Pro Studio Tips With Ron Krasinski

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With one look at his résumé — he’s played with everyone from the US Air Force Band to Broadway musicals, hit TV series, and artists as varied as Dolly Parton and Dr. Dre — you can tell that Ron Krasinski (aka, “The Pocket Protector”) has spent a lot of time playing drums in his decades-long career. Equally at home on stage or in the studio, Krasinski is the classic “utility drummer,” meaning that he can lay down a solid beat and keep the energy going regardless of the musical genre or length of the gig. And through all those years of playing jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, big band, and more, Krasinski has developed an easygoing, can-do attitude, gained a ton of experience, and acquired a treasure trove of pro tricks that still make him the go-to guy for shows and sessions in all styles.

Start With A Healthy Attitude

Krasinski’s studio philosophy can best be described as ego-less and artist-friendly. “When you’re in the studio, you play the song,” he says. “You listen to the song, you see what it needs. I want to talk to the artist. I listen to the lyrics. I want to listen to his demo. I want to hear what he’s hearing. That’s going to tell me what to do — not necessarily what to play, but the attitude and the vibe of the song, and then I’ll translate that attitude into what I do. I want to hear what he programmed. It’s probably going to be a drum machine, so right off the bat, it may be the right part, but it’s not the right feel. So what I do is to put the stink in it! [laughs]. Make it sound real. Make it sound live. That’s why we’re there. The artist doesn’t want us to duplicate what he did. He wants us to bring something to the table.”

Tools Of The Trade

Krasinski spent the bulk of his career in L.A., but since 1995 has been based in Nashville. We caught up with Krasinski setting up his go-to Pearl birch studio kit for an indie artist EP project at Azalea Studios, just outside Nashville. Krasinski is an enthusiastic endorser of Pearl drums, from both a company and a product standpoint. “They’ve been very good to me, and I love their products. Their top-line drums are great, and I think they’ve got by far the best hardware out there, and it’s easiest to set up. I’ve used everything from their deep, deep, deep snare drums, all the way up to the piccolos. And I love Pearl’s pedals, including their double ones.”

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(Left) MXL 603 condenser on hi-hat.

Krasinski is equally enthusiastic about Bosphorus cymbals. “They’re handmade in Turkey, and they’re the s__t! [laughs] I prefer to use thicker cymbals in the studio, because they have more decay. If you use thinner cymbals in the studio, it’s just ‘boom’ [the initial attack] and they’re gone.”

As reflected in his kit for the session, Krasinski prefers fully matched kits to pieced-together ones. “I like to keep my kits separate, because each kit is made from the same group of wood. It really makes a big difference. When I got an endorsement with Pearl, the first thing I noticed is how well their drums matched up from tom, to tom, to tom, to kick. What you see in stores a lot of times are mix-and-match, so they’re not as consistent as a kit made from the same batch of wood.”

Krasinski employs a variety of drumheads, depending on the application, but particularly prefers the coated Remo Powerstrokes for kick drum, “because you get more crack!; there’s not as much ring to the drum. Especially for recording, you want punch, not ‘boooom.’ Overly-ringy kick drums don’t even feel good when you hit them. When I hit my kick drum, it’s got that little pillow in there, and it’s like, ‘thump!’ You have to play it harder; you can’t finesse it. You’ve got to use your leg instead of your ankle. It’s called a kick drum for a reason — you gotta kick that son-of-a-gun!”

Rounding out his basic tools, Krasinski endorses Regal Tip sticks, which he affectionately refers to as “The Calato Sisters.”

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Tom Control

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(Left) Audix D4 on floor tom, and Audix D2s on rack toms

For studio work, Krasinski has an interesting approach to controlling the ring of his toms while still preserving the energy of their initial attack. “I don’t [completely] deaden the toms. I like the attack of the toms, so what I’ll do is take a strip of felt — the bigger the drum, the bigger the piece of felt — and I’ll tape it so it’s setting on the drum with the tape only on one edge of the felt. So when I hit the drum, the felt goes up [to allow for the attack] and then it comes down [to deaden the ring a little]. I know there’s other stuff like gum available, but I don’t really want to alter the sound of the drum; I just want to alter the ring a little bit. And the reason for that is that sometimes you hit the snare and you get all your toms ringing — especially the tom that’s closest to the snare — so those little pieces of felt minimize it. But if it’s a rock or heavy metal thing, I won’t even use the felt pads, because I want as much ring as you can possibly get.”

Snare Secrets

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(Left) Shure SM57s on snare top and bottom (with wide snares).

Another secret weapon in Krasinski’s studio sound arsenal is the use of a piccolo snare instead of the typical 5"–8"-deep one, to get a really impactful recorded snare sound. He explains, “I discovered it totally by accident while putting a new head on the piccolo. It was tuned low — it wasn’t tightened yet — and I’m hitting it and I’m going, ‘That really sounds kind of cool!’ I’ve even gone to the extreme of having the head flappy, with ridges in it, and there’s absolutely no ring whatsoever — very Don Henley-like — but it’s got so much crack! in it. And then I like to deaden it a bit [using the same felt technique as on the toms], because piccolos, they really cut through!”

To complete his snare tone, Krasinski is adamant about using wide snares on the bottom of the snare drum, whether piccolo or not. “I put wide snares on every one of my snare drums, because a lot of studio engineers don’t always double-mike them. The wide snares compensate for the fact that you may only have one mike, on the top of the drum. I wish [manufacturers] would put wide snares on all their drums. I make that suggestion to Pearl every year! [laughs] Gretsch used to do that back in the ’60s, but today, companies just don’t do it. I don’t know if a lot of guys really pay that much attention to it, but I did, and I noticed a big difference. If you’re not miking the bottom, it gives you a little more bang for your buck.”

Krasinski uses a couple of other tricks to add more energy to his recorded snare sound. “I always play my left-hand stick backwards. I use the butt-end of the stick for the backbeats. And on my backbeats, I’ll hit rimshots on the snare, ‘cause you get more crack! That’s what you want on a snare drum — you don’t want that boxy thing happening. And I’ll also accent the hi-hat along with the snare on backbeats. It gives it a little high-end kick. It’s one-plus-one-equals-three; when things hit together, it’s a magical thing. You create a new sound.”

Tuning For The Studio

In the studio, Krasinski likes to tune his drums “to the lowest possible point. The reason I do that is that I don’t like midrange in the toms. I think midrange can be a real disaster because it eats up stuff around it. If something else is in that same frequency, they’ll cancel each other out. On the snare, you can get this boxy thing happening and suddenly you’re losing guitar stuff, and keyboards especially. That’s another reason I use the piccolo. There’s hardly any midrange in that guy at all. So it leaves you a lot of room, sonically, for other things.”

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(Left) Stereo Shure KSM141s on overheads, stereo AKG C-1000s in the room. ASC StudioTraps cylindrical acoustic reflectors add just the right sonic finishing touch.

Krasinski further explains his tuning approach: “I like to get the toms to where they just start to decay. If you get too much decay, you’ll know it, because [the toms will start to] buzz. That’s when it’s too low. But if you get it too high, then they start to sound like coffee cans. They sound tinny. In some situations, that sound may work, like Benny Benjamin Motown-type stuff where he’s got his 13" rack tom tuned nice and high. There’s no decay in that tom at all, and man, it just sounds so good. But I wouldn’t necessarily use it for anything else.”

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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

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(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.”