Now, this might sound like stating the obvious, but with the accessibility of technology in the modern age, the ‘responsibility’ of having to capture a moment in time as an artefact is nowhere 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).
Does the sound have too much sustain? Too higher pitch? Too loud? Could be a multitude of things, but the key is to try and isolate the variables and solve each problem individually rather than try to kill many birds with a 22” stone. Now it would be besides the point of this blog to suggest that you need to have a super expensive drum kit made from finest exotic woods re-skinned using premium grade skins, professionally tuned in a acoustically controlled environment! As mentioned earlier we want to nurture the ‘engineering mindset’ and to solve problems, therefore lets use the example of a budget kit in an average bedroom- which helpful applies to the majority of us.
Listen to the sound of the drum not only in the room, but also where the microphone will be (using ear protection for this of course!) as well as where the drummer sits. Identify which area sounds the worst and then investigate further. Check the drums condition, is it damaged, can it be fixed? How does the drum skin look? Is it wrinkled, cracked, damaged or worn? Check the tuning; adjustment of the tuning of either skin will affect the overall sound of the drum. The majority of the sound comes from the batter head, so likelihood is that if the core of the sound is wrong, that is where your problem lies, however you can adjust tone, sustain and thump by adjust the resonant head, or even removing it entirely! Don’t forget the pedal/stick… what does it look like? What is it made of? What’s the shape of the beater/tip? Where on the drum is it striking? Each of these can affect the overall sound of the drum. But remember, change one variable at a time, retest and then evaluate.
The key is to try and isolate the variables and solve each problem individually rather than try to kill many birds with a 22” stone.