thread: Drum Tracking
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Old 22nd July 2016
Drum Nuggets

Previously, I wrote about my routine for miking and recording drums. I talk a bit about tuning and drum heads here:

"If you want your drum recordings to sound good, learn how to tune drums! Have fresh heads available during tracking and change often if you want crisp attack on the snare and toms. During the Tool sessions we changed tom and snare heads between each TAKE!!!! Hydraulic heads sound good live, but often sound thuddy and lifeless in the studio. I usually use Remo Ambassador single-ply coated on the snare top, and clear on the tom tops."


There were several tom-heavy passages in Tool songs on both "Opiate" and "Undertow" and drummer Danny Carey hit the toms so hard that the drum heads were cratered and lost their sparkle after each take. It was necessary to take the time to replace the heads and tune them up. Again and again. We could have extended the life of the toms by using thicker heads, like Emperors, but they would not recorded with such crispness and clarity.

One way to get the tom head tuning to settle in quickly is to replace the head and tighten down the tension rods, then set the drum on the floor and press your knee into the top, stretching the head out. Then tighten down all the tension rods again. Do this a couple times. With the Remo Ambassador heads, this will usually get them warmed up and ready to play quickly. It is necessary to keep checking the tuning though. Especially if you are using older drums with looser tension rods.

As I described in the "Recording Unhinged" book, I like to tune the toms into the key of the song being recorded. To do that, after stretching out the drum head, I'll take the drum over to a piano and detail the tuning. On Tool's "Undertow" we paid close attention to make sure all the toms were tuned into the key of each song. Lot's of toms on Danny's kit = lots of tuning time.

Also, while recording drums I will sum the top and bottom heads of the snare and toms, but usually do not use compression. I will, however, use compression on drum rooms and sometimes the overheads. Typically just a "touch" of compression on the main pair of drum room mics, and heavy compression on at least one mono room mic. This mic is usually placed right in front of the drum kit, about chin height. This came about because so many of my sessions had a scratch vocal mic, which had a good amount of compression, left open during a drum take, and the track turned out to be the best drum room sound ever!

If the song we are recording has a lot of "space" in the drums, I will use some compression on the overhead mics because it extends the decay of cymbal crashes, and it brings out more of the color and harmonics of the cymbals. This really only works when the drummer is not crashing on the ride cymbals or playing an obnoxious open hat all the time.