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Steel Pan Group

My wife has joined a Steel Drum orchestra - about 25 pieces. (Something like 8 lead pans, 7 double seconds, 6 guitars (sp?), and 4 basses.) Anyone have any experience recording groups like this?


JoeH Sat, 08/19/2006 - 17:37
Anyone have any experience recording groups like this?

For better or worse, yes...I do! Hahaha.... (Sooner or later if you stay at this long enough, you see everything.)

Almost 30 years ago now, I did a lot of live shows with carribean steel drums and a band with them, in a live concert/PA outdoor ampitheater setting. All I had to work with was a bunch of SM57's and 58's, and it worked pretty well, at least in terms of getting it loud enough in the PA. Spot mic'd anything inportant, and mixed to taste. If you have enough inputs, you can mic above and below them for the best blend.

More recently (this past season), I had the chance to mic & record for broadcast a large steel drum band from the University of Delaware (Delaware Steel) at an event at the Kimmel Center here in Phila. (You can read all about the concert here, the pic of the steel drum band is almost at the end of the article: Link removed )

I used a pair of DPA 4006 TL's on extended booms way out and above/over the entire group, at second balcony level. (There was some issue of sightlines involved, as well, due to rear projections (gee, could they make it any more difficult?)

I also used a stereo Rode NT-4 on a short stand directly out in front, just slighty above and behind the head of the conductor, and two additional AT 4050's in the rear, near the lower/bass steel drums. There was no PA system involved, btw., it's a 650 seat hall, with the proscenium side (wide open). No reinforcement was needed; the mics were for the broadcast.

What I've learned over the years is that dynamic spots are great for PA work with these drums, and good condensers are much more critical for recording all the subtleties of these things. If I had to, I could have used just the DPA's for the entire mix (which is why I love these things so much!) but the extra stereo NT and the AT's really helped fill in things a bit more.

As you probably know, each of those drums are hand-made, and they have a lot of difference in character from drum to drum. No two are exactly alike, and close mic'ing isn't going to do much good, unless there are isolation or PA issues. It's best to get the overal sound of the instrument(s). There are transients as well, but in general, it's a nice soft, metallic sound.

Probably the biggest determining factor is how many drums there will be, and if there are any other accompanying instruments. Sounds like your wife's group is all drums, so you'll have some consistency there. I'd start with more than you think you're going to need, and take 'em away as needed. (If there's no sight-lines to contend with, perhaps just go with a big stereo rig to cover 'em all, and then sectional mics?)