In The Studio With Shadows Fall
Once Bittner’s Tama Starclassic kit and Meinl cymbals were set up in the studio’s sweet spot, Raskulinecz and Fig went to work on the foundation of a perfect drum sound — the bass drums. They opted for Sennheiser 602s placed on the inside of the drums and Neumann U47s situated externally.
Simple enough. But they also introduced a little bit of audio abracadabra by positioning a mini MS10 right up on each drum and reversing the polarity. That way, no other drum hits — whether from snare or toms or cymbals — could find their way into the mike.
“It’s like a little ’70s trick,” the producer confesses. “I think Geoff Emerick invented that actually for The Beatles.”
The 602s impart a big, sharp sound; the internal MS10 brings out the point and body of the bass drum attack; and the outside Neumanns provide a midrange punch not present on the inside mike.
“I actually built a collar around them so you can get them a little closer to the drum,” Raskulinecz describes (FIG. 1). “You can zero in on more of the drum and get less outside interference. It’s useful to get low end with having to add EQ. It’s a natural sub. Instead of reaching for the EQ knob and cranking 60Hz, which also affects your inside and outside microphones, you get a natural 60Hz.”
FIG. 1. One Neumann U47 (with custom collar) placed externally on each of Bittner’s bass drums
The twin kicks were also baffled tightly — one lengthy strip running along the side of the set, one across the front, two on the corners. The objective was to tighten up the room so that, in essence, there was not a lot of room.
Built on the fly, the baffles were inexpensive partitions cobbled together in just a few hours. This philosophy — a parsimonious approach to constructing what might add extraordinary value in the final drum assessment — must always be followed. If money and/or materials are not available, figure out an alternate work-around. These muffling panels were stitched together with scraps of leftover 703 fiberglass insulation when Studio 606 was initially constructed. A solid piece of plywood runs down the center, and Plexiglas surrounds that on either side. Then there’s Plexiglas on either sides of that. Two layers of 703 are covered by fabric stretched around the outside. Necessity, don’t you know, is the mother of percussion.
“This music is really fast and brutal and intricate and articulated,” says Fig. “[If] you’ve got a big roomy drum sound, you’re not going to hear that stuff. I wanted to make sure we heard everything Jason did because he does a lot of little delicate, articulate things. If those things are washed out by the room, you’re never going to hear them.”
Making certain that Bittner’s snare drum cut through the morass of multiple toms and thunderous kick drums was not an inconsiderable task. A variety of snares experienced the lash of Bittner’s sticks, including Tama copper and bubinga drums, as well as some Pearl, MRP, and Ludwig models. They were all recorded with Shure Beta 57 hyper-cardioid mikes positioned above the drum (FIG. 2) and an Audio Technica ATM 25 underneath. The 57 is ideal for tracking the dynamics of a snare drum because it rejects cymbal bleed, typically from hi-hats.
FIG. 2. One Shure Beta 57 placed above the snare
“You want to crank the high end; you like the snare to be nice and bright, cracky and crisp,” Raskulinecz describes. “But when you do that, every time Jason hits the hi-hat between the snare hits, the hi-hat is louder than the snare mike because of the high end that you’re adding. That’s one of the reasons we use a lot of the hyper-cardioid mikes. It’s a narrower pattern, and the reason for that is because of all the cymbals. There are 14 cymbals versus 8 drums. And he plays a lot of cymbals on all the songs. So the point of the hyper-cardioid mike is to get more cymbal rejection to get more drum.”
Typically, an overhead snare mike hovers about “a half-inch over the top of the drum,” according to Fig. Raskulinecz, though, amends this: “Half an inch, a couple inches,” he says, and this variation in mike distance was actually a technique he borrowed. “I had this friend engineer the drums on a record, and I noticed that he was doing something I really liked. What he was doing was moving the mike off the drum to get a little more of the shell, a little more of the impact. I’ve kind of been doing it ever since.”