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Calling All Drummers: Some Friendly Advice To Help Us All Have A Great-Sounding Show

Mix engineers spend hours and hours getting the drums just right – here’s how drummers can help make that job easier.
Great-Sounding Drums

Be Mindful Of The Surroundings

When setting up drums on stage, be aware of everything around you. If there’s an engineer or stagehand setting up microphones on the kit, show them respect by not playing while their ears are inches away from an extremely loud sound source.

It’s important to check where everything is positioned and to adjust for accuracy and comfort but waiting 15 seconds until the kick mic is placed and connected before going on a double kick quest for speed will be much appreciated. Especially with younger and less-experienced drummers this seems to be a big thing that starts a lot of bad blood with the sound crew.

Trust me – we can mix shows much better if we’re not bleeding out of our ears while doing it. At least a “heads-up” warning is in order so we can wear protective ear plugs or simply move away until you’re done.

Bring The A-Game To Sound Check

I can imagine how boring it must be to just play the kick drum during sound check. But I promise that when we tell drummers to play the kick, it’s because we want to hear it and only it. Sure, go into a crazy beat for the next 16 bars and we’ll all just wind up exactly where we were – the engineer asking the drummer to play the kick because engineer needs to hear just that.

Further, a bit of discipline in sound check can help things move along much faster. Keep hits consistent and at the volume that will be used during the show (through the louder parts). This allows us to quickly set input gain levels and work out any other problems with the kit.

A major issue we experience on a daily basis is what I call a “two-faced” drummer. The first personality is present during sound check where the hits are done with an air of “Don’t care, let’s just move along.” The second one is revealed during the show where the drums are immensely louder – all the adrenaline rushing in makes the drummer hit harder, which effectively renders our sound check work useless.

My advice: even if playing just one element of the kit, imagine it’s a song from the set list and the show has already started. This helps build consistency in having an optimal-sounding kit from the top of the show.

What About Monitoring?

Let’s repeat the obvious: drums are quite a loud instrument. Drummers should be aware of it and take every precaution to keep their hearing intact. Instead of just sound dampening head gear, I strongly recommend a good pair of in-ear monitors moulded to the specific ears. These custom builds are necessary if drummers want to have the low-end information properly present in their monitor mix while keeping the leakage of the surrounding environment to a minimum.

Having said that, I still see way too many drummers wearing IEMs to “protect their hearing,” only to then blast ungodly amounts of click levels into their earphones. So just as a PSA, I feel obliged to say: don’t. Not only can it damage hearing, but it cuts drummers off from the other band members, interfering with their ability respond to musical cues.

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The best approach seems to be to put the click off center and/or at such a level that it can only be detected if the drummer is out of sync with it. Those not wearing IEMs and still relying on wedges must try figure out what the lowest level they can work with comfortably. The feed from the drum wedge can get picked up by overhead, hi-hat or any other mic close enough in proximity.

Building a great relationship with the sound team starts with these basic tips. I ask drummers to keep the conversation open and ask if there’s anything you can do on your end to better the sound. After all, you and the audience are placed on the opposite sides of a very loud beast of an instrument that can often influence the way you perceive the sound as opposed to how everyone else will hear it.

Sometimes it actually comes down to someone asking a drummer to play differently. (“Can you try playing the hi-hat softer?” seems to be a popular demand.) Drummers should think hard about their playing style if these demands are recurring – they can actually provide valuable tips for practice sessions, and overall, furthering skills.

Go here to read more from Ales Stefancic.

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