[I was aiming to post every day this week, but alas I've been in crisis mode since Monday. I'm Back from a fatal hard drive crash that nearly took me completely out this week. I got REALLY lucky-I recovered nearly all my files. In any case, below is the post I had planned to publish on Monday...]
If you’ve been reading my recent posts over the last couple weeks about recording individual parts of the drum kit, then I bet you can guess what I’m going to say about recording drum overheads…
The best approach to capturing a great, well-balanced overhead sound is the most simple, quickest to set up, and phase friendly miking method. You guessed it, this means using only one mic.
This mono approach to capturing a drum overhead sound I learned all about from a great friend and mentor, who is a very talented engineer. It took me a while to warm up to the idea of using only one mic to capture the overhead sound of the kit, but once I tried it and really dug in, I was very pleased with the outcome.
As I’ve explained before, the less mics you have on a source, the less phase issues you come up against. And the less phase issues there are, the more hi-fi the sound of your recordings. You can’t be any more phase accurate than one single mic.
From a mixing standpoint, using just one mono overhead, condenses and centers the kit within the overall mix of the track. When placed directly in the center of the stereo spectrum this way, the drums are set up to have a nice punchy impact that supports the mix in a natural way. It’s kind of like the primary pillar of a an architectural structure that supports the whole building.
Additionally, a mono overhead simplifies the aspect of recording the cymbals. An interesting observation that my mentor pointed out is that when you record drums with multiple overhead mics, often the cymbals can cause momentary phase-like anomalies that sound a bit ugly. Using one overhead eliminates this, as there’s no chance for timing discrepancies between multiple overhead mics.
So here’s what I recommend:
Start with one well-placed mic centered over the twelve o’clock and six o’clock positions of the snare and rack tom respectively (from the drummers viewpoint), and anywhere from one to five feet in hight over the kit. This gives you a balanced sound from all the elements of the kit in relation to the cymbals. Next, listen and adjust depending on certain specific factors, such as the player, the style of music, and the aesthetic of the band and song. The initial placement should get you 90 percent there, and the adjustments you make after listening will fine tune your sound the rest of the way.
But what about the stereo image of the drums? If you’re worried about sacrificing the stereo image of the drum kit on account of this mono overhead approach, here’s a couple things to consider:
So that’s my favorite approach to recording drum overheads. I certainly still employ other overhead techniques from time-to-time, but this mono overhead technique has indeed done me well. Give it a try sometime. I bet, just as I was, you will be pleased with your result.
The one that is the most minimalist, basic, and straightforward… the one that you have seen work well for someone more experienced than you.
You don’t need a ton of mics to properly record a drum kit and make it sound huge. Glyn Johns didn’t when he recorded John Bonham’s kit.
You would be surprised how much you can do with even just two or three 57′s, no matter what genre of music you’re working in. I’ve recorded folk-rock/americana records, post-punk records, and even prog-rock records, all only using four or five mics to record the drums.
To be honest, I’d even go so far to say that the less mics you have on the drums, the bigger they will sound. When you place a lot of mics on an instrument, you introduce a more complex phase relationship. And when microphones are out of phase, that’s the number one reason for a recording sounding small. So the less mics, the less phase discrepancy, the bigger the sound.
Two take-away’s here:
Next time you record drums, start with just three or four mics at first, and only introduce more mics into the equation if you feel like something is truly lacking. But make sure every time you add a mic, you reevaluate the phase relationship of everything.
Here’s a few quick ideas for crafting your tone when recording electric guitars. Because many of us working at home in our project studios don’t have access to a lot of outboard EQs (I sure don’t), I’ve left the use of EQ out of the equation. Personally, I’m of the mentality that you should work with the source you’re recording to craft the tone, then use microphone selection and techniques to further craft the tone you’re looking for. There is certainly a place for EQ, but I’m a believer in not only keeping things as simple as possible, but also holding out on EQ as much as possible-using it only as the last coat of shine to a source that is already great.
Using multiple mics allows you to blend the response curves of the mics together, creating a tone full of warm nuances. It’s kind of like taking a photograph with several different lenses at the same time, and then blending the qualities of these lenses together to create a picture with a unique look.
Grab an amp splitter or A/B/Y pedal. There are lots of companies that manufacture these. You can get a simple two-way splitter (A/B/Y pedal), or if you’ve got a little more cash on hand you can get more sophisticated with a multi-way splitter.
In any case, split your guitar signal through two or more amps. Then blend the tones together just like in the technique above. You can use the same type of mic on every amp, or try different combinations for more complex tonal shaping.
Layering parts with different tones
One of my favorite things to do is to have the musician perform the same part multiple times, but change different parts of the setup, such as the guitar, the amp, the pedals, the mic, the pre, or all of it. This way, you’re not only getting variations in the tone of the guitar, but also in the nuances of the musician’s playing. Really makes the overall track have a big sound in the end.
So there’s three fairly basic and widely used techniques to capture a great guitar tone in recording, but I thought I’d throw in a few extras as a bonus.
There is some great outboard gear, as well as some software phase alignment tools on the market. These tools allow you to play with the phase of the signal-continuosly sweeping it from anywhere between 0 deg to 180 deg in phase adjustment. When it comes to electric guitars (especially in rock) playing with the phase of signals can create some really interesting and inspiring tones.
Another way to play with the phase of signals is to simply change the placement of two or more mics in relation to one another on a source signal. Equally as interesting and inspiring as above. When positioning microphones, play around with their position and distance on an individual speaker as well. Mic’ing directly in the center of the speaker (mic pointed at the dust cap) will get you a tone that has a lot of high frequency content (but could sound thin). As you move the mic to the edge of the speaker the highs will begin to roll off. Playing with the distance of the mic to the speaker will cause the proximity effect to come into play.
My favorites are fuzz and octave fuzz boxes, clean boosters, and chorus/short delays. But distortion boxes, EQ/filter pedals, compressor pedals, and phasers/flangers can all be great as well.
If you try some of these techniques out, please come by and share your thoughts or links to sound clips in the comments. Got any of your own techniques? Feel free to post those in the comments too.