Recording drums (specifically tom sounds)

Discussion in 'Drums' started by Tigerfolly, Oct 21, 2004.

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  1. Tigerfolly

    Tigerfolly Guest

    Hello everyone. I've been a lurker on here for a little while, reading and absorbing a lot of great advice on a great online forum that I'm really excited to have found. I don't remember replying anywhere else yet, although I could have.. so this may very well be my first post here. Yay. :)

    Anyway. I was looking for some advice and tips on drum sounds specifically tom sounds, when recording live drums. I engineer at a couple small studios, and have my own little project studio that I do a lot of work on as well. I've got a digital workstation and a slew of PC based recording software and am pretty well versed in all of it, but one thing that I've always been disappointed in and haven't seen any improvement in over the years has been the sounds of rack and floor toms on my recordings.

    Since my personal recordings with the project studio generally don't have live drums on them, I really didn't put a lot into drum mics, but I think I've got good bang for the buck overall.. I use a Sennheiser e602 for the kick, Shure SM57 on the snare (sometimes top and bottom, out of phase depending on what is needed for the track), Sennheiser E604s for the toms, and Oktava MK-012s for the overheads. The Oktavas are the cheapest mics, but they actually work really well with my equipment, so I'm very happy with them.. but the Sennheiser kick and tom mics leave me really, really disappointed. I have to do a lot of pre and post production work to get the kick where I want to hear it, and the toms are just a mess.. I get -way- too much bleed, and the worst tones out of them. I can't stand gating, so most of the time I'm bouncing them to another track while hand gating all of the bleed out of the mix, which of course is time consuming and annoying.

    I don't like the over-processed, artificial sound that's popular these days (even though I kinda get it in the kick sounds), so I kind of like the toms to ring a bit and the sympathetic vibration that naturally occurs on a kit. I really try and make sure the kit is in tune and sounding great way before I stick a mic on it. But at the end of the session it sounds like I only miked up the bottom head. It's even worse when the drummer is using coated heads, because a lot of that brighter attack that gives the toms clarity in the mix just isn't there. I realize that switching to better mics will give me a better result, but in my experience, if something sounds like absolute crap, it's not just the mic's fault. Plus, it's tough to justify spending $900 on MD421s when I record drums so rarely at home.

    So basically, what I'm asking is this.. Should I be muffling the hell out of the toms and sacrifice that natural drum sound? Has anyone else used the Sennheiser e604s, and do they have anything positive/negative to say about them? Do these mics really suck, or do I just suck at using them properly? Does anyone have any additional tips or advice for getting good warm tom sounds that don't sacrifice clarity?

    I'm currently working with some friends of mine on some material that we wrote when we were together in a band a few years ago. I've got a couple scratch tracks from the session last week, and here's a couple links to the songs. They're not finished tracks by any means.. the drum tracks on both of these songs were literally one-take and just meant as a guideline (and for me to work on drum sounds) as are the vocal tracks. Both of these were recording to a click (and you can hear it bleeding through the scratch vocal track). If any of you have the time to listen to these and offer advice, I appreciate it.. but if not, it's totally cool. ;)

    Call It Something Else
    Funky Girl
    Written by Dave Solar and Mark Vasquez (
    c2004 hOleintheplOt
    Drums: Late 70s Rogers Memriloc (mikes in parenthesis): 22" kick (e602), 13" tom and 16" floor tom (e604), 14x5.5" steel snare (SM57).
    Cymbals: 16" Paiste 3000 crash, 18" Paiste 2002 crash, 20" Zildjian A Rock Ride (cracked :p), 14" Paiste 2000 heavy hi-hat bottom, 14" Zildjian New Beat top (Oktava MK012s)

    I've added some compression and EQ to the drums in "Call It", but the only thing I've done to the drums in "Funky Girl" so far is a little EQ and a tad bit of compression on the kick so they're pretty raw. That snare drum is completely dry of effects, and I sure wish the toms sounded as good that way. This was all recorded on a Roland VS-1824CD without any outboard gear, except that I did a little "quick and dirty" mastering on the PC to get the levels up for test mixes for the musicians involved.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  2. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    The two biggest elements you need to deal with is tuning and your acoustic space.

    You stated that you took the time to tune the drums. I would suggest that you ask a knowledgable drummer to critique your drum tuning. Usually well tuned drums will sound at least "ok" even on the most modest of recording set-ups.

    Secondly. The overheads are going to pick up quite a bit of the kick and tom signal. Since they will represent your acoustic space more than the other mics, maybe your room is the real issue.

    I see nothing wrong with your mic selection per say. The Sennheiser's are good mics. The Oktavas are ok too. Not great though.

    Finally, check your phase coherancy between the overheads and the toms/kick. Phase cancellation can cause a very hollow or tubby sound that can't be fixed with Eq.

    Hope this helps a bit,

  3. therecordingart

    therecordingart Well-Known Member

    Jul 28, 2004
    My 2 cents:

    The room and the mic pre's are most likely the culprit. I have a pretty nice sounding room and the Oktava MC-012's are exactly what I like for my overheads. I've tried other mics and they sound too harsh for my taste.....and I can't afford to put anything really nice over the kit. For toms I've been using the ever-so-trusty SM57 because I can't afford MD421's. In my situation I get a crap load of bleed on the tom mics and was actually going to buy E604's to get rid of my heavy bleed issues....but judging by your post I'm going to look at other mics. My kick mic is the Shure Beta 52a....not a D112...but not a bad mic. I'm using the on board pre's on my Tascam FW-1884 and it's not bad. Not great, but not bad.

    So I probably didn't help at all, but I think its either the room or the pre's.
  4. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    Feb 10, 2001
    Tuning, tuning, tuning and tuning... then a good drummer to hit the damn things, hopefully in a good sounding room.
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Yeah...ya gotta start with a great drumkit to get a great drum sound even with great gear.....I listened and it sounds like cardboard...not to say its bad its just obviously not what youre gonna want for all those other sounds youre getting...and the drums are very buried...but thats a taste issue...Try opening up the kit by close micing only the snare and kick and doing a stereo overhead with a couple of 'room' mics have the drummer play while you hunt for these positions in the'll know em when you find em.
  6. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Jun 1, 2003
    Houston, TX
    From what I heard, the toms do need some TLC. With a 70's Rodger's kit, I'd SURELY recommend getting the bearing edges re-cut. This makes tuning MUCH easier (tuning can actually be IMPOSSIBLE with a bad shell or an un-true bearing edge).

    I like looser tunings for rock, with a slight pitch bend. It almost sounds like you have the heads too loose, or you don't even have bottom heads on the toms (it is hard to distinguish them on my $50 Logitec PC speakers at work ;) ). They sound a bit "cardboardy" to me.

    My other issue is ALWAYS the room. I had one session at a friends house, and their living room was a killer live room. Nice size, tall vaulted ceilings, and nooks and crennies that opened up into the upstairs and into the kitchen. It was the least harsh drum sound I've ever had (I don't work in "Pro" studios just yet :( ). The cymbals and snare just sounded "correct".

    Now, I go back to our piss poor jam room to track my own drums, and they sound all squished and "harsh" due to the room. Same equipment, better kit, worse result just due to the room.

    Let us know the condition of the shells (are the bearing edges true?), and your current room specs... :cool:
  7. Tigerfolly

    Tigerfolly Guest

    First of all, thanks for all of the informative replies. I'm a pretty verbose person, so I'm sure this post is going to end up long, because I want to reply to everyone who has posted thus far, but without making five separate posts.. so I'm just going to do a little creative editing to make it all fit.. and who knows, maybe it'll help someone else as well. After posting here, I went over to the band house and putzed around with some mixes. I still have a lot of fat to cut out of the recording, and I'm still working with some different tones and such. Some things have to change now that we kinda know what the drums are going to be doing in the track.. and I like miking down little test mixes to bring home and listen to to kinda see where I'm at the next day. It's late here, so I can't really crank these up to hear what they sound like in my monitoring environment here at my workstation, so it could be utter crap.. but I'll find out this afternoon.

    Again, I'm a pretty verbose typer and pretty goofy when it comes to formatting and organizing stuff.. so this might be a LOT to digest.. and hell, good luck replying to it and quoting what you want out of it! My apologies in advance.. I get carried away.

    With tuning drums, I'm not all great at it, but I'm as good as if not better than your average, run of the mill drummer. I play drums myself, and until recently have had my own kit for recording but recently had to part with it. So while I wouldn't be confidant taking a good drummer's kit and tuning it myself, I would and do for less knowledgeable drummers. However, the drummer who showed me and has basically been my mentor on the instrument was the drummer on those two recordings. He would be the first person I'd ask to tune a drumset for me and the first I'd look to critique my own efforts. Normally when I mic the kit I'm already looking and listening for any problems like ringing, rattling, and even what each mic's "picture" is going to be. If I find any problems, I let the drummer know and let them do what they need to do for it. I don't want to deaden the hell out of a drummer's toms when he has and wants a Simon Phillips-ish drum sound. But again, if he can't take care of it, I do what I can. The only tuning I ever have to do is just to tune out wrinkles and dissonant rings.

    The room in this case is definitely not ideal. Unfortunately, it's a necessary comprimise at this time. I've thrown a few mics up around the room to see what kind of sound I'd get out of 'em, and it's just absolutely awful. If this is a major part of the problem, then I'm in pretty good shape. That means as soon as my new drum room is completed I should notice drastic improvements. I've been really happy with my overheads, and have tried radically EQing the toms and letting the overheads pick up the attack on the toms while the tom mics only picked up the body. Kind of a cake/icing sorta thing ;) It was an improvement, but I felt it sounded really artificial. Plus, all of the detail of the toms were in the overheads, which picked up more of the room and as I've said and you noticed, that's not good in this case.

    I've been incredibly paranoid and anal about phase cancellation. I've been fortunate up until now because I haven't experienced any major problems yet. The only time I really notice any phasing is when I'm using the two 57s on the snare and even after inverting one I'll still find a couple nasty spots while we're positioning the mics. Though, I'll be honest and say that I really don't know if I'm not having many phase problems because I'm just not hearing it or because I do so much prevention and foreplanning to ensure I don't have any problems! I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm hoping it's not the former.

    A friend who engineers at some of the studios I do and I started out with our own little project studio together a few years back, and he just loved AKG C414s for overheads. But he compresses the hell out of them and there's so much high end in his cymbal sounds that when I hear them I feel like I'm eating sand.. and that only makes sense if you've eaten sand and heard incredibly grating high end in the 8k range. To me, they sound like someone's got the treble cranked on the board.. but then again, if I had a matched set of those and couple Avalon pres, I'd find a way to survive :)

    I like the 012s a lot. With my setup, they always seem to pick up -exactly- what it sounds like in the room. I call them my ears, because they respond in the frequencies my ears naturally listen for for clarity. I've noticed that they're not as focussed of a mic picture as I expected it to be, but so far they've been quite pleasing even when placed pretty close to the source.

    As for the pre's, in this case there aren't any.. the mikes are straight into the board. So yeah, there's probably some of the problem right there.

    Yeah, I picked up the e604s because I just do not like the sound of 57s on toms. They pick up -way- too much, and the sound is really thin and boxy. Plus, especially with rock stuff, if you've got 57s on the snare, 57s on the toms, and a 57 on the guitar cabinet, it sounds as if there's a SM57-shaped cone filter over the entire song. It reminds me of old band recordings in a basement with a single 57 plugged into a boombox. I position them pretty close to the heads (maybe that's part of the problem.. how close is too close for tom miking?), so they don't get as much bleed.. but then you get TONS of sympathetic vibrations on the heads.

    Please, don't judge the e604s on my word alone, that's one of the biggest reasons why I posted everything about this problem, because I'm just not sure if it's the mics, the room, the drums, my technique, my ears, or any combination of the above. I haven't seen the e604s used many other places, so I was hoping to see if anyone else had anything to say about them, good or bad. I mean, even if someone replied and said, "Well, your first problem is you're using those e604s. They'll make anything sound like a cardboard box!", that'd be great, because then it's definitely not my fault ;)

    I have used them for live reinforcement before, and they were great for that.. but you're not putting it through a microscope live ya know? One of the things I definitely need to do is put it through it's paces side by side with a 57 and see what the tonal difference is between them. I've been kinda thinking about doing that. But it's one of the things I'm questioning.. is if I should try and get rid of these and pick up something better. I'd like the MD421s, but I just can't justify the purchase right now.

    As for the kick mic, I really wish I would've just gone with what I wanted to do and bought the D112. The friend who I was starting up a studio with was just insistant about the Sennheiser e602 though. He was sold on it after engineering a session at a studio that had one, and he absolutely loved the sound he got out of it. I'm sure that the drummer had a nice DW kit in a great room as well, which probably had a lot to do with it. So, I deferred to his judgement and picked it up. When that studio folded and we divided up the gear, we both bought the extra stuff we needed for own our smaller project studios. I bought all of the drum mics, because I had the drum kit anyway, so that came home with me. Six months later, I stop by his house to help him work on his room, and he bought a new kick mic for himself.. an AKG D112. Argh! It's not a bad mic, it's just not a versatile mic. It's awesome for rock and metal.. but put it in our old 20" Slingerland kick with a Speed King and it just sounds wrong.

    I agree. It sounds very cardboard boxy. Bringing in more highs just adds details to the boxy sound, and adding more bass just makes it muddy-boxy. The only thing I've been able to do up to this point is use a notch filter and cut the nastier frequencies out.. but I really shouldn't have to do that. I mean, my goal is to try and get what I'm hearing in the room down on tape. The drums are rather buried, because I'm trying to hide that bad tom sound. The snare sounds great in the room, the kick sounds good in the room (we tried removing the front head completely for those two tracks and we don't like it.. it's already back on right now), and while the toms aren't blowing me away, they sound good in the room. On tape, the kick and snare sound great (I'm not happy with the kick mic, but a little EQ cut and I'm satisfied), and the toms sound like slop.

    I have tried what you just mentioned; just close miking the kick and snare and letting the overheads pick up the toms. The toms came out sound way too thin. I wish every tom came with a May internal mic system, so I could throw the mic inside and use that track to beef up the toms in the overheads. That's kind of what I try to do, but the sound I'm getting on tape just isn't pleasing.

    This drummer is the second owner of the kit, and while the edges are in really good condition for what it's worth, I'm positive they could use some work. The full kit is actually much larger.. if I remember correctly he's got two 22" kicks, 12", 13", 14", 15" mounted toms, 16" floor tom, and two steel shell snares.. one from the 70s, one from the 60s. He's been looking for an 18" floor for a long time, and he's one of those guys who wants a huge kick drum, so he's pining for a 26"

    He tunes pretty loose.. I usually have to ask him to tune a wrinkle out of his floor tom and kick, but I think that's just because he tunes low and hits HARD, so he's whacking 'em out of tune every take. There are bottom heads on the toms; clear Ambassadors. The top heads are coated Emperors (same as the snare, actually), although they're more worn than I like. He says he kinda likes older heads, kinda of like guitarists that don't change their strings often. It's not uncommon to hear him complain, "New heads? But I just broke these in." But he's a drummer.. you know how they can be ;) He puts worn coated heads on his toms, and then plays me cds of drummers with DWs and clear ambassadors saying, "that's the sound I want".

    We're recording in our jam space, just because right now it's all we've got available. I'm getting ready to move to a new place and remodeling the place I'm at right now, so I'm kinda taking what I can get. I've engineered at a couple studios locally.. nothing big, but a couple good rooms, a vocal booth and a separate control room are bigger than I'm used to. But as I'm trying to relocate, I'm not working at any of them right now. I generally engineer rock/metal, but that's just because that's what's most popular in this area. I'm really sick of really heavy rock stuff, which is why I'm recording songs like these with my friends in my spare time and I'm really trying to get -great- sounds out of everything. I'm kinda satisfied where I'm at with rock production.. I'm not great, but I think I'm good. But I'm so much more interested in more organic sounds these days.. which is really the whole point of this whole thing!

    So basically, we've come down to playing, tuning, heads, mics, phase, and room.

    In my case, I'm confidant with the drummer's playing.. he hits the drums hard enough, he's a really good drummer, and he knows how to tune his kit. He's got some gear issues.. the kit is definitely a comprimise, but he's picking up a birch Pearl Masters kit here very shortly so I'm going to see some improvements on all of these fronts. Plus, he's done with coated heads, but everyone's got work to do and bills to pay.. he's hit a stretch where he's able to free up the cash to rebuild the kit (and has, those two great sounding crash cymbals are both brand new, and a new ride is on order). But, he'll definitely have a better kit and new heads on both kits by the time we're done demoing and we're doing the final tracks.. which is why I'm really narrowing down what I'm going to need work on, and why I brought this topic up. I'm not sure about my mics, but I'm pretty confidant that I'm not having any phase problems. And I'm definitely convinced that the room plays a large role in my problem. All of my professional experience has been with rock and metal drum sounds, so the room sound really isn't that important, because the tones are really tight and isolated.. very gated and then compressed, and quite artificial sounding. I'm trying to get something more organic, more real, and after your replies I think the room is having much more of an effect than I thought.. which means when I'm doing the finals, I'm going to have to get a much better room if I want this to sound great.

    Thanks again for all of your replies, and I hope this helps other people as well.

  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Hey there....Your long but thourough posts are quite welcome here.....just some thoughts I gained after reading your lasst one.....

    Older Rodgers drums are not that thick of a shell and a drummer who hits hard can seriously distort their shells and in doing so can cause some of the problems you are hearing...not trying to blame anyone here but as a long long time bass player who stood next to a set like you descibe for quite a while I know of what I speak...

    He wants a BIG bass kicks in the studio with a solid ply construction and excellent heads can be the biggest sounding kicks....Older steel snares get out of round and even a small amount is enough to throw off even a superb tuning...

    a heavy hitter has to be middle of drum on toms....thats where the tone lives...

    You said it yourself, hitting them hard enough to drive them out of tune on every take...

    I'm sure that when the new set gets in place and you get a better room you'll have better results.....

    Put a packing blanket over the kick....maybe even two....tune the toms up to the pitch you want, then tape a bit of kotex to the head...this controls the length of the decay without sacrifising the tone or the 'feel' of the drum...same with the snare....In a shitty sounding room you MUST control all the over ring as it will build up during a full out drumming track...dont try to make the drums dead, just control how long they speak...and search out your room for the areas that the waves tend to stand in...put up packing blankets in these areas...hang them from boom stands around the and easy goboes....put your over heads in an x/y stereo config....use a large diaphram at the heighth of the top of the ride tom out about 3 feet from the kit...this is the blend mic...

  9. Big_D

    Big_D Well-Known Member

    Aug 21, 2004
    Quakertown PA
    Sorry to chime in so late here, So what's the verdict? Did any of your changes help?

    I tend to agree with many of the other posts, room and drums. I didn't catch it listening through PC speakers but when I listened through my monitors the toms sound muted (and tuned a little loose for my taste) but not as horrible as you described. I think the coated heads were part your problem. When I stopped playing live and started recording again I still had Evans hydraulic heads on my kit (great for live work) but they sounded almost identical to your toms on recordings. I switched to Remo pinstripe batter heads but kept the Evans resonator heads on the bottom. What a change! In the room it sounded a little different but when close miced it was a huge difference. I think your headed in the right direction with different heads for recording.

    My current room is 25' x 25' (not ideal being square) and my drums sound decent but when I have recorded in smaller rooms it has also made my kit sound lifeless. I think you'll see an improvement when you move to a better room.

    I would also avoid compression if you can (a lesson I learned form many on this site) it only makes for a lifeless sound. If I do use it, it is only a tiny amount to tame the dynamics a little. Uncompressed drums and proper micing make for a big sound.

    The drummer obviously has skills but if he is a basher as you say that can be a problem also. As Dave stated the hits have got to be dead center and even then you may not get a great sound. Put a mic on a tom, record it and hit it normally a few times then bash it a few times and listen to the result. Finess is better for the studio, save the bashing for live work.

    I wish you luck in getting the sound you want. Sounds great so far. :cool:
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