with maple neck > Ampeg 40 watt 1x15 combo.
    Miced with d112 and used T-Racks compressor (love that plugin) and some Waves EQ and some Waves RBass for a little sub enhancement. That was about it pretty easy with that one.

    Guitars...
    Fender Jazzmaster > Ac 30 head > marshall greenback 4x12 for rhythm.. add a fulltone fulldrive for more distortion on alot of parts.
    Mixture of Rode NTK and 421 (mostly 421) > presonus
    Rhythm powerchord tracks doubled but done on separate days with different mic placement and eq.
    Amp cranked for maximum goodness. (gotta do it with a vox)


    Vocals
    Rode NTK > 386
    RDe Esser RVox EQ and R Verb

    T Racks MB Limiter for mastering.


    :OMG:
     
  6. AmirH

    AmirH meh

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    Yes! what perfect timing for a thread like this- now I want part two please :)
     
  7. J the TyranT

    J the TyranT Thats just how it is...

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    For the record.. the type of "performer" you listed above isnt a "drummer"... its a douche bag who hits shit... those guys who want lessons but never practice the rudiments they're taught and wonder why their double bass just gallops along all unevenly and shit. There's just as many shit singers, guitarists and bassists if you want to at least keep insults and comparisons even though...

    J - actual drummer, actual bandleader
     
  8. ~BURNY~

    ~BURNY~ Member

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    @Seizure. Impressive. Sounds very very good to me. Cool tune btw.
     
  9. Glenn Fricker

    Glenn Fricker Very Metal &Very Bad News

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    Seizure.... very cool clip! Who was the dude, and can you point me to the original thread?
     
  10. Glenn Fricker

    Glenn Fricker Very Metal &Very Bad News

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    Very true. You can pretty much substitue "Shitty guitar player" for "Bass player" in 9 out of 10 situations..... However, this is a thread about drums, so yes, I'll be picking on drummers quite a bit. Like I said eariler, if you play drums, you will be offended :)
     
  11. Glenn Fricker

    Glenn Fricker Very Metal &Very Bad News

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    Part 2: CRITICAL ESSENTIALS (the shit you really need to know)

    Buy GEAR! Preamps! Converters! Summing Busses! Spend, spend, SPEND!

    Ok, forget all that bullshit for a minute. Unlike what every pro audio rag is trying to ram down your throat, I'm going to give you some useful advice. Gear is nice. Especially the stuff with lots of LEDs that impress the hell out of the clients. But it's not the be all, end all. Otherwise, every kid who buys a Marshall & Fender Strat would sound like Hendrix.

    One thing to keep in mind here: We're going for a "good" drum sound, so it's not always going to be inexpensive.


    Where to start: the room.
    Take a good look at the space you'll be recording drums at. I'll assume you don't have too much leakage/bitchy neighbours, otherwise stop right here and go buy some V-drums.
    Is your room rectangular? Do you have parallel walls? If so, it's time to run down to Home Depot and pick up about 8 sheets of plywood. You'll want to lean these up against 2 of the walls (NOT the opposing ones), with the bottom kicked out about a foot or so. There, you just broke up your standing wave problem. It's probably not the prettiest solution, but it does work. If you're starting from the ground up, don't build paralell walls!
    If you've got some extra cash & time, you can also build some Hemholtz resonators. These absorb low frequencies & give you a bit of diffusion as well. They also look fucking cool & sound awesome. I went with the non-parallel wall, resonator design for my drum room.
    [​IMG]

    Take a look at your floor. Is it carpet over concrete? Blech! That ain't gonna work. While you're at Home Depot, grab 2 more sheets of plywood. Fasten them together (piano hinge works great for this) and you've got yourself an 8X8 drum platform. The added bonus of this is you've just brightened the sound of your kit big time, and it WILL save you a lot of grief during the mix process.
    Here's a pic of mine:

    [​IMG]

    Notice I've got a wood floor. I'm using the plywood so my kick pegs have something to dig into without fucking up my nice floor. I've tried both carpet & wood, and believe me, the wood works a whole lot better.

    Ceiling: I like the reflective floor/absorbing ceiling setup. If you're cheap, tack up some foam pyramids on the ceiling. If you've got some cash, and the time, cloth covered insulation is a great route to go. I built my drum room from the ground up, so we built the ceiling backwards, with the drywall on the outside of the studs. Actually, my whole studio was built this way... it's a bitch to do, but saves huge amounts of space.
    Here's a pic of my drum room ceiling:
    [​IMG]

    One final idea: If you've got the time, cash, and a really high ceiling, build an acoustic cloud over where the drums will sit. It's basically a framework built of 2X4's, designed to hold insulation, covered in cloth.... Physically separated by a foot of so from the main ceiling. They're a total bitch to build, but they sound great.

    The Kit itself:

    Is it in good shape? Are there parts missing? Do the lugs rattle when the drum is struck? FIX IT GODDAMNIT
    Most drummers I've worked with are notoriously cheap. They will try to get away with spending as little as possible, so don't expect much help from them. Broken cymbals? Don't waste your time with 'em. Have a set (yes, a full set) on hand, always. Not the cheapest solution, but absolutley necessary.
    Skins: Are they ancient? Toss 'em. Are they broken? Toss 'em. Are they divoted? Toss 'em. Generally, I replace the skins on my house kit every other project. Not cheap, but it keeps the drums sounding great.
    What skins to buy?
    Toms: I like Evans G2 clears on the batters, but Remo clear Ambassadors are great too. Coated also works, but try to stay away from the ebony pinstripes. I like a "rolling thunder" sound on the toms, not "tick." Make sure your resonating heads are in good shape and not too old either. Evans makes decent tom reso heads if you need to replace 'em.
    Snare: My top choice: Evans Coated Genera DRY with internal muting ring & vent holes. This is a great head if you want a 'snappy' snare and not a 'clanging' one. It's wonderful for getting rid of primary overtones. I've tried thicker & thinner ones, but I always keep coming back to this one. Evans transulcent on the bottom skin as well.
    Kick: Batter... Remo Ebony Pinstripe. For going after the click kick sound, this is what always works for me.... that, and I don't put a front head on, either.

    The other option: House kit.
    This is the route I went. I've got a five piece DW collector's maple on hand, and it sure gets alot of use. Needless to say, I got tired of drummers bringing in utter crap and having to deal with it. I do all the maintenence, head replacement, tuning, you name it. The bonus here is I'm in total control over how the kit sounds. It never leaves the studio, so I know it's always in great shape. Besides, when I get some idiot whining that he wants to play his Tama Rockstars, I've got the ultimate comeback line: "What, DW isn't good enough for you?"
    I'd say that the DW kit gets played on 8 of 10 projects. I'll only let a drummer bring in his kit if it's equal or better quality. That's usually the drummer who has his shit together, has made an investment in his instrument, and knows what he wants. I love those sessions.

    Ok, now a few last pieces of advice for this part of the article:
    LEARN TO TUNE DRUMS 19 out of 20 drummers will say they know how to tune drums. 18 of those guys are absolute total fucking liars. In 7 years of professional recording, I've met three (not a typo) yes, three drummers who know how to tune drums. Suffice it to say, it's not an easy skill to learn.
    But you can do it. And if you want your drum tracks to sound great, you will learn. This, my friends, is what you need:
    [​IMG]
    This is the Tama Tension Watch. An absolutely indispensible tool. It measures the tension on the head at the lug, and is really accurate too. Buy one of these, read the manual, and practice your ass off with it. Try different tunings, top/bottom head variants, you name it. You can't learn to work with it overnight, but it's worth it to put some time in with it.
    I've had one of the best (IMHO) Swedish Speed Metal drummers tell me, "Dude, you can really tune drums." After he watched me go at it on the kit with the Tension watch. Practice, Practice, Practice. Learn how to use this thing. You'll be a hero to drummers worldwide :)

    And finally, one last thing... and the most important. Make sure the drums are dropped off at least 24 hours before setup. If you don't have a house kit, or the drummer is bringing his kit, he must, absolutely, without question, always, always, always, drop off his kit 24 hours ahead of the session.

    What? Why? Becuase drums need to climatize. The shells & skins must adjust for temparature & humidity variations. If there's one point you learn from all this, LEARN THIS ONE. You will save yourself no end of grief.
    Just have the drummer set his kit down in the corner the day before the session. That's all. Not too hard. Tune them up the next day. Just make sure... 24 hours.

    If not, you'll be fighting an uphill battle... Like trying to scale Mt. Everest on a unicycle. The drums WILL sound better if they have time to adjust. Try this out, you'll like the result.


    Ok, I hope you guys liked this part of the article. Next time: Setup.
    I'm about ready to keel over from the flu, so I'll sign off now.
    --Glenn
     
  12. adrianvillan

    adrianvillan Metal Commando.

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    Hey thank you for all the great info. Much appreciated.:worship:
     
  13. egan.

    egan. daylightdies.com

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    LMFAO. The numbers aren't much better for those that have good time.
     
  14. ~BURNY~

    ~BURNY~ Member

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    OzNimbus, what tuning do you use for toms? I mean top and bottom? I managed to tune some drums with the DW technique lately... With my ears... That wasn't very good. But finding the shell resonance frequency seems to make sense.
     
  15. Razorjack

    Razorjack Bass Behemoth

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    The same goes for guitarists.
     
  16. Sinister Mephisto

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    Only with guitarists there isn't even that one guy who admits it. :erk:
     
  17. Hopkins-WitchfinderGeneral

    Hopkins-WitchfinderGeneral we are children of god

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    guitarists that refuse to use a tuner are the best.

    my foot, their face.
     
  18. Razorjack

    Razorjack Bass Behemoth

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    I once cut a guitarsists strings for not tuning before a take. I asked if he had and he said "Yeah, sure" we got about three bars into the take and I heard the most out of tune chord ever, stopped the take went into the live room with a pair of plyers and snipped his top three strings off. He listened to everything I said after that.
     
  19. Lord Lurion

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    Fuckin LOL!!! Drastic measures rule to get a point across.
     
  20. xtranscendedx

    xtranscendedx Member

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    Wow you got balls man:OMG: thats a lil extreme but hey if it works
     

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