Tips & Techniques

Alan Parsons shows how he records drums at State of The Ark

Dave Kerzner of Sonic Reality was working with both Alan Parsons and Nick Mason (Pink Floyd's drummer) to create a sample library creating as close a copy to the original drum sound as possible of Dark Side of the Moon. We snuck in with a camera to film this in an exclusive 'fly on the wall' at State of The Ark Studios.

Please note: This is a 'fly on the wall' video - If you are an engineer, musician or producer wanting to know a little more about Alan Parsons' drum recording techniques this should be very interesting BUT if you are a Pink Floyd fan expecting a lavish BBC production please don't continue, this isn't for you. Our only microphone to record this feature was the 'on camera' mic so sadly it's not great - we wanted to capture Alan's workflow and placement etc.

Interview with Nick Mason & Alan Parsons talking about recording Dark Side

alan parsons in the studio recording nick mason from pink floyd

To get the sound as close as possible the drums selected are a close match to the originals. Nick commented that he thinks he last used these drums at the Live Eight gig where Pink Floyd performed, some are likely to have been used on 'The Wall' album.

Alan has found that this set-up with mic selection works well and tends to stick with this formula as it gives consistently good results but as noted further down the page he has changed things a little. He may change EQ from drummer to drummer but the basic bones of mic placement is pretty constant as they've proved themselves over and over again.

Alan starts off taking us through the drum microphones that he has selected. Where possible he has used the same mics as on the original recording but some mic's here have been released after the Dark Side of The Moon recording but are part of Alan's signature sound.

Snare mic at the original time was the Neumann U87 but since then Alan prefers to record with Neumann KM 84's which wasn't out in 1972. The U87 is quite a large microphone and the lack of room doesn't help. Not being a fan of under snare mics Alan tends to use a single mic on the top of the snare adding top end to taste to get the fizz required. For the hi-hats here Alan is also using the Neumann KM84.

Kick drum mic of choice is an AKG D20. Alan works on the damping of the kick before putting a mic in there. He puts it in roughly half way in to the kick and adjusts position to suit.

alan parsons at the mixing desk

Moving to toms, AKG D19's were used on the original recording from best memory but Alan say's they could have been other dynamic mics. In any case, he prefers dynamic mics on toms. For this session the toms were quite 'live' so needed to be dampened a little.

Overheads are ribbon STC 4038's which are liked as the pick up some room reflection from above. Alan say's that Geof Emmerick used to use a single STC 4038 when recording The Beatles and the quality that he likes about the STC is that they are duller than condenser mics but adding some top end on the EQ gives a really nice 'shimmer to the cymbals' and has been using these for years as they always give good results.

Room or ambient mics in this situation aren't relevant as back then the kit was recorded quite dry to get the "driest, tightest sound possible to get maximum separation". Reverb from a plate was added as needed. One of the reasons for not using room mics much was because on the Dark Side of The Moon sessions the band played together live so spill was a factor.

Manon Grandjean and Alan Parsons at the EMI mixing console

Manon Grandjean and Alan Parsons at State of The Ark Studios

For the recording, on the album the used just four tracks for the kit. Stereo 'everything' kit plus one track for Kick and another for snare. The whole album was recorded on 16 track and Alan notes that being forced to make decisions and commit sounds to tape was an advantage. That said, they went to two generations of 16 track bouncing and reducing 'stuff' down to make more tracks available. It was "almost the fun part making decisions and knowing you had to commit to them".

On the album recording the only effects were either tape based, delay etc or reverb, EMT plates or echo chambers. David got his guitar sound at the amp and that was what was recorded with just the odd bit of plate reverb or tape delay added. "There weren't any digital boxes back then".

Musing the fact the Abbey Road has an echo chamber for reverb Nick Mason mentioned he thought the running footsteps on the album were recorded in there but Alan said that he recorded them on the floor of Studio Two where most of the album recording happened.

We would like to give our sincere thinks to both Alan Parsons and Nick Mason for allowing us to record this feature. Special thanks also to Dave Kerzner for thinking of telling us about this and inviting us in and also special thanks to everyone at State Of The Ark Studios. A truly fantastic studio.

Alan Parsons Photograph Gallery

Sonic Reality's website - Get their excellent drum library's