composer of music for film & television

Recording Drums For ‘70s Pop Rock’ Album

Recording Drums For ‘70s Pop Rock’ Album

I’ve just had a wonderful day recording drums with Richard Kimmings. It was one of those golden days where good things seem to come easily and everything effortlessly flows. I think three things were crucial in making today go so well.

  1. We have many years of combined knowledge of this style of drum sound.
  2. We were both fueled by the challenge of trying to replicate the iconic sounds of our producer heroes.
  3. We, for the first time in both our careers, had at our disposal the ‘required’ equipment to achieve this classic (and very stylized) drum sound.

Leica M9P with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

When Is A Demo Not A Demo?

Over the last few months we have been chipping away at the demos for this new Audio Network project, but when does the rough demo recording become good enough to pitch as a new album? Early discussions with the publisher about the musical style and recording approaches are all well and good but a first audio sketch has to be sent to turn the words into something tangible. Sending a simple, quick version could mean the final vision of the sound of the album (however finalized in my mind) may not be clear to the first time listener. Spending a long time fine tuning the production may be time wasted especially when using so much analogue equipment, as simple sonic changes often require complete rerecording.

Richard had already created fairly elaborate demos when composing and recording the first versions of the tracks. When I first heard them I was struck by how ‘finished’ the sound was, but something was very wrong and we both knew it. His Roland V-Drums and Superior Drummer samples for the kit sounds, Trillan for bass, Omnisphere for pads and some really great virtual acoustic guitar and piano samples all combined to create a very polished and controlled mix. What was missing was error.

Leica M9P with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

A Tiny Bit Of Wrong Is A Whole Load Of Right

Some music sounds superb when generated by drum machines, sequencers and repeating loops. This particular style of music we are recording needs something very different, it needs constant tiny fluctuation of timing, timbre and pitch. Like watching the flickering of a flame or listening to the bubbling flow of a stream, the sound of a real drum kit played live is a constantly shifting entity. Every strike and millisecond relationship between kick/snare/hat/tom/cymbal is unrepeatable - even for the best players. The tightest of drummers with the best tone would sound unrecognizable if a single hit on each drum was sampled and their performance 100% quantized.

The Lynne Johns Sound

For this albums drum sound we are trying to combine the production of two of the most famous and greatest producers of the 20th century. One for his simple, beautiful, microphone placement and the other for his massively stylized sound. 

Richard got the first rule of recording sorted early this morning - he spent an hour or so getting the drum kit sounding right. He detuned the snare until the drum lugs were barely biting and went for a ‘ringo’ tuning on the toms. The bass drum was stuffed with a jumper for a really dead thump. 

Leica M9P with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

The Glyn Johns microphone technique was used for the close mics on the kit -

Mono overhead - Telefunken U47

Side mic - Soundelux E47

Kick - Electrovoice RE20

Snare - Earthworks DP30

The two 47s went through a Neve 1073 preamp and the Analogue Tube AT-101 Limiter

The snare went through the UA-6176 all buttons in setting crushed to the point of distortion

Kick - Toft desk preamp 

An ambient mic was placed in the entrance corridor down the stairs and heavily limited giving a stylized, slapback room, Jeff Lynne type sound.

Ambient mic - Brauner VM1s through a Chandler Abbey Road Zener Limiter

Leica M9P with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

Road Signs

Even though this album is only at the demo stage I’m very happy we went the extra mile today to get a really great drum sound. The drums have revealed where this album is going, given sonic and emotional direction and provided a solid foundation for what is to follow. These demos are still half MIDI but they are now alive and starting to show their potential. I’m really very excited to move past this demo stage and get fully stuck in to this project.

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