Saturday, July 25, 2009

Preparing Your Drums for a Session...

After I posted a couple of weeks ago on how to tune a drum on the fly, I got a few questions on tuning and preparing drums for an actual studio session. I'm by no means an expert on the subject but I do have a running checklist that I use when preparing for a session.

The thing you'll need to remember is that every sound is captured in the studio...EVERY sound, both good and bad. Small things that you may not notice on a live gig become large issues when put under the microscope, so you might as well confront them before the red light comes on.

Clean Your Drums- This sounds simple...and it is. You want to sound and look professional in this type of situation and lugging in a set of drums that have half an inch of dust on them doesn't look professional in the least bit. I mention this for a couple of other reasons as well though. You want the best sound possible out of your drums when recording. You want the tone of the wood to shine through. Eliminating excess dust and dirt from your equipment not only lets the brightness of the wood cut through, it keeps the moving parts in better working condition. Lugs and rims should be periodically taken off, cleaned and oiled if needed. Taking the time to detail your drums also alerts you to other problems that may have gone unnoticed if you hadn't taken the time to carefully look them over. A couple of weeks ago I discovered a missing lug on the bottom head of my floor tom that I otherwise would never have noticed (I guess I lost it at a gig...who knows...). A good wipe off with a dry rag will usually work. If they're really bad, you can use an appropriate cleaner to really make 'em shine.

Check All Lugs- You hit drums, therefore they occasionally break in places. I have a snare right now that needs to have a lug casing replaced...after 2 or 3 hard hitting tunes it starts to back out, resulting in the overall sound of the drum changing. Not a huge deal live, but consistency is the key with recording.

New Heads- Over time heads wear out. Since you're with your drums all of the time you may not notice the head dying, but once you get in the studio you'll find that you won't be able to get half of the tones that you want out of your drums without good heads. I prefer to change them the evening before. This gives them time to seed to the drum over night and you can then revisit them the next day and fine tune them. My personal preference in the studio is some type of single ply, coated head (Remo Coated Ambassadors, Evans J1, etc). I find I get a much cleaner tone with a single ply coated than I do with a doubly ply (Remo Pinstripes, for instance). And let's not forget the bottom heads...they don't need to be changed as often, but they affect the tone of the drum every bit as much as the top if it's been a while, change them out.

Pedals- You'll want to take your bass drum pedal off of the kick drum and press it a few times without hitting a drum. Any squeaks or rattles? Those have to be addressed. Again, that's something that can be let go on a live gig but that will come through on a recording. There's nothing worse than recording a great drum track for a soft ballad...and then realising that your kick pedal is squeaking everytime you press it. Some WD40 will fix the squeaks. If the pedal is rattling, you probably have some loose hardware. Most pedals have several places to adjust the tension and play in the pedal, so you'll want to visit every bolt and make sure they're tight.

Same thing with the hi-hat. You need to also check that the springs are set at the proper tension so that your top cymbal rebounds quickly and quietly after you press it.

Faulty Hardware- On to the stands. Make sure that all stands that support a drum or cymbal are sturdy. If you hit a cymbal and the top arm swings a little to the left, fix it. If there's a lock bolt that isn't functioning, fix it. You don't want to be wandering if the cymbal stand is going to stay still while you're playing...there's enough to worry about without that. It sucks to be in the middle of a great take and have something like a stand collapse or malfunction...because you probably could have attended to that problem before the session.

You'll also need to make sure that every cymbal stand has the appropriate cymbal sleeves and felts so that no part of your crash or ride cymbals touch the stand. Metal on metal is a less than pleasant sound as well as it affecting the tone of the cymbal you're hitting. Doing this also extends the life of your cymbals by preventing cracking at the bell.

Tuning- Like I've said before, tuning is very personal and varies from drum to drum and person to person. Some drummers tune their drums to specific notes on a keyboard...i.e. a major third apart, a minor fourth, etc. and others just go for a good sonic range that sound well when played in succession. Neither theory is wrong, just a different way to approach it. I'm with the latter. I've never tuned to specific notes per say, just what sounds good to my ear. However you prefer to tune is fine...just take time to get the tones you want. Don't forget to consider what kind of session this is...Is it a pop recording where the drums need to be cutting and powerful...a small group jazz session where the drumset is heard as a whole and not necessarily as individual drums...tune accordingly.

When you arrive at the studio (you'll be early, of course, because if you're not early you're late in my book) you'll want to re-visit the tuning of your drums, especially if they've travelled in extremely hot or cold weather conditions. Let me also say a note about Studio Engineers...USE THEIR KNOWLEDGE! They do this for a living, therefore alot of their suggestions come from practical application in recording situations. They're not just trying to cover your musical voice or dictate how you should tune...They're trying to help get great sounds. Don't forget they're getting paid for this too and want the best possible outcome. Just keep an open mind to their suggestions is all. And lastly...

Cymbals- If they're broken, replace them. Nuff said.

That's a small sample of what I do with my drums before a session...following is a short list of "extras" or necessities you might want to bring along with you to the session in case a malfunction happens...


-Extra hi-hat clutch

-Extra bass drum beater or bass drum pedal

-Rug...most studios are hardwood or concrete...they generally provide a rug, but not always. Chasing your hi-hat all day while laying down tracks is lame...make sure it's more than big enough for your whole kit to comfortably fit on.

-Extra snare strainer and snare head, or just bring a completely different drum (which is a good thing to do anyways...artists love variety!)

-Drum key

Again, all of the above are simply suggestions. I can tell you, being over prepared is far better than being under prepared anyday!

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