Recording Drums: I Took my Cheap Coronet/Pearl Drums to a Pro Recording Studio

Read About it Here…Within Hours

It’s coming, a how-to on recording drums, getting a great sound, and with those budget Coronet/Pearl 1960s drums I’ve been raving about. I’m talking a 3-part series beginning, oh, in 48-hours, give or take. We’re talking about me bringing that one drum kit and, accordingly, suffering the consequences — putting my reputation (such as it is!) at stake. I got a dream, monstrous drum sound using that basic ol’ rickety Coronet/Pearl toms and bass drum, augmented with diverse snare drums and cymbals. By the way, I’m not “cheating”, or skewing the results, by carrying along a host of snare drums and cymbals and heads. I do this whether I’m recording with a vintage or modern kit or both. It’s part of the territory. The backbone and what you’ll hear on the album is the Coronet kit.

Recording cheap 1960s Pearl drums in a pro studio

Putting my money where my mouth is: Sally Anne drums in studio

We’ll walk through a session at an artist/producer’s upscale studio/chalet in the hills, where but one of the many expensive mics you will see cost over 400 times what I paid for the el-cheapo drums at the Salvation Army! When I arrived and looked out from my vantage point, a picture window a couple of hundred yards above the lake, I was told that 1930s actress Tallulah Bankhead owned the summer home on the island out to the left in the lake; and word has it that Alanis Morissette had purchased a cottage further off to the right. As it turns out invariably, there’s never time to ponder any of this, nor query deeply about the fascinating mics. Well, maybe a little bit. We used mostly vintage ribbons (not the modern ones with the thick ribbons that’ll take high SPLs…will explain later, not that I’m an authority; I just work here) and vintage and modern condensers that’ll make your mouth water. There were no tight/close mics on anything; everything was captured with….well, you’ll see. I’ll tease you with a photo.

Honest to God, the drum sound we attained, with both heads on that Coronet bass drum (no hole in front: I’ll describe the unique muffling system…which I borrowed from Davie Tough)…and the 12×8 and 14×14 toms was enough to make you stand up and shout. In fact, I hummed during a few takes and had to start over. These mics were so sensitive they picked up your stomach grumbling.

The tracks were more or less complete when I arrived. They’d been cut over several months, fortunately to a click track (again, I’ll explain further in mere hours), leaving me alone in this blond-wood panelled room overlooking trees and water as far as I could see. Fortunately, when recording my back was to all that nature nonsense, or I’d have been distracted. The mountains rose all round and it reminded me of the few nights I stayed at the town of Caux, a hamlet located in the mountains above the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Except the current mountains were in Quebec, Canada, and the “mountains” were hills compared to the Swiss Alps.

So Why am I not Beginning Part 1 Today? Because of Good Friday

More like Black Friday. My computer caught a virus: one of those inconvenient Trojans that intervenes when you press Google Search. Up pops some announcement that you’ve won some Wal-Mart lottery and it gets so annoying you run every virus check you can and you nail the sucker. Unfortunately, in doing so, I obliterated an essential Windows file, meaning the computer would no longer boot up. I was faced with the Black Screen, as opposed to Black Keys, and pretty much lost everything; we’ll see, the machine’s in a reliable shop. Funny, on a hunch the night before, I backed up each photo I’d taken with my Nikon D700 — of the studio, the view, the mics, and those motley Coronet/Pearl drums you’ve seen at garage sales and people pay you to take them away!

Okay, so I’ll dig out a photo for now but give me a day or so and I’ll reconstruct the session, beginning with the night before prep-work and ending with…the end of the session. By near-end of day two we’d cut something like 7 tracks and it was quitting time and there were several more to go. I’d promised them the full 11 tracks, maybe 13 (it’s a blur), and I asked the engineer to let the tape roll (it was actually a Radar hard disk; I don’t know if it “rolled” but it sure rocked) and I cut the remaining tracks, 1- or 2-take jobs, in an hour and a half! I’m not saying this out of pride or arrogance: it’s just that after 48 hours in the studio and with the end in sight, you become calm, like the driver who has departed the highway at 80 mph (130 km per hour) and is about to meet up with a roadside forest, and his maker, in a split-second. That sort of calm will make your actions, your drumming, real. That driver, incidentally, was me: true story. And at the current session, I felt the same tranquility: you execute a five-stroke roll so quietly that the ribbon mic out front thinks you’re playing with your finger nails! And you’re not shaking or quivering; and your time is locked in to the track, vocals, guitar, bass, dulcimer, etc.

So bear (there were black bears at night, not that I saw any) with me and grant me my virus remedials and wait for the yarn I’m about to spin for you…very shortly!  The artist claims he’s got audio and video to share; let’s cross our fingers. Had I known, I would have worn a suit.

See you in a day or two.