STUDIO DRUMMING TECHNOLOGY
HOW WE PREPARE DRUM TRACKS
by Mark King for proworkshop.com
DRUMS FOR SONGWRITERS
I have been writing songs as long as I can remember, over 55 years at least. Having a drum track to build a song around has always been a difficult part of the writing process to acquire (I'm a guitar player and don't play drums well). Before high-speed internet became ubiquitous it was really tedious to come up with a convincing drum track.
In 2003 I began connecting with drummers in LA, I'd send them a click track and a rough guide track recording of the rest of the song, they would use these recordings to create a final drum track for me.
Since then I've used lots of studio drummers but inside I thirsted for more control and immediacy for my musical creations. This led to building the Proworkshop Recording Drum Room and going on a quest to find modern drummers who could "groove to a click".
WHAT IS THE CLICK?
The "click" is recording studio jargon for the equivalent to the sound from a metronome, it is a repetitive clicking sound that proceeds at the tempo of the song, recorded on a separate track for the drummer to listen to and time his performance with. In the studio the drummer balances the volume of the click against the guide track for the song and listens to these over headphones while performing on the drum kit (which is being recorded on to separate tracks).
Today Proworkshop Recording has several of the finest studio drummers I've ever worked with. Each of them seamlessly plays with a click-track, they are able to "groove and do their thing" in perfect sync with the metronomic beat. They rehearse with it at home and some play with a click at gigs. Playing with a click is a whole different experience from just blasting out a beat. With a click track the tempo is locked down steady and when it's done right the results sound totally professional, this is the way it's done in pro studios around the world. Most drummers who play in bar bands don't have the discipline to rehearse and play with a click track, nor do they have the ability to keep the tempo locked down and steady throughout a full song.
IMPORT AND EXPORT DRUM TRACKS
For projects from outside studios we need to import tracks into our DAW system so we can mix them with other tracks.
If you have Proworkshop record drums for you then you need to import our drum tracks into your system as effortlessly and logically as possible.
After years of trial and a lot of error we've evolved the process into something that is relatively simple, reliable and repeatable. We name the tracks so they import in correct order and are easy to read in the DAW production software. It works whether we're on the sending or receiving end of the recorded tracks.
SAMPLE RATE AND BIT DEPTH
Our standard drum recording method delivers mono, 24-bit wav-files at 44.1 kHz sampling rate. By special request we can increase the sampling rate to 48 kHz.
AUDIENCE PERSPECTIVE AND PANNING THE MIX
At Proworkshop we always record the drums and label them from the "Audience Perspective", it's the way someone sitting in the audience watching the band perform live would hear the drums.
Instrument voices on the drum-musician's right side get panned left when mixing the song; the hi-hat should sound like it's coming from the right in the overhead-recorded tracks even though it's typically physically located on the drum-musician's left side when he is performing. Getting the panning correct is not hard if you follow our guide.
The stereo-pair of overhead microphones is carefully positioned directly over the snare drum to keep the drum set image centered. When mixing you can pan these hard left and right or anywhere in-between, 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock are popular pan positions too for a slightly less wide image field.
If you receive tracks from us you can pan according to the track labels, left overhead gets panned left, right overhead gets panned right. Left-Ride cymbal gets panned left, Right-Ride cymbal gets panned to the right.
Pan the Low-Tom to the left, pan the Hi-Tom to the right and put the Mid-Tom right in the middle.
Unless you specify an alternative setup for the panning and microphones this is how the tracks will be recorded and it's important to get them all correctly positioned in the stereo field. When you get the perspective correct the resulting sound has dimension, space and definition that makes the drums have punch, clarity and a 3D sound character for the listener.
LABELING DRUM TRACKS
In our studio we always start with the drums on the left of the DAW Mixer Window and/or the top of the Arrange Window.
The first step is to number the tracks, each track gets a two-digit number. We keep the names short so they're easy to read in the DAW.
W've created a template in Logic Pro X for drum recording. It has all our standard drum track names and assignments already in place so if you record drums at Proworkshop or you have us create drum recordings for you the labeling will be consistent. This will help whenever the recorded tracks are imported into a session. Here is a list of our standard drum track labels:
07 L Ovhd.wav
08 R Ovhd.wav
09 L Ride.wav
10 R Ride.wav
Below is more detail about the track labels shown above.
01 Kick.wav (kick drum, front resonant head, pan center)
02 SnT.wav (snare drum, top microphone)
03 SnB.wav (snare drum, bottom microphone)
04 Lo.wav (low pair of Tom-Tom on one microphone, pan left)
05 Mid.wav (mid pair of Tom-tom on one microphone, pan center)
06 Hi.wav (high pair of Tom-Tom on one microphone, pan right)
07 L Ovhd.wav (left overhead microphone, pan left)
08 R Ovhd.wav (right overhead microphone, pan right)
09 L Ride.wav (left ride cymbal, pan left)
10 R Ride.wav (right ride cymbal, pan right)
Where's the hi-hat mic? We don't normally put a discrete mic on the hi-hat, there is usually no shortage of hi-hat bleed into the other microphones. If you want a discrete hi-hat track be sure to let us know, we'll be happy to add a track for you.
Why two ride cymbals? We have right and left handed drummers that work on our set. By providing a beautiful vintage Zildjian ride cymbal on the right and another stunning vintage Zildjian ride cymbal on the left we're able to accommodate both drummers without moving cymbals.
As a bonus our right-handed drummers sometimes also use the left hand ride cymbal. (Mixing tip: when I'm mixing a song I usually keep the ride cymbal tracks all the way down, I bring them up and down using automation during sections of the song where I want to highlight the ride cymbal performance, this makes the ride cymbal sound closer and gives more definition to the sound).
We have 16 discrete microphone preamps located directly adjacent to the drum set. This keeps the cabling as short as possible and minimizes distortion from excess wire.
We are happy to swap heads on the kick or snare, do alternative microphone setups, use different snare drums, move cymbals around and any customization to meet your needs. Contact Proworkshop Recording early in your planning phase to see what we can do for you.
FULL DESCRIPTION OF PROWORKSHOP DRUM KIT is here
HOW TO PACKAGE TRACKS FOR MIXING is here
HOW TO MAKE A CLICK TRACK WITH EZ DRUMMER AND LOGIC PRO X is here
LINK TO PROWORKSHOP RECORDING WEBSITE is here
Use the links above to see our drum set, visit our studio or learn more about preparing tracks for DAW mixing.
Good music to you!