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Old school drum recording techniques

There's been a lot of talk about drum recording lately, and it's been interesting reading about how people go after the modern sound with each drum miced individually and (ideally) popping out of the mix. But how were drums typically miced on the recordings of the 60's - James Brown, Atlantic/Stax, Motown, Beatles, old-school Nashville, 50s Jazz?

Maybe it's just my age showing, but when I'm doing live audio I just put an sm57 on the snare, a D112 on the kick and a couple of overheads. (I just got a pair of NT5s and put them up in the recorderman configuration - best OVHD sound I've ever gotten.) With the kind of music that I do, I like the way that simple mic technique sits in the mix. I know it's not what is expected now, especially in heavier genres, but I like it. As far as recording goes I have not done much with drums, but I've been trying to improve by getting the better OVHD mics and now working on my room rather than go to a setup with a dozen mics. Just wondering how they did it back in the old days.


moonbaby Fri, 05/19/2006 - 15:15
I used to work with this guy, Frank Virtue, in the Philly area. He had tons of pix showing the various R'n'B artists he recorded during the 50s-60s in his studio. He liked using some old Altec "salt shaker"mic on the kick, and maybe an RCA ribbon in front of the kit. Sometimes the ribbon was replaced by a Neumann. You have to remember that back then there were no mega-input consoles, lots of direct-to-3-track (!), etc. I read in MIX that many of the older Elvis recordings had a single room mic for the entire band! No "top-and-bottom" snare mics on THOSE tracks!

BobRogers Fri, 05/19/2006 - 19:12
Actually, I am old enough to remember... if I had access and was paying attention. But the only thing I was doing musically at the time was trying to get a good sound out of my Hofner knock-off bass. (Wish I still had it.)

I realize that the 50's techniques were a lot like classical/acoustic techniques still are today - get the players in a good room, put up one or two great mics in one of several configurations and you are good to go. (Vastly oversimplified, but not all that off base.)

But by the 60's there were more mixing channels available if not a lot of recording tracks. I'm assuming the drums got a little more attention. (It sounds like it.) But I don't really know that. I've read a bunch of books about music in that era, but of course, no one gives that many details about this kind of stuff.

took-the-red-pill Tue, 05/23/2006 - 00:53
Dude, if you can get 4 mics to sound great, in my book, that's all that matters. The way I see it, if you have a great kick sound, a great snare sound, and a great vocal performance, all the rest is just blah blah blah.

I recently did a project and someone else had recorded it and I did the mixing. He had put 8 mics on the kit, but all I used was the kick, snare, and a pair of 4033's in XY. So I say if you can do everything you want with a minimum of mics, then a tip of the old chapeau to you.

I must say that I did cheat on that project. There were some that had been recorded only with the 4 mics, so when it came time for a tom hit, I isolated the hits through editing, and placed them on their own tracks, and then employed pan, EQ, and compression on them seperately to get the sound I wanted. It all blended well in the final mix. You can sort of cheat if you have to to make it sound like there were more mics than there were.

I read that Ringo was done with one in the kick and one overhead. I read an article by Rick Ruben, who recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and he said the bulk of those were done with 4 mics as you've described. And the kick was done with a 57, because "that's what was handy at the time." Sacrelige!!! Heresy!!!