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Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

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Robert G

Posts: 132

Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2009 2:51 pm

Post Mon Feb 15, 2010 2:43 pm

Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

Hi,

For my final course at my community college here in Clevleand, I'm recording a free-form/improvising drummer, my friend J. Guy Laughlin.

Here's a good Youtube clip of him performing solo at Turnup Records in Kent.

Now, so far I've recorded him using your standard drum set up. Overhead pencils to catch high frequencies, Shure SM57s for the tom and snare action, an AKG D112 for his kick, and I used an Earthworks omni mic for capturing the sound of the room.

This worked quite well for when he was going full-blast on his kit. My problem though was capturing the more quiet, indirect sounds, like when he takes the small cymbal and drags it across his snare head in the clip. He also uses different sticks to get other sustained sounds out of his drums. While this was sounding fine over the monitors, the levels were less than adequate and didn't give me nearly enough "meat" to work with in post.

I'm not looking to mimic the recorded material of Eli Keszler or Chris Corsano, but there is a way to capture these tiny sounds live, without causing phasing issues and such, right? My one instructor suggested that I try placing a mic (like a pencil) by his snare RIGHT when he starts to make the smaller sounds, but this in my mind is inconceivable given the nature of improvisation (that and this studio is HUGE, I don't think even having a second engineer handy is going to make for good timing).

We have pretty much every standard mic and brand in our studio. I'm open to any suggestions. Cheers!
Last edited by Robert G on Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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mudd

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Post Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:02 pm

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

(unfortunately this forum style doesn't make links very obvious at all. it might help to use the color tags for a link in sentence form like that)

m
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nhennies

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Location: Austin, TX

Post Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:10 pm

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

Hey Rob,

You might try using different mics for loud and soft sounds and set them at different levels and not worry about the "soft mics" clipping during louder music as you can just fade them out in the mix at louder sections. I did this on a new recording where the only sounds are air-type sounds of the heads being rubbed with fingertips (very very quiet, only high frequencies) and either soft drum rolls or single notes (a little louder, very few high frequencies) and it worked great. I suspect a full throttle improvising drummer might cause you hell in the mixing stage for this technique, though.

You could also opt for relying heavily on room mics instead of trying to close mic everything. Sometimes this can give a more accurate representation of a drum kit as close mic-ing, especially with louder stuff, can sound kind of dead or flat.

In general I'm not a fan of the "typical" drum mics (57 on snare, D112 or shure beta 57 on kick drum) and find that getting a little bit further away from the drums can reproduce a live sound much better. I don't know if you've heard the album "Weird Feelings" by my band The Weird Weeds, but almost all the music on there was captured with two room mics (we played live in the same room) with close mics only used when we needed to make something louder in the mix and I think it's a very good sounding recording (though somewhat air-y sounding).

Hope that helps. I can't watch the youtube clip you linked right now as it's blocked at my office, so hopefully what I said is still relevant.
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Robert G

Posts: 132

Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2009 2:51 pm

Post Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:46 pm

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

nhennies wrote:You could also opt for relying heavily on room mics instead of trying to close mic everything. Sometimes this can give a more accurate representation of a drum kit as close mic-ing, especially with louder stuff, can sound kind of dead or flat.

In general I'm not a fan of the "typical" drum mics (57 on snare, D112 or shure beta 57 on kick drum) and find that getting a little bit further away from the drums can reproduce a live sound much better. I don't know if you've heard the album "Weird Feelings" by my band The Weird Weeds, but almost all the music on there was captured with two room mics (we played live in the same room) with close mics only used when we needed to make something louder in the mix and I think it's a very good sounding recording (though somewhat air-y sounding).

Hope that helps. I can't watch the youtube clip you linked right now as it's blocked at my office, so hopefully what I said is still relevant.


Don't worry, it is still relevant. The more I think about it the more you're probably right that I'm going to have to do non-traditional drum mic techniques. Of course, a problem with my program is that with this project, they're requiring me to have my recordings be "multi-track" and all that, to prove that I am "exercising the knowledge and techniques learned from the program." I'm going to have a one-on-one meeting though with our Assistant Professor (which he really is one, I believe he has a PhD in Music) and discuss with him my new plan to record my friend.
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orangettecoleman

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Post Tue Feb 16, 2010 1:25 am

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

I would think you should be able to have two different setups working simultaneously, one close-mic'd for the subtle things he's doing and the other a standard drum mic setup as you described, and then balance the two out at the appropriate points in the mix after the fact. Either that or use tons of limiting, and that doesn't seem like the best solution.
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kcorcoran

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Location: Sacramento

Post Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:16 am

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

My main line of advice to you would be echoing what Nick mentioned - get rid of that mic configuration (especially the sm 57s!) and feel for a mic situation that best works with the drummer in question. This will demand some experimentation, but if you have a range of mics available through school, your own collection or that of friends, you can work towards a more individual and present drum sound, especially where very resonant or textural sounds are concerned.

I usually use a mix of condensers (I like the Rode NT 4), shotgun and omni for very quiet work, and stick just with a stereo pair backed off a bit in the room for loud music. Looking at the youtube clip, you might be able to work with a condenser/shotgun arrangement like this and ride moderate levels to keep everything well represented in the mix (shotgun at the floor tom where it looks like he focuses his scraping/bowing/rubbing, which you can then deal with one relatively isolated mic during mixing in case you do have clipping issues).

You have the advantage also of not being the drummer recording himself so, you could arrange a blend of these techniques and attempt live mixing your mics during the session (especially if you know the drummer and can read his body language a bit, otherwise this could prove disastrous). As mentioned already, it will be a real pain to do this kind of mixing in post if you are dealing with set levels and a drummer with dramatic loud/quiet tendencies.

I'm not in the clearest state of mind at the moment, hope some of this can be helpful to you.
"Detachments are apprenticeships." Paz
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tarfumes

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Location: Albany, NY USA

Post Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:27 am

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

I've gotten great results with just two old Realistic (as in, Radio Shack) PZMs placed on the floor about a foot in front of the kit. In certain studio situations, I've augmented them with a single Sennheiser 421-MDII pointed straight down the middle at about chest height. Most experiences I've had with anything more elaborate have been middling-to-awful.
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Robert G

Posts: 132

Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2009 2:51 pm

Post Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:03 pm

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this right?

Folks,

Thank you for all the tips and suggestions. Tomorrow is my session and I'll see what I have available to me in our mic cabinet and see what happens when I push "record."

Cheers!

Robert G
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joseghast

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Post Wed Mar 03, 2010 6:23 am

Re: Recording a free-form/improv drummer; Am I doing this ri

I saw the thread late, but I would have opted for the Glyn Johns setup. The indispensable are bass drum mic and the overheads, and after that you can add as much mics as you need to. I haven't had the oportunity to try this myself (lately I've just recorded drums with two mics, bass drum and mono overhead) but saw it used on a studio recording (for rock and roll) and the result was very interesting.

Also, the double mic setup nick recommends looks very interesting. And the Weird Weeds tracks sound good indeed, specially the drums.

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