Thursday, December 29, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Nine: Room / Ambient Mics

In the 1970's recording studios were most often very dead rooms with thick carpet, sometimes on the walls and ceilings, and plenty of fiberglass absorption to go around.  Dead, dead DEAD!  Drums were rarely ever given reverb for processing, and for the most part the drum sound you got from the close mics, with the exception of some gating, was the sound that made it into the final mix.

In the 1980's, of course, digital reverb became viable, and many models proliferated the market (and our eardrums) throughout the decade.  In an effort to add space to those dry, 8-bit and 12-bit samples from a LinnDrum or an Akai S900 sampler engineers lathered on liberal amounts of digital reverb, and it was cool!

And then it wasn't.

In general, truly dry drum sounds are a thing of the past.  While it's common to have drums that don't sound overtly ambient there is almost always some essential spatial information mixed it to put the drums in an appropriate environment for the rest of the mix, even if the ambiance is subtle enough not to pull your attention.  Most often this ambiance is provided not by an reverb algorithm crunching numbers, but by mics, well chosen and placed to pick up the sound of the room while tracking drums.

Room or ambient mics capture the environmental response to a drum kit, not so much the kit itself (you've got close mics for that).  The close mics don't pick up much room sound at all.  If you use omnidirectional mics overhead, and place them high above the kit, then you're likely to capture greater room content, but still it's nothing like a mic or two placed 10 feet away from the kit.

I've seen all kinds of mics used as room mics with excellent results.  Condensers will give tremendous detail to the environment, while ribbons will capture a smooth, yet natural perspective.  I've also had excellent results with a pair of Shure SM57's, spaced 5-10 feet apart, pointed directly at an opposing wall, about a half-inch off the wall.  The Shures had less detail in them than a condenser placed out in the room, but the sound was dark, natural, and ambient.

The microphone/room combination is literally endless -- some rooms are well-designed acoustic spaces with quick, smooth decay and no standing waves.  Put up a couple of gorgeous large-diaphragm condensers and you're good to go.  Other rooms, with their rectangular design and plaster walls, are meant for watching TV, not recording.  Here standing waves abound, as does a rather unpleasant mid-range content.  A microphone with a darker personality is the more appropriate choice for capturing this room, and with a placement position and angle to minimize the standing waves.

Rather than try to recommend what kind of mics and placement to use for your room I think it will be more helpful to give a few pointers and then tell you to trust your own ears.   

Pointer Number One:  Listen, listen, listen!  

It is always a good idea to first listen to an instrument you're about to record before choosing and placing a microphone.  This is especially true when trying to capture the sound of the environment around a drum set.  Even without listening you can have decent success miking an acoustic guitar with a small diaphragm condenser about a foot off the instrument, pointed at the 12th fret.  Perhaps not the best placement for a given instrument and player, but most likely a solidly useable signal.  But when trying to mic room there is no similar basic placement.  Each room is vastly different.  You absolutely must go out there and walk around the room while the drummer plays.  

Squat down low to the ground and then stand up straight.  Walk in front of the kit and behind, close and farther back.  Listen for an area with a good balance of drumkit elements and ambient information with no standing waves.  If you've got only one mic for rooms, place it here.  If you have a pair, space them a few feet apart, centered on this spot.   

Pointer Number Two:  If your room is a 'shoebox' (a rectangular room with parallel walls) try positioning the drums off center toward a corner and facing into the corner diagonally across the room.  This will help minimize standing waves between parallel surfaces.  

Also, try to break up the room acoustically and give it some diffusion by positioning large objects (furniture, shelves, etc.) strategically to break up the more obvious standing waves, giving the room a more natural decay.  You could also hang a curtain at one end of the room, or bring in some 4'x8' sheets of plywood from your local home improvement store to position around the room to further diffuse the reflections.  The more diffuse your room, the more complimentary it will sound when layered with the close mics of the kit. 

Pointer Number Three:  If you find that the room has an annoying midrange 'honkiness' to it (often accentuated by the snare drum), then snag a few cheap bed pillows ($3-$5 at the Mart of Wal), and nail them up in corners of the room (ceiling corners, not floor corners), particularly the corners closest to the drum kit.  Hi frequencies are absorbed by air over distance, and low frequencies tend to go right through most walls (which is why all you hear of the stereo in your neighbor's apartment are the low frequencies), but mid frequencies, while strong enough to not be easily absorbed by air, aren't strong enough to penetrate plaster walls and are reflected instead.  Corners at the top of the room are major culprits in focusing these frequencies from three converging surfaces into offensive, resonant sound.  Just one pillow each in a couple of these corners will dramatically reduce this offensive information and make your room much more pleasant and musical. 

Pointer Number Four:  For sparse mixes where the space around the drums will have greater importance (an acoustic jazz trio, for example) use mics with greater resolution -- condenser mics.  The smaller the diaphragm the lower the mass, the greater the resolution.  Uber tiny diaphragm models from Avenson Audio and Earthworks, with their incredibly fast impulse response, will give you the feeling of 'being there,' while large diaphragm models will have excellent resolution, but a more studio or "hi-fi" character.

Low-mass ribbon designs work well here too, though they tend to be more expensive.  Most ribbon mics use 2.5-micron or thicker ribbon material.  Commonly-available Chinese ribbons can go up to 4 microns, and these are often paired with a cheap output transformer that further blurs the signal.  While these mics can be useful for heavier productions I find their overall murkiness unsatisfying for more articulate duties.  The one ribbon model that I would consider truly hi-resolution is the classic BBC design now sold as the Coles 4038.  Owing in no small part to the ultra low-mass of its 0.6-micron ribbon (which is not only a fraction the thickness of most ribbons, but is also cut to roughly half the length of most others ribbons as well) the 4038 provides a smooth, yet defined and articulate perspective of whatever it's pointed at.  I love them on just about anything.  At a bit over $1k each they aren't cheap, but they're lovely! 

Pointer Number Five:  For denser pop/rock productions, pretty much anything goes in the room mic department.  Condensers, Chinese ribbons, classic Coles, RCA and Beyer ribbons, and dynamic mics of all makes and models.  The mic that works for your room is the mic to use.  

I personally hate the overused "if it sounds good it is good" statement, bus alas, it's true.  Remember, room mics provide additional content to augment the close mics on the kit.  The clarity of each drum in the kit will come from the close mics.  The room mics only provide a sense of space to support the close sound, and the room you're miking will dictate what works and what doesn't.  There's lots of 'room' for you to experiment! 

Pointer Number Six:  If using mics with a directional characteristic, compare the sound of the mics pointed directly at the drums with the sound created by positioning the mics with their null points facing the drums (effectively removing the 'direct' signal from the mic).  If the mics are cardioid, point them at the kit and then point them the other way.  If the mics are figure-8 (like the Coles) then its greatest null will be with the mic positioned 90-degress off axis from the source.  Pick whichever placement sounds better to you (I've had great success with both approaches).  

Pointer Number Seven:  Use the room mics sparingly.  This is obviously a preferential call, but take care with levels to ensure that the room mics play a supporting role in the drum sound rather than fight the direct signals in any way.   

Trust your ears.

Next:  Processing!...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Eight: Toms

When comes to miking toms I really do prefer to keep things simple.  I use one microphone per tom.  I know of folks who like to mic top and bottom, and doing so can definitely help with LF response, particularly on larger drums.  But doing so also requires not only more mics, stands, cables, and preamps, it also dramatically increases the trickiness of getting proper balance between all the pieces of the kit, minimizing leakage, etc.  I really do like to keep it simple.  While I would argue that two mics on the snare and kick are so useful as to be almost necessary, my experience with double miking toms (and my experience mixing tracks that were engineered by someone else using two mics per tom) has taught me that the potential benefits of using two mics on each tom is rarely worth the hassle and expense (time is money!).

So a quick discussion of mics:  I prefer a good cardioid dynamic mic for tom duties.  Floor toms, with their greater LF content (compared to smaller toms) benefit from a dynamic with extended LF response.  Most good quality dynamics will work fine, but the models more commonly used on toms include Sennheiser's MD421 and E604, Shure SM57, Beta 56 and Beta 57, Audio-Technica ATM23HE (for smaller toms) and ATM25 (a personal fav! See pics), Audix D2 and D4, and EV's N/D 408/468.  I also enjoy BeyerDynamic's classic M88 on floor toms (great kick mic too!).

Condenser mics are also used, at times, for toms, but because of their increased sensitivity they are prone to greater leakage issues than a good dynamic, and there's also the chance that damage could occur via an errant drumstick, which most dynamic mics will easily shrug off without a second thought.

So let's start with rack toms (smaller toms):  Begin by placing the mic about an inch or two off the top head with the tip of the mic just over the edge of the rim, pointed toward the center of the head.  This is usually a good starting point for a well tuned drum providing a nice blend of attack and resonance.  With the mic pointed at the center of the drum you'll get more focus on the fundamental with fewer overtones.  If you want more overtones point the mic more toward the edge of the head.

If the sound has too much attack and not enough body, move the mic in closer to the head.  Be careful not to confuse proximity effect (the artificially increased LF content produced by a closely placed cardioid mic) with the actual tone of the drum.  You may desire lots of LF in the sound, but if you get the mic too close you'll likely discover, once the drum is placed in a mix with other instruments, that it comes across as all mud and no articulation.

Here are a couple of pics of an Audio-Technica ATM25 on a 12" rack tom. 

Note the distance from the tip of the mic to the drum head.  Also note that the mic is pointed toward the center of the drum.  With this drum (single ply heads) this mic and placement provided a clear attack with defined, punchy tone that was fast and full.

I often see younger engineers positioning tom mics with the front almost touching the drum head.  Doing so creates a muddy sound that needs to be filtered to fit the overall presentation of the drum set.  Instead, let the drum breath a bit by backing the mic off an inch or two.  The point here is not so much about isolating the drum (though I will be using editing and processing to do just that in an upcoming article), rather, the purpose of this placement is to capture the overall natural character of the drum to provide the tone and definition missing from the overhead perspective of that drum.

If you later decide to make the toms sound dry and in-your face, this approach will give you the ability to do that.  If your placement is too close, however, and you later decide you want to lighten things up and make them more natural, you will likely find that harder to accomplish.

With floor toms (or larger toms) I recommend the same starting approach as I did for smaller toms, that is, the mic a couple of inches off the top head pointed at the center of the head with the tip of the mic directly above the rim.  The only real difference between floor toms and smaller rack toms is that the off-center approach (with the mic pointed more toward the edge) is almost never flattering to a floor tom.

Larger toms resonate more than smaller toms do.  Period.  As a result, even with the mic pointed at the center of the drum you will likely capture all the sustain you will ever need.  Pointing the mic toward the edge will, indeed, give you greater sustain with more overtones, but it will almost certainly be an overly resonant sound that will require editing and/or greater processing to bring under control.

I recommend you just point the mic at the center, and leave it.

You can still move the mic closer if you need more body, or further back if you desire to control it.

Here's an Audio-Technica ATM25 on a 16" floor tom:

This floor tom has plenty of resonance.  Like the heads on the rack tom these were single ply, so there was plenty of sustain and tone to spare.  You can see a strip of duct tape and a spot of moon gel on it to help contain the overtones a bit.  The sound was big and full, with excellent articulation.

When you have the toms miked, have the drummer hit quarter notes going back and forth between (or around) all the toms at a tempo that let's you hear the majority of sustain on each drum.  Listen for inconsistencies between each tom, that is, one may feel very short and punchy, with little or no 'bend' in the pitch, while others might have much longer decay and a strong bend to its pitch.  The  pitch bend issue can be addressed with tuning, but tweak mic placement as needed to get a fairly consistent attack-to-tone ratio from drum to drum.  This makes all the toms similar in character, so that they sound like they belong together on the set.  There can be musical reasons to not have the toms share a similar tonality, of course, but in general matching their tone through thoughtful mic selection and placement makes the drum sound more cohesive.

Once you're pleased with the sound, audition the toms again while bringing up the overheads to see if the image captured by the overheads compliments your close miked tom sound.  If all is well, the overhead perspective will blend with the focus and definition of the close mics to create a natural soundscape that makes the perspective of the toms dimensional and complete.  

That's about all there is to it with toms.  Pretty straight forward stuff, but again, trust your ears.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Seven: Overheads

While the kick and snare microphones carry the bulk of the responsibility in pop music mixes, the overall image and presence of the drum kit is defined by the overhead microphones. Not only do the overhead mics pick up the cymbals, they also pick up different perspectives of the snare and toms – even the kick.  These mics, however, are many times the distance from each drum than that drum's own mic, so any potential phase issues are eliminated, that is, the distant sound of the drums as captured by the overhead mics is so radically different in content than the sound picked up by the close mics that when combined the two compliment rather than fight one another.  

Overheads often help to define the sense of space around the kit as well, particularly if the drums are being tracked in an ambient room.

In a very real sense the sound of the kit picked up by the overheads is the glue that make all the various elements of the kit belong together in the mix.  It is for this reason that we don't try to isolate the cymbals from the kit (which I strongly discouraged in Part Three). 

Overwhelmingly, condenser mics are chosen for overheads. Condensers reproduce high frequencies and intimate detail better than other types of mics. Both small and large diaphragm condensers are commonly used.  Small diaphragm models have a faster impulse response that sounds truer to life, while large diaphragms, with their greater mass, tend to produce a sound that is smoother and bigger.

Let's talk briefly about polar patterns.  By far the most common pattern used for miking drums is cardioid.  The directionality of the cardioid pattern makes it a good choice for better isolation when using so many mics in such a small area.  When used for overheads cardioid mics give the engineer the ability to create a dramatic stereo image of the drumkit.

The omnidirectional pattern, by contrast, doesn't discriminate against sound coming from any particular direction, but rather, picks up all sound, regardless of where it's coming from. A pair of omnis, a couple of feet off the cymbals and spaced a few feet apart can yield an incredibly natural stereo image (which I personally enjoy), but this arrangement will also pick up more of the room the drums are in than a cardioid pair will. Because they don't reject sound from any particular direction, omnis hear much more of the environment around the drums, so while they can produce wonderful results, they also require a bit more effort to capture the balance you want.

Let's start with cardioids. For a good balance place the mics a couple of feet above the cymbals, one on each side of the kit, separated 4-5 feet, pointing essentially straight down. The spacing of this approach, coupled with the directional characteristics of the mics creates a sufficiently wide, yet natural image of the overall kit.

To ensure a solid snare drum image take care to position the diaphragms of both mics the same distance from the center of the snare drum head. The snare is arguably the most critical drum on the set, and is clearly captured by the overheads. With the overhead mics equidistant from the snare, the snare sound will arrive at each mic simultaneously which will avoid the head-spinning phasiness that can easily occur when the mics are unequally placed. Because the snare drum is to the side of the kick drum spacing the overheads equidistant from its center usually means one of the mics will be placed higher off the ground than another (assuming you keep the mics directly over the cymbals). Don't let this concern you.

For greater stereo separation angle the mics away from each other toward the outer edge of the kit. For less separation bring the mics physically closer together, remembering to keep their spacing equidistant from the center of the snare drum.

Another common approach for overhead placement, which provides a more natural, subtle stereo image is to center a pair of cardioid condensers over the kit, with their capsules almost touching, pointed 45-55 degrees off axis (for a total angle of about 90-110 degrees) toward the edges of the kit. Because the mics are so close together the sound of everything on the kit practically hits each mic at the same time, eliminating phasing for just about every part of the kit, and the directionality of the mics provides the separation. Off-axis coloration from each mic blends the middle information smoothly, creating a more natural perspective.

If you want more sound from the room you can switch to omnidirectional mics, or you can raise cardioid mics higher into the air, providing more space for room reflections in the sound.

Hi-hats will often get their own mic, usually a cardioid condenser, placed about a foot off the top of the pair. Point the mic toward the center of the top cymbal for a more focused sound, and toward the edge for a more aggressive character. Place the mic in such a way as to point away from the kit, while pointing at the hi-hats. This will help isolate the hats from the rest of the kit.

On occasion the ride cymbal will also gets its own mic, also a cardioid condenser, placed similarly as the hi-hat mic, or, occasionally, underneath the ride. The 3-to-1 rule applies here, that is, the overhead mics should be at least 3 times as far from the ride as the ride mic to avoid phasing when the ride is played. Take care not to place it too close to the ride. Most rides are large and heavy and create a great deal of hummmmm..... so stay far enough away to keep it sounding like a proper ride cymbal.

By miking hi-hats and rides separately it gives the mix engineer more control over the definition of these time-keeping elements in the groove.

Next the toms, and then on to processing.....

Thanks for reading.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Six: The Snare Drum

There are so many variables in the recorded sound of a snare drum – so many woods and metals and synthetic materials shells are made from, types of strainer and snare assemblies, diameter and depth, types of rims, heads, tuning, muffling, and then selection of microphone, placement, etc...  Nevertheless, effectively miking a snare drum can can be done with a consistent, and rather simple approach.

Regarding snare drum selection and preparation, here are the bullet points:

  • wood shells are darker and drier sounding than metal shells
  • metal shells provide greater overtones or 'ring' and are brighter than wood shells
  • smaller diameters yield a higher pitch and similarly tensioned larger diameters
  • deeper drums have more body or tone than shallow drums
  • the more strands of snares on the drum (i.e. 42-strand vs. 20 strand), the greater the 'snare' content of the sound
  • tuning the top head of a snare drum below its midrange yields a very deep tone (which can be emphasized by bringing the mics in closer)
  • tuning above the midrange brightens the tone and shortens the decay, with higher tensions beginning to choke the response from the drum.

If you need more info on tuning, please refer back to my tuning entry for some essential guidance and a few tips.

Now let's briefly cover microphone selection. THE most relied upon microphone for snare drums these days (and for the last couple of decades now) is Shure's SM57 dynamic. This mic, used in every studio and live venue across the planet, has a frequency curve featuring a rising response through the midrange peaking in the 'attack' range at around 6kHz and rolling off above 10kHz. Also, the LF response rolls off below 200Hz and is several dB down at 100Hz, making it an excellent choice for the midrange nature and articulation of a snare drum.

There are other mics on the market that work well for snare drum. I have had fantastic results with the Audio-Technica ATM23HE, Audix D2 and i5, Sennheiser MD421, BeyerDynamic M201, and others. But for the sake of this article, I am going to suggest you stick with the SM57. Chances are you will get superb results with 57's, and if you don't, then something else is almost certainly wrong. Using a 57 will remove the mic from the list of factors when troubleshooting a poor sound.

Snare drums are typically miked with two mics: one on top to capture the overall tone and body, and one underneath to capture the response of the snares. The SM57 is a great choice for both positions.

So... the drum sounds great, and you got a couple of SM57's. Let's begin.

Critical question: What is it that we, as engineers, are ultimately trying to capture? The sound or the performance? 

Answer: the performance (with the best possible sound).

Next question: Should we hinder the performers in the quest for the perfect sound? 

Obvious answer: absolutely not.

I'll just say ithindering the very thing you've been hired to capture well is just dumb.  You've not been hired to make it challenging for performers to perform.  You've been hired to capture their performance.  Buckle up, dear readers;  here comes another rant.

I am convinced that as audio engineers it is our responsibility to capture the greatest possible performance with the greatest possible soundin that order.  To this end we must take great care to make players comfortable, so they can play their best.  Sometimes drummers arrange their kits in a way that makes placement of microphones tricky. If an engineer's default approach is to tell a drummer to raise his hi-hat to get it away from the snare, or to move a tom or raise his cymbals, etc, then they're essentially asking him to be uncomfortable when playing for the sake of sound (“... but by all means, don't play like you're uncomfortable..”). 

If this describes you, you need to wise up, or you should be fired.
Nobody has ever hired you for the purpose of making it harder for players to perform, and when they figure out that's what you're doing you likely won't get a second gig.  The performance you've been hired to capture is key – it's number one. If your approach to capturing it actually weakens the performance itself by forcing performers into a state of discomfort, then how is your effort doing anything other than damaging that which is most important? 

Wise up!  Do you seriously contend that the small improvement in sound you may achieve by making a player uncomfortable on his instrument outweighs the negative effect to the performance? 

Or put another way, "do you want to be hired again?" 

Performance comes first. Your sounds come second. Period.

Become a beloved engineer by ensuring the performers are comfortable with their instruments, and what they're hearing. If they aren't, they'll focus their energy on trying to overcome the obstacles thrown in their way rather than just playing, which is what they're really supposed to do.

So... back to miking a snare drum – starting with the top mic, position it with its tip about one inch inside the edge of the top rim, about two inches off the drum, pointed at the center of the head. This is a good place to start as it generally produces a useful balance between attack and tone.

Audition the sound with this placement and decide what changes are needed.

If the sound is to long/ringy, add a bit of moon gel or drum gum (or a loop of duct tape) to dampen the ring and shorten the decay of the drum. If the drum is dead, it probably has too much muffling and needs to lose some to liven the sound up, or perhaps the head is too slack and needs to be brought up a bit.

If you want a bit more body in the sound, then either move the mic a little closer to the drum, or point the mic somewhere between the middle of the head and the rim nearest the mic. As the mic gets closer, the proximity effect will exaggerate the low mids a bit more. Use this effect sparingly, as in most mixes the higher frequency information of the snare can get lost in the blend of other instruments, leaving it darker sounding than you thought when first tracking it.

As you point the mic more toward the edge you will get more harmonic in the sound, and the decay may appear to lengthen.

Leakage from the hi-hat is always a concern when miking the snare drum. Because the hi-hat and snare are usually close together, it isn't practical to expect to get complete isolation, but careful placement can certainly minimize the leakage to manageable levels. Since the SM57 (or most any mic you'd choose for miking a snare) has a cardioid pattern, point it, as much as possible, away from the hi-hat. Generally the top mic will be between the hi-hat and the first rack tom mounted directly on/above the kick drum. If the drummer's hi-hat is particularly high, you might have success placing the mic below the hi-hat, pointed at the snare toward the floor toms. This position usually isn't possible, but can be helpful if there's room.

Remember to work with the drummer on placement. It's fine to ask it he would be comfortable moving something – many times it'll be no big deal. But don't demand he comply. If you need to lower the angle of the top mic to keep it out of his way, then do it. Use your ears and find the best possible sound with just mic placement while keeping the drummer comfortable.

If the placement leaves something to be desired in the sound, see if you can tweak the drum itself to compensate. For example, if you find that to keep the drummer comfortable you have the mic farther away than normal, you may be lacking a little body. See if you can drop the tuning a tad to compensate, or switch to either a deeper drum or a drum with a thicker shell, and, therefore, a stronger fundamental tone.

Or if you're forced to place the mic really close, see if you can switch to a brighter sounding snare drum to compensate for the increased proximity effect.

With regard to the bottom mic, placement is usually easy as it is out of the drummer's way.  With the bottom mic you're trying to capture the articulation of the snares. Start by placing the mic near the center of the drum, 2 to 4 inches off the bottom, pointed directly at the snares. When you listen to this mic it will sound very snarey and flat, with very little tone. The snare response should be clear and defined, not smeared. If the snares have a strong metallic character, try backing the mic off a bit more until you have a clear, almost delicate 'snap' from the snares with a minimum of rattle.

Now audition both mics together and blend the amounts of each to create the complete snare sound. If you hear odd interaction between the mics, alternate muting each one to see which mic has the sound you're hearing and tweak the placement of that mic in an effort to eliminate or minimize it the problems you're hearing.

When miking a drum from both the top and bottom the sound is literally going away from one mic while simultaneously moving toward the other mic. For this reason you will experience significant signal cancellation (particularly at lower frequencies) when the two signals of these out-of-phase mics combine. To solve this, reverse the polarity on one of the mics (often the lower mic). Doing so will put both mics 'in phase' together, preserving all the tone and articulation from both mics.

Even when reversing polarity of one of the mics, it can also be useful to further tweak the distance of the bottom mic to bring the pair more completely into complimentary phase. Simply flipping one mic 180 degrees out of phase doesn't ensure the best result. The layout of a drum kit often limits the amount of room you have to make adjustments to the placement of the top mic, so it is simpler to adjust the bottom mic, where you have more room.

As always, use your ears and take your time. A little time spent at this stage will reduce the amount of processing needed later (which we will get to in future posts) and will absolutely make your final product better.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Five: The Kick Drum

Kick drums (bass drums) provide the low frequency, rhythmic foundation in pop music.  We want to capture this well as it is this LF content that provides the exciting 'thump' in the music that we feel in our chests.

Select a dynamic mic that has extended LF response (yes, occasionally you will find an engineer who uses a condenser mic on kick, but this is tremendously rare). Some common choices for kick mics include the AKG D112, Shure Beta 52, BeyerDynamic M88, Audio-Technica ATM25, Sennheiser MD421, and the Audix D4 or D6.

The D6 is an example of what I would call a 'tuned' kick drum mic, that is, its frequency response is not meant to approach linear, but rather has a purposefully manipulated curve designed to produce a pre-equalized, modern kick drum sound. Other tuned kick mic models include Sennheiser's E602 and Electro-Voice's N/D868. These tuned mics can be very cool, and helpful for getting sounds quickly, but be aware that the more tailored a mic's frequency response is, the less flexible it is as well (the more likely it will sound great on one drum, not so much on another). So if you choose a mic with a tailored frequency curve, make sure you really like what it does on your drum, or you may be swimming upstream later trying to undo its impact on the sound.

Kick drums sound quite different from one another depending on variables such as dimensions, shell material and thickness, bearing edges, types of heads used, tuning, and muffling, so unless you're tracking the same drum over and over, I recommend you select a mic with a little less personality, but rather one that yields a solid, complete tone and allows the engineer some freedom to tailor it as needed through the use of placement, EQ and dynamics processing. More often than not, for the kick I use an AKG D112 – it is a proven, well known performer that works well on a variety of kick drums, though there are many other mic options that also work quite well.

For pop/rock music kick mics are generally placed inside the drum. Access to the drum's interior is usually accomplished via a hole cut into the front head, allowing the boom arm of a mic stand to reach into the drum. You can also gain access to the interior of the drum by removing the front head altogether, but doing so will dramatically reduce the drum's ability to resonate compared to having a front head (even a head with a hole in it), and modern drum sounds often benefit from the additional resonance from having a front head.

Begin by placing the mic inside the drum about halfway between front and back heads, off center, pointed at the beater to capture the impact. When placing the mic I'm looking for a good balance of attack (from the beater) and tone (from the shell) – this placement is a usually a decent place to start. In this position it's close enough to the batter head to get some good definition, but the off center placement means that when the mic is pointed at the area of beater impact it is also pointed, somewhat, toward the shell as well, which increases the tonal component of the sound.

Listen critically to the sound with this initial mic placement, and decide what you'd like to change about it. No, don't reach for an EQ to try to make the sound better;  make it the best it can beget out there and move that mic around or tweak the drum to capture the sound you want.

The main components of the overall sound you're listening for are attack, tone (or body) and resonance.

Adjusting attack:

Placing the mic closer to the batter head increases the amount of attack in the sound. Pulling the mic back will reduce the attack.

Also, with directional mics high frequency sensitivity is greatest when the mic is pointed directly at the source. This HF response then rolls off as the sound becomes more off-axis. Therefore, if you like the amount of attack, but would like to lower the frequency of the attack, keep the mic a similar distance from the batter head, but turn it a little, so it's not pointed as much at the beater. Conversely, if you want the attack to consist of higher frequency content, point the mic directly at the beater.

If you find yourself wanting greater attack than mic placement alone can provide you may want to try fitting the batter head with a beater impact pad.  These vinyl/plastic pads are self-adhesive patches that you place at the point where the beater makes contact with the batter head.  These pads enhance attack (and also increase the durability of the head).  If you don't want to buy one of these pads, you can essentially make one by cutting a 3"x3" piece of old drum head and duct taping it in the same spot.  This will give more 'snap' to the attack.  

Alternatively, you can change the beater to a harder type.  For instance, if the bass drum beater is made of felt, switch to one made of wood or hard plastic.  The harder material will create a stronger attack.

"Why not just use EQ?" you may be wondering.  Because even the best EQ will still affect everything the bass drum mic picks up, including the bleed from the bottom of the snare drum that is just on the other side of that batter head.  By altering the drum and/or beater, you affect the captured attack of the sound without affecting any of the leakage that may find its way into your kick drum microphone.  The result will be much more managable when mixing with less need for fiddling to get things to behave.  It requires a touch more discipline when tracking, but eliminates headaches later on and provides the best results in the final product.

Adjusting tone:

To increase the drum's tone simply back the mic away from the batter head, closer to the front head. With this greater distance more of the drum's depth will be captured, creating a fuller, deeper tone. To further emphasize the tonal component, turn the mic away from the beater, and more toward the shell instead. This rounds off the attack content and further features the shell's contribution to the sound.

Sometimes the tuning of the drum may seem right, but it's tone is too bright and can actually approach an almost basketball-like 'ping' in the midrange. This happens when the interior shell of an unmuffled bass drum is hard enough that the sound actually bounces around inside the drum rather than being evenly diffused or absorbed. This is particularly true of acrylic and fiberglass drums, as well as those from a couple of manufacturers who like to seal the interior of their wood drums with a thick coat of hard polyurethane. To solve this annoying resonance place a dish towel, washcloth, hand towel, or similar sized soft cloth along the inside bottom of the shell, not touching either head. Since it doesn't touch the heads it doesn't dampen the resonance of the drum, yet the soft texture of the towel gives the soundwaves a place to go. This works surprisingly well.

For greater absorption use either a thicker towel or a larger one folder into a smaller footprint (still not touching the heads).

If you want to further increase the fundamental low-frequency content of the tone there is an old trick that can help – you must dampen the shell's resonance. To understand why this is so I'll make a slight detour, but one that I promise you will find useful, not only for understanding kick drums, but ALL drums.

For the past 25 years or so it seems that drum manufacturers have been striving to create drums that resonate well. Sounds like a great thing.... who doesn't love resonance? They make thinner shells that resonate easier and design mounting hardware that allows the drum to resonate fully, all in an attempt to create more 'tone.' The funny thing is that this 'tone' everyone is striving for is actually comprised of less fundamental tone, and more overtones or harmonics.

When someone strikes a drumhead the sound goes down the inside column of the drum shell and gets the bottom head moving too. The tuning of these heads, along with the dimensions of the drum, determines the drum's fundamental pitch. When the vibration of the heads is unhindered, the fundamental pitch is strong. But thin shells with mounting hardware designed to let them resonate fully respond easily to the vibration of the heads by doing a little vibrating of their own. The shell's involvement absorbs some of the heads' vibrations which actually dampens the fundamental. What, then, is the product? More harmonic content. This dampened fundamental/increased harmonic results in a brighter overall tone that is common to modern drums. This is why thinner shelled drums have a brighter tone.

Conversely, a thick shell isn't as easily set in motion by the vibration of drum heads, so the fundamental pitch is stronger. This is why thick drums are louder and darker with more fundamental pitch than their thinner-shelled cousins. This is true of other acoustic instruments as well.

For example, Martin's D-35 acoustic guitar is known for its darker tone, compared to, say, their D-28. Both are dreadnoughts of the same size and materials with same level of craftsmanship, but the D-35 has a three-piece back rather than the two-piece back of the D-28. Three pieces of wood, along with the greater amount of glue needed to combine them, create a guitar back that is slower to respond to vibration than a two piece design that uses less glue. Since it can't vibrate so easily, it doesn't hamper the fundamental content as much, and the guitar's tone becomes darker and louder.

Make sense?

So back to kick drums. Since hindering the drum shell's ability to resonate increases the fundamental pitch, then bass drums that have a couple of toms mounted to its top will have a stronger fundamental than that same drum with no toms mounted to it (since the weight of the toms will hamper the shell's ability to resonate freely). 

Some people have 'virgin' kick drum shells that are drilled for nothing other than lugs and spurs. Such free-standing drums, particularly those with thinner shells, allow maximum vibration which dampens the fundamental yielding a more harmonic tone. So... to increase the fundamental pitch you must dampen the shell's tendency to resonate. To do this place a a weighted object(s) inside the drum, resting on the bottom of the shell. I have a few pieces of heavy 4” iron pipe that I place on a towel inside kick drums when I want a stronger fundamental pitch. I know of folks who use a canvas bag with around 25 lbs. of bb's in it. Any weight you add to the inside of the shell will dampen it, bringing out the fundamental pitch.

Be aware , however, that leaving such a weight inside the drum continuously will eventually warp the shell. I have seen kick drums from studio 'house kits' that have become very warped from years of having a heavy weight laying inside. So use the weight as needed, but please use caution, so you don't damage the drum itself.

Adjusting resonance:

If the drum is too resonant, or 'boomy,' apply (or increase) padding, such as a folded towel or blanket or even a small pillow against the batter head. This will tame the duration of the head's vibration, reducing the drum's resonance. The more padding you use, the shorter the resonance will be.

You can also pad the front head some, if needed, though I often find that muffling the batter head of a well-tuned bass drum is enough.  Trust your ears.

Supplemental mics:

It is common practice these days to use a second mic to capture another perspective of the kick sound to be combined with the internal mic for a more complete presentation. The ability to balance these mics in post gives the engineer additional flexibility for shaping the kick drum sound. Usually these mics are placed outside the drum, a few inches off the front head.

Two types of 'mics' are most commonly used for this (one of which isn't really a microphone at all): 1) a large-diaphragm condenser mic and 2) a speaker wired in reverse.

For a more natural sound I use a large diaphragm, cardioid condenser to capture the 'out front' perspective of the bass drum. I place it in close, so the proximity effect of the cardioid pattern works to capture the low frequency energy of the drum. This mic usually sounds a little incomplete by itself, but coupled with the internal mic yields a defined kick with a solid LF component and natural feel. Because of the sensitivity of condensers mic it can be helpful to angle the mic down a bit to help minimize bleed from the rest of the drum kit. If necessary you can use a heavy packing blanket to cover the front of the kick to further isolate this outside mic. In practice this isn't usually required, but you may find it helpful.

For a more exaggerated LF punch wire a 6”-8” speaker to an XLR connector (speaker leads to pins 2 and 3 and speaker metalwork to pin 1) and place it a few inches off the front head, pointed right at it. Yamaha actually makes a subkick mic that is essentially such a device. It's handy to use, but you don't have to spend $300 on it if you have a speaker or two laying around already. A speaker is essentially a very large dynamic microphone in reverse anyway, so wiring it for use as a microphone actually makes more sense than one might think at first.

Trivia time: did you know that the bass guitar sound for the Beatles' “Paperback Writer” was achieved using a reverse-wired Tannoy speaker placed directly in front of Paul McCartney's bass cabinet? (I'm a huge Beatles fan and just had to share).

Back to the speaker wired as a mic – when you audition this 'mic' alone it isn't gonna sound very good. It'll be foggy and muddy with almost no definition, but coupled with the clarity and punch of the internal mic, you will have a HUGE bass drum sound. Use it sparingly as the effect is easy to overdo.

These mics offer lots of options on selection and placement. Just trust your ears and play around with them, and you'll get some excellent results.

And remember that anytime you use two mics on one source always be sure to check your polarity settings. If they are in opposite polarity much the wonderful low end that you're working so hard for will be cancelled, leaving a very nasty, filtered, unsatisfying result.

Next comes the snare drum. Thanks for reading!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Four: Microphones

Microphone selection for drums is a HUGE topic that could easily fill a small book, so to keep this entry from becoming one, and in the interest of keeping things simple and practical, I will give only a very basic explanation for the types of mics typically used when tracking drums and where, on the kit, they typically go.

Dynamic microphones -- Dynamic mics function using a principle called 'electromagnetic induction.' In English this means that a conductive metal vibrating within a fixed magnetic field will generate a small current which is used to provide the mic's output signal. Since magnetic material is used to generate the magnetic field, these microphones require no external power source to function.

The two dynamic designs in use today are ribbon mics (where a thin 'ribbon' of metal is suspended directly within the magnetic field) and moving coil mics, where a plastic diaphragm is attached to a voice coil of wrapped wire which is then suspended within the magnetic field. The movement of the conductive metal (the ribbon or the voice coil) in response to sound waves generates the current, and therefore the output signal.

Because of limitations in commonly used magnetic materials these microphones tend to be less sensitive to softer dynamics as well as high frequencies (compared to higher fidelity microphone designs). The durability of the moving coil design, in particular, coupled with its relatively limited sensitivity make these mics exceptional choices for loud, bombastic signals with limited HF detail, such as kick drums, snare drums, and toms.

The physical design of ribbon microphones (an extremely thin corrugated metal ribbon suspended in an open magnetic field) make them somewhat prone to damage from plosives or other gusts of wind (which fully exert the ribbon, destroying it) as well as higher SPL sources. But the extremely low mass of the ribbon itself, coupled with the smooth character for which ribbon mics are known make them a valid choice for overheads (when you want a smooth sound) and room mics.

Condenser microphones – Condenser mics, also called 'capacitor' mics, work on an electrostatic rather than electromagnetic principle. The capsule of a condenser mic is made from two plates, one of which is fixed (called the 'backplate') and the other being moveable (called the 'diaphragm' or 'film'). Together, these two plates, along with the fixed amount of air in between them, form a capacitor (also called a condenser, hence the name, 'condenser mic'), which can store an electrical charge. A fixed DC polarization voltage is applied across this capsule, and as the air pressure (sound) causes the diaphragm to move, the distance between the two plates of the capacitor varies.  As this distance changes, so does the voltage across this capacitor.  This voltage becomes the output of the microphone.

This is a slight oversimplification of how it works (you can google 'condenser mic' if you want the whole scoop), but the bottom line is that the moveable plate of the diaphragm (most often a gold-sputtered mylar film between 3-6 microns thick) is of such a light weight that it responds well to even the lightest changes in sound pressure, making these mics sensitive to very low level signals as well as much higher frequencies than most dynamic mics. Because of their high frequency response they are great for use as overheads and on hi-hats, and given their sensitivity to low level detail, they make exceptional room / distant mics as well.

Electret condenser mics are condenser mics that have a fixed polarization charge on the capsule rather than needing an externally supplied polarizing voltage.  They still, however, require a power source for the impedance converting amplifier.

Among both externally polarized and electret condensers there are two practical variations: small diaphragm and large diaphram. Because of their even lower mass, small diaphragm condensers tend to possess an even faster response time, yielding a more neutral, lifelike response, while larger diaphragms tend to be less lifelike but a bit more opulent or larger-than-life in their presentation. For the sake of miking drums either type is perfectly appropriate.

Stay tuned, and we'll puts these mics to use...


Friday, November 11, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Three: Drum Kit (Singular)? Or Drums, Etc. (Plural)?

As an audio engineer, how do you perceive the drum set? Is it a single instrument to you, or do you think of it as a collection of several individual instruments over which you want control? I ask this question, because your answer will determine how you approach miking drums, and, IMHO, how much success you will have presenting it to your audience, whether live or on record.

I think of drums as a single instrument. Just as a guitar is made up of a body, a neck, fretboard, frets, strings, bridge, nut, etc. to make the whole, so do the kick, snare, toms, and cymbals combine to become one overall instrument – one person plays a guitar, and one person plays a drum kit. Bands don't have a kick drummer, a snare drummer, a tom-ist(?) and a cymbal player in the band. They have a drummer. One person playing one instrument.

This is critical thinking in my experience. The most natural, and musical results capturing drum sounds that I have heard are those achieved by approaching the kit as a collective whole rather than a bunch of individual pieces. Here's why:

Having the ability to treat each component within a drum kit as a separate item (to be controlled individually) requires you to first isolate each item, otherwise you'll be treating the leakage as well. Drums are close together, along with loud, metal cymbals, and there simply isn't a microphone capable of picking up audio from one while ignoring the others. So the only way you'll get anything resembling isolation from component to component is to hard gate everything, which makes bleed from other components sound awfully strange as those gates open up and slam shut. Such gate 'chatter' quickly makes the drum sound awkward at best, and downright amateurish (or just BAD) at worst.

There will be bleed from mic to mic when recording or broadcasting a drum kit. Period. So unless you embrace this reality and use it to your advantage you may as well look into securing some blood pressure medication.... you'll be needing it.

Now let's start with the basic foundation of your drum sound.... the kick? Nope. The snare? Nope. I'm going with overheads.

Overheads?” you say? Yes, overheads. Not as obvious, or as sexy a choice as kick or snare, but if the kit is one instrument, what other mic other than an overhead hears the whole kit? Overheads are critical to the quality of your drum sound. 

[Yes, any room mics used will hear the whole kit as well, but they're farther away to capture ambience.  They're not part of the close-up 'kit' sound]
Here's the deal. While the drums on the kit will get there own mics, the cymbals generally don't. Overwhelmingly, cymbals are miked with a pair of condensers placed over the top of the kit, a few feet off the cymbals. The hi-hat will often get its own mic (which isn't always needed when mixing), and occasionally I'll stick a mic on the ride to give it more definition as needed, but the overheads are up high capturing the kit -- not just cymbals. The whole kit.

If this makes sense to you and you're okay with it you can pretty much skip the rest of this post. If this doesn't sit well with you, then you're likely from the “overheads are for cymbals only” school of thought, and your engineering will surely benefit from some additional explanation.

The frequency and harmonic content of cymbals goes down well into the low-mid range (these are 16” to 20” or greater diameter hunks of metal vibrating. Loudly). The only chance you have to isolate cymbals from the kit in any practical way is to drastically cut everything from the high mids on down (or, worse yet, boost everything above this range). When you do this you effectively cut the frequency range of the cymbals in half removing the punch and body that cymbals need in pop music. Bad idea. What drum is there whose frequency response you'd be willing to hack in half in the same fashion? Why, then, would it be acceptable to do this with cymbals?

Some engineers, when faced with this reality will opt to individually close-mic each and every cymbal, taking them from the proverbial frying pan and squarely into the fire. Now, not only do they now have increased leakage issues (more mics / more leakage) but they're now listening to the cymbals from a fundamentally unpleasant vantage point. When was the last time you listened to a cymbal with your ear right on it? That's not how we hear cymbals. They don't sound good up close -- they hum.


Yes, HUM. Remember, cymbal harmonics go down into the low-mid range. Take any cymbal, and 'crash' it with your finger and put your head near it as it decays. Hear that hum? Put a mic directly on a single cymbal and you will have a lot more of that to contend with than ever before. For every single cymbal. On. The. Kit.

If your solution to a problem is to create 2 new problems, is it really a solution?

Stay tuned...

Happy Tones!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Engineering Drums Part Two: Tuning

Tuning drums is as much art as science. Drums vary tremendously from kit to kit with all the various materials (maple, birch, poplar, aluminum, brass, copper...), to various sizes, and ratios of diameter to depth, all of which affect the way you'll tune the drum to get the sound you're after. Rather than try to give anything close to an exhaustive lesson on tuning drums (which would be a book, not a blog post), I will give very basic tips that can be broadly applied, and also try to clear up a few misconceptions shared by both drummers and engineers regarding tuning. Keep in mind I offer these suggestions with the assumption that you are working with good drums with clean, true edges and rims, good heads... you get the idea.

Firstly, when putting heads on drums finger tighten each key rod only, taking care to make sure the head and rim stay centered on the drum (there is a little 'play' in the head when it's totally loose). When it is evenly finger tightened (and the head is snug), use a drum key to begin turning each key rod 1/4-turn at a time criss-crossing the head. Here is a picture showing the lug tuning order for a variety of common lug arrangements.

Sticking with this back-and-forth approach around the drum keeps the head from pulling too much to one side, allowing for more even tuning.

After each set of 1/4-turns tap the head about an inch in from each lug to check the pitch. Thinner heads will have more overtones, which can make hearing the fundamental a little tricky. If this is the case just lightly touch the center of the head with a finger, and the overtones will be well-controlled. Tap near all lugs and determine which are lower, and bring them up with slight turns until each lug shares the same pitch. Then another 1/4-turn for each lug, and another balance. Continue until you reach the pitch you want.

Always tune up, not down. If you find that you need to go lower, loosen the lug more than you intend, and then bring it up to where you want it. Ending with a clockwise turn stabilizes the tuning more than counterclockwise turns.

I generally tune toms near their midrange (which often only takes a full-turn of each key rod past finger tightening). The midrange is where the drum tends to have the most tone and sustain.  Generally, sustain is a good thing in sound reinforcement as it can be controlled with dynamics processing if it's a bit much, but it's very difficult, if not impossible, to add sustain (yes, you could use compression to add sustain, but then you'll be processing all the bleed that the tom mics have, creating an entirely new set of problems.  I recommend getting the most sustain from the drum itself to simplify your life).  

Tuning toms above the midrange shortens the decay, and makes the drum's tone brighter.  Tuning below the midrange shortens the decay and makes the tone darker.  Basically, the midrange with where you have the most sustain.  Go above and you choke it, go below and the head is too slack to achieve full resonance.  

And, for clarity, when I talk about sustain or decay, I mean effective or perceived sustain or decay.  When you're close to the drums you can hear them all resonating easily, but the practical sustain is that which is perceived by the listener who is across the room or by that which projects through the other elements in the mix.  Larger toms can fool you into thinking the decay is too long (larger drums resonate longer!), but in the context of a mix, this is rarely the case.

If you have a kit with lots of toms and want to create a bigger pitch difference between them, you could tune the smallest tom a little above its midrange, and the largest tom below its midrange with a tapered approach between them.  This approach helps define the pitches a little better, and the effect of these alterations create a smooth transition from brighter high toms down to darker low toms.

Tuning batter and resonant heads to the same pitch will make toms punchy with a shorter decay. Tuning one head higher than the other can increase resonance and often emphasize a 'bend' in the tone from attack to sustain. Some folks like to make the top tighter than the bottom, while others prefer the other way around. I've had success with both, depending on the dimensions of the drum, but it requires a little patience and experimentation to figure out what works best for each drum on the kit you're working with.

The snare drum is a rather odd beastie in that its bottom edge has a snare bed cut into it's edges at opposite ends under the snare strainer and butt. This bed, usually 2-3 inches wide at each end, causes uneven pressure on the bottom head that keeps it from resonating the way heads do elsewhere on the kit. For this reason I generally tune the bottom head using thumb pressure, that is, using my thumb I press on the head an inch in from each lug to determine how tight the head is. After much experience I can tell very closely how matched each lug is. Keep in mind that at the lugs immediately adjacent to the snare bed, the head will tend to give a little more. Don't try to match the tension of these lugs to the rest of the head as this variance helps the interaction of the head with the snares.

I recommend making the snare side head rather tight (the equivalent of a few full turns of each key rod). I want it to give a bit with firm pressure, but I want it well above the midrange. With the bottom head loose the snare will lack tone and will sound unpleasantly snarey (is that a word?) and flat. With it nice and tight you will have crisp snare response and plenty of tone.

Now, to clear up some misconceptions:

Firstly, many folks think that snare buzz is bad, and that they must tune the drums to where the snares don't respond sympathetically when any of the other drums are struck. Unless the buzz is extreme this isn't really a practical problem (not to mention that truly getting rid of it is practically impossible to do). The bit of snare buzz that happens with a well tuned kit just makes the kit feel more complete. This isn't the 1980's, where we're using drum machines with samples of individual drums with zero interaction. Modern drum sounds rely heavily on overhead and room mics to give the overall kit a cohesive sound, and the residual snare response is a big factor in that. As a matter of fact Yamaha's top-of-the-line electronic drum kit features a sample of snare buzz that plays (in the output of the snare channel) when each of the other drums on the kit are struck. The purpose of this is to better emulate the response and interaction of an acoustic kit, and the effect is convincing.

Secondly, it seems many folks believe that getting a crisp, fast 'snare' sound requires cranking the tension on the snare strainer so tight that only the strongest hits will actually get the snares moving. This choking of the snares only serves to make your snare drum come across as a tom, not a snare. Snares are the reason the drum sounds like a snare drum! Don't remove them from the equation by tightening them so much that they can't respond to anything but the loudest playing. For the drum to sound natural you need to have excellent snare response at all dynamics. I adjust my snare tension so that a very soft tap with the stick will have crisp, short snare response. I don't want the snares to rattle, just respond articulately with very soft playing. This sometimes results in snares decaying a little past the actual strike, yes, particularly if the drum has very little muffling and greater sustain, but it sounds more natural to the microphones, both near and far.

Thirdly, many people think that you have to muffle drums with moon gel or duct tape to get a rich 'studio' sound. The truth is, microphones don't quite hear drums the way we do. When each drum is miked closely, the mic is usually a couple of inches at most off the edge of the drum, pointed at the head. When was the last time you listened to drums with your ear that close? Likely never. It sounds quite different up close than it does when you're standing a few feet back from the kit. Yes, to some folks the overtones of drums (particularly with unmuffled, single-ply heads) can feel a bit overbearing, but avoid the temptation to pad them down before auditioning the kit through mics. You may be very surprised to hear that your perfectly tuned and muffled drums sound more like a collection of cardboard boxes upon playback through the studio monitors (and no, don't reach for an EQ to boost high mid frequencies trying to put life back in the drums.... GO OUT THERE AND FREAKING REMOVE SOME MUFFLING INSTEAD!!!)

[Wow... okay... deep breath,.... I apologize for that outburst. Where was I?...].

Oh yes... give the drums a chance to breath a bit and muffle only as needed.

On a related note, overtones from drums tend to get lost in the blend of other tracks within a pop mix. There's a lot of midrange information in pop music (vocals, guitars, keys, strings, effects, etc.), and those drums that sound too 'live' when solo'd will sound far more contained in the mix than you may expect. If you tame that life with muffling during tracking you may well find yourself struggling against 'cardboard box' syndrome when mix time rolls around.

Lastly, a big misconception I see people buying into is that to have a bright, poppy snare means to crank the top head up till the drum sounds like a timbale. When you do that you are robbing the drum's ability to resonate (which actually stifles the drum's overtones as well, making its tone.... wait for it..... less bright).  So you wind up with a short, dead pop that more resembles a dull tabletop than a drum. For 'bright' snare sounds choose a metal shell drum, tune the bottom head tight and the top head a little above midrange. Tune it well and use little muffling, so its timbre can project like a good metal drum should. If you want more crack, have the drummer play rimshots instead of hitting the drum dead center.

This works for a wood drum too, but the sound, because of the softer material, will be a bit mellower, but still surprisingly crisp.

The rest of the 'sound' will be the mic you choose, its placement and your processing.

So that's about all I have to say about tuning. The art of tuning drums is extensive, and well beyond the suggestions that I have made here, but armed with this info, a good set of ears and a little patience you should be able to get where you want to go.

Next we pull out the mics....

Happy Tones!