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Sound Advice

Adventures in Straying from the Norm by Karen Kane

Some of the most innovative recordings come from daring to be different from the norm. Not that the “norm” doesn’t work — doing what is typically done is safe and almost always guarantees good sound.

What is the “norm”? Almost every recording engineer I know who was trained in the late ’60s or early ’70s (like myself) learned standard basic microphone techniques. In the ’60s, what was typically done was dictated by the lack of tracks available and therefore, distant miking techniques were used. For example, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was recorded with three microphones. By 1971, we started using 24 tracks. So now, the distant miking techniques of the ’60s were overshadowed by the newer methods of close miking (made possible by having many more tracks). Today, there is a better balance between these two microphone techniques, with a leaning in favour of the close miking method (especially for drums).

Recently, after months of recording and using many of the typical techniques that I know and love, I decided I was tired of doing the norm. My next project was about to start and I was quite bored with the ordinary. Fortunately, Fulign, the band I was about to record bed tracks for, was totally into experimenting. (Fulign is a rock band from Erie, PA). Now that several weeks have passed since this event, I can honestly say, had I not followed my instincts to try something different, the recording of this band would not have the special sound it now has.

For Fulign’s drums, the ingredients were all there for trying something new. A large, beautiful sounding recording room, a great sounding well-cared-for drum set and an excellent player who also tunes drums very well. Matt Gurley from Fulign uses a large drum set with five toms and lots of cymbals and the thought of using microphones on everything was not only unappealing but here was a chance to be inspired by the idea of distant miking, possibly without any close mics at all. Typically, the approach would have been to use one or two mics on a kick drum, top and bottom mics on a snare drum, every tom-tom miked separately, a mic for the high-hat and a pair of overheads to capture all the cymbals. Some engineers also use a pair of room mics to capture the sound of the room that the drums are in.

I sought out a fresh approach to that old technique. I started out with four distant mics in various places but I decided after experimenting that using a close mic on the kick and on the snare was a good idea — even if I didn’t use them in the final mix. So ultimately, six mics total were used. The four main distant mics were two Microtech Gefell M300 “pencil” condensers and two Microtech Gefell 1277 condensers. One of the M300s was placed on the drummer’s left side about 3 feet from the kit facing the snare, high-hat and small toms — at a height just below the high hat. The other M300 was placed 3 feet from the kit on the other side facing all the lower toms at a similar height. The room mics were placed about 8 feet in the air and about 12 feet away from the kit. For this style of music, in this particular recording room, this method worked like a charm. The band was thrilled and I myself, was very happy with this non-conventional drum sound — much more than I could have imagined.

Karen Kane has been engineering and producing music since 1974. Her credits, profile, and other published articles can be seen at her Web site www.total.net/~mixmama.

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