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Recording a drummer who is not happy to use headphones

Discussion in 'Monitoring / Headphones' started by TBR, Aug 15, 2005.

  1. TBR

    TBR Guest

    Hi all, I'm new here so it may be that this question has been dealt with previously but I hope that you can help out with it.

    The drummer in my band finds that headhones are physically restrictive and that the mix into his ears is a little too direct. When rexording as a full band (as we'd prefer to do) is it feasible to use a speaker mix and then cancel out the guitars that will have bled into the mics by using a phase reversed copy of those parts?

    Forgive my naivety but I'm new to this game!


  2. Boltino

    Boltino Guest

    I've never heard of that method with any success. Your drummer needs to suck it up. The best session drummers record amazing performances every day using headphones. This is something he needs to get over no matter how "rock and roll" it is to hate headphones.

    That being said, if the issue is that he has trouble actually hearing the mix, you may need a better headphone amp and a good set of headphones. But it sounds like from your post that he just doesn't like using headphones. Good Luck.

  3. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    Aww poor thing. Try out some different headphones - he might like some of them.

    Phase reversing will never get rid of all of the spill as the sound will hit different mics at different times. It may be something you can live with, but its gonna be a lot of hassle for each seperate channel and as i said will never remove all the spill.

    You other alternative is to literally record live - with spill on every track. This will seriously limit your mix options, but if you don't use a great deal of FX on the mix and get a good sound before you record, you may get someting half decent.

    I've done this before and it certainly makes for a more 'live' sounding recording (If that's not oxymoronic I don't know what is).
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    How can you tell if the drum riser is level?

    The drool come out of both sides of the drummers mouth ....

    Drummers are weird people ... face it, someone who wants to dedicate their life to beating on things is wired a bit differently that the rest of us. That said, there's nothing I appreciate more than a killer drummer.

    The best drummers I have ever recorded actually modify their set ups to accommodate the recording process ... toms set flat instead of angled back towards the drummer so you can aim the mics easily, cymbals set up higher than normal to help with the spill .... hat as far away from the snare as possible. They all do this without a whine or whimper.

    Then there are the posers who will not change a thing ... "I can't play that way" ....

    Of course you can't ... one, because you can't play anyway and two, because you've never made the effort to try to get used to it. Set up and practice that way ...

    Same with the phones. It's the only way you're going to get good isolation ... so the choice is to forgo any real isolation and deal with it or to have the drummer use phones.

    Let me go out on a limb here ... I bet this drummer is also very particular and critical about the sound of his drums when they are recorded. I bet he is very hard to please ... That's the way it always seems to be .... :roll: He needs to understand that to get the sounds that records have, isolation is critical.

    The only way phase flipping works to cancel out sounds is when there is a single mic set in omni and two speakers wired out of phase and fed a mono signal, all set up in a perfect equilateral triangle. That's an old trick devised by "Cowboy" Jack Clement ... who recorded a lot of the old Sun recordings, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash ... Carl Perkins, just to mention a few.
  5. skinsincyn

    skinsincyn Guest

    Don't know if I really want to step into this drummer-bashing conversation, but...

    I'm a drummer (over 20 years, as well as a guitar player for 15) who records and doesn't mind wearing headphones at all. I'm also an engineer - albeit an amateur one.

    Isn't it the engineer's job to CAPTURE the best performance possible? And the drummer's (or other musicians') job to PERFORM the best performance possbile? I say, whatever it takes for the engineer/producer to get the best performance from the musicians - you do it. Otherwise, who gives a crap about how "good" it sounds?

    Of course the drummer has as big a stake in an awesome sounding recording as the engineer does - even bigger since everyone who listens to it is gonna associate a good or bad recording with the drummer first, not the engineer. But when it comes to worrying about separation and bleed, microphone placement and just about every other recording issue, it's the engineer's job to work around the drummer - not the other way around!

    Has anyone listened to Elvin Jones? Sometimes his grunts and groans are louder than the parts he's playing!! Can you imagine some engineer saying, "Elvin! Please keep it down! You're ruining all my lovely separation!"
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I don't bash drummers ... actually as I said, I love a great one. It's the hacks I have problems with.

    What should a recording engineer do if the drummer places so many obsitcals in his path that a suitable recording cannot be accomplished? Believe me, I have come across this before. Usually these guys are the ones who bitch at the end of the process that they don't like the sound of there drums ... even tough it was their demands that prevented you from doing better.

    I agree that the recording process should be as transparent as possible and the the artistic considerations of the musicians should be a priority but sometimes a little teamwork is needed to get what everyone wants.
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I don't bash drummers ... actually as I said, I love the great ones. It's the hacks and bashers with rock star attitudes I sometimes have problems with.

    That's jazz ... which really has nothing to do with most pop / rock recording. Most likely, the set up for Elvin Jones would consist of a couple overheads a kick and snare mic ... and nothing more if even that much. Also a lot of those recordings are recorded with everyone in one room and no phones used.

    What should a recording engineer do if the drummer places so many obstacles in his path that a suitable recording cannot be accomplished? Believe me, I have come across this before. Usually these guys are the ones who bitch at the end of the process that they don't like the sound of their drums ... even though it was their demands that prevented you from doing better.

    I agree that the recording process should be as transparent as possible and the the artistic considerations of the musicians should be a priority but sometimes a little teamwork is needed to get what everyone wants.
  8. Boltino

    Boltino Guest

    Fellow drummer and engineer here too.

    I think that the best recordings are captured when you have a performer who is mindful of the recording process and an engineer who is mindful of the performance process.

    There is a definite need to be mindful of the performer. But in this situation, we are talking about a drummer who wants a quality recording but isn't mindful of what it takes to get one. No one is going to be happy with the end result.

  9. skinsincyn

    skinsincyn Guest


    I wasn't trying to point you out as a drummer-basher, I was merely trying to say that the engineer should work around the drummer. Not the other way around. And the tone of the previous posts was somewhat negative towards this particular drummer.

    And as for referring to to jazz recordings, I didn't see anything in the original post saying that it wasn't a jazz group, or that it was pop/rock or whatever. I was trying to point out a specific situation where the needs of the musician outweigh the logistics of the recording process.

    Remember the footage of Keith Moon with the headphones duct-taped to his head? That could not have been very pleasant to take off!

    As the Stones said, "Let it Bleed!"
  10. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    try better headphone with more dynamic range in the HP amp

    Use a seat shaker

    try IEM

    provide a more complex drum send and do use some reverb

    keep trying ... it can be done
    he may even learn to like it and then enjoy recording
  11. drumist69

    drumist69 Active Member

    another drummer chimes in!

    I tend to agree with Kurt here. ANY musician has to make some sacrifices in the "comfort" area when recording. Bottom line is, when you are recording rock/pop, live performance is a different animal from recording. Hell, even playing live in clubs with crappy stage moitoring, you must adapt! What are you going to do? Refuse to play a gig because they don't have a good monitor mix for the drummer? Good luck with your career! I must admit, I had a similar attitude toward recording to a click track a few years back. "It's too static, it's not ORGANIC!". That's bull. The first time I did record with a click, man! Most solid tracks I did up to that point. Gotta roll with it!
  12. drumist69

    drumist69 Active Member

    come to think of it...

    I seem to remember, speaking of Elvin Jones, reading an interview with him many moons ago. He was saying he liked to move his cymbals around the kit every few gigs. Switch it up to keep himself on his toes. I took that to heart. I find when you get pushed a little bit out of your comfort zone, you end up doing things you never thought of before! You might try that logic on this drummer.
  13. TBR

    TBR Guest

    Thanks everyone for your opinions and ideas. We'll have another try and look to get some more high end headphones that give a better aural experience. However, if the problem is not the mix but is the physical restriction is there another way round it? What happens if the only way to get the true sound of the musician's performance is to enable them to play like they do live? If that involves a lot of movement it may be difficult...
  14. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    The physical restriction of headphes has always been the bugbear of may a drummer. Especially if he/she is quite animated when they're playing.

    A couple of tips i've always found useful.

    • Use lighter headphones - but still good quality closed design if possible. You might even try an in ear design.

      Make sure the feed for the cans approaches from behind the drummer in order to stop stangulation from the cable. :shock:

      Pass the cable underneath clothing to keep it out of the way.

      Make sure you have lots of free cable for the cans so the drummer is able to move a little.

    I remeber having to record a drummer with an unusually small head. The only cans we had were DT150's which kept falling off. In the end we had to gaffer tape them to his head!
  15. timtu

    timtu Guest

    If I was you I would tell this drummer to go f**k himself cause i wouldnt tolorate that kind of $*^t

  16. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    A good friend just recorded a band where the drummer refused to play to a click track saying "I should be setting the pacing not some @#$%ing click track" Turns out he was all over the place in terms of keeping time and did not want to play to a click track for fear that it would show up his less that adequate skill level. He also refused the play with headphones on saying he needed to feel the music and he refused to tune his drum set saying it was not needed and that a good engineer should be able to get a good sound out of any drum set tuned or not. He was a very nice person but the band finally decided that he was more of a liability than they needed and parted company about half way though the sessions. The new drummer they found was really good and had none of the hang-ups of the former drummer and the sessions went off without a hitch.

    Moral of the story LEARN TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT and you will not have problems with headphones and click tracks if you are a good musician.....end of story.
  17. TBR

    TBR Guest

    Wow Timtu... after all the other replies from the forum users I was beginning to think that there was no way to overcome the issue at hand. Little did I know that the answer was so simple.

    I've sacked the drummer as his precision, groove, flow and all round quality just didn't seem to balance out against the enormous hassle that the headphone issue was causing me.

    While I'm at it I think I'll sack the guitarists as well because it's so hard to get record them so that they sound like they do on a stage.

    Everybody else, thanks for your more practical comments - however, please note that the easiest thing to do is just dismiss anyone that can't just be plugged in and played!

    EDIT: I honestly don't think that this issue with headphones indicates that the drummer can't play! As he is the best drummer that I've ever had the pleasure of playing with I think that I'll continue to try to find an alternative solution!
  18. Boltino

    Boltino Guest

    Good Luck, you've got a hard road ahead. I don't necessarily think that the issue with headphones means the drummer absolutely stinks. But the no compromise attitude is going to be tough to deal with. He's basically saying, "I don't care how bad it sounds, I refuse to use headphones" You are talking about a 2% hinderence in his performance versus a 20% drop in the quality of recording. No one is going to listen to the recording and say "Boy those drums sound like crap, but the drummer was 100% comfortable so oh well." I think the choice is obvious, but it's your call.

    I'd take Kev's advice and look at your chain. Reverb in the phones done well can really make a world of difference. I'd spend some time on it before totally giving up on the idea of using headphones. my 2 cents.

  19. TBR

    TBR Guest

    Thanks again

    The drummer has not categorically stated that he refuses to wear headphones - there's no issue with attitude! He said that he finds them uncomfortable/restrictive and I decided to look into any other options. Listening back to the recordings that were made on Sunday it is apparent that the headphone issue did nothing to upset his playing so it may not be a problem after all.

    My initial question was simply whether or not anyone knew of any other way to let the drummer hear the mix without having to use headphones.

    Perhaps it's worth noting that we're an unsigned band who make our own home recordings in our rented practice room - we do not have the luxury of time to spend trying out different things (I wish that we did) and my intent is to make the recordings that we produce as good as possible given our financial and temporal restrictions. We can't be doing badly as the demos that I have recorded for us are better than the ones that we paid to have produced for us in a local studio.

    Once again though, I do appreciate your views and advice. However, instead of viewing what I've said as being the drummer refusing to co-operate perhaps it's worth considering that to many people the natural flow and performance of an artist is infinitely more valuable than the techniques and maleability of a session player. Before anyone says anything derogatory, this doesn't mean that our drummer can't play!
  20. alimoniack

    alimoniack Guest

    Duct tape. I agree. Definitely the way to go. Our drummer wears it round his cans, and partially tapes a pair of aviator shades on to help get in the zone. it also isolates the sound better and you don't have to put foldback through to him at ear-bleed level. Looks kinda cool and, well, Kieth Moon, right?

    Then he can focus on evening up his snare work and go berserk without losing sound or shades. Sometimes he loses a layer of filth when he uncovers his ears to hear things in the live room but he's a big boy (heh).

    If you play live a lot and that's intrinsic to the feel of the music, you do have to be able to not worry about cables all over you or things slipping over your face, just relax and play. I always seem to get an itchy nose when the red light is on so I'm rarely comfortable anyway.

    If your drummer dislikes cans he should get some in-ear monitoring (way more expensive) or you could try miming parts at him (seen it done without guitars, hilarious). Obviously a last resort and only possible in specific situations.

    Duct tape is the most rock'n'roll way, though.

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