Home Recording Made Simple

How To Track Great Drum Sounds At Home And Live To Tell The Tale


You don’t need a million-dollar recording studio to achieve great results. Modern software-based recording makes it possible to create incredible sounding tracks — given time, experimentation, a good ear, and decent material to record. On a recent swing through my hometown of Portland, Oregon, the duo Ten Finger Orchestra & Johnny Rabb supplied all of the above, while I provided the recording environment, the gear, and the button pushing. Drums were recorded in my living room, and the bass/guitar amp was isolated (sort of) in my kitchen. This was home recording at its best. Before describing what we did, let’s review the signal.

Signal Routing 101 In One Run-On Sentence

The drums are set up in a room; the drummer hits drums; the sound is picked up by the microphones and sent to the mike preamps via cables; the preamps boost and color the sound (hopefully for the better); the sound is then sent to the recording hardware, which turns it into digital information (analog-to-digital conversion, zeros and ones); this digital information is sent to the computer and ultimately to the recording software that makes sense of the information, displays it on the screen, and records it to the hard drive.

Since I’m in short-description-mode, here are all the parts you need to record: a room, drums (and someone to hit them), microphones, microphone preamps (optional), recording hardware (assume it’ll be digital), recording software, a sense of what you want to hear, and much more time than you think you’ll need. Let’s look at each of these using the Ten Finger Orchestra & Johnny Rabb session as a model.


FIG. 1. We chose the kitchen as the amp room because of the sound isolation it provided

The Room
This is the wildcard. Most of us don’t have control over the type and quality of the room in which to record. We’re probably left with the most undesirable room in the house, like the smallest bedroom, or the garage. My advice is to put the control room in the undesirable room, and explore the rest of the house for rooms to use for recording. Find the room where the instrument to be recorded sounds best, move some furniture, and “appropriate” it for the session! Literally, take a snare drum, guitar, or Alpine horn into each room and give it a go! The amp room for our session was my kitchen (Fig. 1), which offered sound isolation so that there was only minimal bleed between the bass/guitar and drum microphones, as well as quick access to the espresso machine!

Ah yes, the drums … where to put the drums? Well, I’m a drummer, so the drums get the best sounding room in the house — the living room. More than almost any other instrument, the recorded sound of the drum set is heavily colored by the “room sound.” My benchmark is for the recorded drum sound to be as close as possible to what I hear in the room. If the room is live-sounding and splashy, it’s going to be difficult to get a dry drum sound, and visa versa. Think about what drum sound is needed for the recording project, and choose the recording room accordingly. If a dry, tight sound is needed, don’t be afraid to use a small room, with lots of sound absorbing materials. I wanted to get a big, fat drum sound without having to use reverb. The sound needed to be organic and as unprocessed as possible. My living room offered all these qualities, with 18-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, and multiple obtuse angles. Drums. Recording a drum rarely makes it sound better than it actually does acoustically. Buzzes, rattles, whines, and unwanted frequencies are often accentuated. You want to capture the sound of the drums, not try to craft the sound later with EQ and effects, so pick a drum set to record that sounds closest acoustically to the final drum sound you want for your project. This saves a lot of time during the mixing process.

Rabb brought a fun, great sounding prototype of the City Kit he’s designing for DW. It’s compact, but has a huge sound. These drums knocked me out. Check out some of the audio clips at: /unkjcitykit.html


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