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Recording drums – Part 1: The Glyn Johns Technique

Mind your manners drum cover

Studying at the Conservatory surely prepares you on how to become a great concert player. However, they never tell you anything about how to record and mix your instrument.

Is there any actual good reason why a subject like the “mixing and recording technique” is excluded from the study plan of a musician? I would say there isn’t any, especially looking at all those new and useless courses, which you could well avoid and are only useful to build up the amount of working hours of some teachers.

I’m the usual antagonist…

Well, I just wanted to introduce the topic of this post, which is essentially this: I made a drum cover of “Mind your manners” by Pearl Jam and today I’ll describe how to record drums using 4 microphones and the so called “Glyn Johns” technique. In the next post, I’ll complete the topic describing how I mixed the different tracks in Ableton.

Meantime, I’ll show you the final result.

 

FIRST DECISIONS

First of all, I decided to record a drum piece because I had no video where I play this instrument on my youtube channel. I chose a Pearl Jam song simply because they are my favorite band and I think I’m their most unashamed fan within many kilometers from where I live.

Well, I wanted to record something rock, almost punk. Therefore, I chose Mind Your Manners, a tightly rhythmic song with as many as 8 bars of introduction and a groove in the Motorhead’s Ace of Spades style.

The first thing I did was searching on the internet whether there was any transcription available. Then, I visited the main website that could offer me what I was looking for: drumscore. While browsing the catalog of the website, I managed to find immediately what I was looking for. The precise transcription by Dan Brigstock, 4 dollars worth, and here we go.

Look through: interpreting a drum cover doesn’t necessarily mean playing exactly all the notes written using the same fills, the same hits of the bass drum, snare drum etc. If you go to a Pearl Jam concert and you listen to Matt Cameron playing Mind Your Manners, while you hold the drum transcription, you’ll see that Cameron himself will play differently compared to how he registered the same song in the studios.

Why buying a transcription then? To understand quicker which basic groove I had to play and whether there was any fill that I couldn’t ignore, essentially.

 

MICROPHONES

The second decision was about the number of microphones to use to record my drumset. In general, everything depends on how many inputs the interface you use has. In my case, I could use:

At first, it could look like the Behringer mixer was a more comfy choice, because having 16 inputs would let me use any configuration of microphones.

Wrong. The problem is that that mixer, like the majority of the cheap USB mixers, when connected to an audio-editing software outputs a single stereo track for all the inputs, making the post-recording mixing actually impossible .

If you want to have the slightest chance to work on the different drum sounds separately, you need to have an interface that allows a multitrack recording.

At that point, excluding the two poor inputs of the Roland audio interface, the choice fell on the H6 Zoom. Therefore, I decided to record the drums with 4 microphones, at most.

Snare drum with a mic

 

THE GLYN JOHNS TECHNIQUE

At this point, I needed to understand how to best manage these 4 microphones, considering the fact that I had to buy one, if I wanted to use all the Zoom H6 inputs.

Searching again on the web about “how to record drums with 4 mics” I found the so-called Glyn Johns technique, invented by the namesake sound technician who recorded, among the others, John Bohnam and Keith Moon.

Glyn Johns, as this video explains, mainly uses two overhead microphones set in a “non-conventional” manner. The first is positioned over the set, pointed towards the snare drum and positioned about 40 inches from this. This microphone should theoretically record all the set, cymbals included.

The second overhead mic should be set slightly over the floor tom, this also pointed in the direction of the snare drum and at the same distance from this as the first microphone. This second microphone would give more body to bass drum, snare drum and hi-hat.

Already with these two microphones (or even with only one of them, according to Glyn Johns) you should obtain a rather acceptable and complete sound of the instrument.

By finishing the configuration with two “close mics”, one for the snare drum and one for the bass drum, you would obtain a more focused sound and increase your chances of editing the piece in the mixing phase.

Once I learned the theory, I took care of the practice. I bought a microphone for the bass drum, I set the other three and I started setting the signal levels on the Zoom H6 I’ve always remembered to use the option -20dB pad on all the 4 inputs, in order to prevent eventual distortions due to hard hits.

The microphones I used are the following:

  • two overhead microphones with a large diaphragm SE Electronics, Magneto, with a good quality – price ratio;
  • one Shure SM57 for the snare, one industry-standard;
  • one Shure PG52 for the bass drum, another very used microphone.

 

LAST PRELIMINARY OPERATIONS

Before recording, I added 4 click beats to the original track by Pearl Jam, using the midi sound of a cowbell in Ableton. This because in the song the drums starts playing immediately and therefore having a reference beat at the beginning was important.

I introduced the modified track in my old (but efficient) Ipod and I got ready to record. I switched the lights on, I positioned the camera and my smartphone for the video recording (I should write another post to describe all the parts related to the video and the lights), I armed all the devices and I finally started my recording.

After the fourth time, I got satisfied, also because I didn’t want to insist on the piece and I started sweating under those hot lights… The result is what you saw above.

 

REMARKS

What I say now depends mostly on what happened in the mixing phase, which will be the topic of next week. Summarizing, a big mess

Glyn Johns technique? Never again, I think, for at least two reasons:

  1. I’m not Glyn Johns. Which means, I don’t have his recording technique, his microphones, a room to record with such a particular acoustic as those of the studios where he used to record.
  2. I’m not John Bonham. I don’t have his technique, his sound, his drums.

Why am I saying this? Because in the mixing phase I struggled to obtain a satisfactory overall sound. And I especially struggled to equalise the two overhead microphones, while trying and finding a balance between the toms and the cymbals sound.

All in all, my life would have been probably easier if I recorded the two toms from a short distance and I left the two overhead microphones in the “classic” position, focused on the cymbals.

At a first glance, this solution would have forced me to buy a new recording interface, given that the H6 Zoom has only 4 inputs. At a first glance… because I recently found out that there is an accessory that you can set on a H6 that adds to it exactly those two extra inputs I would have needed. Price: 58€. My next purchase, together with other two microphones, one for the rack tom and one for the floor tom.

Anyway, I’ll talk about the mixing phase in the next episode. Meantime, enjoy the video and feel free to criticize, evaluate, eventually insult me. Remember though: MIND YOUR MANNERS!

 

Question: have you ever used the Glyn Johns technique to record your drum? What do you think about it? Leave us a comment.

RECORDING DRUMS - PART 2
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