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Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Tracking drums in the studio requires a completely different set of skills than performing live or rehearsing at band practice. In fact, since most of us spend so little time in the studio, mastering this skill can be very difficult and time consuming. Understanding what is truly required is only the first step. Putting the time into practicing BEFORE you get to the studio will save you so much heartache.

Before we begin, we need to talk about your drumset. This should go without saying, but your drumset needs to be in the best shape possible before hitting the studio. You know that china cymbal stand that likes to walk away during breakdowns? Fix that shit! And fix everything else while you're at it. Squeaks need to be lubed, broken parts need repaired, problems need solved, and broken cymbals need replaced. You should be concentrating on the performance while you're in the studio, not your drumset. And if your set is completely trash, just rent one for the studio.

Go easy on the cymbals

The greatest impact you can have on your studio performance is to learn to hit your cymbals softly. Not only will this preserve your sticks and cymbals, this will also give you a superior recording. You see, we engineers fight something called bleed. This is when your cymbals are bleeding so much noise into the shell mics that they're practically unusable. Going easy on the cymbals can reduce the amount of bleed in the shell mics by almost 50%. This goes especially for the hihat. Because the hihat is two cymbals crashing into each other, they're easily the loudest cymbals on your entire kit. So go extra soft on your hihat so your snare mic isn't crammed full of hihat noise.

Go hard on the shells

If going easy on the cymbals can reduce bleed, then so can going hard on the shells. So don't just hit your shells, hit them hard! When you really lay into a drum, you increase attack, volume, and sustain. All of which is not only easier to mix, but also sounds better. If you have to perform dynamics say in a tom fill that usually starts off soft and gets loud then increase the overall volume of the fill so it starts off loud and gets really loud. Between hitting your shells harder and hitting your cymbals softer you can effectively reduce cymbal bleed by more than half.

Go for the rim

The next thing to add to your bag of tricks is a snare rimshot. A rimshot is when your stick tip makes contact with the snare head and the stick shaft makes contact with the snare rim at the exact same time. This will primarily be with your left hand if your a right-handed drummer. We spent so long learning how to avoid the rims, why would we intentionally hit them? Because it's louder! And what did we learn about hitting the drums hard? Harder is better! Remember, we're trying to decrease the cymbal bleed here and sitting right next to everyone's snare is the loudest cymbal of them all, the hihat.

Prepare yourself for change

Even after all that work, it might not be good enough. At least once per project a drummer will have to rewrite a beat or a fill to match the guitars. Too often we think what we're playing lines up with the rest of the instruments but upon playback we know if could be better. So please, learn your parts forwards and backwards until you can play them in your sleep but be open to change and open to input from your engineer, producer, and even your bandmates.

Stay quiet

No matter how many times I remind drummers to stay quiet during breaks in the song or at the very end after they're finished performing, they still make noise. It's like they forget that there's a dozen mics pointed at them that are recording every little sound. I can't tell you the number of times we've had to re track a drum part because they got excited and yelled after the last hit while they cymbals were still ringing out. Or setting down their sticks, or scratching their balls, or grabbing a drink... And so we have to do it again. And again and again until they remember to stay quiet.

The best piece of advice you'll ever get

The single best piece of advice I can give you is BE INTENTIONAL. Don't just tap the drum, hit it hard. Don't just hit the head anywhere, hit it dead in the center. Don't just hit the drum with a glancing blow, hit it exactly down. Don't be roughly on time, be exactly on time. Too often we get these hesitant performances that just sound weak and unintentional and you'll never achieve a thunderous roaring drum sound with a timid performance. This is one of the hardest parts to retrain your body to do. But when you do, your sound will come alive.

Easy enough, right?

Wrong. This takes years of retraining your body and your muscle memory to perform in this way. But it is so worth it. And once you learn it, you can apply it to your live performances and your live engineer will love you for it. My favorite thing is to watch two different drummers perform back to back on the same drumset for a live performance. One will just be going along and tapping away on the drums and all you get is just cymbal noise and the next one sits down and absolutely slays that drum mix and it kicks you in the chest. Same drumset, same heads, same sticks, same mics, same engineer but totally different results. So do everyone a favor and hit those drums like you mean it!

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