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Author Topic: Crappy Drums  (Read 9214 times)

Ryan Leigh Patterson

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Crappy Drums
« on: December 10, 2005, 01:01:10 am »

I know that everyone has been in this situation more often than we'd like.  I'm talking about trying to coax a decent sound from a crappy drum kit...and a drummer who refuses to believe his kit might be the problem, until it's too late.

I've found that letting the drummer set up his kit and track a few takes usually solves the problem, but occasionally I'll encounter a drummer with god awfull, road beaten, beer stained kit with 10 year old heads, cracked cymbals and a kick pedal that sounds like rusted swingset.  An the drummer will proudly proclaim, "this is my sound!!"  

Now  I understand the importance of musical expresion and individual taste, but I also realize that some musicians haven't had the opportunity to play on decent instruments that have been maintained...

What is the best way to get these drummers to give up their tired old kit, without sounding like a dick and pissing off the drummer (usually the rest of the band is fairly supportive of drum substitution)
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Ryan Patterson
Toronto, Ontario
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Daniel Farris

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2005, 06:08:41 am »

Ryan Leigh Patterson wrote on Sat, 10 December 2005 06:01

What is the best way to get these drummers to give up their tired old kit, without sounding like a dick and pissing off the drummer


I think a lot of inexperienced drummers are under the mistaken impression that a good drum sound is entirely in the hands of the engineer and the technology. If you let them know that there's no amount of technological wizardry that can magically transform a shitty sounding drum kit into a good drum sound on tape, they ought to be more cooperative.

If they still resist, start small. Let them do a take with their kit. Then ask them to do another take, only with a different snare. Tell them it's on you if they hate it. Then compare the two takes.

If this doesn't do it, just let them use their shitty kit. Fuck it. It's their record, and this is still a service industry.

I used to worry a lot about what allowing clients to use shitty sounding instruments (and ending up with a shitty sounding record) might do to my reputation. I don't worry so much about that anymore. I figure my job is to record what they put in front of me to the best of my ability. After all, usually I'm not getting paid to produce.

Also, a good third of my business comes from musicians who have recorded at another studio in town and become frustrated with the guy's endless and relentless attempts to: 1.) make them play his instruments, 2.) replace their drums with samples, 3.) make them shorten the second verse, 4.) record vocals one line at a time from the start, etc etc. And he won't back down. He simply won't roll tape until they agree to do it his way.

This guy is the worst example of cookie cutter production I've ever seen. He literally makes every single client sound like the exact same band. He found ONE sound that (almost) works and, rather than go out in search of a new one for each client, he just forces them to conform to that one sound. Invariably, a large number of them end up finishing (or re-recording) their projects with me.

So, I'm all in favor of gently suggesting things to improve a player's sound. But I give up pretty easily when I encounter resistence.

I guess it's the "documentarian" approach versus the "artiste" approach. I very much enjoy being the artiste, but not enough to fight about it, so I usually end up being the documentarian.

Q: What will my drums sound like once they're recorded?
A: If I do a good job, exactly like they do now.

DF
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rnicklaus

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2005, 01:28:23 pm »

Daniel makes some great points.

To take this to the extreme, can anyone imagine if, when The Police were doing their first album, the engineer and producer pushed an Eagles or Fleetwood Mac drum sound on them?

Ouch!
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rankus

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2005, 02:34:57 pm »



This is always my first topic of discussion with a potential client:  "your record will sound like the gear that you bring"... "Think of a recording session similar to a photo session... if you wear tattered clothes..etc..)"

I do this, so that when it comes time to mix and they bring in a CD of their favorite million dollar act, and ask to "sound like this", that I have some amunition... I can remind them of "the first conversation we had"... Shocked  Very Happy
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Ryan Massey

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2005, 02:37:31 pm »

If you are working in digital, you could always just look at the guy with a worried expression and say "I would just hate to have to sound repalce all of the sounds later because they're so bad.  It would be like you weren't even playing on this record..." Laughing  
Pretty mean, but I find drummers are usually pretty wary of replacement and the dreaded grid.  Cheers,
Ryan
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Tidewater

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2005, 02:38:47 pm »

Always! lol

Randy, the Police might still be recording, if not for piccolo, and chorus.


M
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jasonward2000

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2005, 03:18:04 pm »

If you have the luxury of time, you should play them some of the 1970 concert that makes up the bulk of the recent Led Zeppelin DVD set. It's shocking how much the drums sound exactly like they do on any Zeppelin record, sans room, (alleged) cymbal ods, etc.... It's the drums and the drummer!!!

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jimmyjazz

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2005, 03:37:16 pm »

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I think this is exactly the type of scenario that allows an engineer to prove his/her mettle.

Look at it as a challenge.  The drummer's gauntlet has been (unwittingly) thrown.

Every moment of a session is crucial.  One builds on another.  One false step, and voila!  you've taken a step backwards.

Go into every session with a checklist of ideas for fixing potential problems.  It's all about the music, and in a rock/pop context, I can think of nobody I want more comfortable than the drummer.  It may assauge your ego to win the battle and bring in, say, a better kick drum (and in certain circumstances, that may be the proper tack), but it may better serve the interests of the record to know when you've gone past "fish" and proceeded directly into "cut bait".  At that point, you might consider the less hifi technique or two.
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electrical

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2005, 02:13:00 pm »

Ryan Leigh Patterson wrote on Sat, 10 December 2005 01:01

I know that everyone has been in this situation more often than we'd like.  I'm talking about trying to coax a decent sound from a crappy drum kit...and a drummer who refuses to believe his kit might be the problem, until it's too late.

While a thrashed drum kit might be "a problem," it is almost never the problem.

Quote:

I've found that letting the drummer set up his kit and track a few takes usually solves the problem, but occasionally I'll encounter a drummer with god awfull, road beaten, beer stained kit with 10 year old heads, cracked cymbals and a kick pedal that sounds like rusted swingset.  An the drummer will proudly proclaim, "this is my sound!!"  

I've encountered this too, and sometimes it is their sound and the sound is awesome. Specifically, I've recorded Andee from A Minor Forest, Michael from Silkworm and what's-his-name from Federation X, and they sounded terriffic, despite their drum kits looking like broken-down pieces of shit.

Do not default to the position that the drums have to be changed just because they look crappy. Let the man play, and listen to see if you've done everything you can to understand the function of these drums in this band. If everyone thinks they sound like shit (including the drummer -- most importantly the drummer) then you can start suggesting things. Usually just changing the heads for new heads makes an enormous difference, and isn't too intrusive.

Quote:

Now  I understand the importance of musical expresion and individual taste, but I also realize that some musicians haven't had the opportunity to play on decent instruments that have been maintained...

This is not necessarily an aspiration of all musicians. I've run across musicians (Terrie from the Ex, for example) whose instruments are like extensions of their bodies, and the scars and changes wrought over time are as important to them as the sound coming out of the speakers. Don't second-guess this sort of attachment. It may mean something you don't understand.

Quote:

What is the best way to get these drummers to give up their tired old kit, without sounding like a dick and pissing off the drummer (usually the rest of the band is fairly supportive of drum substitution)

Give the drummer the option: "Hey, I notice your drums are pretty well-used. I have some drums here you're welcome to try, if you want to." Most drummers are fond of their drums, but most drummers also get a kick out of playing new drum kits. Let the drummer decide.
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Ryan Leigh Patterson

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2005, 02:36:29 pm »

Thanks for all the great insight.

Looks like the drumer keeps his drums this time.... and I'll be spending a little more time in the mixing department.  I totally agree that the thrashed drums can be a part of the bands sound.....I just hate to see a potentially great record compromised.
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Ryan Patterson
Toronto, Ontario
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NelsonL

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2005, 02:56:55 pm »

I seem to remember the drums sounding great on that A Minor Forrest LP with the Kodak slide thing on the cover. Pretty sure Steve did that one.

But it's not just an "indie" thing, can you imagine Levon Helm playing a shiny new DW kit from GC? His drums sound like he's been putting out cigars on the heads for years, and it works beautifully.
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Ryan Leigh Patterson

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2005, 05:35:33 pm »

rattleyour wrote on Sun, 11 December 2005 14:56

I seem to remember the drums sounding great on that A Minor Forrest LP with the Kodak slide thing on the cover. Pretty sure Steve did that one.

But it's not just an "indie" thing, can you imagine Levon Helm playing a shiny new DW kit from GC? His drums sound like he's been putting out cigars on the heads for
years, and it works beautifully.


I totally agree...
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Ryan Patterson
Toronto, Ontario
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jimmyjazz

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2005, 09:12:20 pm »

I'm certainly no drummer, but I've started to wonder if the nastiness I hear in certain drum tracks isn't anything other than the tendency for modern drummers to beat the living daylights out of their drum kits.  I mean, someone mentioned Levon Helm, and when I think of The Band, the LAST thing I think of is SWAACKKKKKKKKKKKKK.  I think of taste, of tone, of dynamics.  All over.

Just thinkin' out loud . . .
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Ryan Leigh Patterson

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2005, 09:25:29 pm »

Yeah, thats something else....

I think that everyone thinks they need to smash like Bonzo to get tone, instead all I hear is the Thwack and no tone..
Playing loud is easy, playing loud and sound good is not
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Ryan Patterson
Toronto, Ontario
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sui-city

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Re: Crappy Drums
« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2005, 05:42:18 am »

For me drums are one of the first places where I can hear a lack of conviction coming from the musician. That and voice is the other obvious one.

An example of real conviction is, of course, on an Steve Albini recorded album. PJ's "Rid of Me".

Rob Ellis can make a single tom hit sound like a fill on that album. Dead simple stuff, gorgeous space, great arrangements and every hit of the skins sounds like he fucking means it.

And Steve captured it to perfection.

I'll stop gushing like a teenage virgin now (unless PJ commands me to.)
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