Recording drums at home is a little tricky due to the large number of simultaneous sound sources compared to recording things like vocals, keyboards, or guitar.
Back in the old days when I first began recording using tape machines, the biggest issue was how many tracks you could spare for the drums.
These days working with DAWs which have a virtually unlimited number of tracks, the primary constraint has become the number of channels available on your audio interface(s).
For the purpose of this article I'm mainly going to talk about recording a standard 5 piece kit comprised of:
- 3 Toms
- Ride & Crash cymbals
Recording Drums with One Mic or Two
If you're only using one microphone then any audio interface will do the job. When using two mics the only thing you have to ensure is that you have an interface with two mic inputs.
This is a perfectly fine set up for basic recordings like demos, but if you want professional results you're going to need more microphones and more channels...
A Minimum of 8 Channels
I recommend using an audio interface with at least 8 channels, or even 2 with 4 channels each - but you're going to want the ability to record at least 8 channels simultaneously.
You can use more than 8 mics, but you'll need to run them through a mixing console to get down to 8 channels if that's all you have.
Here's where the channels get used:
- 1 for the Snare
- 1 for the Kick
- 3 on the Toms
- 1 on the Hi-hat
- 2 overhead mics - you could mix these down to one channel but I prefer to keep the stereo image of the overheads.
The reasons for this configuration:
The most obvious reason is to give you more control during the final mixing process, but there are a couple of extra considerations you may not have thought of...
Saving time - sometimes you have limited hours during which to record. This is obviously the case when you're in a studio, but it can also come into play recording at home. As a rough rule of thumb it's going to take 3 times the length of the song at a minimum for each complete take - you have to play through the song, listen back to it, then re-set for the next take. If you record a great performance with only 1 or 2 minor blemishes in timing or dynamics, you won't have to do another take if it's something you'll be able to fix during the mixdown & editing process. Usually you're only going to have this freedom when each drum is recorded to individual tracks and often you'll have fewer time restrictions for the mixdown process.
Replacing sounds - with fantastic plugins like Drumagog you can go back later and replace the drum sounds you've recorded with samples while retaining the essence of your performance. This is a fairly efficient process only if you have all the drums on separate tracks.
16 Channels are Better
If you can afford it, then 16 channels gives you a lot more freedom. While this is too much of a detailed topic for the scope of this article, some of the things you can do with the extra channels include using extra mics on individual drums, using a SubKick to capture low frequencies, room mics, recording a larger kit than a 5 piece... the list goes on - but you get the general idea.
A few USB ones that I like for this task are the MOTU 8pre USB, M-Audio Fast Track Ultra 8R (it's out of production but still in some shops), and the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. If FireWire's your thing then I recommend taking a look at the Echo AudioFire 12 or the Universal Audio Apollo 16 or the MOTU 8pre FireWire.