Getting Great Studio Sound: Good Vibrations Debuts

Charlie Waymire and Mike Avenaim

[Ed. Note: Charlie Waymire is a hot rock drummer, studio owner, producer, and teacher at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. In his new set of columns Charlie is going to show us how he works with drummers to get a great sound in the studio. Called "Good Vibrations", the new column is designed to give you a quick look at how you go for a particular sound to fit a session or song. Charlie says he'll keep the emphasis on the soul, not the technology. Plus, future episodes will include interviews with top drummers who work both sides of the glass in Los Angeles]

This first episode features Mike Avenaim, LA-based session drummer whose big grooves you can check out here. Photo: Charlie (left), Mike (right).

The Mike Avenaim Sessions

Working with Mike is always a joy. Not only is he a fantastic drummer, but he is also a very prepared drummer. Prior to every session, Mike and I have a couple of pre-production meetings via phone. These phone calls are usually followed up with an e-mail from Mike containing reference tracks for the tunes we’ll be recording. This exchange gives me a good idea of what Mike is thinking in terms of tones, style and vibe, and helps me plan to capture the right tones for the songs.

For this session Mike was the producer as well as drummer. We were tracking drums, bass, and guitar live in the studio. We started building our sonic landscape by dialing in our drum tones before the rest of the band showed up. Mike had a very clear vision, which made the entire process easy and fun.

The goal was to capture a fat, gritty, non hi-fi/somewhat old school sound and to make sure Mike had several options when it was time to mix down. His 1965 Ludwig kit is perfect for this type of sound. I started where I always start: my overhead mics. When I record drums, I’m looking to capture the majority of my sound with my overheads. Mike wanted a stereo and a mono option, so I had two different setups to be used as overheads. A pair of Audio-Technica 4080 ribbon mics for the stereo option, and a single Cascade Fathead II for the mono option. I strongly believe that overheads are the MOST important mics when it comes to capturing a drum kit. To me, they are so much more than just “cymbal mics”. They are the sound of the drum kit.

Although every song and recording session is unique, my favorite tried and true overhead configuration looks something like this:

Waymire overhead mic diagram

This is a versatile configuration. It captures a drum sound that is balanced with nice full toms. The cymbals don’t jump out unnaturally and the stereo image is fantastic. The key is that both mics are equidistant from the snare and the kick drum. This creates a focused center. The mics will most likely not be at the same height, so don’t judge by what you see! Measure them out and use your ears! Once they are set, you can rotate or change the angle to even the sounds out. For instance the mic that is over the rack tom can be rotated toward the hi-hat to capture more hat sound if needed.

As mentioned above, Mike also wanted a mono picture of the kit, so I put up a Cascade Fathead II to do this job. I wanted this to act not only as a mono source, but also to create added depth for the snare (which could also be used in conjunction with the stereo overheads as a third option for Mike’s overhead sound). To make this third option possible, all 3 mics have to be equidistant from the snare drum and also from each other. This is very important to avoid phase issues. In this case, I had the Fathead II just above Mike’s left shoulder aimed directly at the snare drum.

Fathead Mic

Fathead microphone.

My first (and only real “rule”) is that I always get my overheads right before I move on to any other mics.

Drum kit sides tom mic next to Paiste

Once the overheads were settled I added another mono mic to the setup. Another special placement that I like to use involves hanging a cardioid condenser mic over the kick drum, directly above the beater, aiming at the snare. This produces a killer snare sound and a very punchy kick sound. Since the microphone is not directly facing the beater impact on the kick drum (and it is in a cardioid pattern), a lot of the boominess is rejected. It creates a really cool mono drum set sound! I highly recommend trying it.

Front of kit

Here’s the rest of the setup for this session:

  1. Kick In: Heil Sound PR40 - Tonlux TS5C Compressor
  2. Kick Out: Audio-Technica AT4047
  3. Kit Front: Audio-Technica AT4047
  4. Snare Top: Heil Sound PR30 - Tonlux TS5C Compressor
  5. Snare Bottom: SM57
  6. Hats: Audio-Technica ATM450
  7. Rack Tom: Heil Sound PR30
  8. Floor Tom: Heil Sound PR30
  9. Ride: Audio-Technica ATM450
  10. Overheads: Audio-Technica 4080 Ribbon mics
  11. Mono Overhead: Cascade Fathead II - Golden Age Project Comp54 Compressor
  12. Hanging Over Kick: Audio-Technica AT4047
  13. Rooms: Cascade X15 Stereo Ribbon Mic - Overstayer VCA Compressor

All the mics are going directly into the Trident 88 console. It’s a great sounding console and the EQ is simply amazing.

My favorite part of recording is that every session is an exploration of sound. The only goal should be capturing sounds that fit your music and evoke emotion for the listener. That’s it for this installment of Good Vibrations. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Happy recording!

Contact: Charlie Waymire at http://www.ultimatestdioinc.com.