So they used one mic, carefully placed. It was typically a Western Electric condenser mic, omnidirectional, with a flat bass and midrange response rising to a low, broad peak around 16 kHz; the cutting heads generally gave up around 8 kHz. Some small labels used carbon microphones, also omnis. I have no information about what their frequency responses might have been, but they were probably poor. Balance was set by positioning the musicians and the mic in the room; the drums were typically set on a riser at the rear of the group.
Photo William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress. Jump forward to the time just after World War II, when the Big Band was still dominant in popular music though other styles were beginning to pop out of the woodwork, like jump blues and western swing. We have the gift of an interview with the late Bill Putnam, whose Universal Audio studio in Chicago and later studios on the West Coast helped create modern recording and music. He also designed pioneering gear like the LA-2A and compressors.
By this time multi-miking was routine in popular recording. In the interview, he discusses miking a brass section 4 playerswith the drums right behind the brass players and picked up on their microphone. That mic was an RCA 44BX ribbon; these were bidirectional, and, operated into the mic preamps of the day, they had a flat frequency response up to about 12 kHz, above which they rolled off. Those mic preamps had fairly high input impedances, which suit classic ribbons well; a discussion of how loading affects ribbon mics is a bit beyond the scope of this article.
Photo courtesy free-classic-music. Beginning in the early s, Rudy Van Gelder made some of the finest jazz recordings in history. It was a fertile time in modern jazz; after the Bebop explosion of the s, the music brought forth some of its greatest players in a myriad of styles hard bop, post-bop, cool, third stream, etc. They recorded for small labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Savoy, and created exciting and challenging music. A lot of those small labels hired Rudy Van Gelder to engineer their records.
Right up until the day he died, Rudy was notoriously close-mouthed about his techniques, refusing to discuss mic choice and placement or allow photographs to be taken during sessions he engineered. In the absence of information from the source, we have to listen. Radical concept! My ears suggest to me that Van Gelder has always miked drums using a single overhead condenser mic, probably a large-diaphragm Neumann U 47 or, perhaps, a small-diaphragm KM Never enough to create phase problems and comb filtering, but enough to create the marvelous sense of space that marks his recordings—yes, even the early ones in mono.
Listen to one made by Van Gelder. So what was his secret? He knew how he wanted the recording to sound, and he knew the room Circumlocution - Jeph Jerman - Keep The Drum (Concussion Solos) (Cassette his gear so well after decades of use that he could place the musicians and mics in just the right places, with carefully controlled leakage, to get the sound he heard in his head.
And that goes double for drums. Could you get that sound? If you have a large, high-ceilinged room with really good acoustics, and you know those acoustics intimately from years of working there, give it a try. Louis who blended in a touch of country music made great records in a long, narrow room shaped more like a hallway than a traditional recording studio.
How did they mic the drums? Another source says they also had RCA ribbons and a Telefunken mic presumably a U 47—Neumann made U 47s to be sold under the Telefunken badge in early postwar years.
Whom do you trust? Your ears, of course. Listening to earlys Chess recordings, mostly produced by Willie Dixon, I hear the characteristic sounds of a drumkit recorded with a single microphone, and it sounds very much like an E-V dynamic.
Probably a or Was it over the drums? Perhaps, but it could equally be in front of the kit, perhaps pointing at the rim of the snare from a few feet away. In any case, the sound is very plain; no multiple mics on the toms or the cymbals, and no mic usually on the kick. Could you do this? There was an echo chamber at Chess, and they used it, but mostly on vocals and melody instruments; I never hear it on drums. The recordings of Buddy Holly were renowned in their own time as some of the best-sounding records available; Holly himself had high standards, as did his producer Norman Petty.
And they could sound weird sometimes. The drums were miked in the standard Norman Petty arrangement: a Telefunken U 47 overhead, an RCA ribbon on the kick, and an Electro-Voice RE15 on the snare, a dynamic mic with a remarkably flat frequency response on- and off-axis, and very little proximity effect.
What made it weird was Album) echo chamber; the track had heavy echo on it, and Petty switched the feed from the chamber on and off in time with the beat. We know something about the great soul recordings made by the Memphis label Stax, using their house band known on their own as Booker T.
In fact, we know several things; unfortunately, they contradict each other. The drums and drummer sat on a platform jutting out from a side wall; one source suggests the drum area was well-isolated from the rest of the room, while others say it was open.
In either case, I hear less leakage of the drums into other instruments on Stax records from the mid-Sixties Album) I do on other recordings from the same time. A seemingly-knowledgeable source adds details. The drums were tuned lower than usual for that characteristically deep soul-drum sound, and the drummer—Al Jackson, Jr.
When he hit the snare, the wallet would jump into the air as the head rebounded, then land back on the head a fraction of a second later. How did they mike the drumkit? One story is Album) they put an RCA ribbon probably a 77 series under the hi-hat, perhaps pointed at the rim of the snare, with a second ribbon mic on the kick.
This informant suggests that sometimes an RE15 or a Shure precursor to the SM57 would be used on kick or snare. The kick was miked with an RE15, and if there was a second rack tom or a Album) tom that would get an additional unspecified mic.
Ohlsson adds some piquant details: the front head was always removed from the kick drum, and Stax did its mixing on a pair of speakers salvaged from an old Seeburg juke box. From the s into the s, their standard bass drum mic for popular music sessions was to use an RCA 44BX.
The front skin was removed, and a pound sandbag was put inside, with a towel on top, Album). The 44BX was then laid on top of the towel, so it was horizontal and at right angles to the beater and skin.
They still have a dozen 44s in the mic locker. Capitol had their standard way of doing things. How did they do drums at Motown?
They recorded the instruments all at once; the lead vocals would be overdubbed later. Oh, and one reason for the highly-damped sound of the kick drums on Motown records is that the kick was half-filled with torn-up newspaper. Ohlsson suggests that in the early years the drums were cut with a single overhead and fill mics on kick and snare, again bused to a single track on the eight-track recorder Motown owned one of the first in the industry.
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