Which snare microphone should I use?
When I record online session drum tracks for artists the conversation varies from client to client. Some people have the attitude of “you’re the drummer/engineer, therefore I trust you to create the best drum sound for my music” whilst others want very technical information about what equipment I use. They might wish to know which DAW I use, which preamps I have, or which microphones I use.
These are absolutely fair questions and I always make sure I answer them in full. But I also try to make a point to them which I think is important, and that is that the answer is largely irrelevant in my opinion.
My worry is that they might want it recorded in Logic and I have Cubase or vice versa, or they specifically have an idea in their head about a certain microphone and would be put off if I don’t own that mic. Sometimes their view might be based on good education and vast studio experience. But sometimes it might be based on a chat with a mate in a pub who misinformed them, or an article in Sound on Sound that they’ve taken as gospel.
The thing is that an online session drummer usually has a custom built drum recording space, he knows his own gear inside out, and he knows how to get various results from it.
In a recent Rhythm magazine article, James Hester spoke on this point saying that the recording gear accounts for only 5% of the sound. The rest comes from the drums, the drummer, and the room. So it’s funny to me that often the questions are about the technical equipment but never about me, my drums or my room.
[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]The thing is that an online session drummer usually has a custom built drum recording space, he knows his own gear inside out, and he knows how to get various results from it.[/pullquote]
But I suppose the big thing I try to encourage people to do is to trust their ears. Does it really matter if I’ve recorded the part with thousands of pounds worth of Neumann microphones in a world class drum live room, or recorded it with two budget microphones in my kitchen? If it sounds great then does the process or equipment count for anything at all? Of course, with more gear, and better gear, I could create a greater variety of amazing drum sounds and that’s why I have invested good money over the years to build and ever growing studio set up, but I think sometimes we get caught up in worrying about technical information.
Some of our favourite drum sounds were recorded with very few microphones – think John Bonham for Led Zeppelin with Glyn Johns in charge of engineering!
So I always say to a new client to let me record for them and then they can listen, without bias or knowledge of the recording chain. Just close your eyes and use your ears. If the tracks sounds good and the playing has captured the right vibe, then who cares how it was achieved.
The biggest thing that does help me when I’m recording a drum track is guidance on the type of sound. If someone tells me they want a John Bonham vibe then that’s really helpful as I know what sound to achieve and how to play it. I can then go about finding the right drums, tuning and recording to achieve that sound.
Someone once told me that they wanted the sound of a Pearl Export steel snare and that it had to be that. Well I don’t own a Pearl Export snare, and as a mid range snare it struck me as odd. But more so because that snare can sound very different depending on which type of drumhead is on it, how it’s tuned, which room you put it in, who is playing it, which recording equipment is used, and what processing took place afterwards. I don’t know if that guy had heard a song that he liked and had read somewhere that it was recorded on a steel Pearl Export snare. But if that was the case,, it would have been much better to say to me what the song was so I had a good reference point to go away and find a method to create the same sound.
So overall, to make it as easy as possible for me to create the best custom drum track for your song, the best information you can give is a reference for a song or drummer, and then put trust in your ears to determine whether the resulting sound is good enough.
After all, for all the money we could spend on recording equipment, it means nothing without a good pair of ears through which to listen to it.