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Is my Producer/Engineer right?

Member for

21 years
Hi everyone,

First time poster, long time reader here so take it easy on me! :D

I'm about to get started on a second project with the same producer/engineer my band used on our first project, and while we were happy for the most part with the results of our first - we had some questions. First and foremost in my mind since I'm the drummer was my drum sounds on the first album. I was not overly satisfied with how they came out so I brought it up to the producer/engineer and he said that for the sound I want, my drums are not the right kind to be playing and that is why he couldn't get them right.

I play a vintage mid 60's kit that includes a 20" kick, 12" rack and 14" floor, along with a 14" vintage snare. All of the drums are in perfect condition and not warped, so tuning is not an issue. I of course used new heads, and bought the ones the producer/engineer suggested. The sound that I am going for is a modern rock sound, nothing heavy - just plain rock. His argument is that with my smaller drums, I will never get the sound I am looking for. I do not agree because I know my drums sound great and I have talked to other people who record with small drums like mine and they have no issues. It is not like I am going for a huge sound, I just want a good sound. :)

I will obviously play what he wants me to play so we can put this behind us, but I am curious as to what other pros think. I know I will never get a Zeppelin sound out of my kit - and that is ok because it's not what I want. Are my drums a limiting factor in what I can do with them?

PS - The producer/engineer is a fairly well known and respected one, and we paid around $10,000 for 6 songs on our last project. Not a huge sum, but not $500 either. :)


Member for

21 years

Member Fri, 12/01/2006 - 07:36
For a moment, forget the studio side of things and just play your drums. Is that the sound you want? If so, your producer/engineer shouldn't have a problem capturing it if he's worth half his paycheck.

Problems begin to arise as your expectations for the recorded sound vary from the source sound. Obviously, compression, reverb, EQ, mic-selection/placement play a large role in the final outcome, but the wider the gap between the expectations and the source, the harder it is for the engineer to achieve a natural sounding result.

The rest of the kit aside, a 20" kick drum wouldn't be my first choice for modern-rock.

Member for

16 years 6 months

moonbaby Fri, 12/01/2006 - 09:03
Exactly what Miles said. You play the way you want them to sound. It's your job to do that, it's the engineer's job to capture that. I'm curious, why did he have you go out and buy different heads than what you've used in the past? Didn't they take a bit of smacking before the tuning stabilized? And, no offense, but that IS a rather small kick. I'd go with a minimum 22", IMHO.

Member for

21 years

Member Fri, 12/01/2006 - 09:25
Hey everyone, thanks for the feedback!

I'm not against playing a different set at all, especially if it gets what he wants and what I want down to tape. I just don't think the last project really gives me a good idea of what they can sound like, and you know everyone loves their own instrument. :)

If the general consensus is that I need to play slightly bigger drums to get the sound I am looking for, than that is cool. I just don't want to be fooled into thinking this and he is simply using this excuse because he didn't spend enough time mixing or setting up mics. At least if I play what he tells me to, I will be able to say no, I don't like that sound - can you make it sound like this?

As for the heads, we got new ones because the ones I had needed to be replaced at the time anyhow. He also thought the heads I had used didn't match the drum very well, so we bought some other ones that he thought would sound better. I broke them in for a half day before we started recording.

Member for

15 years 9 months

mugtastic Fri, 12/01/2006 - 10:38
but are you hearing the sound you want in the room then not hearing that in the recording? if you are expecting to pleasantly suprised on playback ("those are MY drums?) it may be the wrong kit. what heads did you put on?

i have a 20, 12, 14 kit and a 24, 13, 16 kit with lots of heads for both. obviously, tuned how i like, the smaller kit is higher pitched and less "rock" but tighter and perhaps easier to control while recording. i use the big kit mostly but i like a bonham type sound over the modern rock thing.

a big pet peeve of mine is over muffling the kick. if you have self muffled heads (powerstroke, evans eq, aquarian etc.) and a hole cut in the resonant head - don't dampen the head - especially with a smaller kick.

Member for

16 years 7 months

stickers Fri, 12/01/2006 - 11:51

Maybe you should have someone hit a drum from your kit as you walk around it in close proximity and ask your self this question:"Is that the sound i want?" If not then you either have to try different tunin, style of heador a different drum. Simple as that. There's only so much EQ compression and reverb can do to achieve as certain sound. Its better to use effects to make a sound you are already perfectly happy to make slight small improvements not as to totally fix a raw sound source you werent happy with to begin with.

Drums are the most fun to record,


Member for

15 years 1 month

natural Fri, 12/01/2006 - 14:54
Well, it looks like the popular concensus is that the 20" might be a tad too small and I concur with that thinking.

Mugtastic brings up a very good point about kick muffling. My experience has been if there is internal muffling attached to the head, it needs to come off and replaced with muffling within the shell. (it should at least be experimented with)

Rosemary also brings up good advice about alternate options.
For album projects, I'll bring in the drummer a day or so before we're scheduled to start tracking to try some different options. After making a series of adjustments we'll record a few minutes. take notes. adjust some more, record some more, etc.
we can then see where we started, what adjustments sounded better, and which ones didn't work.
The artist can pick which one sounded best and off we go.
Or, we keep making adjustments until we're out of ideas. At that point we start looking at replacing drums, parts of drums, sticks, and in at least 2 occasions, the drummer.

If you're recording an albums worth of songs, you'll want to make sure things sound the way you need them to sound from the start. No sense getting 6 songs into a project and then wonder if you should have tried something different.
Spend more time and $$ in the setup and preproduction, and you'll at least be happier knowing that you got the best out of what you got.

Member for

21 years

Member Fri, 12/01/2006 - 15:20
All your drums a too small for a MODERN ROCK sound, which is what you said you wanted. also said "...just plain rock...I just want a good sound."

Let's put things under perspective for minute:

Your producer didn't say your drums don't sound goo, he said you can't get the sound you are looking for. Quite a different thing.

Be that as it may, drum size DOES count and cannot, I repeat, cannot be faked by adding copmression and reverb. It's NOT the same thing.

Your kick and toms are small for a MODERN ROCK sound. But, I don't know the song, the production, etc... None of us here know, we can only speak from a very GENERIC standpoint. And from that point, you need to use a different drumset with larger, kick and toms.

Member for

15 years

Scoobie Fri, 12/01/2006 - 16:01
That to me sounds like a jazz kit. I know a sessions
drummer that has alot of drum kits, and has a small kit like you. His kick is only 20", but it is real deep. I've heard some recording out of that kit that was awsome. Real big sounding.

I agree with Digit.....about cannot be faked by adding compression and reverb.
But I think the room has alot to do with it also.


Member for

15 years 5 months

BobRogers Fri, 12/01/2006 - 16:35
My first reaction is that I'd love to have your kit, and I bet I'd love your live sound precisely because it's not (what I think of as) modern rock. Listen to your live recordings. If that's not the sound you want for studio recordings, you have to rethink the whole structure. There's nothing wrong with that. Studio/live are two different environments. See if your producer can arrange for you to play a kit that he could use to get the sound that you want.

Member for

21 years

Member Wed, 12/20/2006 - 10:02
There are several issues I see with this that I haven't seen anyone touch on with I thought I would add my 2 cents.....

1) Depth of the drums has as much to do with the sound as does the head size.......I have found as someone said that a 20 is very precise and has a high attack....if you are looking for a big boomy kick with a lot of umpgh around 60-80hz, you probably aren't going to get it with like a 20X16, you will probably get more around 120-140hz with that size. You will get a little more deeper sound with like a 20X18...have you seen those drum extender's? I had someone bring one in one on a 20X16 and it made it 20X20 and it made a world of difference on the sound they were looking for....

2) The mix.....If you sit and listen to a kick drum by itself, it will sound totally different than what you here with the other musicians....a tracking engineer's job is to capture the sound of the instrument as true as it is....and a mix engineer's job is to get everything to fit in it's place and if you are using a drum (even if it sounds good) that doesn't have the frequencies of where the mix engineer or the artist want the drum to fit, boosting eq is going to degrade the's better to remove freq than to add (not to sound like a recording textbook, but it is soooo true)...Only true way I think to hear the drum is to hear what it is with the other instruments (you never know what it is sounding like out front, when you are behind)...for Modern Rock, my favorite is 24X18 for recording. It is big deep and still has a lot of presence and attack (if tuned right)...but it also depends on the drum, heads, the type of wood the shelll is made of and many other factors.....

I could keep going on with other things with this, but I said 2 cents so there are my 2

Pick Man

Member for

17 years 1 month

therecordingart Wed, 12/20/2006 - 10:58
One thing that wasn't really touched here is that most "modern rock" drums are layered with samples and have gates keyed to trigger impulses.

Typically, you'll mic up your drums and get your sound. Then acoustic drum triggers are placed on the drums. You'll record the trigger impulses to their own separate tracks and then use them later to key gates and also trigger samples that will be run in parallel with your acoustic drum sound.

It gives you a lot of options.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Davedog Fri, 12/01/2006 - 21:54
I have found over the years, that its the depth of the drum shell not the diameter that will make the biggest difference in sound sizing. A 20" kick thats say, 24" deep is going to be a monster of a cannon and should be kept out of earshot of small children and dogs .. The head material as well as the beater material will make a gigantic difference too. I've had much more luck in control of the drum tuning and the ever-present sympathetic overtones with odd-numbered diameters. Dont ask why....I just is. The preamp selection will make a difference in aggressive as opposed to clean reproduction values. A couple of channels of API used on kick and snare can make a lot of difference. Multiple mics on kick and snare can give you sonic choices at mix.

A producer who doesnt give a LOT of personal attention to the drums at the beginning is making a lot of work for the mixer later on, and creating just the sort of feeling you have expressed to us here in this forum.

The drums can make or break a song from the git-go.

How YOU, as the drum artist, approach the arrangement and what you bring to the table will have a larger impact on the recorded sound than any set of drums ...

You want modern? Hit the shit out of the kit with control and accuracy.

Play at 70%. Play only what the arrangement calls for. If you're not going to hit something, leave it off the kit for that particular arrangement.

Be definate in what you believe in.

These things, you control.

Member for

21 years

Member Thu, 12/14/2006 - 15:45
Hi, first what you also can try is to lower the tuning of your drums. When it comes to getting too much resonance try moongel or whatever to put it on the upper skin where the tention is too low.

Second thing is to place a good (!) ambient mic (abt. 2 to 3 meters / 6 to 10 feet, or even further away) in front of the drumset at earheight.

If you mix this mic together with the rest of the drums you should get a LOOOOOWWWW sound which makes the drums much bigger. Play around with the phase-switches to ensure you have the right settings for the ambient mic that joins in.

Member for

21 years

Member Fri, 12/22/2006 - 07:14
Who's right?

Easy - you are 100% right. You are the customer, after all! Do not be put off by some prima donna producer telling you that you are playing the 'wrong kind of drums' - that is bollocks!

If you like the sound of your drums, then an idealised version of just that is what he should be giving you. Not excuses!!!

OK, I'll make an excpetion. If you are a completely crap drummer and the way you hit the drums is inconsistant and hesitant. If you speed up as you go along and loose the click, well then OK. There is very little (other than totally retiming everything and replacing every hit with a sample) that an engineer can do.

But assuming that you hit the drums at the right time and in the right way, then I for one fail completely to see what his problem is!

I have been at the game for about 40 years now and right at the beginning there were times when I too told the drummer that it was him or his kit that was at fault and not me. That was because I did not know what I was doing!

Given today's technology and possibilities, he should (as the man says above) be able to give you anything from a highly compressed version of your drums, through to a set of samples or a totally open and natural version of the original sound, or indeed a mix of all three.

Member for

21 years

Member Sat, 12/23/2006 - 07:07
I've got a little children's toy set, a "Mark V" set, with approx. 16" kick, that can be made to sound rather huge in a mix. Its all about communicating and understanding what you WANT for a sound.

Now, this "suspension of disbelief", turning a 16" kick into a howitzer, isn't what I would recommend, except as an interesting experment, but the point stands that you can do an AWFUL LOT with an AWFUL LITTLE, if you know what you're shooting at.


Member for

21 years

Member Mon, 12/04/2006 - 10:09
Thanks for the insight everyone, I really appreciate it. I guess I'm being kind of silly since it really shouldn't matter what I play in the studio, but I'm just so proud of my little kit and how it is somewhat unique in this day and age. :) I really do like the live sound of the kit, but as people are mentioning they are rather small drums. They are also fairly shallow when it comes to depth as most drums were back in the 60's - the kick for example is 14x20, rack tom is 8x12, and the floor tom is 14x14. Of course when I hear them live through a PA they sound great, but that is quite different than a studio setting since PA's are turned up so loud, use subs, etc.

I use very minimal amounts of muffling on my drums as I enjoy more of an open, natural sound - although this is probably not the kind of "modern" rock sound that I describe :) I guess my best description would be to listen to Coldplay's second album - to my ears they sound open, natural and somewhat modern. I know the Coldplay drummer uses new Yamaha's and his kick is a 24" one, and I therefore know I won't get the exact same thing, but what I am trying to convey is more of a "feel" or general idea than an exact sound. What I don't want is some Deftones/Hinder/All American Rejects processed all to hell sound, and I doubt I could ever come close to that without all triggers anyhow. :)

I will be doing some demoing of new songs in the next little while and since I am the one with the most experience in recording, I will be looking after getting them onto our DAW. It's too bad I didn't have more know-how to be able to tweak the drums until I got them sounding how I like, but I will do the best I can with the equipment I have. I'll try to hit the drums as hard as possible all while laying off of the cymbals, and I'll make sure to get them all tuned up perfectly before starting. Does anyone have any suggestions on particular heads to give my kick and toms more depth and tone just to make them sound bigger than what they really are?

Thanks again!

Member for

21 years

Member Mon, 12/18/2006 - 15:27
The Coldplay drummer tends to have his drums back in the mix quite a bit. Like the previous guy suggested, some room mics would be in order. Most of the drum sounds and tone come from the well place O-heads and room mics. Bonhams drums relied mostly on room mics and a good deal of compression. Close micing really allows you to place the stereo image better, and get more articulation. But, if you are looking for a Cold Play sound, you might want to talk to the enigneer about minimal micing. A spaced pair overhead, a kick mic and one or two room mics 3 feet off the ground about 6-8 feet away from the kick.

Also, you should consider some 2 ply heads to get some deeper tones outta your toms. Match them up with the same 2 ply head on the bottoms for maximum resonance. The Remo Smooth Whites are some excellent heads that are not tooo dark, and allow good articulation.

Also, I highly suggest that you invest in the "Drum Dial". Just a must for great for taking the guess work out of drum tuning. I have been able to get the best tones out of my drums since getting it, easy.

For your kick, use a small 6-8inch hole in the front head to try to get some boominess from having both heads on, and not too much "pillow" sound. If you want, rent one of those yamaha sub kicks. Get the engineer to use the Waves Rennaisance Bass on your kick to add some low end harmonics.

I used to have a 20 inch kick, and it did not have much presence. I now use 24s, and they hit hard. Before investing another $10,000 you might want to invest $1,500 in a new kit. The Gretch Renown Maples sound incredible for this price. You get a free 8 inch, 10, 12 and 14 floor with a 22 by 18 inch kick. I have 16 inch floor toms, but this 14 inch floor was killer. I am seriously considering getting this kit as my studio kit.

Have this Engineer show you some of HIS best drum recordings and how he got them, and what was used.

Do you have a sample of the previous recording we can hear ?