Need advice on percussion recording


Tomorrow I have a recording session planned for a short shamanic drum part, in a song that is mainly made of acoustic guitars and vocals. I’ve never recorded this kind of percussion instruments, and I even don’t know exactly what it looks or sound like. I assume it’s similar to bongos.

I have a poor acoustic space to use (either the mixing room which is quiet damp and really small, or a bigger room with a high ceiling and very reverberant (little to no furniture, big plain walls). I assume the right method would be to try various mic positions and listen to choose the best sounding combination, but since I have very little experience with this, I would like to have some advice on how to record this drum broadly speaking, just to narrow the scope of possibilities and save time…

BTW I only have a pair of multi-pattern LDC mics to use for this (Lewitt LCT640).

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I’m afraid the dynamic mics would be ideal for your situation.

Ah, right up my alley. I hope I can help. I’m posting a picture which may give some visual assistance. It’s a natural skin drum so it’s subject to temperature and humidity etc. I don’t know the experience level of your client/performer, but they may or may not know how to “tune” the drum and you may want to address that for your recording. I have found that placing a wet washcloth on the drum head (centered and full spread) helps lower the tone the way I like it, and your tuning can also help bring out the resonance of the wood drum shell if you get it just right. If you live in a humid climate, you may wish to tighten the drum head to a higher pitch, which can be accomplished by using a blow-dryer (for hair) with some heat but not the hottest setting. This tuning will only last for a short while, so get the recording ASAP after tuning. The washcloth method may take 20-30 minutes, but check it periodically. If you leave it too long the head will go limp (trust me on that one :wink:). The blow-dryer method may only take 5 minutes.

As for recording, I have found that using 2 mics is very helpful. Get the space to sound the best you can, maybe blankets or whatever to minimize reflections. Put one mic pointing at the top of the drum head at whatever distance and angle works, and the other mic at the back (underside) of the drum at whatever distance and angle works. Of course, flip the phase on one mic just like you would top/bottom snare drum style. The mic on the top of the head will have strong transients depending on how hard it is played. Playing style and intensity is likely another factor you’ll have to address as producer. The back mic is less prone to this but it will still factor in. Make sure you don’t clip the recording from the transients. Blend the two mics however you choose; the top will likely be brighter with stronger transients, the bottom will be deeper/duller and transients will be less sharp and muffled to some degree. But the bottom can have a really nice resonance that you won’t want to do without.

There are many styles of drums under the ‘shaman’ heading so I can only generalize there. Aren’t you in the Phillipines? I’m familiar with the Native American style, or one of them at least. There are probably many different styles around the world. I have a round shell drum, deodar cedar shell with buffalo skin head. The picture I uploaded off the web is a multi-sided shell. The beater will be crucial to the tone as well. I have learned to play mine with my hands when I don’t want the beater sound … just like John Bonham. :drums2:


Actually I have two dynamic mics but they’re not the same and the’yre the live/vocal type (an AKG D7 and a Sennheiser E840). Not sure how beneficial it would be to use them against the LDCs… Would mixing both types be interesting? Like dynamic on top and LDC further away for some room? Or would it just add potential phase problems and weird results?

Wow thank you so much for your extensive reply. I am in Singapore, so yes I am in a very humid environment but my music room is controlled with a de-humidifier and air conditioner set to dry mode (which allow me to leave it on during recording because it’s an almost perfectly silent mode).

The performer is not an experienced percussionist, and I am not any more experienced with percussion recording so we will probably not be able to be technically as specific as you recommend, but I’ll try my best. Thanks again!

You can set up all the mic’s and try it. Yes using multiple mic’s may create some phase issues, but if you end up only using 2 mic’s tracks out of all of them then it may be workable. You can many times fix phase issues by nudging the tracks in time a tiny bit, if they come up. The dynamic mic’s may give you a different flavor, and if you place them fairly close you could get some proximity effect (which you may or may not want).

My suggestion would be a little different then some of the other gents. I have never recorded this drum but have recorded a ton of persuasion instruments. I typically prefer condensers when I can. They usually get you better resonant tone. On toms I use dynamics on the top and condensers on the bottom. I would attempt the same thing here. A dynamic on the “batter” side and a condenser on the resonant side. If you can get away with using only one mic in your mix it will probably be the resonant one. You can easily copy the resonant track in your daw and get some attack out of it.

Phase is something that sneaks up on you and it can be hard to pinpoint what is happening. I avoid multiple mics when I can. They typically just make things sound small.

Given the choice between recording in an overly dampened room and a overly reverberant room I’d choose overly dampened every time. You can always send the signal of the dry recording out into your reverberant space and record that which will give you control.

What do you mean by ‘damp’? Is the mixing room acoustically damp, or is actually damp? If so, why is your mixing room damp?

Obviously a predictive text glitch, but I chortled nonetheless! :grinning:

I think the op explained that here:

Well, I can’t see what major damage some humidity is going to do, bearing in mind the ‘mixing room’ will already have a computer etc. in it. So I would say record in the control room if your acoustics are better there. You can position the mic any way you want but if the room acoustics are crap your recording will be crap too.

But here’s what I would do (and have done before):

Record in the recording room with one close mic. Throw a duvet over both performer and mic, so that he is recording in a home-made “duvet-tent.” You will not regret it.

Actually I meant both: somewhat acoustically dampened with DIY acoustic panels and thick curtains, and damp from the local climate. :wink:

Anyway thanks to all of you that was useful. Time to start recording now!

Then unless you can think of a good reason not to, record in there. One close-mic’d SM57 will do the job.