Have you ever left a high-caliber concert completely amazed at how the drums sounded? I know I have. I could feel the kick drum, the snare was clear and punchy and the toms sounded like heavenly thunder.
Then, I would go back to my church, try to achieve the same result and just end up frustrated.
But, I didn’t give up. Over the years I have learned tips and tricks to getting the drums sounding great and in this post I am going to share them with you.
They may not sound as good as what you hear at concerts with million-dollar sound systems, but with the right technique and decent equipment, you can get awfully close.
Change and tune your drum heads often.
Great sound starts at the source. There is no microphone or EQ that can make worn out drums sound awesome. Of course, these things can definitely make them sound better, but it is much easier to get great sound by starting with great sound.
I recommend changing drum heads every 3 months. If the budget doesn’t allow for this, don’t let it go longer than 6 months. If you are not someone who is skilled at tuning drums, I recommend finding someone in your community who gives drum lessons and have them change your heads. They will be able to get the initial tuning right on point, saving you loads of frustration.
Keep in mind, as time progresses, the drum heads will stretch out. So, be prepared to make fine adjustments every couple of weeks to keep them sounding their best.
Use great microphones and place them correctly.
Although there are plenty of great microphones out there, I recommend the Audix DP7 Drum Mic Package. They are definitely not the least expensive, but they are not the most expensive either. I have used these microphones for years and have never been dissatisfied with the results.
Here are some tips for placing your microphones correctly:
- Snare and Toms – Microphone should be on the edge of the drum head about 1” from the head and pointing towards the center of the head.
- Kick – This one will take some experimenting. You can put the microphone inside the kick to get more of the ‘click’ sound when the batter hits the head. Or, you can put it right outside the port hole to get a rounder and deeper sound. So, it all depends what you are going for. Personally, I put the mic right inside the port hole for a good balance of click and energy.
- Overheads – Overhead microphones should be equal distance from the floor. I have found a good placement to be around 2 feet above your crash cymbals. Start by pointing them straight down, and if you get a weird sound from your cymbals, try angling them parallel with the crash cymbals.
Set the gain correctly for each microphone.
Now that you have great sounding drums at the source and the right microphones, it is time to start dialing in at the mixer. The most important mixing tip I can give you is to set your gain correctly. If you don’t, everything else will struggle down the line. If you are unsure on how to set gain, be sure to check out this post: How to Set the Gain on Your Mixer.
Use compression, gating and EQ to clean up the drum mix.
Does your snare or floor tom ring out too long? Gating can fix that. Is there too much loudness variation between loud and soft hits? Compression can fix that. Does your snare drum sound a bit boxy? EQ can fix that.
This post has everything you need to know: Mixing Live Drums: EQ, Compression & Gating
Add reverb to give drums depth and space.
Most reverb processors have a setting for drums. For example, the Behringer X32 has a preset called ‘Drum Treat’ which is what I am currently using. If a drum room preset is not available, a small to medium bright room would be a good choice.
Once you have chosen an appropriate reverb, you will want to add it to your snare and overhead microphones – possibly your toms as well if you feel like they need more depth. The kick drum should remain dry unless you are using reverb for some kind of special effect.
When it comes to how much reverb to add, I recommend turning it up until you can hear it and then dialing it back to where it blends in with the mix.