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Tips For Studio Engineers In Working With Drummers … From A Drummer

Understanding The Role Of The Drummer

Drummers lay down the foundation of the song, and through rhythm they’re able to keep the music alive just like a beating heart. Drummers are also usually the “commanding voice” in a musical group and are the glue that holds the music together.

Drummers drive the music forward, and listeners are the passengers on a journey. A great drummer serves the song and has the ability to make the audience truly feel the music. Understanding just how significant drummers are, and the power they have in influencing a song, can help provide a fresh perspective.

Channel A Drummer’s Unique Musical Voice

Each drummer has a unique musical voice, and there are so many factors that determine the individual sound. From the way the drums are set up and choice of equipment, to the drummer’s level of coordination and ability. No other instrument requires as much physical energy to play, and there’s so much variation with regards to the way drummers play because of how physically involving the activity is.

It’s up to the engineer to determine what aspects of a drummer’s performance shines through the most. Listen and observe closely to discover what aspects of the sound work best, and try to understand what serves the music the best.

Capture The Human Element

Music is a wonderful form of self-expression. In order to prevent recordings from sounding stale and lifeless, aim to capture the human essence of a drummer to help a listener truly connect with a song. This means retaining a life-like feel and natural sounding dynamics.
Each drummer has a unique flair and also a spark of madness that lends the music liveliness, energy and ultimately something deeply human.

Yes, modern music demands a level of “perfection” that listeners expect to hear, but crushing the soul out of the music will leave it sounding empty. Don’t reach for the quantize tool or edit takes to make it sound robotic. Work together with the musician to achieve the desired takes.

Communicate Effectively

With a clear understanding of the drummer and the music, the goal is to help draw out the best performance in the studio. Affirming a drummer of what sounds good isn’t simply encouragement; it helps create a framework for what’s working. Through communication you have the ability to direct a musician in a way that best serves the music.

Communication is one of the greatest tools to have as an engineer, enabling the forming bonds with the artist in a way that will realize a mutual artistic vision. In many ways, engineers are the captain of the ship, and the end result will be down to them steering the music in the right direction.

Good Working Environment

Invest time into getting to know drummers and make the effort to cultivate good working relationships. It’s essential to have musicians understand that engineers and producers are on their team and that they have your full support.

This also means not critiquing musicians without having a better solution in place. There’s no room for bad energy in the studio, and this is a sure-fire way to create tension, conflict and a host of other negative feelings. Be as specific as you can when offering remedies or solutions; but remember that artists will often hold deep significance to existing musical ideas.

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In The Studio: Successfully Dealing With A Dead Room

On the topic of creating a positive working environment, physical distractions can also draw away from the optimal performance while tracking. If the room sounds dull, is a mess or smells of trash then you’re not creating a positive working environment.

Work to keep drummers focused and relaxed, as it’s in a state of relaxed concentration that engages peak performance. Physical tension and discomfort is subtle but noticeable with micro fluctuations of tempo and uneven dynamics.

Drum Recording Requires Patience

Time-proven recording methods and techniques will need to be utilized in order to record the best quality drum sounds no matter what style of music. The quality of the input always translates to the end result; therefore record with the best drums and microphones you have access to.

Always use fresh drumheads and accurately tune drums to achieve desired drum tones. A cymbal’s sound can’t be modified of course, so it’s imperative to use cymbals that form a rich sonic palette in order to compliment the music stylistically.

Setting up and recording drums is incredibly time consuming, and it requires a great deal of patience as well as a meticulous approach. The nature of a drum recording session means it can often be frustrating especially due to the sheer amount of equipment involved. Allow for some flexibility and be prepared for the unexpected. Keeping a cool head will serves everyone best in the long run.

Also be sure to check out these review pages by the author:
Electronic Drum Sets
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