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Recording Drums: Echolyn 2012 and B-sides

Drums: Echolyn 2012 and B-sides

July 13, 2012

You guys made my morning with your comments about the drums and Lampblack/Past Gravity, Thanks!

I wanted to quick write back while I have a cup of tea:Paul and i worked with Francis Dunnery for about 4 years solid. I think i was in the studio with him practically every week! Even when he was touring around Europe over those years I was mixing projects of his. He's probably one of the best musicians I've ever played with. He's a raw wire of creativity and taught me a lot about playing. One of the things he taught me was in regard to Drums. He worked with Robert Plant a few times and was able to become close friends. They's talk about lots of things Zeppelin related, including John Bonham's drums. Robert said everyone thinks Bonham beat the hell out of his kit... they are wrong in this assumption. Bonzo just knew how to hit them to make them sound like one unit and at the same time bring out the best tone in the drums.

There is a dynamic in all instruments (meaning how quiet and loud they can be) if I play a guitar or drum too quiet or loud it doesn't sound "right."You have to find the sweet area. Good Tone comes from knowing the dynamic range of what you are playing. Of course you can beat the hell out of an instrument for effect but only for a limited time before it just becomes annoying. John Bonham knew the dynamic range of the drum kit very well. He also knew how to tune it (and/or had someone that knew how to tune it for him). I had a chance to play with Robert and talk to him about this on a tour Paul and i did with Dunnery a couple years ago. He Confirmed what Francis told me, i.e., Bonham did not beat the hell out of his kit.

What I'm trying to say is that folks think heaviness comes from playing really hard. It does not. By playing hard on a kit or guitar you actually collapse the heads or strings and they loose that fullness of sound. The heaviness in Zeppelin comes from knowing dynamic range. In order for something to be loud you need to have quiet and vice-versa. if its loud all the time it's just blah and one dimensional.

Compression and limiting these days (and over the past 10 + years) has been used to make things too loud in my opinion. This loudness comes from a "perceived" loudness, not an actual one. Going louder in regard to dB Full Scale (in the digital world) is a ceiling that has been intact since the inception of digital recording. Zero is and has been the loudest you can go in that domain. Even in the analog world there is a max before distortion occurs. Perceived loudness is attained by changing the dynamic range. As i said, instruments naturally have a dynamic range to them, by decreasing that range utilizing compressors and limiters you can give a sense of a perceived loudness. Unfortunately, as the dynamics of instruments and music is compressed more and more (to give this sense of loudness) the dynamic range is actually crushed to death. Speaking of Death, Death Magnetic by Metallica is the famous example of going too far in this regard. You can hear clipping throughout the album and ear fatigue is prevalent because of the relentlessness of volume. When even the decay of instruments (the sound after they are played) is as loud as the "hit" you need to reevaluate what your doing in the context of recording, mixing and mastering. Music is made by us, human beings. It needs to inhale as well as exhale. it needs to breathe. Some music these days, along with many clients of mine, want the masters to be so loud there is no exhale anymore. It feels like i just keep inhaling until I fall over and turn blue ;-)

Now, In regard to the drums on our new album, I actually used a little bit of compression on the snare (top mic) and overhead mics. I like the sound a good compressor can add to a kit. It helps keep things a little bit more immediate, but Paul played the kit to make it sound like a kit (thank you Francis and Robert). It sounds like one unit, not a bunch of pointy, bangy things. Because of Paul's talent and willingness to learn, I got great tone from the whole kit working as one. What I mean by this is that when a drummer hits a snare the kit resonates all together. The toms resonate when they are not being played. The whole kit sort of rumbles along as an engine. Many engineers do this horrible thing called spot muting, where they mute parts of the kit when they are not being played. They do this out of inexperience and/or the kit is tuned improperly or the drummer is banging way too hard. I did NOT do this on this album. The kit is wide open with all mics firing all the time. This enables you to hear the insects within a kit (as Francis would say). You can hear the quiet stuff juxtaposed with the loud stuff because the drums are being "played on" not "banged on" by Paul. Kudos to Paul and Francis and the late John Bonham for showing me what the word "heavy" really means in recording drums. Listen to Paul playing on Dunnery's album, There's a Whole new World out There.

FYI: Paul used two kits on this album. A Pearl 5 piece and a Ludwig 5 piece (not played at the same time ;-)

I generally mic'ed them up and routed them as follows:

  • Bass drum - 2 mics - SM7 or D112 and a home made sub mic Neotec series IIIc

  • Snare - 2 mics - SM57 Top and KM 184 on the bottom Top-Neotec series IIIc - DBX 165 Comp, Bottom Neotec series IIIc

  • Hi Hat - KM 184 Neotec series IIIc

  • Tom 1 2 3 - Sennheiser 421s or AKG D3700 and D112 Neotec series IIIc

  • Overheads left and right - AKG C414 or Blue Bluebirds Neotec series IIIc - DBX 162 Comp

  • Room - sometimes in stereo or mono - Earthworks TC30K series 2x or Blue Woodpecker mono. Great River for stereo or Neotec series IIIc into DBX 160 Comp mono

Pretty simple. No bells and whistles. If you want to hear something cool listen to the drums at 4:38 to about 5:22 on When Sunday Spills. That's just the mono room mic (Blue Woodpecker bi directional Ribbon mic) on the ludwig kit. Paul over-dubed a little splash cymbal on the right to give it some movement but the kit is one bi-directional mic. it sounds amazing. That's what the kit sounded like when i stood in front of it!

Apologies for the long email. I'm a nerd and love talking shop with people. I'm still learning and certainly have a long way to go but i'm enjoying the ride and appreciate your comments about our music.



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