How Joshua Recording Studios Prefers to Track Drums!

Discussion in 'Drums' started by joshuarecordingstudios, Mar 5, 2008.

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  1. Secrets of the newbies,

    Hey guys, my name is Joshua Hamilton and I own and operate a recording studio in Middletown, Ohio called Joshua Recording Studios. You can check out some demos of my work at .

    I am writing this article to maybe help some of you out there with questions you may have about pro recording and how the crap they get such awesome sounds and why your stuff doesn’t sound as good.

    Just a little about me, I didn’t go to school for engineering, but I did learn from some of the greats which I think may count for something a little more than a piece of paper. I have been in the recording industry for the past 11 years asking my self the same questions everyone else does when they begin recording bands and such.

    This will be part 1 of a 6 part tutorial on how I approach recording.

    First things first, you need to record to a click track! If you do not record to a click then you are setting your self up for disaster down the road if not immediately. I usually start by having the guitar player play the song and use tap tempo to figure out the tempo of the song, input that in to your tempo track and have the band follow along with it to make sure it feels right to everyone, including the producer if he’s there. In some cases you may have a tempo change at one point in the song, you’ll need to edit that in the tempo track at the exact point in measure where the tempo change takes place, just because there is a tempo change doesn’t mean you don’t have to use a click.
    Once you have the tempo mapped out with correct tempo’s and tempo changes you’ll need to record guitar to the click track. I usually double the guitar scratch tracks to get extra volume in the head phones for the drummer and because it just sounds better, you’ll be hearing these scratch tracks for a while so you might as well make them sound decent! Usually you’ll come across something that isn’t right if you made tempo changes in your tempo track, fix that and then proceed with the guitar scratch tracks. Once you have the guitar scratch tracks recorded and double up panned left and right sounding pretty, you’ll want the band to take one more final listen to the entire song to make sure it sounds the way they intended. Here you are looking for a thumbs up from everyone EVERYONE in the group!
    You need to have the drummer set up in a different room than where your main mix speakers are (the control room) so that you can hear what’s coming out of the speakers and not what’s coming from the drums. Once the drummer is set up and ready to go you can start placing your mics or triggers to begin tracking. If you are using microphones make sure and mic the drums in way that mostly only that drum will be heard when its hit and if you are using triggers just make sure you have at least one overhead set up so that you can hear all of the cymbals. NOTE: you need at least one overhead to hear the cymbals, you’ll see why in a bit. After you get the mics or triggers placed have the drummer play the kit and make sure nothing is in his way, for your sake and his, last thing you want is some guy you don’t even know to be banging up your microphones. Here you are looking for a thumbs up from him and once you get it, you need to do a level check. The level check is pretty important for your later editing. You need to have each drum wave look like a spike, but not clipping. This would look like a vertical line from top to bottom, it doesn’t have to be a really thin line but for the most part an up and down line. Once you have all of the levels have the drummer play the whole kit and then readjust all of your levels accordingly, because usually in level checking the drummer wont strike the drums as hard as when he’s actually playing, so you need to make sure and get proper levels no matter how hard he hits the drums and make sure that it never clips.

    Now you need to play the click and guitar scratch tracks through the headphones for the drummer to make sure he’s got a good mix and that he can hear it while he plays. You are once again looking for a thumbs up; don’t move forward unless he can hear what he needs to. Also, you need to hear what is happening in the recording so make sure you can hear a decent mix of the drummer playing along to the scratch and click. A talk back mic is crucial because the drummer is going to need your suggestion or command on punch INS.

    From here, you just need to have the drummer play for the most part to the click track. This can be achieved by punching in section by section. It’s not necessary for your drummer to play the song from beginning to end, most of them cant. An example would be to play only the intro of the song, listen to it back and make sure its close to the click and its what the drummer intended to play. Through and through you want to get a thumbs up from everyone in the band and mostly the drummer that the parts are recorded correctly. Proceed with the same steps until you have recorded the entire song. At this point you will need to cross fade your punch ins so you don’t get cuts in the sounds and so that the song plays like a song, not a section. Once you have that done, have the drummer listen back to the entire performance and make sure he’s happy with it. And whala drum tracking is done.

    This part of the process can be the most time consuming and the most important part of the recording. Have you ever asked the question, why is every song I hear on the radio flawless in timing? Surely not every single drummer in a signed band is perfect at timing, right? Well, the answer is no , they aren’t perfect at all. Granted most of them are great at timing, but none of them are perfect!

    So what we need here is perfect timing on the drums! There are several ways to achieve this, but I have been using different methods for years and I will reveal the method I use right now! Things you will need in order to do this, a recording program that has a drum editor used for midi notation. (I use cubase, but nuendo, protools, logic and others will work) You need a registered copy of drumagog 4.0 platinum preferably with some nice sounding gog files (I use the Andy Sneap gog files) and you will also need toon tracks ez drummer or superior drummer. Don’t worry at the end of this tutorial I will list links where you can purchase everything you need.

    First things first, you need to open drumagog on all of your drum channels as a vst insert. The trick here is that you don’t want double triggers or false triggers to occur. You want the track to play back as intended, once you have that then move on to the next step.

    Second you will need to turn on the midi out function on the drumagog, you can find this feature under the advanced tab. Set the midi notes to different notes, an examples would setting you kick to c3 and your snare to c3#. You want your drums to play different notes.

    Third, you need to create a midi track for every drum track you have. Assign the the drumagog to each midi track so that you get the kick on midi track 1 , the snare on midi track 2 and so on.

    Fourth, record a segment of the song to the newly added midi tracks to make sure you are getting a midi note recorded for every drum hit on every midi track you created. Once you got that, record the entire song to the midi tracks.

    After you have recorded all of your drum tracks to the midi tracks you can now delete the original audio drum tracks, or you can keep them if this scares you, but I trash them as soon as I have the midi on my new tracks.

    At this point you will need to open ez drummer or superior drummer to hear the play back of your midi tracks as drums. Go to your midi tracks and select the output to go to ez drummer or superior drummer. You might need to create your own drum map to better suit your needs for drum placement and editing.

    If you are lost at this point and you cant get it to work, go back through the steps until you get it right, a suggestion might be to create a copy of the entire project and use the copy to figure this out on, that way you don’t loose anything important.

    Once you have your drums playing back on ez drummer, you’ll need to edit them to perfect timing. Note: your overhead mics should be turned off at this point! This part requires a little bit of timing theory, you must know what 4/4 is and 3/4 is, also 8th notes, 16th notes, 32nd notes and so on. Open the drum editor for the midi tracks that are playing your drums. Here you can see a grid to tell if the drum hits are on time and off time. You’ll need to quantize the drum hits accordingly to the timing quantize grid. An example would be if you have a kick snare back and fourth on a 4/4 beat at 120 beats per minute, you’d be able to use 8th notes quantizing to move the note to the grid where it should have been in the first place. If you are in doubt what so ever about where a drum should be on the grid , have the drummer help you, he probably knows a thing or to about timing and will be able to assist you.

    Once you have all of the drums edited and they sound perfectly on time there are other functions that midi will allow you to do that audio tracks wont. Typically on a snare track you’d use compression ,a noise gate, and a limiter to achieve optimal striking of the drum. In a midi track all you have to do is select the fixed velocity feature and bam your snare hits the exact same level every time. You may not want it to hit the exact same on a snare roll for example, so get out your pencil and draw in the velocity curve so that it plays back the way it was played or intended to be played.

    Once you can set back and listen to the drums and not hear anything that sounds off or out of time or dynamically wrong like volume builds, you can move on to the cymbals.

    At this point your overheads are so out of whack, it sounds like noise if you play back your perfectly edited drums along with the original overheads, right? So what you need to do is, bring up the overhead track by its self along with drum editor and start placing your cymbals in the midi editor. That’s right; you’re using sampling for cymbals also. This is the part where the drummer doesn’t mind at all to set there and tell you what they like and don’t like as far as hitting cymbals go. Once you have all your cymbals placed where they need to be, you don’t need your over head audio track anymore, so you can trash it or leave it, it’s up to you, but I would defiantly mute it, lol.

    So, now you have perfectly timed drums that sound great and is exactly what the drummer wanted, if not go back and fix it. You should be able to set back and listen to the start of a great song at this point and not hear anything that is out of whack, your guitar scratch tracks might sound a little off at points , but remember those are getting scratched and the drums are there to stay.

    Cubase 4


    Ez Drummer

    Superior Drummer
    I hope you guys got some questions answered out of this tutorial. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have along the way. You are now one step closer to recording like a PRO!

    Joshua Hamilton
  2. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    I'm wondering if this isn't the wrong place to post this. If you noticed that the name of the forum is PRO Talk Forums. In fact many of the people here already do audio for a living. This post might be better received at a home recording forum as an article rather than a thread topic.
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    I agree, and... it almost seems like spam, however, we do appreciate great info for the community so maybe we should move this to where its better served. to the

    home recording forum

    You've posted this in the gear forum.

    Also Joshua, the topic should be edited. Ken Waldon has Pro Tools DVD's out called "Secrets Of The Pros" . If you are on a campaign calling it that name, maybe do a little research befor it ends up conflicting with the DVD's
  4. Sorry but this method surely can't be the way that all PRO tracks are done!

    Choice of mic and mic placement amoungst many other skills are surely how it's done in the "real world"?

    Forgive me if i'm wrong as I havent worked in a recording studio before. I am studying at college however and from what i'm being taught and what i'm reading here it would appear i'm wasting my time!

    If anything i'd go as far to say that this method of creating a drum track is the complete opposite of how its done. Surely a "scratch" track of the drums mite be made first as a guide then the actual kit would be recorded afterwords?

    If this is how it's done why would anyone pay alot of money to go to a recording studio when they can simply do it at home?
  5. ouzo77

    ouzo77 Active Member

    Jan 16, 2006
    Nuremberg, Germany
    Home Page:
    i don't really think that most drummers are happy with being replaced by midi tracks. if you use midi drums, why even bother with recording the live drums in the studio. you can let the drummer play in the practice room and just put one mic in front of him to capture the performance. then do the midi. i think it would be faster that way.

    or just let him play the drums until he gets it right and leave some "humanity" in the tracks.
  6. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    That ought to keep the drummer happy.

    Here, have some expensive mics tossed around you. You just bang on the kit until we (drummer gets excited and starts, completely ignoring anything else except the freedom to play drums) *shouts* CHECK A FEW THINGS ABOUT MIC PLACEMENT, AND THEN WE'LL TAKE IT FROM THERE, OK?
  7. This is mainly for quantizing the drum hits which, is done more and more often nowadays. if you don't like it don't do it... but there are some benefits. perfectly timed drums in a relatively shorter time than punch-ins or comping. you also.. don't necessarily have to do this using only midi.... i believe sonar has something called AudioSnap in which you can quantize your audio signal rather than midi. I don't know something for you to look into maybe.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    I've made lots of recordings and done lots of broadcast over my 37 plus years in the business. The only time I ever used a click track, was for jingles.

    There are as many different ways to make a recording as there are different styles of underwear to purchase. Just the thought of " Sing a thong of sixpence a pocket full of rye. Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie..." Seems to take on a dirty connotation? Smell? I won't go there.

    My way to make professional recordings:

    Step 1) plug everything in
    step 2) turn everything up
    step 3) smoke a bowl while grooving on the mix
    step 4) don't forget to exhale
    step 5) I'd like to thank the Academy.....

    Almost there 3 times
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  9. natural

    natural Active Member

    Jul 21, 2006
    I agree with Remy on this one. (except for her 'steps')

    This is NOT the way to make an artistic recording.
    It IS a way to salvage a recording made by :
    A- Engineers who don't know how to mic a drum kit
    B- Drummers who can't play
    C- Producers that have WAY more time/money than talent.

    here's a few quiz questions.
    1- What happens when the gtr player can't play to the clik. (but he can play along with his drummer.)
    2- What happens when the drummer can't play to just the gtr/clik, and needs to feel the bass player with him, and interplays with the vocalist ( and perhaps another precussionist or keybordist)?
    3- What happens after all the editing to death of the drums, and they don't match up to the 'feel' of the vocals?
    4- What happens when after all the editing that the feel of the original drum track is more exciting with the rest of the band (although technicallly it's not in time)?
    What do you do?
    These are situations that I've had to learn solutions to during years 11-25.
  10. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    1) Line into DI from the guitar
    2) Scratch them, into the can mix...
    3) Don't edit the drums
    4) See 3

    What I'd do anyway...
    Although live + small church + organ/piano with larger drivers on it than the PA ones = no drum micing + no piano monitoring worries
  11. Drewslum

    Drewslum Active Member

    Dec 27, 2007
    Seattle, WA
    Home Page:
    Good thing your myspace has got a lot of different genres... :shock:
  12. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Speaking of that myspace...

    From "GEAR LIST"

    Cubase SX3, last I heard, is not a recording interface. Steinberg is a company, not a plugin. "Sure SM57/58 guitars" do not qualify as mics either.

    And an aside, the only artist on your client list I've heard of is "Zion", the minister was speaking about it once or twice...or maybe more often.
  13. Hey guys , I appreciate everyones input and opinions. Only thing I can say is try to keep an open mind about this topic. I have recorded drums the traditional way for years and I KNOW HOW TO MIC A DRUM KIT, NOT TO MENTION REVERSE THE POLARITY ON THE SNARE MICS. But yeah, I was just simply sharing how I do things with you guys and the secrets that I've picked up along the way. You know, lots of bands record their stuff in studios and send it out to be mixed right? Well during that mix guess what happens about 80% of the time, guitars are re router for different tone settings, drums are replaced, vocals are auto tuned and just about anything else you can imagine and then the mix starts. In this business you can be close minded, you have to be willing to do what ever it takes in order to get the song sounding good and if that means replacing drums then so be it. From my experiances, people that talk trash about others dont really know what they are talking about in the first place. I used to work at a multi million dollar studio called refraze recording studios, check it out at This guy refuses to replace drums and just listen to some of his stuff. He is a great guy with tons of expertise , but is not open minded enough to try new opperations, hence a down fall.

    P.S. The bands on my site aren't the only genre of music I do, I do everything and I can make anything sound good.

    I am just happy you guys are reposting, sorry about posting in the wrong area.

  14. Tobacco Slammers !!!!!!

    There are no rules in recording, only thing you need is great sounds! If you can achieve great sounds by setting up drum mics only then do it. But your down fall will be hoping the drummer is good enough to play in perfect timing. Sure you could use Beat detective or audio snap, but what about the overheads and your room mics, I have used both methods and you can never get the room and overheads to synch up with the rest of the drums. By the way, learn all you can while you are at school because that knowledge will be needed once you have your midi quantized drum tracks. The method I was sharing is a simple way to get perfect timed drums, from there you still have to make them sound the way the artist wants them to in your mix. You dont just quantize and forget about it, ya know. Yeah, but anyways. Where is the real world, because I do this for a living and everyone that comes to me comes to because other studios just hit buttons and dont care. I challenge you guys to try this out and see if your recordings dont turn out a litlle more clean and your clients a little more happy. Any drummer that would be upset that you are making him better by tightning his playing is foolish. When it comes down to it like I already said, all that matters is that it sounds good, what ever it takes to make that happen!

    Thanks Guys,
  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    I don't know whether to laugh or to cry here.

    Okay...Joshua - here's the scoop.

    1 - it's you who needs to be open minded and open your mind to doing things the right way and not assuming that you have the right answers. You can't have a topic "Secrets of the Pro's" and claim yourself to be a pro when none of the work you've listed or display on your site is of pro caliber. In addition, what makes you a pro? What makes you qualified to perform mastering services.

    I don't see anything in your gear list or your qualifications that says anything about mastering, yet you claim to be able to do it at the pro level?? Odd.

    2 - Your methods may work for you, but the reality is, you have to replace your drums with samples because the way you're recording drums sucks.

    3 - Why double track a guitar scratch? This makes NO sense. It takes (at least) twice as long and the only benefit is that it's LOUDER? Turn up the output on the fader to the band's HP amp.

    4 - If a client sends me mix work (and about 10-20% of my studio income comes from long-distance mixing) and I screw around with their tracks by sample replacements or re-amping guitars without their knowledge and/or direct approval, I don't expect I'd have much return business.

    I'm sure we're all glad that you're here and trying to take an active role in the experience, but this is one of those situations where it would behoove you to listen and learn rather than to spout off about all that you already (think you) know.

    There are some seasoned pros here - those on the board that make their living and income by recording. There are people with awards and hits around here. There are people who are published in the field of acoustics and recording techniques.

    Most guys that come around here with studios named after themselves and run out of basements don't typically garner a lot of respect as being the "Pros" that people take hints, tips and secrets from.
  16. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2007
    I beg your pardon?

    I didn't have any ;) but I do now. How old is this piece of work? I see "drums" and I see "triggers" but I didn't see electronic drums. I know that myself and many a few others use them.
  17. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member

    Oct 26, 2007
    Cocoa, FL
    Home Page:
    Joshua, hell of a first post...

    I don't really care one way or the other about what you posted at the top of the thread - we've all been there and done that - but I do take a bit of offense to the following statement a few posts down:

    In this post you're talking about pretty much all of my clients.
    If I started correcting their mistakes like you mention here, not only would they take offense to it, they'd simply call it a do-over and redo their tracks from the top. It's very, very rare to find drummers around here that wouldn't take such "tightening" of their playing as a personal attack.
    I know I would.
    Of course, there are exceptions - bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, etc. And of course the current string of Hollywood Records acts :( ...
  18. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member

    Oct 26, 2007
    Cocoa, FL
    Home Page:
    Jeremy, you said:

    The other benefit is that we'd make a few extra bucks on the clock!!!
  19. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Producers leaning on your shoulders can be a motivator to ruin what you have a passion for.
    An amateur band that comes in, records a track and leaves isn't gonna enjoy the idea of having their drums hacked to bits. A big name band who needs to have perfect drums has no choice but to have their kick, snare, toms and cymbals I guess, replaced by samples.
    The only reason I'd replace our drummer's sound is cause the odds of me getting a good kick sound are slim...

    Also, bent, is that the clock mentioned in the "most essential gear for tracking" thread, the one which doesnt tick, tock or cuckoo...just spins at 1rpm? lol...
  20. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member

    Oct 26, 2007
    Cocoa, FL
    Home Page:
    Yep, you can find them right next to the non-squeaking chairs and finger-ease.

    "Bent, cleanup on aisle three."
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    The New AT5047 Premier Studio Microphone Purity Transformed

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