Recording aggro, bombastic drums isn’t just about fabulous source sounds captured by mics positioned very close to cymbals, toms, a kick drum, and a snare. That’s a start—a very good start, in fact—but the awesomeness also comes from how the drums interact with a specific recording environment.
Sadly, the “room sound” challenge is where many home-studio musicians start reaching for drumsample collections, because the typical personal studio is not the hippest place to set up mics, and track a glorious combination of percussive impact and environmental ambience. Or is it? If you can record drums at a time when all the banging won’t drive your house mates or neighbors insane, then any apartment or home might surprise you with the number of cool reflections, echoes, and reverbs hiding within. And while there are tons of absolutely marvelous drum samples available today, it’s also a thrill to be able to craft big-ass drum sounds to your own preferences, or to the specific needs of the song at hand. So if you’re one of those hardy explorer types who adore drums that sound as expansive as the Alaskan wilderness, here are a few suggestions for mammoth DIY drum sounds.
Steve Lillywhite’s Big Bang
In 1980, U2’s “I Will Follow” exploded from radios everywhere. But the propulsive energy wasn’t just due to the youthful angst of talented and visionary teens—a fair share was due to producer Steve Lillywhite’s massively ambient drum sound on the song’s intro. Let’s use that classic and tremendous sound as the benchmark for pulling big booms out of your personal studio space.
If you’re not recording drum tracks in a warehouse—or in a big studio with 30-foot ceilings from which to hang microphones—ambient success rests in your ability to get some sexy reflections out of your home. And that means it’s all about hard surfaces.
Remove as many soft surfaces from the room as you can. That cushy couch and all those easy chairs are oh-so-comfy for watching TV, but they’ll suck the life out of the reflections you’re trying to capture, so get ’em outta there!
Now, set up the drum kit a few feet in front of a large picture window, and atop a hardwood floor. If the room is carpeted, borrow or buy a sheet of plywood large enough for the entire kit to be placed upon it, and then toss some more sheets around to break up the reverb-killing effect of the rest of the carpet. If there’s no huge front window, then find a suitable house, or McGuyver a few plywood sheets to stand upright around the back of the drum kit. If you go crazy at Home Depot, putting an extra couple of plywood sheets at the left and right of the kit will help intensify the reflection action. If you’ve done a good job, when you clap your hands, you’ll hear some very cool echoes.
Miking for Massive
The first step is to close-mic the kit as you usually would, because these tracks will still provide the impact and punch of the overall drum sound. Then, as the drummer plays, walk aroun...