Nothing hits the spot like some blisteringly massive sounding metal track. As a huge fan of the genre, I’ve observed and appreciated the detail and the effort that goes into the overall production involved in achieving the hard-hitting sound. Since, the music is generally loud and abrasive, with a lot going on, it’s very easy to go wrong in the process of recording metal, especially the drums. In this edition, we’ll be looking into the different recording techniques that you can use to achieve that ideal drum sound.
Before we get into the mixing and editing, the first thing that we need to understand is that to achieve a good end product, we need to get a good recording. This includes the choice of equipment and microphones, the way they’re positioned and the environment that you’re recording in. Take a good look at the space that you’ll be recording in. Make sure that you have basic room treatment that cancels out your standing waves and bass build ups. Correct placement of diffusers and bass traps should suffice. Ideally, recording in a room that does not have parallel walls would give you the best results. The next thing that you’d want to do is to make sure that your drum kit is sitting on a riser or an elevated platform. If not, a DYI 8×8 plywood platform should do the trick. This helps you brighten the tone of your drums and saves a lot of effort in the later mixing and editing stages.
Having sound absorption on the ceiling above the kit also helps. Make sure that your kit is in good shape, whether any of the cymbals are broken or the skin is torn or if there are loose lugs in your kit that rattle. Fixing all these issues will result in a cleaner, more professional mix. Now, it is very important at this stage to start considering your options and decide the kind of tone you’d want each piece of your kit to have. It is essential that your kit is properly tuned. Since a lot of drummers have trouble with being precise with their tuning, devices like the Tama Tesion Watch TW100 help you get your drums tuned accurately. Invest on the best skins and cymbals that you can afford as the quality of the recordings that you hand out to your clients will be heavily dependent on them. For example, you’d want to use a muting ring on the snare which will kill the sustaining overtones while retaining the attack. The type of the beater that you’ve used on your kick pedal will also make a difference on the kind of tone that you get. Push up a feather pillow against the beater skin to dampen the sound since we’re going for a heavy attack/short sustain kind of sound. Using bass drum impact patches like the Remo Falam Slam pad help you get an improved attack from the get-go. While it may not be required, a lot of engineers take off the front head of the
bass drum while recording.
While setting up the drum kit, it should be noted that the kit should be built up around the kick and the snare and not the other way around. Also, make sure that the drum throne is set very high, with the toms set at a level so they’re at the apex of a stick strike. Since, metal is a genre where there is heavy use of double kick pedals, having the drum throne set high allows the drummer to work with gravity and not against it. Setting your drum throne lower down can also result in fatigue while doing extensive double bass runs as you’ll have to raise your legs higher up to hit the bass drum. Keep your rack toms as flat as possible as you want them to receive the full impact of the stick and sound like massive cannons. If the toms are heavily angled the stick will hit the tom at an angle causing it to sound weak. A muting ring should also used on the floor tom to achieve that explosive sound, to cut through. Set up your cymbals a little higher as you do not want them to the hit the tom mics when they’re being played. Since avoiding cymbal bleed into the other mics, increasing the vertical distance between them helps. For instance, to avoid the hi-hat bleed into the snare mic, you can increase the height of the hi-hats. Similarly, the distance between the ride and the floor tom must be increased to avoid bleed.
Now, let’s can get into microphone/equipment choices and mic positioning and placement. For the kick drum, we can either use a single kick mic or kick in/kick out mic setup. Contrary to popular belief, you’ll able to get a thick, punchy kick sound even if you use a single mic setup. Place the mic at level with the point where the beater strikes the skin and around 10 inches away form the beater.
Microphones like the Sennheiser E602 or the Audix D6 can be used on the kick drum to get amazing results. In the case of the snare drum, an SM57 with a mild angle facing the centre of the skin will do the trick. A second snare mic can be used underneath to highlight the sound of the snare wire.
Personally, I would also have a separate SM57 set up as the hi-hat mic. Sennheiser E604s can be used on the toms while rode NT-5s can be for the overheads. The positioning of the overheads is extremely important as the decide the overall character of your drum sound. The lower your over heads are, the bigger the stereo field will be while the higher up they are, the more of the room sound they’ll pick up. An XY set up of the overheads around a couple of feet above the drummer’s head should give you the right balance. A very important factor that you need to look out for are phasing issues. Collapsing two microphone inputs into mono will let you detect whether both the
mics are out of phase with each other. If the low end suddenly seems to drop, this means that the microphones are relatively out of phase with each other. This issue can be solved by phase inverting one of the channels.
Using these recording methods and tips you should be able to organize and improve your recordings to make them sound like the colossal metal drums that you hear on your favourite records.