Updated: May 13, 2020
Since tracking drums is dramatically different depending on genre, take this with a grain of salt and apply where applicable.
This is the single most important element when tracking acoustic drums. If you don’t have a sick drummer giving the performances of a lifetime, forget about it. The ability to hit hard, be consistent, be on time, and control your dynamics is rarely found in a single player.
Regardless of size, find the room in your house that sounds the best when you clap your hands. If there are no good rooms, find one that you can easily control the acoustics by using blankets, couches, or mattresses. Place the drum set at roughly 1/3 distance from either of the short walls with the kick not directly facing a wall.
Use what you got. Just make sure everything is in working condition. Double check every lug, screw, stand, and leg to be sure they’re working in silence. Nothing like hardware rattle and squeak to ruin a great take.
If you’ll be using 100% sample replacement on the shells, you can skip this step. Otherwise, change out every single batter and resonance head on every drum being used on the record. Learn to tune and check your tuning before every song. Use lug locks on the lugs closest to the where the left hand strikes the rim.
Unless you’re recording a lo-fi indie band, you’ll need an interface with at least 8 preamps.
If you’ll be using 100% sample replacement, you can get away with any mic you want on each of the shells. If you’re not using samples, match the right mic with the right drum for the genre. I recommend dynamic mics on the shells, large diaphragm condenser mics for overheads, small diaphragm condenser mics for cymbal spots, and large diaphragm condensers or tube mics for the rooms. Since micing is so subjective depending on your goals, I’ll skip micing techniques except a few key points:
- Overheads need to be equal distance from the snare
- Room mics need to be equal distance from the snare and each other
Schedule at least twice as much time for drum tracking than you think you’ll ever need. Take your time, go slow, and review often. Play your way into and out of each section when punching in. If using a click, all performances need to be less than 1/8th note off from the click. Take samples of every piece of the drum kit as insurance.
When comping together takes, please crossfade your edits
Unless you're a seasoned veteran with your outboard gear, do not process your mics on the way into your interface. Same goes for in-the-box mixing you might be tempted to do before exporting tracks. Always submit raw tracks with all your processing turned off, all tracks panned center, all levels returned to 0, and all automation disabled. All tracks should be mono, WAV, and raw. Regardless of when the drums come into the song, export the tracks starting at the beginning of the song for easier importing on the other end. And last but not least, check your tracks before submitting. Import your tracks back into your project and have a look that they meet the criteria.