As a home recording enthusiast, there are few instruments as intimidating to record than drums. Most instruments can be decoupled from the room they’re recorded in, but for live drums, that’s really difficult to do. It gets even harder the smaller the space you’re working in is.
At the same time, there are drummers, producers, and engineers getting amazing results from even simple setups in home studio spaces. They find ways to hack their environment to pull off a great drum tone and take full advantage of the resources available to them.
Here are just a few of our favorite hacks for working with drums in your home studio:
1. Use The Right Equipment
Kicking off our list is something that many home studio producers and engineers don’t focus enough on. A simple microphone setup only works with high-quality microphones. Drums sound there best when they’ve got fresh heads and they’re properly tuned.
You have to use the right equipment if you want your drums to sound good.
This is a universal truth that applies to every drum kit in every room. You don’t need to break the bank on tons of expensive equipment, but you should absolutely invest in the right equipment to get the job done. This means tuning your heads before each session, replacing consumables like sticks, heads & moon gels often, and building your recording equipment collection in a way that supports your goal of getting better drums.
2. Mic Placement
Yes, microphone placement is key on nearly every instrument in nearly every environment. But with a limited amount of space to work with, the options available to you in a home studio aren’t as flexible as they are in other environments.
When you’re in a 10’ x 10’ bedroom, there are no “room mics” that can be placed far away for ambience. Everything is pretty much a close mic. So make their positioning count.
3. Create Isolation
This one piggybacks on mic placement, but try your best to create isolation between microphones in smaller spaces. Everything is bouncing off the ways and bleeding into other microphones, so anything you can do to limit it at the source should be done.
Think about how your snare drum mic is positioned. Is it picking up a ton of hi hat bleed? What about toms? Move it around until you find a sweet spot where you’re not sacrificing snare tone, but you’ve reduced bleed as much as possible.
4. Treating Bleed In The Box
Let’s say for a minute you weren’t able to eliminate the bleed or even get it to a manageable level. Are your drums doomed to fail? Not necessarily.
Treating bleed has always been a common challenge in the studio, especially for toms. For parts of the kit that don’t get used as much as the kick and snare, bleed can be killer – it’s essentially an open mic picking up all kinds of muddiness.
But gating solutions can be a bit harsh and cut into your transients when the toms are actually hit. Solutions like Tominator solve this age-old problem by working more like a filter sweep – opening up to let your tom ring through clearly then rolling off the high end for a more transparent sound.
5. Eliminate What You Aren’t Using
Massive drum kits are impressive, but if you’ve got pieces of your kit that aren’t part of the song, get them out of the room.
Things like floor toms create massive resonance and go largely unused by drummers. If you ARE using it, keep it in, but if you can play the entire song without hitting it once, remove it from your recording. The same goes for unused cymbals.
By cleaning up the clutter of your kit, your drum mix becomes instantly clearer. There are fewer parts of the kit resonating as you play. Fewer cymbals mean fewer accidental hits and more direct signal to your overheads.
Save the big kits for the stage and music videos.
6. Layer In Samples
Drum samples get a bad name for sounding “too generic” but the reality is that they’re used everywhere – especially on major label releases.
While drum sample replacements might be necessary in the most drastically bad home studio recordings, they’ve actually got a decent use when layered in with your live recordings.
By combining your recordings with professionally recorded and edited samples, you’re able to get the best of both worlds. You supplement the low end and power of your kit while retaining the natural characteristics of YOUR drum kit.
When done right, nobody will ever be able to tell the difference.
7. Use Convolution Reverb
If you’re not familiar with the concept of convolution reverb, be prepared to have your mind blown.
Convolution is much like standard reverb with one key difference – it’s modeled on impulse responses of actual places. With convolution reverb, you’re not just putting your drums in a generic “room” – you’re putting them in some of the biggest studios, music halls & arenas in the world.
While you shouldn’t drown your drums in reverb, it’s one of the greatest ways to hack your way into an expensive sounding room without ever having to go there.
Bonus Hack: Learn to Mix Drums
Mixing drums is an art form in itself. The best drums recorded at home studios are usually from those who’re able to take their project from the recording stage all the way through to mixing.
If you want to see how the best mixers are shaping their dynamics and getting powerful, punchy drums as a result, make sure to check out our eBook, Taking Control of Your Drum Mix, for all of the best tips and tricks!