Drum Beat #16— Do’s and don’ts for the drummer in the studio


In this column we will discuss drumming in a recording studio and the many things to prepare for and be aware of. 

We will focus on knowledge of microphones and micing techniques, set-up of drums, patience, getting your sounds, i.e. no drum solo, know your parts before you go, know how to read charts, be familiar with click tracks, do not get lost in the “I am recording, therefore I play differently”  trap, and always be on time if not early.

Get to know microphones and placement.

For most recording sessions there is going to be a producer and a technician who will have their own ideas about microphone placement and the sounds they want to achieve. This does not let you off the hook to be knowledgeable about microphones and placement. Of course do not go into a recording session and start questioning the technician’s work.

This would not be professional as well as it is rude. (Remember this, for the most part every sound technician believes the way they record is the only way and every other technician in the world sucks).

So be careful treading these waters. 
Now I could write a 10 page dissertation on microphones and mic placement but for this column, here are two links that offer an explanation with diagrams and in-depth analysis.




Remember when it comes to recording the drum set is the most difficult instrument to record. In fact it seems in today's recording electronic drums are used because of their convenience and the sounds are great. This makes it imperative to know microphones and mic placement to make the recording of acoustic drums as smooth and seem less as it could be.

Setting up your Drums

When you arrive at a studio or a gig for that matter, efficiently set up your drums. Get there early so you can be sure to have more than enough time to efficiently set your drums up. Mark your drum stands so you know where to tighten them. 
Use a Sharpie to mark a line at each adjustment point. This makes it simple to set your stands to the proper height and angles that you are used to playing.

You do not want to be recording and be uncomfortable because your crash cymbal is too high. This will also save you time in the set up of the drums. Since time is money in the studio and the drums are usually the first instrument to get sounds, setting up your drums and not wasting time is important and smart. Remember when setting up, fewer drums are better. Make sure you have the drums you need for the session but do not overdo it.


Recording is a long process. Please be patient especially when you are getting your sounds. Wait professionally until you are called upon to do your parts. Be prepared for a long day. Keep yourself ready and warmed up. Every recording situation is different. Sometimes you might be in and out. You can never know how the session is going to go. Arrive ready to be patient and you will enjoy recording even more.

Getting your Sounds

When a technician is getting your sounds they will ask for you to hit each drum. Do not play a thousand notes for them.
Play simple quarter notes until they give you another direction. They will usually have you hit each drum separately until they get a sound they like.

Then they will have you go to the next drum and so on. Once you have gone through each drum and cymbal they will have you play the whole set. This is when you should play your parts for the various tracks you will be  recording. This way you will not overplay and will get a great representation of how the parts will sound.
Additionally be sure to be a part of post production if possible. Nothing is worse than thinking you have achieved great drum parts and sounds only to hear the final product and your drums sound nothing like they did when you recorded them. Beware, (Technicians are like hair dressers, they do what they want unless they are watched).

Know your parts before you go.

Arrive knowing all of your parts inside and out unless the session is one where you are hired to come in and read charts. Do not use the studio to learn or rehearse parts. Make sure that you can lay your track down in no more than three takes. The studio is not a rehearsal space.

Know how to read charts.

There are thousands of great drummers who cannot read charts. Take the time to learn to read music. This will allow you to get many recording gigs. Do not be scared of charts. They are instruction manuals. Chart reading will set you apart from a great percentage of drummers who are competing against for gigs.

Love the Click Track

Keeping time is your job, especially when all of the other players are going to use your track to play to. If it is difficult for you to play to a straight quarter note click track, program the click track to play a rhythm or a sequence so there is not space between the notes. Program an accent on the one of every measure of the sequence. This will allow you  to play to a groove instead of the dry brain beating click of a quarter note click track. The addition of an accent on the one of every measure is highly effective in playing a song with many different time changes.

Do not get lost in the “I am recording therefore I play differently trap.”

This is self explanatory. Play the part like you play the part. Do not try and get fancy all of a sudden. Relax, play your part and get a great track. Nothing will aggravate other musicians more than a drummer who plays differently in a recording session all of the sudden. I have noticed though, that guitar players do this quite often.

Always be on time.

No explanation is needed for why this is a must and should always be observed.

Happy recording and take it easy.

— By Stanley Jackson, Special to L.A. Beat
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