A Few Pointers:
1. No matter how loud the drums may be in the room, everyone needs some kick, snare, hat and other drum microphones. The timing and feel of the drum mics will sound different from the drum sound in the room.
2. Panning can be your friend. Sometimes moving some instruments just slightly off center will make it easier to the players to hear themselves without increasing volume or resorting to making the moniutor mix a solo mix for certain individuals.
3. You can always change the sound musicians hear in their headphones without compromising the sounds you record.
Once, I was recording a large horn section that was used to a compressed edgy sound. I wanted to go for something full, so I recorded them using a combination of ribbon and condenser mics going flat from Neve mic pre’s straight into the tape machine.
The section was not happy and complained that the sound was not what they were used to. I did not want to lose the fullness the mics were giving me, so I EQ’ed and compressed the monitor channels coming off the tape machine. Suddenly they were all happy and played well.
When I mixed, I was able to use all of the sounds with absolutels no EQ or compression (until those effects were called for) and was very pleased with the results. If I had changed the sound I was capturing to match what the musicians were used to hearing in their headphones, the final sound of the section would have suffered.
4. Make sure the musicians hear enough of the band and even the beat that they can perform to the song rather than just lay down their parts. Musicians will (and should) be concerned with their performances, but do not let them lose sight of the fact that they are playing within a song along with other musicians.
If they do not hear the others they will not be able to interact with them, even if it is only on a subconscious level.
5. Some drummers will ask for loud click tracks in their headphones. If you have only one headphone feed and the drummer needs to share the cue with other performers, it may be tricky for you to keep everyone happy. You may need to ride the click.
And, speaking of riding the click….
6. Be prepared to ride the click track down in softer sections of a song, especially at the end.
There is nothing worse than trying to mix the very end of a song and having to fade out too quickly to keep the click from the drummer’s headphones from being heard.
Bruce A. Miller is a recording engineer who operates an independent studio and the BAM Audio School website.