The temptation to continue the pun was too strong, so apologies for the misleading title. But of course we refer not to the condiment, but arguably the most important part of the process of recording and often the one that’s the most overlooked! Creating the right sound at the source.
If we take a brief step back away from the micro details, what is our aim as a recording engineer? What are we ultimately looking to achieve? There’s an interview with legendary recording engineer Steve Albini (linked here) that summarises this point quite nicely… over to you Steve!
“The principle job is to record the sound of the band and not to try and create a sound and apply it to the band”Steve Albini
Now this might sound like stating the obvious, but now with the accessibility of technology in the modern age the ‘responsibility’ of having to capture a moment in time as an artefact is no where near as daunting as it used to be. The source of the ‘blame transference’ mentioned earlier is the absence of responsibility in getting an accurate depiction of the sound at the source, facilitating the “fix it in the mix” mindset. Albini speaks about his days working in the Punk rock genre, where he mentioned that “they wanted their music to be ugly, yet the studio experience was very sanitised…the studio engineer with the best intentions would try to smooth things out”. The ‘ugliness’ of punk rock was it’s aesthetic and was what defined it as a genre. The role of the recording engineer in this instance is to capture this aesthetic ‘accurately’ and to tell that story, rather than ‘correcting’ it. Ultimately, it’s this apathy to the art that led to the subsequent success of those recordings.
So how does this tie in with fixing my bad sounding Drum recording we hear you ask? Well, if we take the responsibility that we are solely aiming to accurately represent the sound as it happens, if your recording sounds bad the first port of call should be to look to the drums themselves not your recording equipment. First you need to identify what specifically sounds ‘bad’ about the sound, so that you know how to treat it. We like to start with the kick and snare since they’re often the most used parts of the kit, but what constitutes the ‘core’ of kit will depend on the song or part that’s being played (and the ‘core’ can extend to cymbals and percussion as well as drums).