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Soundcheck For Dummies... I Mean, Drummers



Whether I'm in a live venue or a recording studio, I rarely see drummers who know how to properly soundcheck their own instrument. Ultimately, it's up to the sound engineer to request what they need to get the job done, but too often they're too busy, running behind schedule, or just don't give a shit. In a perfect world, drummers would all know how to soundcheck properly but in reality, if you've never been trained then you're probably doing it wrong. That's where I come in.


I've been drumming for more than 30 years. I've performed live in over a dozen bands and played 100's of live shows including festivals with more than 5,000 attendees. I've also spent the same amount of years recording in the studio. I've recorded dozens of bands, spent 100's of hours sound checking drums, and the same amount of time performing on albums with numerous bands. All that to say, I am more than qualified to help you get the perfect soundcheck.


Before we begin, ask yourself when was the last time you swapped out your drum heads. You want to sound the best you possibly can? Bring your best kit, with fresh heads, and freshly tuned to the gig otherwise you've already lost the battle. How is the sound guy going to make you sound awesome if you have duct tape holding together your old drum heads? Same goes for broken cymbals, noisy hardware, and defective stands. Bring your best to the gig as if you're performing for your musical heroes and the sound guy will take care of the rest.


Now for the secret weapon... HIT HARD! It's that simple! The number one mistake I see drummers make when sound checking is to just lightly tap on your drums. You ever see a sound guy scramble to the gain knobs on their mixing board as soon as the song starts? That's because the drummer played their kit at half volume when sound checking. Now that they're performing at full volume, every single one of the mic preamps are red-lining and distorting like crazy. So don't just hit hard, HIT THE DRUMS THE HARDEST YOU'RE GOING TO HIT THEM ALL NIGHT! Just don't break anything. You're trying to match your loudest performing volume, not break every head on your kit. Also, this does NOT apply to the cymbals. A great drummer will hit their shells hard and their cymbals soft thereby reducing the amount of cymbal bleed into the shell mics.


To better understand why you should be hitting the drums that hard, you need to understand exactly what the sound guy is doing when he asks you to strike each drum individually during soundcheck. He's setting the input gain on each of the mic preamps individually to be the loudest they can without distorting. If you hit like a baby and he sets the input gain to 100%, when the songs starts and you actually start hitting like you mean it, that mic preamp is going to distort like crazy. If, however, you actually hit your drums hard, the sound guy can set the input gain on the mic preamps at the right level and you're good to go for the rest of the night. It's a common misconception that the sound guy is EQ'ing, compressing, panning, limiting, and so on while you're sound checking. Chances are, that sound guy has been working that room so long that he already has most of that set. This makes setting the input gain the number one goal during soundcheck.


Same goes for recording in the studio. If you don't hit hard, we can't set the input gain on the mic preamp and we're already off to a bad start. I can't tell you how many drummers actually lay down great first or second takes but we can't keep any of it because they hit so soft during soundcheck that all the preamps are distorting like crazy. Again, a great engineer would take the opportunity to really train these drummers how to get the job done but again, they're usually too busy, running behind schedule, or possibly don't give a shit.


So remember, hit the drums as hard as the loudest part of your loudest song while sound checking and you'll be good to go. I know it's hard to imagine how hard you'll be hitting once the adrenaline kicks in but as long as you're not hitting like a toddler, your sound guy will love you and your audience will get a great show.


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