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How the 'huge drums' recording was made

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 05, 2007
How to get a huge drum sound with suprisingly few resources...
How the 'huge drums' recording was made

Today is the day when I reveal how the 'huge drums' recording was made. It was pure accident, and I'll tell you in a moment.

Here is the clip again...


But first, what is good and what is not so good about this recording?

The good...

  • Good strong sound overall, very suitable for rock music.
  • Good balance (some might say the hihat is a little too loud, but you'll go a long way to find one that's too quiet).
  • Good balance between drums and natural reverb.
  • Good playing (kidding!)

And the bad...

  • The slightly 'dirty' sound would not be suitable for some styles of music.
  • Voices in the background.
  • It's mono!

I wouldn't recommend this as the only way drums should ever sound, or the best, but within its own parameters it's a perfectly good and usable recording.

So how was it made? Here's the story...

I was having a problem with my personal Pro Tools MIXplus system. Although some plug-ins worked fine, others wouldn't load. It was a bit of a mystery to be solved.

One good way to trace the source of problems is to strip the system down to its bare bones and see if the problem goes away. Then you build it back up again until the problem reoccurs. That tells you exactly which component is at fault.

There isn't a great deal to strip away on a simple Pro Tools system like this, so all I had to do to go back to 'bare bones' hardware-wise was to remove the Mix Farm card, leaving only the Mix Core card installed.

Suddenly, everything worked fine, so I knew that I had found the fault.

But I needed to test the system just to make sure. So the first test I tried was to create a whole load of tracks and put them into record. Hard disk recording systems sometimes start off OK, and then throw an error someway into the recording.

It didn't seem quite right just to record nothing, so I plugged in the nearest mic I had to hand into input number one.

I had no intention of recording anything in particular, just checking that recording was taking place. And the radio was on, which accounts for the voices in the background.

I planned to leave the system running for around thirty minutes. That's plenty of time in which to get rather bored.

So I started pounding away on my drum set. I did that for a while, then went to make some coffee.

After the thirty minutes was up, the system hadn't stopped or crashed. I played back a section of the recording just to be sure.

And that was when I was amazed by the enormous sound of the drums. I had forgotten that I had even played them!

One of the difficulties with recording in general is that things that sound loud and big to the naked ear often sound very small when recorded. This is due to the microphone's ability to handle high sound levels very cleanly.

So engineers spend a lot of time and effort in making things sound larger than life. But this recording just did sound larger than life all of its own accord.

And the position of the microphone?

Well, the nearest microphone I could grab was a Shure SM57. My preamp is close to the bottom of my Pro Tools trolley, so I just left the mic on the floor. It happened to be pointing towards the rear of the kit. The diaphragm of the mic was just a couple of inches back from the drum stool.

And since I wasn't particularly recording anything, I didn't bother setting the gain of the preamp.

So what you hear is a complete fluke. Pure chance.

And the fact that the peaks are clipped slightly is a result of the gain being too high.

Normally I wouldn't even dream of recording with red lights coming on, but in this case the results demonstrate that this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you fully understand what you're doing of course.

So, is there a conclusion? What have we learned?

Well the first thing I would say is that any engineer needs to master the traditional way of miking a drum kit and needs to be able to get a clean, crisp sound.

But beyond that is a whole universe of creative adventure.

And it IS possible, as we see, to get a good recording of drums using only one microphone. And a humble Shure SM57 at that.

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 05, 2007 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)