Posts Tagged ‘drum recording’

As mentioned in a previous post, I spent a good bit of Summer & Autumn 2011 working with Slugbait for their debut release. They wanted to get 3 tracks done for a split with another band, and I was only too happy to get the chance to work with them a) cos they’re all sound and b) to get some experience working with other people besides spending all my time on my own projects.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos during the sessions, so get ready for a big wall of text, or maybe I’ll throw in some live photos of the lads in action just to break things up…here’s one:
Slugbait kick back...
The adventure began in June once we could all finally get our schedules organised (we’d been discussing it since february). We figured the best way to start was to get the drums and bass down first so that the guitars and vocals had a solid foundation to build on. Also, we had to get the bass out of the way first since Costello (the bassist) intended to spend the summer abroad.
The night before the first session, Eoin (SG drummer, here taking on the role of assistant engineer) and myself had set up the kit and mics in the corner of the garage so that the lads wouldn’t have to sit through a couple of hours of sound checking. We used a similar set up to the one used when we recorded Eoin’s drums for the Stanton’s Grave stuff the previous year – i.e. close mic’ed all the drums (top and bottom for snare) and a spaced pair for overheads. For the toms, we used the Eagle tom mics, for the snare we had my trusty Beyer m201 on top and another Eagle tom mic on the bottom. The kick was the Eagle kick mic, and the overheads were the Eagle electret condensers (funnily enough, marketed as overhead mics…).
Next day the sun was out and the midges were ravenous. Louis, Costello and Seb arrived out in the evening and we got to work arranging ourselves around the limited space. We pretty quickly decided to throw the big doors open a) to try get a less “cramped” sound and b) because it was fucking hot in there, especially with 5 people in such a small space. Thankfully they’d been thoughtful enough to bring a couple of six-packs to keep us cool 😎
Once we’d checked to make sure all drum mics were working and the bass (which was being tracked using an ART tube MP as a DI through the Ampeg SVX plugin) signal was coming through, we checked out the headphone levels (so Louis could hear the bass) then we were good to go.
First up was 4 Men, No Mic. This was pretty straight forward – the lads ran through it a couple of times with no major hiccups. A handy way to loosen up.
Next was Fighting Fire With Piss (a name Seb came up with on the spot when I asked him what I should call the project file :)). Again, this was pretty spot on – the guys were well practiced at this point with these 2 songs.
FDR was left until last, because it was still a pretty new song – They had even been working on lyrics in the car on the way out, and figuring out how exactly it should flow. So, after we flew through the first 2 songs, myself and Eoin took a break while the lads jammed FDR a few times just to make sure they were all on the same page. I hooked up my guitar amp so that Seb could go join in and left them at it for a while. I also decided to leave all the mics running, just in case they nailed it while I was out of the room 😛
After they’d gone through the song 3 or 4 times they felt ready enough to take a stab at it, so we got back to work. Since the song was now fresh in their heads, we only needed to do a few passes before deciding we had a take worth keeping. There were a couple of transitions that were announced by some quick stabs (called the “stabby bit” naturally) that we decided to try a few more times. The main reason was to try some variations in the drums to see what sounded better – all kick, a mixture of kick and snare, etc. Once we’d decided what sounded best, we just pasted the new part into the song (sacrilege! :P).
And that was it for day 1. Before the lads hit the road, we cracked open a final beer for the road (except for poor Louis, the driver) \m/
And here’s a clip of what we had gotten by the end of day 1:

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Right, this is just a quick one, to let you know we’re still at it…
Last weekend we decided to have another go at some drum tracking. It should have been pretty simple, but we were using my new shells which I hadn’t actually test driven yet, so this was to be their first outing on a recording session. Things didn’t go very well…
It started like a normal session – Eoin came up, set up the kit around himself as usual, and I threw up the usual array of microphones. Then I had him play around the kit for a while so I could set the incoming levels. So far so good. Then we took a quick sample recording to hear what the mics were picking up, and also because I was testing out a couple of different kick mic options. And that’s where the trouble started…
Unfortunately I had made the decision to take the resonant (i.e. front) head off the kick drum, because it wasn’t a proper resonant skin, just a thin crappy plastic sheet with the manufacturer’s name on it and no hole to put a mic through. Now, I’m sure I could have put a mic in front of it and gotten something, but I tend to prefer the sound I get from inside the drum, so off came the head. Trouble is, what I didn’t realise (because this was my first time recording a kick with no reso head) was that the sound of the rest of the kit would bleed in through the front of the kick drum, so the kick mic ended up picking up more level from the snare than from the kick itself (have I mentioned before how insanely loud Eoin’s snare is?)! Which made it impossible to isolate the kick drum hits no matter how much I tried to gate the signal.
First I thought it might have been the mic we were using, but after trying 3 different ones and getting the same results it was obvious that that wasn’t it. Then we threw a thick blanket over the front of the drum hoping to keep the bleed from the other drums down a bit. Still no joy.
At this point it was approaching midnight and we were feeling pretty much defeated, so we called it quits. Looks like I’m gonna have to get a reso head for that drum and hope that keeps the bleed to a minimum, and also causes the actual kick hits to reverberate around inside the drum a bit more giving a hotter signal for the mic…
Cool story, huh? 😛

EDIT 27-07-2011: well, last night I tried a couple of things.
First, I messed around a bit with the sample recordings we’d done the other night to see if they could be made usable, and while the usual mangling that I like to do to kick signals gave a horrible snare sound as a consequence, once this was mixed in with the actual snare mic, the overheads and the room mics, it wasn’t particularly noticeable. So it would be possible to work something out recording this way.
However, the second thing I tried was to put a front skin on the drum (which first involved cutting a hole in it big enough to get the mic through). This made a huge difference to the balance between the kick and the rest of the kit that was being picked up, so I think I’m gonna have to go get a decent reso head now (as well as a new lug – turns out one of them is severely bent, and there’s no nut for it to screw into, and presumably no spring either…)

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OK, on to the meat – this is the main reason I started this blog: to discuss the recording of our first EP.

Most people reading this have probably heard all our demo tracks by now (all the stuff up on myspace and bandcamp – if you haven’t heard it, you’re probably here by accident 🙂 ), but you may not be aware that the majority of those tracks (all of them except Floyd the Barber, in fact) are just demo versions of our songs: stuff I just put together at home on my DAW. In essence, it’s all fake, and doesn’t represent us as a band. The instruments were all done by myself, and I programmed the drums. This is why they have never been put on CD for sale – they are available as a free download, and that’s how they’ll stay (until we delete them perhaps 🙂 )

Anyway, I digress…

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to get cracking on this idea. For the EP, we decided we’re going to re-record 3 of the old songs, which meant I could just open up the old project files and record Eoin’s drumming over them, then remove the midi drums. Easy-peasy, eh? Then we’ll probably add one of our new songs, which we’ll be starting from scratch – not so easy…

Naturally, we opted to start with the easy songs. So on the 19th of June, 2010 I got Eoin to come out to my house (hidden in the foothills of the Cork & Kerry Mountains :p) to get started. We spent a good few hours on Saturday evening setting up the kit and microphones, checking to make sure we were getting a good signal, and a good sound for each mic (I’d already spent some time on Friday night adding in the extra tracks I would need on each Cubase project).

We started with the kick mic. When we recorded Floyd the Barber back in October last year, I used a kick mic that I got with a drum mic set, but I don’t know if it was the mic itself or the way I positioned it, but I couldn’t get a decent sound from it – I ended up processing the hell out of it in the mix and still don’t like it. This time, I used a more recent acquisition: a Beyerdynamic m88. This is what I use for vocals at practice, but I’d heard it can be pretty good as a kick mic since it has a huge proximity effect (look it up :p). sure enough, we tried it out and had a nice meaty ‘thwack’ from the kick.

beyer m88 inside the kick drum

Next, for the snare I used a Beyerdynamic m201 on the top and an Eagle G158J (from my cheapo drum mic set) dynamic on the bottom. The 201 gives a nice crack (well, it picks up the nice crack from the way Eoin hits it 🙂 ). Just for kicks, we tried sticking the 201 into the hole on the side of his snare to see what it might pick up – horrible sound! Nothing useful, unless you’re doing some strange electronic song. It sounded more fake than my fake software drums 🙂 Back to the top of the beater side it went!

beyer m201 on the snare (also, note the dampener)

The tom mics, I was less worried about – I used the cheap G158Js on them last time around (I should have mentioned that the recording of Floyd was kind of  a practice run for this endeavour 🙂 ), and they worked out fine, so  I used them again. They’re handy because they’ve got clips on them to mount them to the drums, which is good, because as of yet I haven’t got a lot of mic stands.

We spent a bit of time getting the overheads sorted out – last time we didn’t really have much of a scientific approach, and the stereo image ended up being slightly skewed to the left. It wasn’t too bad – all it took to fix was a little volume and panning adjustment in the mix. This time though, I wanted to get it right at the tracking stage. We started out with the 2 mics (again from the G158J set – battery-powered electret condensers) above the centre of the kit in an XY formation for the least phase problems (lots of reflections in the garage), but when we listened back, the image was very narrow, even when the mics were panned 100% each way. So we went back to trying a spaced pair system. Eventually we got them sorted out, and sounding pretty good if I may say so myself.

spaced pair overheads

Once we were set up and everything was working the way it was supposed to (after having to repair on of my cheap mics – one of the XLR pins tried to disappear into the shaft! Grrrr!), we decided it was time to get to work (this meant removing our ‘drum tech’ from the room, since it was well past his bedtime!)

We started out with TV Zombie, since it’s a nice slow song, and after a few runs through it (and a couple of cans of Tuborg 🙂 ), Eoin found his stride and we started to power through it. We recorded a couple of passes of the entire song, then we started working section by section to give us plenty of options at mix time – if there’s any mistakes, we can just edit in a part from another take. Horrifying, isn’t it?! :p Well, I guess that’s just how recording works these days… 🙂

after spending an hour or so on that song, we figured it time to break for the night to start again fresh the next day.

creative juice

Next day was much easier – everything was still set up from the night before, so we were able to just get cracking right away. We checked what we’d got from the night before for TV Zombie (it’s always a good idea to re-check what you’ve worked on with a fresh pair of ears), and, happy enough, moved onto Shut Up And Eat Your Freedom.

This one took a bit of work to get right – maybe it was just the time of day, but for the first few passes we couldn’t get the flow. I realised during this process that the guitar tracks for the demo version have some terrible timing issues, so for Eoin to use them as a guide track was throwing the song all over the place. No problem – I fired up guitar rig, plugged my guitar straight in and recorded a fresh pair of scratch guitar tracks 🙂 The going went much smoother after that.

Next we tried A New Hope (aka No We Can’t aka NObama). We flew through it – no recording part by part here: 4 passes, one after the other. After recording the 3rd pass, we knew it was the keeper, but went for a 4th anyway. Then we just added a few different versions of the intro to choose from at mix time.

And that was it – all done. time for more beers \m/