Studio Secrets: How To Record Toms

Preamps Are Essential

A microphone preamp boosts the low output level of a mike up to levels that audio equipment can better use. This is where noise and unwanted mike coloration is most-often introduced to a recorded sound. Since the cleanest path possible between the mike and recorder is desirable, a high-quality mike preamp is incredibly important. Never skimp on this part of the audio chain. You could have the best-sounding toms, the coolest-sounding room, and microphones that kill, and a cheap preamp will destroy it all before it ever gets recorded.

For the most part, it is most desirable to use preamps on toms that do not color the sound. These are mostly high-quality, class-A preamps with lots of gain and little noise. Of the four preamps listed below, the Vintech 473 is the preamp that will most color the sound – in an old-school kind of a way. It’s based on the legendary Neve 1073 preamp, first introduced in the early 1970s. It is hard to quantify, but this preamp just injects a certain magic into the mix. It’s even more suited for use on kick and snare.

Some of my personal preamp favorites:
API 512C (one channel)
Earthworks 1024 (four channels)
True Audio Systems
Precision 8 (eight channels)
Vintech 473 (four channels with EQ)

Mixing Ain’t Easy

Mixing is part art, part craft, and part religion. I’ve been seated at the altar for 15 years, and still feel like a complete novice. So for a brief discussion on mixing toms I went to my resident producer/recording engineer, Bob Stark. Bob has worked with Michael Shrieve, Everclear, and many other diverse artists, as well as Grammy nominee Vayo Raimondo. He and I have worked on what has to be hundreds of recording projects over the last ten years, including records of every style imaginable, as well as Cloe Award-winning industrials, national jingles, and sample libraries. Quite simply, he’s my hero.

Me: What’s the first thing you do when approaching toms in a mix?
Bob: If it’s a contemporary style of music, I’ll manually go into the individual tom tracks and snip out the areas of the track where the toms aren’t being played, adding the fades to the individual tom hits so that they sound natural in the track.

M: Why do you do this?
B: It gets rid of the unwanted ring of the toms. In the past, one might have used gates, but this is less arbitrary and produces a better sound. He adds, If it’s jazz, I may let the tom ring remain. It all depends on how things are sounding.

M: How do you approach tom EQ? You’ve told me that overheads play an important part in the tom sound?
B: The overheads contribute the majority of the body to the tom sound, maybe most of the tom sound in a jazz recording. I try to get a good drum sound with the overheads.

M: How do you use the individual tom mikes?
B: I use them to add bigness, fullness, as well as image definition to the stereo field.

M: After getting them sounding good in the overheads, how do you approach a tom’s individual EQ?
B: I tend to find the fundamental of the drum and boost it, HPF (high-pass filter) everything below the fundamental, give a little boost around 3k for presence, a pretty broad, and deep cut around 500 to get rid of any boxiness, shelve down 2 or 3dB from about 8k to keep cymbal bleed under control and notch whatever offending overtones might be occurring in the drum. This is all to greater or lesser degrees, depending on what condition the drum starts out. Ultimately, flat EQ is best, but it’s not the usual case.

M: How do you get toms to sit better in the mix?
B: I compress toms pretty hard, maybe 4:1. It’s a preference, not a ’have to do.’ I like how playing with the attack time affects the snap of the drum, and how the release time allows the low end to appear. I might use little or no compression with the overheads, but really squish the room mikes. It takes a while to get the hang of using compression. There are no hard and fast rules with compression.

Sounds Good! There it is, one man’s view (well, two men, actually) on the process of recording great-sounding toms. Remember, every aspect of the sound chain is as important as the other. If any part of the audio chain is weak, the entire chain is compromised. Pay attention and be involved in every aspect of the process.

Mike can be reached through .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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