One of the biggest challenges of DIY music production is the cost of recording instruments. While instruments like guitar, vocals or bass can be easily recorded at home with simple setups, when it comes to drums this is not necessarily the case. Getting a good drum sound at home can be tricky, not to mention the acoustics if you’re living in an apartment building. Moreover, it can be expensive to rent a studio and record your drums there. However, it’s still possible to record drums on a budget and make them sound good. So here are five tips to record real drums on a budget:
1) Record with one microphone
Today many drums are tracked with multiple microphones, which is why recording drums is a diligent and expensive craft. However, this was not always the case. In fact, the drums on many classic albums were recorded with one microphone. The most important thing about using one microphone is to make sure that you’re recording in a room with great acoustics. Otherwise, you can also try placing your microphone close to the drumset.
2) Avoid phase issues by measuring microphone distances
When you’re recording with two or more microphones, if your microphones are not in the exact same position and equal distance from the sound source, then one of the microphones will receive the sound earlier than the other. This might cause your overall recording to sound weaker, as the signals might cancel each other out. This phenomenon is called phase cancellation, and is one of the biggest nightmares of any audio engineer, mixing engineer or producer. While today there is software to fix these issues, it is still much cheaper and easier to measure the distance of the microphones using a tape measure beforehand and placing them accordingly.
To make sure you avoid phasing, you can use the 3:1 rule: First, place your first microphone. Let’s say the distance between the first microphone and the drums is one foot. The distance between the first microphone to the second should be three feet, provided that the second microphone is also one foot away from the drums. By using this rule, you can keep increasing the number of microphones in your set up.
3) Learn how to use audio clean up software
One of the biggest challenges of recording at home are the background noises, such as street sounds, or refrigerator hum. Unless you build a completely treated room, you might get some of these sounds in your recordings. Moreover, you can also hear some reflections from the walls due to the percussive nature of drums. So audio clean up software can come in handy when dealing with such situations. For these reasons, I would highly recommend learning how to use audio clean up software, so you can get commercial level drum tracks that provide a clean and consistent sound.
4) Try hybrid production
When you are recording with one or two microphones, it is possible that your microphone(s) might not pick up every part of the drum set equally well. For instance, the microphone might be good at picking up cymbals and snare, and might not do so well for kick drums. In this case, you can record different parts of the drum set separately. The first track could be only the kick track, second would be only snare, third would be only hi-hat, and so on and so forth. When this is the case, you might like to add a kick from a sample library located in a digital audio workstation from your computer instead. A digital kick coupled with a real human snare and cymbals can create really satisfactory results, if done right. You can even mix the sound of the drums you recorded with sample library drums, such as 60% your recording and 40% sample library drums. When it comes to hybrid production, It’s all about experimenting and finding sounds that you like.
5) If recording with two microphones, place a microphone by the kick
Most of the time the biggest challenge with recording with one or two microphones is to make your kick audible. In the two microphone set up, you can place one microphone by the kick and the second could be used overhead. This kind of set-up can create solid results when done right. Just make sure that you measure the distances and that you place your microphones accordingly.
For more detailed recording strategies and microphone positions, you can easily find some very useful tips on the internet. You can also find more detailed pictures and videos to get specific sounds you might want. The most important thing with recording drums is to make sure there are no phase problems and that your room sounds good. Recording drums is a really fun and experimental process, so I highly encourage you to try it out and see which techniques work best for you.