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Drum Recording Tips from Tom Meadows
Drum Recording Tips from Tom Meadows
Session master Tom Meadows shares some exclusive drum tips with Gear4music! In part 2, find out how you can record drums at home or in the studio.
Tom Meadows is one of the most in-demand session drummers on the scene. He recently recorded some exlusive content for Gear4music, sharing his top tips on practice and recording. In part 2 here, learn about his recording methods and gear.
Looking for part 1? Skip back – Drum Practice Tips from Tom Meadows.
What is your home studio setup?
I’m really lucky because I have two different situations that I can turn to. One of my oldest friends, a guy called Adie Hardy, runs a studio called Unit 2 in North London. He’s got all the mics you could ever wish for, some great outboard stuff and a beautiful AMEK Angela desk. It’s a great room.
But more recently, and luckily prior to lockdown, I put together my own personal setup. It’s much more low-key, but I’m really happy with it.
The usual 57 [Shure SM57] on the snare, a Sennheiser e902 in the kick, with the Aston Origin on the outside. A couple of Neumann TLM 102s in the room. I think I’ve got some really nice sounds out of everything so far. Sonically, I’m really pleased with the results.
What would you say to a drummer looking to build their first home studio?
There is so much great information out there, but I would say maybe limit your sources, so you’re not bombarded. But in terms of resources, there’s a YouTube channel called Produce Like A Pro from Warren Huart. He’s a wonderfully unique character.
I would also say get a good set of mic preamps. Focusrite have some great products. Some of the greatest recordings in history were done with three microphones.
In my own studio, I’m using the Recorder Man technique. I have around 12 or 13 mics, but in terms of my overhead configuration, I have one microphone the length of two sticks above the snare, dead centre. And then one coming over my right shoulder, the same length away pointing towards the same space.
It’s a good setting for small rooms, because you’re not getting all the air from a high ceiling. So, using the Recorderman technique for overheads alongside a kick drum mic, you can create a great recording.
How do you prepare your playing for recording?
To be honest, I don’t! In the sense that I don’t generally know what I’m doing before I go into a session. I’m not often given any music in advance, so we’ll go in, listen to the songs, and I might come up with a very basic skeleton chart. I’ll always ask where we’re going with it, because I don’t wanna turn up with an 18” kick drum when what they need is a 26” Rolling Bomber.
Once I know what they’re trying to achieve, I might bring two or three snare drums in. A few crash cymbals. Some slightly crusty, old ones and some slightly brighter, cleaner ones, just to have those options.
But in terms of how I prepare my playing, I just sort of trust that either my maintenance or creative practice will kick in at the right time. I’m always listening to what’s going on either in the studio or the control room. And if I’m tracking with no one else in the room, I have to remember to leave space for other people to do their thing.
It’s very easy to fill up space out of nerves more than anything, and all of us do it. Try and remember that there’s the rest of the band to come in after you. Simplicity isn’t stupidity.
How to record drums – gear guide
To record drums at home, you’ll need a selection of microphones, audio equipment, and a computer with recording software, or a standalone recording device.
Here’s a run-down of the gear Tom Meadows uses, as well as our own suggestions for creating your own setup.
Recording drums – overview
- Computer/recording device – store and edit the audio you’ve recorded.
- Audio interface – connect your microphones and recording gear to your computer.
- Drum microphones – a good selection of mics for tailored for specific drums.
- Overhead microphones – capture the sound of the cymbals, complete kit, and room.
- Listening gear – headphones are great when you’re playing. Studio monitors are great for mixing.
- Accessories – don’t forget cables, mic stands, furniture, and room treatment.
For a more general look at home studio gear, read our Home Recording Guide – What You Need to Make a Home Studio.
Computer / Recording Device
To record drums, you need a way of storing and editing audio.
A computer is a great hub to record drums. Simply load up a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software and you’ll be ready to capture and edit audio.
Computers don’t have high-quality audio connections, nor do they let you connect multiple micsrophones, so you’ll need an Audio Interface (read more below) to plug in microphones and other equipment.
Shop now | Audio Computers
Shop now | DAW Software
Read more | Which DAW is Right For Me?
An audio recorder lets you capture audio without a computer.
A handheld audio recorder like the Zoom H4N Pro combines microphones and storage in a single device. They are perfect for recording good quality sound, quickly – perfect for practice sessions, band rehearsals, and capturing new ideas on the fly.
Some recorders even have additional microphone inputs, so you can blend multiple drum sounds together. These devices don’t offer a huge amount of editing capability, but they’re a great grab-and-go solution for capturing audio.
Shop now | Handheld Audio Recorders
Multi-Track audio recorders like the Zoom R24 are more fully featured. They generally don’t have built-in mics, but they can have multiple microphone inputs, enhanced editing, and built-in effects. They are like a studio in a box – simply add mics and headphones and you’ll be ready to record.
Shop now | Multitrack Recorders
Audio Interface / Mic Preamps
To record drums with a computer, you’ll need an audio interface. These expand the connections of your computer, so you can plug in microphones, studio monitors, and other equipment. An audio interface connects via USB, Thunderbolt, or Firewire. You can plug in microphones if it has an onboard mic preamp.
For drums, we recommend an interface with at least 4 microphone preamps – you’ll be able to plug in a snare drum mic, bass drum mic, and two overheads for a complete stereo kit sound.
Shop now | Audio Interfaces
Focusrite also make premium standalone preamps to get the best sound out of your microphones, including the legendary ISA One Classic Analogue single-channel preamp and the fully-featured Scarlett OctoPre 8-preamp rack.
There are a multitude of different ways to setup drum microphones. From 1 microphone to 8 and above, you can choose to capture individual drums, the complete kit, the room sound, and infinite combinations of the above.
Drum microphones fall roughly into two categories – dynamic drum mics for each individual drum and condenser overhead mics for cymbals/full kit/room sound.
For a simple setup, we recommend 4 microphones to get a great sound: 2 overhead mics to capture the full kit, 1 bass mic, and 1 snare mic to give those drums more focus in your mix. You can always add more mics or strip back the number depending on your setup.
- Tom Meadows uses the Recorder Man method with 2 overhead mics: 1 above the kit and 1 behind the player – both pointing at the snare.
- The Glyn Johns method uses four mics: 1 overhead directly above the kit, 1 overhead near the floor tom/ride cymbal, 1 bass mic and 1 snare mic.
Shop now | Our full range of drum microphones
Make it easy | Complete Drum Microphone Packs
Condenser microphones are super sensitive and require ‘phantom’ power from your mixing desk or audio interface through the XLR cable. A lot of engineers use small diaphragm ‘pencil’ condenser mics on percussion instruments.
If you set two overhead microphones up above your kit, you can capture a full balance of sound in stereo. For some recordings, this could be enough.
We recommend setting your overhead mics equidistant from the snare drum to prevent phase issues. It’s also great to buy a matched pair – they are engineered to be extremely closely balanced in sound.
Shop now | Small diaphragm studio condenser microphones
Tom Meadows uses the Aston Starlight Cardioid Stereo Pair – a versatile matched set of condenser mics that are equally capable of capturing drums, acoustic guitar, stereo ensembles, strings, and more.
Tom also uses the Neumann TLM 102 for room sound – a large diaphragm condenser microphone that suits vocals, as well as drum overheads, ambient stereo sounds, and a huge range of instruments.
Snare Drum Mic
A snare drum mic needs to be capable of handling loud sounds and bring out the mid-range crack of a snare. We recommend mounting the mic 2-4’’ away from the batter head. A dynamic instrument microphone is perfect for this job.
If you want to get more of the snare wire sound, try a second mic underneath the snare drum.
Shop now | Snare Drum Dynamic Microphones
Tom Meadows uses the industry-standard choice: the Shure SM 57 – perfect for the mid-range of snare and electric guitar, also a firm-favourite with rock vocals.
Kick Drum Microphone
A dynamic microphone that’s tailored for low-end response is ideal for the loud kick drum. You can mount the mic in front of the resonant head, or just inside the drum via a small bass drum sound hole, which you cut in and support with a ring.
If you want to capture more of the high-end sound from a bass drum (i.e. the ‘click’ and ‘pop’), you can add a large-diaphragm condenser microphone near the resonant head and blend the two mic sounds together.
Shop now | Kick Drum Dynamic Microphones
Shop now | Large Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphones
Tom uses the Sennheiser e902 Dynamic Cardioid Bass Instrument Microphone, and you may wish to consider the Shure Beta 52A Bass Drum Microphone.
He also uses the Aston Origin Cardioid Condenser: a wonderfully versatile condenser mic with built-in pop filter and attenuation making it perfect for instruments and vocals, as well as louder sources.
Studio monitors are tools for playing back music and checking your recordings sound good. With their crystal-clear response, they let you hear all the detail, warts and all. This is ideal for making informed choices on mixing and mic positioning.
If your tracks sounds good on studio monitors, it’ll most likely sound good on all other systems – whether that’s hi-fi, cars, phones, and more.
Shop now | Studio Monitors
Headphones are perfect for when you’re recording. For drummers, we recommend closed-back headphones with noise isolation. They protect your hearing by reducing the ambient noise of the kit, while letting you hear all the details of your track.
Shop now | Studio Headphones
More about Tom Meadows
Tom has a CV many pro players would dream of, having become the go-to drummer for Kylie Minogue, Will Young, Girls Aloud and Leona Lewis. He’s played huge arenas and countless sessions, and his experience of practice and recording comes from a truly professional background.
Tom has also visited Gear4music many times, creating fantastic demos for our studio.
Tom is also an endorsee for Istanbul Agop cymbals.
You can read about our joint visit to the Istanbul Agop factory, where we gained a wonderful insight into these traditional hand-made Turkish cymbals.
You can also watch our interview with Tom Meadows, where we talked about gear, career advice, drum influences, and much more.
Find out more | Tom Meadows - Website
Drum Microphones – the complete selection here.
Home Recording – get the gear here to make music from home
Studio & Production – everything you need to record and produce music
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