Updated: Oct 5
How To Prepare Your Drums and Ensure You're Ready For Whatever Comes Your Way In The Studio
Hey folks, Jack here! With my first blog for Island Studios, I’ll be talking you through a basic studio checklist for drummers...whether you’re a novice or a professional who forgot their drum key last time (wink wink).
The list below covers the gear you should have, and the spare parts that could help you get through a problematic scenario. No matter what genre you play or what studio setting you’re in, these tips will make sure you’ve got what you need for a smooth session.
Are your drum heads (or skins) up to scratch? If it’s been more than a year since you last changed them, they are going to be pitted. Pitted heads are very difficult to tune, and often create ‘flabby’ or buzzy sounds when recording. Likewise, if your coated heads are worn, you should consider buying new ones.
Clear or Coated Skins?
Coated skins naturally give a warmer tone, with a little less attack. On the other hand, if you want a punchy, brighter sound, clear skins are what you need.
Cleaning Your Drum Kit
Giving your drums a clean before putting on new heads is always a great idea. Always wipe down the bearing edge to ensure the drum skin gets clean contact to the drum, and get rid of any dust inside and outside the drums. The Music Nomad Drum Detailer is a good companion for drum cleaning - check it out at your local music store.
Check the Specs
If you’re not bringing your own drum kit to the session, make sure you ask about the kit you’ll be playing on to make sure it will suffice. It seems obvious but it’s easy to be complacent - and there’s nothing worse than being held back from your best performance because the gear isn’t the right fit.
Are your drums tuned to suit the project you’re recording? If you’re in a jazz trio, you probably don’t want your drums tuned super low and thuddy - and by the same token, if you want a beefy arena rock sound, a kit tuned highly will be all wrong. If you need help with this, products like the TuneBot drum tuner are very useful - or you could go the traditional route and bring along a drum technician for the session!
Is Your Hardware Stable?
Check your hardware before you head into the studio so you can fix any problems, and lube up your cymbal stand threads if you need to. You don’t want your rack tom falling onto your bass drum as you record a perfect take, or your cymbal flying off and decapitating the poor sound engineer.
Also - please, please, please oil your bass drum pedal so it does not squeak! John Bonham is the only drummer I’ll allow to get away with this…
I always grab a Gibraltar ‘Drummers Tech Kit’ before a session, for a ‘just in case’ insurance policy. You never know when that extra cymbal felt, tension rod or bass drum patch will come in handy!
It’s a good idea to get some new sticks for a session. Recording with old, frayed drumsticks can often mean unnecessary stress through your hands, and make it harder to get a pleasant, full sound out of your drums.
Also, consider whether you need alternate sound sources like brushes or rods. If so, make sure you have these ready to go, so you can bust out that ballad in no time - and better yet, put them all in a handy stick bag!
Are your cymbals up to scratch? If they’re cracked, or of lower quality, it may be worth hiring out some cymbals or borrowing them from a friend to get the best out of your drum sound before it hits the recording gear. Same goes if what you’ve got isn’t the best for the genre - for example, using heavy rock cymbals for a jazz recording won’t be ideal. In terms of brands - Zildjian, Paiste, and Sabian are all trustworthy and found everywhere, but there are countless other brands that make great cymbals at a range of price points.
If you can, investing in your own in-ear monitoring or noise isolation headphones for the studio will help you ensure you’re hearing everything you need in the most comfortable way possible. I really like the Vic Firth Isolation Headphones and KZ Audio ZS10 Pro In-Ear Monitors.
Moon gel, tone rings, or good old-fashioned gaffer tape can be a lifesaver when you have a good sound but need to shorten the resonance. One of my favourites is the Big Fat Snare Drum, which makes your regular snare drum sound like a big, beefy and fat snare sound. A pillow or rug for the bass drum is also important if you need a punchy kick sound. Click here to check out some different options for sound dampening at Derringers Music. If these are a bit pricey though, here is a hidden gem that works just as well as moon gel.
Some drummers find lug locks to be a useful tool for studio use. They go on the tension rod of a drum to stop it from loosening as you’re playing and help your drums hold tuning for as long as possible. Lug locks are particularly useful on the snare drum since that usually takes the biggest beating out of everything in the drum kit.
Remember, the one thing that ties all these checklist items together is the aim of being as comfortable as possible in the studio. You are expressing your artistic vision, and wanting to get that perfect take - which can’t happen if you’re feeling uncomfortable about your gear or your playing in the studio setting. So think about your preparation, have fun, and rock on!