Recording the Cheap Way

(Written April 2011)

It was my birthday the other day, so we headed over to my folks for some lunch and me and my brother had decided we were going to try to get our head around how to record some live drums. The back story is, I have a hard drive music recorder, and I have a handful of songs I have ‘sketched out’, mostly just ideas, some of them with a full song structure some barely more than ideas. My brother got a drum kit for christmas as we discovered that, having never touched one before in his life, he is pretty naturally able. Putting two and two together I asked if he fancied trying to record some of the song, work together a make a little record of our own for the fun of the process.

I’m going to record here in future some of our choices and challenges, because its been pretty interesting so far, and I’m always stuck for things to write.

I have a pretty good idea of the effort its going to take to record these, having done plenty of recording myself at home, but I think this is a new thing for my brother who will be playing drums. We picked a couple of slower beats to start, but we have a series of challenges presented, both ‘artistic’ (I use the word loosely) and practical. How do we go about recording his drums, and structuring the songs? There are a lot of problems and challenges, and as with so many things I turned to the internet. There is a lot of great info out there about home recording, but honestly a lot as always is a little expensive and over the top, so it’s not happening like that! I have read, taken what I could, and the rest will be by ear (and wallet).

For a start we decided just to take two microphones and the drum kit into a room and see what happens. The answer, is nothing amazing happens, but it has been invaluable for giving us an idea of what to do next and a few things I will have to consider.

  1. We are gonna need more mics, 5-6 I think.
  2. We really need to use a click track for timing
  3. I think he is going to have to have a demo of the track with click track on his MP3 on headphones to play along to

O.K. this is probably before 1.01 for most musicians who have ever recorded things before, but to us the laziness or naivety was still pretty fresh. The drums sounded flat, especially the bass and snare, and that was mostly due to where I had mics as I was trying to cover too much of the drum kit with just two, which is impossible. In addition, without lyrics and a strong familiarity with the material, it’s very easy to lose where you are in the song, so playing along to a ‘silent’ source is going to be essential. Finally whilst my brother has a great sense of rhythm and timing, I think on record we are just going to have to have a metronome/click track/drum machine to play to, which can be used as a guide (but obviously not present on the final recording).

So we now have a vague plan. We recorded the track On the Prom; with no drum fills, just a beat, but I think I am going to have to sketch it again to a drum beat with intro clicks and use that as a guide for the final song, meanwhile Joe will work out some fills using the original ‘sketch’ or demo with a drum machine which is on the Songs page above.

The Mics are a bit more problematic. I have a Shure SM57 and a £30 Sanyo Mic. Both of these are O.K, and the Shure is Awesome, but realistically, I just can’t afford 3-4 more of these. Even £30 per mic is too much, as I need some stands too, and with the best will in the world x3 £30 mics and stands is £150 easily. This in mind I went shopping, and got some cheap ass £9.99 mics, and some £19 mic stands, x2 of each with some money I got for my birthday. I got as great a frequency response range as possible on the mics, in the hope that they wouldn’t be as appalling as I expected!

I plugged them in at home and whilst Steve Albini would almost certainly have me shot on sight for saying it, I think we can work with these, indeed with a bit of work with filters I even got a passable acoustic guitar recording from them.

So the drum fills are being worked on, I have a click track to make, and we now have some more mics. I am planning to use the SM57 on the snare drum, the Sanyo inside the Bass drum, a cheap mic on the hi-hat, and hopefully a pair of cheap mics over head to catch the metalwork and ‘kit in the room’ sound, but currently this is one mic. You’ll notice no mic on the Tom toms, but currently there is no major fills with the toms, so hopefully anything he does add will get picked up by the overheads, if not I might have to sacrifice one of the overhead mics for a tom mic.

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