Tips From The Control Room
Fig. 5. Play and monitor at the lowest volume that allows you to get the job done.
Your headphone mix will affect your playing.
You need to get the right elements in your mix, and have them at a volume that is loud enough for you. (Fig. 5.) If you are playing to a click track, make sure you can hear it, but only enough to keep you going. Customize the click for both the type of click you like (e.g. woodblock, clock, machine, hammer, et al) as well as considering an accent beat. Most drummers I work with ask for an accent. For example, they will use a wood-block with a cowbell accent on the 4. In their headphones they
would experience: “Tock, Tock, Tock, BONK. Tock, Tock, Tock, BONK. Tock, Tock, Tock, BONK.” And this is really helpful once you have music in the headphones and you’re playing at top volume.
As with practice and live shows, be careful with your hearing. Play and monitor at the lowest volume that allows you to get the job done. Unfortunately, that will probably still be too loud, so make sure to take breaks.
If you are a touring band, you may have molded in-ear monitors you prefer to use. Here are tips for making the best situation with those. First, discuss this with your engineer. Do not assume that every recording engineer knows the ins and outs of custom monitors. Explain how you are virtually deaf while they are in, and any communication will need to be done via talkback mike or visually. Disclose that it is difficult to hear the kick drum and strategize ways to address this. Options include adding low end to the headphone mix, placing a P.A.-grade sub-woofer near your throne, or trying tactics that your live monitor team uses. There’s a DAW plug-in by Softube that emulates the Tonelux TILT hardware. (Fig. 6.) Bundled with that plug-in is TILT-live. The live version contours the overall frequency of a mix for in-ear monitors. It provides a mix that is perceived as louder, but actually projects a lower sound pressure level into your ears. You hear more clarity with less harm to your hearing.
Fig. 6. Tilt Live provides a mix that is perceived as louder, but actually projects lower sound pressure.
9. You Are Human
You may keep time like a machine, but your body is human. Stay hydrated with plenty of water or decaf tea. Once your takes are in the can, you can grab a beer or whatever, but during the session you are on the clock. Eat healthy food that gives you sustained energy. Don’t let your blood sugar wander all over the scale. A good idea is to bring a bag of snacks: dried fruits, nuts, protein bars, and other nutritious options make good fuel for your work. Take frequent breaks to breathe, stretch, breathe, and stretch some more. I’m a big fan of the yoga, exercise, and physiology articles found in the pages of DRUM! Magazine. Learn from those. There are many times when preventative care can avoid injury or allow you to perform longer.
10. Playback Is Not The Final Mix
Making a record is like constructing a house. There are stages to the build, and you are used to experiencing a finished product. When you listen to playback of your drums you are listening first and foremost for performance. After all of the parts are captured, the song must be mixed. After the mixing is done, it goes to mastering where, among other things, the volume level is raised to CD levels to which we are accustomed. Don’t panic if you take a rough CD home and it doesn’t sound like a record. The process is not finished until later. At this point, your obligation is to work with the producer and engineer to provide the best performance while keeping an ear out for tuning or other sound problems. The rest will be done down the road.
Successful studios want you to have a good recording experience. I hope these tips allow you to be better prepared, more confident, and less anxious about your session. Engineers are human, too. We would rather you use less billable time if it means you give great performances, and feel excited about your album.
We want you to be happy, and get our names on great sounding recordings. Word of mouth is how we advertise.
Although they are “just” machines and tools, microphones and computers record more than the performance of the players. They capture the spirit, intensity, and emotion of the artists. If the band is fighting internally it will be reflected on the recording. If the band is nervous it will be reflected on the record. But the opposite is also true. If the band is rehearsed, confident, and having a good time it will be reflected on the recording.