A little while back a friend gifted me a book. It was such an apt gift for me as the book (details at the end) is all about setting up a home studio without using expensive gear. That has been my philosophy all the way (through necessity) and the good news is, I have been able to get some pretty decent results.
Central to my equipment of course is the drum kit itself. The kit is a 1984 Sonor Phonic. I know it is 1984 as that is when I bought it new back in Glasgow. I had been casting around for a pro level kit at the time and it turned out to be a good choice as it was so well made. These days it is a collector's item. There is even a dedicated Facebook fan page with about 2,000 followers.
The tom sizes are 13", 14" and 16" so classic rock sizes. I also have the Roland V-Drums kit I bought a few years back.
I use the V-drums kit for practising most days. I have an old Mackie mixer that I run the kit through along with the audio from the laptop. That way I can do a little mix in to the headphones.
Practising on the V-Drums kit has some real advantages as far as saving my hearing goes, as I can control the volume. With the headphones on, I can't hear the thud from the electronic kit at all and that means I can get the audio at a reasonable level. It's still fairly loud but I figure if I keep to an hour or less my hearing isn't suffering too much. I upgraded the kit to all mesh heads and added another cymbal so that it is a good mirror of the acoustic kit.
It is fun to play and I do get a real buzz from playing the kit and being able to hear everything. Of course if you have one of these kits you know it's limitations. The pads are small and the cymbal sounds I find pretty poor. There are 25 kit options on the module but I only use one or two.
Once I had the room as sound proof as I could get it my ambition was to switch to practising on the Sonor acoustic kit but that is problematic at the moment due to the sheer volume of the kit. Let me explain why...
At first I set up the laptop next to the kit and plugged my headphones in and away I went. I had to crank the volume up full on the laptop so that I could hear the audio as the noise from the kit coming in through the headphones was so incredibly loud. In fact I routed the audio through a mini headphone amp to get more headphones volume. That wasn't a good idea as a couple of days of quite noticeable tinnitus came right after the practise session. It was at that time that I realised for the first time how I damaged my hearing in my left ear when I was a teenager.
I remember playing a gig in Glasgow back in the day and at one point during the set the monitor next to my hi-hat stand had a few seconds of screaming feedback. It was so loud for those few seconds that I always thought that was how my left ear hearing isn't as good now. I have been saying that for years. But it wasn't that at all. In my teenage years I would practise an hour a day playing along to my favourite drummers like John Bonham or Phil Rudd. I would have my headphones on with the stereo at maximum volume. I was in the habit of pulling the right headphone back from my right ear to hear the kit. In a crude way I was doing my own mix. I realise now it was that max volume from the stereo constantly in my left ear that did the damage. Please take note young drummers!
So really the solution is to try an mimic the audio volume experience when using the electronic kit with the acoustic kit. You can of course now get low volume cymbals and mesh pads for the drums. The cymbals basically have a whole load of holes cut in them. But I am looking to get a real kit sound drumming experience. Plus I don't want to swap heads and cymbals every time I want to record.
So I came up with the idea of micing up the kit and running those through a mixer along with the audio playback. I figured I wouldn't need a large mixer either if I just routed the overhead mics, the bass drum and the snare.
As it turns out Sabian have invented that very product. As far as I can tell it's the only thing like it on the market. Good price point too:
The little mixer that comes with the system looks really cool as for one it is pretty small and for two you can input your audio. You can record with it too. Clever product. Pity I didn't think of it first!
The Sabian system wasn't for me though as I need more mics for recording. So I bought a little second hand mixer on eBay for £50. I also bought an entry level mic kit for about £200 through eBay from a company called Dangleberry Music. The mics are Nordell. The kit came with XLR cables too, although they were a bit on the short side. My solution came in at about £90 under the Sabian rig but I got more mics. Result.
I ran the 4 mics through the mixer and inputted the audio and then plugged my headphones in for a test. However, the kit was still way too loud spilling in through the headphones. So new headphones had to be the next consideration.
A sound engineer friend recommended Shure 215s which Shure call sound isolating earphones. They weren't expensive (compared to custom moulded in-ears) and they are pretty cool but they still aren't doing the job for me. I am still cranking up the audio volume and that will damage my hearing. In my last recording session I used both headphone outputs so that I could wear the earphones with the headphones over the top.
As I write this I still don't have a solution but this morning I went up to B&Q (hardware store) and bought a pair of ear defenders. The idea being that I can wear the ear defenders over the Shure earphones. They are the type used on construction sites. Pretty bulky but if they do the job...Let's see how that goes.
For recording I have been surprised by how well I am getting on with the Nordell mic set. It is a seven piece kit and it did the job great right out of the box. I am not sure how robust they would be for a live set up but in the home studio where they are permanently set up they are fine. The mic set came with little rim clips. I needed to buy mic stands for the kick drum mic and overheads plus some additional XLR cables.
For the interface I was looking for eight channels minimum. If I had the budget I would have went for a Focusrite but it was a bit pricey. Instead I bought the M-Audio 8 channel unit. It is a smart looking unit and it just works with Protools straight out of the box. No messing about with installing drivers etc.
I mounted it in a rack box that a friend was getting rid of. The handy thing about the box is I can sit the laptop on top. There is even room for the little mixer. An improvement I need to make is to add a patch panel, as at the moment I need to unplug the mic leads from the interface, to switch them in to the mixer for practising after a recording session and vice versa. The back of the interface isn't that accessible so switching things around is a pain.
To complete my little recording set up I was needing another mic that I could use for the hi-hat or under the snare. I figured a Shure SM57 would be the ideal choice as I could also use it for recording a guitar or bass amp if I am recording tracks with my band.
Of course the SM57 is a classic mic but I came across the Stagg SDM70. It was on Amazon for an amazing £18. Can you believe that price point?
You could buy 5 of the Stagg mics for the price of the Shure!
At that price I couldn't resist it. Of course it is a copy of a classic. They look so similar. I have used it in one recording session on the hi-hats so far and it worked fine.
I reckon between the interface, the drum mics and the earphones, plus some stands and leads, I have spent around £700 on hardware to become a recording capable drummer. The video below sees the set up in action minus the hi-hat mic. The cymbals sound great with those little overheads. The tom sound could be a lot better though. Especially the floor tom, but I reckon that is down to tuning. Developing the tuning is a story for another day.
The book is:
Guerilla Home Recording: How to Get Great Sound from Any Studio - (No Matter How Weird or Cheap Your Gear Is)
by Karl Coryat