In the last few years a new trend of alternative rock bands have emerged in popular music culture. One of the most exciting things about this music to me is the vast variety of drum sounds I am hearing on the radio. Most genres are defined by a few types of sounds. For example you are almost required have have a 808 hi hat sample in hip hop or a certain type of kick drum attack sound in death metal for it to be considered competitive. Mainstream alternative rock these days seems to have a very wide variety of sounds and experimentation being used in the recordings. From a producing perspective this is both fun and exciting as almost anything goes, but the song can still make radio if the mix is solid and the song is amazing.
In my personal productions, I’ve been experimenting with different styles of combining old school minimalist microphone setups alongside a few direct mics (which then are used to trigger samples) and blending the two into a sonic marriage to get unique drum sounds. What I find is that you can get an excellent balance of a very natural drum kit sound while still get that consistency and punch samples provide. It is the best of both worlds! One particular example I’d like to use is on the album “Electrogram” by the band Vinyl Theatre, who I produced last year for Fueled by Ramen.
When designing the sound of the record with the band we had the idea of a punchy rock drum sound but also something that had some realism and rawness to it. We wanted a unique sound that didn't sound like any other band. I will say that Nick Cesarz is one of the best drummers I’ve ever had the pleasure recording. Because of his immense talent, capturing his vibe and magic can be done very well by a minimalist setup. It really emphasizes his feel because of how naturally it captures his dynamics. When you stand behind his shoulder and listen to him play and you really experience his vibe, you really want the recording to highlight that. With that in mind, when I set up the kit microphone selection, I used a “recorderman” technique with a pair of large diaphragm condensers. This is where you have one mic 2-3 feet above the snare facing downward and then have the other mic measured equidistant from the kick and snare and place behind the drummer's shoulder facing the ride cymbal/right side crash. These mics are panned left and right, but because you measured the mic positioning perfectly, the kick and snare are centered precisely. It allows you to get a lot of really musical and usable kit sound. It literally sounds like standing behind the drummer’s shoulder and listening to him play, which as I stated, is a pretty magical thing when you are behind someone as good as Nick. Aside from this setup, I also placed a few direct mics on the kick, snare, and toms. These were used to trigger Nick’s kit we sampled for Drumforge™ 1.
After recording the drums, I sampled in the corresponding sounds from Nick’s DF1 kit (Kick 1, Snare 1, Tom Set 9) and blended them together with the recorderman setup. I paid extra special attention to the tuning of his drums so that they matched that of the samples when we recorded the album. The Drumforge™ samples were recorded nearly 9 months before this in a different studio. The result was what I thought were a really nice marriage of sample augmentation blended into a very natural and dynamic kit sound. It gave the punch we needed, but also the tone and body of the live performance we required. The result is a unique drum sound on the album because instead of filtering out all of the cymbals and overheads to sound separated, I was actually able to use them full bandwidth while getting the punch necessary for commercial release from the sample augmentation. You should try doing this in your own recordings. The results may surprise you.