Tips & Techniques

Drum recording methods with George Shilling

George Shilling is an in-demand producer and recording engineer with a vast wealth of experience. One of George's key skills is getting a superb drum sound and so he was persuaded to take half an hour out of his studio session to record this new and updated 'how to record drums' feature.

This is a follow up / update to his drum recording tips video that was filmed at Modern World Studios covering how he has adapted his techniques. Using his new Yamaha drum kit with Black Beauty snare he has gone for a 24 inch kick drum. Weapon of choice is the Beyer 88TG for the bass drum placed just in or level with the hole of the front drum skin to get the optimum click and oomph. Move the mic in for more click and move further out for more fatness. George discovered this mic when working at SARM Studios when it was suggested by Gavin Harrison of 'Porcupine Tree', well, it was thrust in his hand and told to give it a try! Since then it's one of the 'go to' mics for kick drum now as it does the job well and saves having to use two mics and the resulting phase issues.

george shilling shows how to record drums

This studio kick is fitted with a beater that has three sides, felt, wood and plastic, each giving a different sound. In this video George has a small amound of wadding in the kick. It would be usual to put in a heavy weight to prevent movement.

Since the last drum recording feature George has moved from mono ambient mic to stereo using an adaptation of the method seen in Clint Murphy's drum recording tips video. A pair of Neumann U87's are facing the floor, just up from the floor by a few inches, in front of the kit, placed as close together as possible but angled at around 45 degrees in an X/Y formation to give a good phase coherent and spacious ambience with no comb filtering. Additional room mics aren't needed with this set-up. A sample of this is included at the end of the video to get an idea of how this sounds. Having these close to the kick helps give them the extra 'weight' which works very well in a smaller room. George likes to compress these mics heavilly with his Empirical Labs Fatso usually with a fast setting, something suggested by Romesh Dogangoda in his feature. Key is to always keep checking phase with all of the kits microphones to help ensure a big sound so it may be that you need to move this pair of mics a little to get this.

Beyer M160 hyper cardioid ribbon microphones are used in this feature as overhead mics. Coles 4038's are another alternative though are figure of eight so can pick up more of the reflected roof sound. The Beyer's are chosen in this situation as they are much more directional. The 4038's can give a mich more 'airy' sound and almost can be used on their own. George tends to select slightly duller sounding mics for brighter cymbals to try and tame them a little. In this example the cymbals selected are a little 'dark' as the can take over and dominate the drum sound. This is quite important if you're trying to go for a more ambient sound and use more of the room mics. Too much cymbal means more work in the mix leading to a less bright snare and tom tom sound!

how to record great sounding drums with george shilling

On to tom toms, George has had a change of heart and moved to AKG 414's in place of the more common Sennheiser 421's, Shure SM57's or even Beyer 201's. Before putting mics like these up you need to be confident that the drummer won't hit them! Placing the 414's a little way from the tom's is a good idea to prevent damage but also if you don't want to choke the toms, and if you do have a good sounding tom, just being a few extra inches away can make all the difference and give you that much bigger sound. Using 414's means as they are a bit brighter you need less EQ, they give a nice round bottom end and a good clear transient. Mic's on the bottom of the toms aren't really needed as you get all of the desired 'weight' from these. One final note on toms is to make sure that they are well tuned and spaced so that they're not all nearly the same note!

George has moved from using AKG 451's on hi-hats to Neumann KM184. Some think they are too bright but after Dave Chang in his interview here raved on about them George got some and loves the crispy 'biscuity' sound they produce.

More recently the snare mic of choice is also the KM184. The produce a high (enormous) output so if you use these you need to use a mic-pre that can take a lot of level. As George notes, if it wasn't for needing the phantom power you could almost put them directly in to the line input! A mic-pre such as the Thermionic Nightingale works well in this case. As they're not so directional you need to think about moving the mic closer in to reduce the rest of the kit but this increases the level so as with anything else, it's about getting the right balance.

The pop shield helps, it doesn't cut low end, it's just there in case of wind blasts. As mentioned, the KM184's are not as tightly directional as the more standard Shure SM57, so a technique to reduce hi-hat on the snare track is to tape on an absorbent deflector. Watch the video to se how he does this.

To get a nice and full sounding snare George uses the Ambassador heads and places 'moon gel' to get the right amount of dampening. Tuning the snare almost as low as it will go without the lugs rattling is one thing to try.

To close, one last thing to think about is ensuring everything is as in phase as possible. One method to get both overhead mics in phase is to get a tape and measure from the centre of the snare to the left overhead and move the right overhead mic so that it is the same distance away...

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