How do I get a great sounding drum in the studio and live? I’ve been fortunate to have been thrown into the fire when I first began playing drums. I skipped a lot of the intro and BS stuff that a drummer gets into when starting out but that’s okay it caught up to me later on. I began playing out live less than a month after moving back to Seattle in ’06. I was recording within a few months and well on my way steadily playing out. It was a steep learning curve for me who had only played guitar from the age of 13 and who had switched over to drums at the ripe old age of 23 with no live playing experience in either instrument.
Through all the learning the last 11 years the one thing I still find most important is quality tuned drums. You can be the simplest player or the most complicated fill driven player in the world but both sound so terrible if you don’t tune the drums. I’ve heard it from every live sound guy about how much they appreciated the fact that I’ve showed up with tuned drums and that they didn’t have to slam a bunch of EQ to make them sound somewhat decent. It drives me mad going to a local show here in Seattle, California, and around the country and hearing a poop sounding drum kit. It possibly has to do with being in the studio a lot lately. Everything is under a microscope. You can hear when you’re rushing and dragging the click. Every sound is magnified onto the big screen in a visual waveform for all to see and hear. Nowhere to hide your mistakes. You can especially hear pesky overtones that can wreck a song when you’ve tuned batter and resonate heads off by a slight bit. This in my opinion can limit the quality of your recording and damage a project so why not tune? And not just by ear but to an actual note, I mean a note frequency provided by a little tiny tuner? More of that in a bit. Every other instrument has the opportunity to tune to a note so why not the drums?
About November/December of last year during one of Direct Divide’s many roundtable discussions about recording and production, live playing, and cool gear, the tuning of the drums was brought up and so was the Tune-Bot. I had seen a quick video before that nights discussion and was both fascinated and intimidated by the Tune-bot. Their company, Overtone Labs poses a good question, “ If every other instrument can tune to a note, why not the drums too?” I was blown away by this question. Yeah, why not? It was something that Kevin had seen working with session musicians as an Engineer in Las Vegas. The session drummers would come into the studio and always ask before recording even began what what the key of the song was. Fascinating!
Up to just recently I had been tuning to what I wanted my drums to sound like. Mid tones with some attack and sustain, pretty standard. This was achieved by a combination of ear and the aid of one those pressure dials. It proved well live but sometimes not the best in recording situations. In February of this year just before entering the studio to record drums in Oakland, CA for the Own Your Oceans EP, we took it upon ourselves to figure out the correct frequencies and notes for the key of each song. It was rather new and time consuming dialing in the drums themselves but it proved to be a valuable idea once I was able to get them going. It was amazing to have a kit sounding sonically on par with all the other instruments. It also helped with mic placements with knowing the wavelength being produced by each drum and the distance some mics had to be placed from the kit itself in order to get a great sound. Here’s an Example for you engineering and non-engineering folk: Hypothetically the Bass drum is tuned to a G2 Note, that note has a frequency in Hertz (Hz) of 98.00Hz, and the Wavelength in (cm) is 2100cm. It gives an idea to the engineer where to place the mic to achieve the desired sound the band and the drummer is trying to achieve to not get phasing issues and to not have certain frequencies conflicting other instruments, etc.. Sure, it gets mathy quick but makes the engineers life so much easier and they’ll love you. I hope this gives an idea to some of you about how the recording process works. It’s complicated and not just for the drums, but for everything and we take it very serious.
So, when did the art form of tuning drums disappear or did it? Why don’t more articles on-line or in print discuss this in-depth for musicians? It’s no secret or anything but it’s something I just don’t hear much about. Did I miss something early on? I’m grateful for being in a band of nerds and artist who love gear and learning as much as I do.
I’ve been using the Tune-Bot and it is such a powerful invaluable little tuner. It gives you the opportunity to tune each drum to a specific note. Truly amazing! It’s a must have for any new or professional drummer playing live or recording. With features like being able to save your settings individually for Snare, Toms and Bass drums for the same sound all the time, you can’t go wrong. Best part is dialing in each drum head, batter and resonate, to a specific note frequency to achieve and overall complementary fundamental note for each drum every time. Think about it, you can have a drum kit that has toms tuned a third or a fifth apart. That’s impressive! Why would you not get this? Intro kits to professional multi-thousand dollar kits can both achieve the same fundamental notes. I have a mid-level Maple kit I use to practice on while in Washington and for local live shows, and it sounds just as amazing as my expensive Maple studio/touring kit does when tuned! Of course you can continue to tune drums by ear and there is nothing wrong with that. There are those that can’t afford this little tuner and I understand. Heck, if you can’t afford this little tuner, use a tuned piano. Electric piano works too. You’ll still be able to tune each drum to a specific note a third or fifth apart, or wherever you want them to be.
Remember that there is no wrong way to play the drums and this is only how I do it. I don’t have all the answers but there are people and companies out there trying to make it easier for you and me. If you want to find out more information on the Tune-bot or Overtone Labs then head over to their website: www.tune-bot.com If you have any drum related questions for me send me an email at email@example.com