Drum Micing Q&A
First question, how do you check for phase issues?
Yeah, I really wanted to get into some of that in the previous session but obviously we were pressed for time. Phase is a really big issue when you're recording drums, and to people that don't really understand, it's whenever you have the same sound source coming in through two different microphones, and those two microphones are at different positions, when you combine those two signals and when they're played back simultaneously, there'll be an interaction where it possible for those sounds to cancel out if it's not hitting both at the same time or if the way the wave forms when they're combined isn't optimal. And with the drums, of course, you've got every kit piece coming through every other piece super loud. So you really have to minimize that. However, to me it's important to understand that you get phase cancellation really when the source is coming through the same volume in both of those things. While you do get less and les...
s cancellation as you pull down the volume of something, I'm not gonna worry too much about the phase of, let's say, the snare coming through in the spot mics, let's say, the spock spot mic, because that's gonna be so quiet in the mix and the snare is so quiet in that microphone compared to the snare microphone. And they're also gonna be panned in different places, the spot mic's gonna be over here, the snare mic's gonna be over here. They're not really gonna cancel out too much, but where it is really important to nail the phase is things like the snare to the overheads. I kinda prepped just during lunch just to show you what that really means. People often refer to this thing over here as a phase switch, it's really a polarity switch. Phase is something that's continually variable. This just flips the wave form upside down. So it's not a true fix, it's not gonna be in phase one way and out of phase the other. It might be if it was exactly out of phase then you flip it it'll be exactly in phase, but the reality is everything's probably somewhere in between. How to check for phase, I've got here one of the overhead mics, it doesn't really matter which one because the snare should be kinda equally loud in both. I've panned it centrally, and I've soloed that along with the snare top mic over here. What I've done is, I've kind of matched the levels, so this is what you're hearing. (drums) Not quite, actually, here we go. I want the snare to be kind of peaking at about the same in both the overhead and the snare track. That's where we're really gonna hear the interaction of the phase. Now what I'll do is I will hit this button here and that will flip the polarity of the snare. I actually just happen to know that generally whenever I do the forefoot thing with the overheads that we discussed during tracking, that I always have flip the polarity of the snare top mic. It just has to do with the fact that I normally tune in the same kind of area and the microphones are generally that same distance away. We kinda took a punt on that during setup and it came out true. The first hit you'll hear will have the full, will have it in phase and then I'll click the button and hopefully we'll hear the difference on the second snare hit. (drums) Do you hear how the snare basically disappears when I flip the phase switch? That's really how you check, is to see if it disappears when you flip it. But it's very important to check at an even volume. If I now were to take my two overheads, I'm just gonna put these all at unity, and do my stereo overheads with my snare top mic. (drums) And now do this. You can hear a real distinct difference in the body of the snare when it's being hit. I'd say the snare to overheads is probably the single biggest thing to make sure you get right in terms of phase. Same thing goes for toms. Solo off a tom track, listen to it in mono alongside the overhead track. I kind of like to do this after the drummer has played a section, I'll get them to play a beat, record it, then go through and check everything on headphones without the distraction of someone physically playing on the kit. And then make any adjustments on the preamps if you can. Also just placement is really key, but I get around it by minimizing bleed from one thing to another. As I say, the snare is not super loud in the spock mic, so I'm not even really gonna worry to much about that. And we'll see how we go. Room mics you can sometimes get a bit of benefit by flipping the around, but just by them distance away from the kit, they interact in a different way. Often they're kind of far enough back that it barely matters when you flip the polarity.
Awesome. Is there a point in the mic placement process, or even in the recording process where you just have to force yourself to stop and go with what you've got? I feel like the culture of the day is very perfectionistic, but there has to be a point where it just goes too far and you actually just need to get going.
Yeah, for sure. And I think every session I'm very mindful of time. Possibly to a fault sometimes, it's pretty stressful if you're going into a new studio and you have three days to to an album or something like that. And you don't know the drummer you don't know the kit, you don't know the studio, and you want to at least get maybe two songs done on day one so you can do the rest of the album on the following two days. You have to, at some point, just be like, okay, cool, it's good enough. And that's where practicing and really practicing your craft away from the studio, practicing tuning, like I said, I've done that time and time again in my room on tour, in other studio situations, is key. Again, as we said at the beginning, the source tones are everything. If a kit sounded bad we wouldn't hit record. It the kit sounds great, we record, the mic placement is like the icing on the cake. Know where things generally go, use conventional microphones and you'll probably get a usable result. Don't mess around too much with, like, compression, and the hear on the way in, just record things flat, you can deal with it in the mix later.
Okay. How important are external amp, or preamps when recording drums versus using standard interface desk preamps into your dot?
Yeah, I'm, I don't know that I'm in a minority, but personally I feel like really great preamps are a luxury and not an essential one. From every shootout thing that I've encountered in every studio situation I've been in, I'm not saying there's no difference between preamps, but when you especially run them quite clean, if you're not driving them hard, the differences can be so minimal, that makes very little difference most of the time. If you're driving a preamp hard, then sure, two premp or a preamp with really great circuitry, a nice transformer to drive can yield a pleasant sound. In fact I've had way more recordings be ruined using great preamps with people pushing them too hard then I've ever, I've never had a session on a cheap interface where I've been unhappy with the turns. And that includes two, sessions come to mind just working with drummer friends who record drums in very small rooms with just the cheapest gear they could get, just to have enough inputs to record. And by making sure the drums are tuned well, having appropriate microphones, it's always super usable. Like, could be on an album, for sure. And, like I say, I've been in top studios recording through banks of Neve preamps to tape and sound's been completely ruined because they've pushed it too hard. Focus on the source tone, don't worry about the preamps.
Yeah. Cool. Are you panning the kit drummer's perspective of audience perspective?
Always drummer's perspective.
I can't stand audience perspective, it's so weird. To me rock and metal drum tones are so in your face. I'm not a drummer but to me it still sounds like I'm behind the kit, like I'm sitting in a drum throne. Yeah, like it doesn't feel like I'm looking at a kit over there, which is the only time that that makes sense to me, it's like, no, you're inside the kit. The toms are all around here, the snare's like.
Drummer's perspective all the time.
I've never understood why we would debate about that in sessions with, I mean, specifically producers.
It never really made sense to me that, and maybe for me because I'm always behind the kit, you know, but try to envision hearing it the opposite way doesn't.
It screws me up, but if I'm recording a lefthanded drummer, which I've only done once, I opted to pan that drummer's perspective just so the toms still went from left to right, which I guess I'm just so used to that.
So Travis wants to know, do you normally use the mid dip switch on the Beta 91?
No, I leave it flat.
You leave it flat.
All the time?
When you get to mixing you'll see more of my approach to that. But I sum the mics together and kind of EQ all of them together and I try not to do too much to them individually. Yeah, we'll get into that later, but no mid cut.
Cool. When tracking the drums you prefer to have your levels more controlled so that you can bring the levels up in the mix or do you prefer to capture higher and then reduce the gain structure when you to into mixing?
I guess I kinda capture, not hot, but not super conservative. Partly because microphone's up on really loud sounds so you can just pad and then leave the gain on zero on the snare preamp and it would probably still be quite hot. So I generally aim for things to peak no higher than about minus six. On like the kick and snare and toms, it's tough, sometimes things go over that. But if anything, it's always about bringing down levels in the mix for me. Always, because you got 22 microphones summing together, even if they're all at minus they're gonna sum together to be really loud. It's always a case in bringing levels down as far as I'm concerned.
If you place the overheads so that the snare is in the center of the stereo image, what about the kick, wouldn't that be more off to one side?
Yeah, but I don't really get much kicks out from my overheads at all. It's negligible in terms of the mix. There isn't that much in there anyway, from that position, at least not compared to how loud the kick drum's gonna be once the close mics are in. And I'm gonna high pass some of that low end after there anyway. In fact, I didn't say anything, but on the microphones I'm using the low end roll off on the overheads. It's just all about the snare and up as far as those are concerned.
Are those also high passed on the preamps?
No, I don't think so.
Unless you put that on. (laughs) No, yeah they're not high passed.
Cool, one more question, then we'll get, we'll keep going. Why do metal producers normally use large diaphragms with more low end usually on mics on the overheads if they tend to get heavily filtered anyway?
I don't know, actually. I think a lot of metal producers do that, and then yeah, and maybe even we'll see when we get to mixing, maybe I'll end up scooping out a load of it, but there is a difference in the way that a large diaphragm and a small diaphragm condense and present information. I could get really technical as to why, but basically a small diaphragm condenser is gonna have a more even response off axis. A large diaphragm condenser is gonna have its optimal response directly ahead and have more of a roll off to towards the edge. I like that because it keeps the reflections from around the room from being too bright coming back into the microphones. It does, I mean, I dunno, it's much for a muchness really in terms of that even when you're four feet up from the cymbals and with really great microphones like that it's not like there's a lack of detail. Yeah, a lot of guys, I don't know why they would use a large diaphragm condenser when they're close up on the cymbals and kind of rejecting the shells.