Pro Studio Tips With Ron Krasinski
Keeping It Consistent
When asked how he plays differently in the studio compared to playing live, the first thing Krasinski points out is playing with more consistent dynamics: “Unless it’s something more like a jazz album or such — where you can get by with using more of the overhead mix than the tight miking — when you’re in the studio, you’ve got to whack it hard! You make the needle go to the same place every time. You want that really good, consistent signal, whereas live, you can play more dynamics.
“One of the first things I learned from a recording engineer when I started recording was, ‘Don’t play dynamics; let me worry about the dynamics.’ Drums were made to be whacked. You hit ’em good and hard, and they’ll sing for you.” But Krasinski is quick to point out that even dynamics doesn’t really mean no dynamics or playing without any feel. “Even though you’ve got to whack things hard, you can still get a little dynamic in there. There’s still a little difference between the strokes.” He also points out that more consistent dynamics also make for more accurate triggering, if drum triggers are being used on the session.
While he may consciously alter his dynamics for the studio environment, Krasinski doesn’t really change his playing style: “Your technique is still your technique. You’re not going to change where you’re going [on the kit].” He also doesn’t set up the kit any differently compared to playing live. “You want that comfort zone, where you don’t want to have to think about where you’re going. It’s muscle memory. In a session, I’m looking at the chart; I’m not looking at the drums.”
Mikes And Miking
(Left) AKG D-112 outside kick, Audix D6 inside.
As for mike preferences, Krasinski has some definite favorites: “Shures, man! SM57’s. They work on everything!” Like many people, Krasinski prefers a Shure SM57 on snare, both top and bottom. Interestingly, for snare positioning, he is adamant that “the snares should run at the same angle [parallel to how] the mike is coming in. It makes a real difference in the sound.” For toms, he’s always liked Sennheiser MD441s, “but nowadays they make profiled mikes for toms and kick [such as the Audix D series used on Krasinski’s session] which are really pretty cool because they’re tailored to the drum you’re going to put them on. For kick, you’ve really got to capture that nice, big, fat boom! Even if it’s dead, you’ve got to have enough low end that it’s like Mike Tyson’s hitting you with a body shot — thump! — and it’s got to knock you back against the wall. But you also need to have enough crack in it — there’s that word again! [laughs] — so you’ve also got to have a good high-end thing going as well. And once again, roll off that midrange — just get rid of it.”
Krasinski also has preferences for overhead miking: “Earthworks are great! You can use just two Earthworks, and that kit’s going to sound great.” He also likes Neumanns for overheads. “Generally speaking, the most expensive mikes that you have should be your overheads. I tell other guys, ‘If you only have so much money to put into your mikes, put the bulk of it into your overheads because they’re taking in everything.’” By contrast, Krasinski feels that “your cheapest mike can be your hi-hat mike. Any kind of high-frequency mike will do. And the hi-hat mike should always be angled — you don’t want it straight on.”
For overhead positioning, Krasinski likes to have the mikes behind him, “’cause then they’re hearing what I’m hearing, and they’re also tilted the way the heads of the toms are tilted, so you pick up more of the top head than the bottom head, and you get more attack.” He also prefers a set of ambient mikes across the room in front of the kit.
In The Cans
Krasinski feels that the right headphone mix is critical to a good drum performance for the song. In particular, he doesn’t want to hear any drums in his headphones: “I already know what I’m doing. I like my mix to be bass guitar-heavy, and anything playing rhythm should be a little heavier, too — that’s your basic track. And the scratch vocal — that’s the song. The song ain’t about the drummer; it’s about the songwriter, the artist, so I want to hear that lead vocal in my ’phones.”
Click, Click, Click
While he’s definitely not a big fan of tracking everything “to the grid,” if he’s working in Nashville, chances are the other sound that’s in Krasinski’s headphone mix will be some kind of metronome track. When there is, he says, “I would much rather play to a drum loop — or even a programmed drum part — than to a straight click.” He also prefers a click sound that cuts through his mix. “I like the cowbell because my ears are so messed up from playing loud! [laughs] Shakers don’t work because the sound of a sampled shaker starts on the downbeat, whereas a real shaker goes ‘shhhook’ and actually starts before the downbeat.”
He adds, “It’s also smart to just feed the drummer the click, and let the other guys play with the drummer. Otherwise, everybody else on the session needs to be a good click player as well. If somebody’s not, take him out of my mix!”
Keeping It Fresh
After nearly 50 years of playing music in every imaginable environment, Krasinski still has a fresh, selfless attitude toward playing in the studio: “What’s fun about being in the studio is you discover things. Every, every, every time, you learn something. I’ve done sessions with players who say, ‘This is what I do,’ and the producer asks them, ‘Can you do this?’ and they say, ‘No, I don’t do that.’ I’m just the opposite. I’m going to learn from everybody, because everybody’s got something to bring to the table. Egos get in the way. Lose your ego as soon as you walk in the studio door. Leave it in the parking lot. You can have your Berklees, your Eastman Schools Of Music — you can have all these places — but you know where you learn the most? Right here, in the studio.”