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Capturing The Right Feel & Sound: Rhythm Section Tracking In The Studio
Recording rhythm tracks requires a lot of preparation and planning. With precise ideas on exactly how you want the session to proceed, you'll be ready for a good time capturing great performances. Here's an extensive discussion - with plenty of "how to" - by a recording studio veteran who's had plenty of success.
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Room Mics
It is a major commitment to mix the room mics into the drum mix. Back in the day of four and eight-track machines, I used to record two-track drums: kick on one track and everything on the other track.

Later, with 16-track, stereo drums required three tracks: left and right and the kick and using a separate snare track was a luxury. I would mix the close mics along with the overs to the stereo tracks using pan pots that matched the actual physical position of the overhead mics over the kit. If I used room mics, they would also go into those stereo tracks.

Looking at the drummer from the audience’s perspective, the right overhead is over the hi-hat side (assuming a right-handed drummer) and I’ll add in the close hi-hat mic panned mid-right.

I use audience perspective when monitoring and most drummers like to hear themselves in drummer’s perspective which I provide in their headphones… or they can just wear the phones backwards.

Nowadays, unless you have a great sounding room and most of the drum sound comes from room mics, John Bonham style, you should record those mics on extra tracks. If you like to compress the room mics or the overheads, do it while recording…commit to that process.

Compressors react much better and differently to live sound mic sources than already recorded tracks. If you are unsure of what you have, record it with and without compression at the same time and later, erase the tracks you don’t need.

Headphone Mixes
Headphones and their mix always seems to be a major source of complaint. When recording a drummer, two guitar players, bass, keyboard and a singer, you’ll probably need more than one headphone mix and cue system.

When recording one musician at a time, you’d need only one, and it can usually be the same mix you have in the control room.

Drummer Headphones
Drummers require loud headphones that firmly fit his/her head. That’s means expensive, low impedance studio headphones and a big power amp to run them.

You can get volume with a 5-watt amp and a pair of Walkman phones, but you can’t get clean dynamic range and good low frequencies - the drummer will need to feel the bass instrument, the warmth of the track mix and a sense of the volume changes himself and the other musicians make.

It’s very important that the cue mix represent what each musician is playing dynamically. If you do a lot of live recording, it is worth spending money on good phones and a powerful amplifier to run them.

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