Recording drums for new musicians can sound like a challenging task. And it might be intimidating at first, especially when recording at home. It requires special equipment, settings, and technique.
But you know what you don’t need? A Studio. Yes, you heard me.
I will teach you how to record drums at home in this article.
I will cover everything you need to know, including editing and mixing your samples.
But first, let’s check quick facts about recording your drums, dive into the equipment and rooms, and set up your drums and mics.
Quick facts about how to record your drums
- Drums can be recorded using various mics, including microphones, dynamic, condenser, and ribbon mics.
- The most common way to record drums is to use a multi-mic setup, which involves placing a mic on each drum and one or two overheads.
- It is essential to use a preamp to boost the microphone’s signal before they are sent to the recording device.
- It is also important to use acoustic treatment to reduce the amount of room reverb picked up by the microphones.
- Beginner drummers, but also professional ones, use metronomes. This will help you with your skill and playing on time.
How to record drums?
- Necessary Equipment for Drum Recording
- Set up a Room
- Set Up the Drum Kit
- Set up microphones
- Set Levels
- Record Multiple Takes
- Edit and Compile the Best Takes
- Mix and Master the Final Recording
- Troubleshooting Common Issues
Necessary Equipment for Drum Recording
To record drums, you will need a few pieces of essential equipment. This includes
- Drum mics (dynamic and condensers) (at least 2);
- A microphone preamps;
- Microphone stands;
- Microphone cables;
- DAW audio interface;
- Monitor headphones or speaker system;
- Place you will record;
- A computer.
Let’s explain. As for the minimal approach, you can use only 2 microphones, one for overhead and the other for a kick drum. You are getting more possibilities with more mics, but I will discuss different miking setups later.
You will also need a microphone preamp. The preamp will boost the signal from the microphones before sending it to the recording device.
And last but not least, you will need a recording device. You can record on any suitable device, including your phone, laptop, or computer.
Here are my top picks for budget-friendly mics:
- AKG D112 MKII is a classic choice for kick drums and is known for its punchy sound.
- Shure Beta 52A – Another popular choice for kick drums with a deep low-end response.
- Shure SM57 – A legendary microphone that’s versatile and commonly used on snares.
- Audix i5 – A great alternative to the SM57, with a slightly different tonal character.
- Sennheiser e604 – Compact and clip-on, making it easy to position on toms.
- Audix D2/D4 – Known for their ability to handle the transients of toms well.
Overheads (Cymbals & Room):
- Behringer C-2 – A budget-friendly matched pair of condenser microphones.
- Audio-Technica AT2020 – A cardioid condenser microphone that’s versatile and can be used as an overhead or room mic.
- Rode NT5 is a matched pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics that capture cymbals.
- Samson C02 – A budget-friendly pencil condenser microphone that works well for hi-hats.
- MXL 990 – A budget condenser microphone that can capture the room’s ambiance.
Set up a Room
For those who do not have a separate room where you practice or record your drums, anything can be your place for recording. The living room, bedroom, closets, garages, and even kitchens.
Each room will have its own sound and characteristics. Knowing how a place affects capture might help you decide whether to capitalize on its distinctiveness or discover ways to conceal its identification.
Here are some general rules. Making a large space sound smaller is more straightforward than making a small room more prominent. Larger spaces naturally catch more balanced frequencies. Smaller rooms usually impart boldness or excite the balances due to frequent accumulation and abundant early reflections.
Bigger rooms often sound larger in terms of openness and length. A big room with the bulk of the floor covered in a soft material such as carpet, or filled with large, soft furniture such as couches, beds, or chairs, can sound shockingly non-reflective.
If you’re recording in a smaller room, the less reflective it has, the better. Recording and processing a drier source to sound like a leather space will produce. This option is much better than making a slight space sound more significant with natural room reflections.
Set Up a Drum Kit
The best place to set up drums depends on various factors, including the room size, the type of sound you want to achieve, and the type of music you plan to play.
First, you should start by assembling the drum set. This includes putting together the stands, pedals, and hardware. Ensure everything is tightened correctly and all the parts are in the right place.
Once the drum set is assembled, you can begin to set up the drums. It is essential to take the time to do it properly so that you get the best sound possible. This can be time-consuming but essential for a great drum sound.
You can set up the drums in the center with a larger room. This will allow the sound to reverberate off the walls and create a fuller sound.
The first step is to choose the suitable drums for the sound you’re trying to achieve. Different drums have different sounds, so choosing the right ones for the job is essential. Once you’ve chosen the drums, you can experiment with different miking techniques.
Set up microphones
This is a crucial part of capturing drum performance. In a big recording studio, it’s a job for a music engineer. However, with basic knowledge, you can start at home.
Mic positioning for different components:
1. Snare Mic:
- Place to the left (right-handed drummer) or right (left-handed).
- Set 1-3 inches above the rim at 45° toward the center.
- Captures the snare’s “crack” and “sizzle.”
2. Bass Drum Mic:
- If there’s a hole: Insert the mic 2-4 inches inside, pointing at the beater.
- No hole: Set the mic a few inches from the center of the front skin.
- Adjust for desired punch or resonance.
3. Overhead Mics:
- Use two mics 3-5 feet above the cymbals.
- Equidistant from the snare’s center for a balanced stereo image.
- Picture a clock: Place mics at 10 and 2 o’clock, angled towards cymbals.
4. Tom Mics:
- Position 1-2 inches above the rim.
- The angle at 45° towards the drumhead center, over the edge.
- Purpose: Captures the sound of individual drums.
- Setup: Place a mic on each drum (kick, snare, toms) and cymbals. This allows for maximum control during mixing.
1. Stereo Overhead Miking:
- Purpose: Captures the overall sound of the drum kit, especially cymbals.
- Setup: Use two condenser mics placed above the drum kit, ensuring they’re equidistant from the snare to maintain a balanced stereo image.
2. Room Miking:
- Purpose: Captures the ambiance and natural reverb of the room.
- Setup: Place one or more mics at a distance from the drum kit, often in omnidirectional or cardioid patterns.
3. Glyn Johns Method:
- Purpose: A balance between close miking and overheads, capturing a more natural drum sound.
- Setup: One mic above the snare, another to the right of the floor tom, and close mics on the kick and snare.
4. Recorderman Technique:
- Purpose: Ensures phase coherence and a balanced stereo image with just two mics.
- Setup: One mic above the snare (looking at the center) and another over the drummer’s shoulder opposite the hi-hat, pointing at the snare.
5. X-Y Pair:
- Purpose: Ensures phase coherence between two mics.
- Setup: Two cardioid mics are placed so their capsules are coincident (touching) and angled 90° from each other, usually above the drum kit.
6. Mid-Side (M-S) Technique:
- Purpose: Offers mono compatibility and adjustable stereo width during post-production.
- Setup: Uses a cardioid mic (mid) facing the drum kit and a bidirectional mic (side) perpendicular to it.
7. Blasters or Underheads:
- Purpose: Captures cymbals from below.
- Setup: Mics are placed beneath the cymbals, pointing up.
Each technique has its advantages and is chosen based on the desired sound, the genre of music, the room’s acoustics, and the specific drum kit. Often, engineers combine techniques to achieve the best results.
Here are the simple steps on how to set levels on your drums.
- Gain knob. This is the first knob on your mixer or interface. It adjusts the input signal strength. You want to start low. Turn the gain down first because we don’t want to be overpowerful. Start playing the drums as you usually do when performing or practicing. No need to hit extra hard.
- Adjust gain: While playing and you see that that’s not the sound you aim for, adjust the gain. Turn it up until the sound is clear and robust but not distorted. You can set up the levels as you prefer, but a general rule of thumb is to keep the average level at minus 18 DB while peaks go no higher than minus 6 DB. You can stay in that range since it has shown to be the best one for many drummers, but you can experiment if you wish.
- Pay attention to the lights. On your mixer or interface, lights usually show the signal level. Green is good. Yellow is a warning. Red means it’s too loud and is “peaking.” We want to avoid the peaking sound. Thus, if the signal is “peaking” or hitting red, it means it’s too strong and will sound distorted. Turn the gain down until it stops peaking.
This is important to track for the drums to sound clean and powerful in your mix without any distortion.
Here’s a little trick. Hit the drums as hard as you would in the song you intend to play. Then, ensure that the level is just around the yellow color, not close to the red, but also not at the green all the time. Do this with all your drums individually; your levels will be set up soon.
Now you can start recording all the drum tracks to see some levels.
Record Multiple Takes
Multi-track recording can be intimidating, but it is straightforward. Here are a few basic steps on how to record multiple takes.
- Ensure you are all set up. Have your drums, mics, and recording gear ready.
- Prepare your software for recording your drumming session (e.g., GarageBand, Logic, Audacity) that supports multiple takes.
- Take the first run. Press’ record’ and play your part. Once done, stop the recording.
- Make a new take. The software often has a ‘New Take’ or similar option. Click it and record it once again.
- Review your recordings. Once you’ve done a few takes, listen back to each one.
- Pick and combine the best takes. Or combine parts from different takes into one (often called “comping”).
Edit and Compile the Best Takes
Editing recordings can be a complex process, depending on the type of recording and the desired outcome. Generally speaking, the process involves selecting, arranging, and manipulating audio material to create a desired sound.
For digital recordings, the editing process often begins with selecting the desired audio material. This can be done by listening to the recording and marking the sections for the final product. Let’s check the steps.
- First, review your takes. Listen to each drum take you’ve recorded. Remember and select the best ones.
- Use a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) like GarageBand, Logic Pro, or Audacity to edit your best takes.
- Identify the best parts. Once you do that, highlight or mark the sections you like best in each take.
- Cut out the best parts you want to keep using the DAW’s editing tool.
- Use “Comp” or compile options to combine. Drag the best sections together to form one track. Ensure transitions between parts are smooth.
- If they are not smooth and transitions sound abrupt, use a crossfade. Crossfade, as the name says itself, allows smooth transactions between two sounds. One sound fades out as another fades in. This gradually decreases the volume of one clip while increasing the volume of the next, making the change smoother.
- Listen to everything a few times and play your compiled track. Adjust any parts if needed.
Mix and Master the Final Recording
You don’t have to become a music producer but you must know the basics.
The first step is to create a good foundation for your mix. This means setting up a good balance between the kick, snare, and other drums.
When you finish editing, you will have a few more final touches. You can:
- Use compressor
- Use reverb
- Do some noise suppression and transient enhancement.
A compressor is a valuable instrument that allows drummers to manage the dynamic range of their sound. It will help you to ensure that no sounds are too quiet in a mix. Your drums will sound much more consistent.
Here’s how to do it. In your recording software or mixer, locate the compressor effect or plugin. Activate it by turning on or enabling the compressor for the drum track you want to adjust. Once you do that, you will see that the compressor has a few main controls. Let’s check them and see how to use them.
- Threshold. Threshold control determines the volume level at which the compressor starts working. Lower the threshold until you see the compressor reducing the volume when the drum hits.
- Ratio. This option decides how much compression is applied. For a natural sound, start with a low ratio, like 2:1. The higher the ratio, the more compression.
- Attack. The attack will determine how quickly the compressor starts. A faster attack can make drums sound tighter.
- Release. Release controls determine how long the compressor stops after the sound goes below the threshold. A shorter release makes the effect less noticeable.
Play the drums and tweak the compressor settings. The goal is to make the drums sound punchy and balanced, not squashed or lifeless.
Reverb is a widespread effect on drums since it adds artificial reflections to the signal to generate depth in the sound. This is an excellent option if you are recording in a smaller space which will help you and your drums to sound like it is recorded in a much bigger area.
There are different reverb types, each of which will give you an authentic sound. Here are some of them:
- Hall Reverb – big sound like you are playing at a live concert.
- Plate Reverb – the “good old times” sound which delivers that “old school” vibe.
- Chamber Reverb – great for that natural-sounding, non-electronic reverb.
- Room reverb – sounds like you recorded your drums in a good-isolated room.
Here’s how to use the reverb option. Locate the reverb in your recording software or on your mixer. Look for the reverb effect or plugin. Activate it by tuning or enabling the reverb for the track you want to adjust.
Adjusts the balance between the original sound (dry) and the reverberated sound (wet). For subtle reverb, keep this low. For a more pronounced effect, increase it. Play the track and adjust the reverb settings. Aim for a sound that adds depth without making things muddy.
Equalization, or EQ, is a well-known type of audio processing in music production that allows you to modify the frequency response of the instruments in your session.
Thus, when EQing drums, listening in context constantly is critical. Using the solo button to hear an instrument more clearly can seem clever, but you won’t receive the complete image. You could add more of a specific frequency already present in the overhead mics, and so on.
Of course, every drum mix is different, but here are a few crucial frequencies that are very effective for every drummer.
For the kick drum, ensure the frequencies are between 50 and 100 Hz. When it comes to the snare drum, it will most likely depend on the model; however, some usual frequencies are between 500 and 3,000. Cutting mid-range will assist in bringing out your toms. Do this by leaving your highs and lows similarly boosted.
Troubleshooting Common Issues
Unwanted Overtones and Ringing:
- Solution: Adjust the drum’s tuning or apply dampening techniques. Moon gels, O-rings, or even a bit of tape can help control excessive overtones.
- Solution: Use gobos or baffles to isolate individual drums. Adjust mic placements to focus more on the intended source and less on adjacent drums or cymbals.
- Solution: Check the phase alignment between microphones, especially if using multiple mics on a single drum or close mics with overheads. Flipping the phase on one channel can sometimes correct the issue.
Lack of Punch or Definition:
- Solution: Ensure the drums are well-tuned. Adjust mic placement, bringing it closer to the drum or changing its angle. Consider using EQ to boost fundamental frequencies.
Distortion or Clipping:
- Solution: Check your input levels. Ensure that the loudest hits aren’t pushing the preamps into distortion. Use pads on mics or preamps if necessary.
Inconsistent Drum Hits:
- Solution: This is often a performance issue. Ask the drummer to aim for consistent strikes. If recording to a click track, ensure the drummer is comfortable with the tempo.
Too Much Room Sound:
- Solution: Adjust overhead mic placement or use directional mics to focus on the kit. Consider using baffles or diffusers to control room reflections.
What are some tips for getting a good drum sound?
Achieving a good drum sound is a combination of various factors, from the initial setup of the drum kit to the recording and mixing processes. Here are some tips to help you get the best drum sound:
Tune the Drums:
- Ensure each drum is well-tuned. A drum that sounds good acoustically will record better.
- Replace old drumheads if necessary.
- The type and quality of drumsticks can affect the sound. Ensure they’re not chipped or damaged.
- The room’s sound plays a significant role. Record in a room with good natural acoustics.
- Use baffles or gobos to control room reflections if needed.
Mic Choice and Placement:
- Use the correct mics for each drum. For example, dynamic mics for snares and condenser mics for overheads.
- Experiment with mic placement to find the sweet spot for each drum.
- Use dampening techniques like moon gels, O-rings, or tape to control unwanted overtones or rings.
Use Quality Cymbals:
- Good cymbals can significantly improve the overall sound of a drum kit.
- The drummer’s playing technique is crucial. A consistent and skilled drummer will produce a better sound.
- Use isolation techniques, like placing rugs under the drum kit or using drum shields, to reduce bleeding into other mics.
- Ensure mics are in phase to avoid phase cancellation, which can thin out the sound.
- Use high-pass filters during mixing to remove unnecessary low frequencies from mics that don’t need them, like a snare or overhead mics.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best plugins for drums?
One of the best plugins for your drums is Native Instruments BATTERY and Toontrack Superior Drummer 3. However, the best plugins for drums depend on the type of sound you’re looking for and the style of music you’re producing.
Generally, drum plugins enhance acoustic drums’ sound, create realistic drum sounds, or even create synthetic drum sounds. For acoustic drums, the best plugins are those that can accurately recreate the sound of a genuine drum kit.
How hard is it to record drums?
On a scale from 1 to 10, 6. It is relatively easy, but it requires practice. Recording drums is more complex than other instruments like guitars and vocalists.
This is because drums need at least two pair of mics to set up, while other instruments require only one mic. This automatically implies more complications and more time for mixing and editing.
Do you record drums first or last?
Drums are recorded first. Then you record other instruments and vocals. Drums and the bass guitar provide the foundation of every song. An excellent drum beat will invariably provide you with a solid platform to build on, regardless of the band, genre, or sort of session you’re hosting.
Any musician understands that the rhythm section is the backbone of any song. When bands perform together, everyone pays attention to the drums/bass.
It stands to reason that they should be the first instruments to record. However, when there is a lack of drums or bass guitar, another rhythmic instrument like acoustic guitar is recorded first.
Recording drums can be challenging, especially if you do it for the first time. Beginner drummers might find this the most challenging job and a bit demanding.
Among all the instruments in a band, drums require the most mics. Unlike guitars and vocals, drummers need at least 2 mics to get that perfectly-recorded sound. But how to record drums doesn’t have to be your worst nightmare.
Just follow the abovementioned steps, and you will have no place to worry. I even discuss the common mistakes that can occur, like improper tuning or phase issues.
So, even if that happens, you will know how to fix it. Recording can be as fun as learning and performing. All you have to do is read the article and practice the steps. That’s how difficult it gets, my fellow drummer folks.