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Recording drums - as Steve Albini does


Steve Albini is a river theme. One of a kind producer. A person with very clear views on the process of recording bands, but also an undisputed authority in the subject of sound production. An uncompromising musician in bands such as Big Black, Rapeman or the most famous Shellac. He is an outspoken opponent of being called a music producer. Here it must be added that in the USA the producer is considered as one of the music makers of a given band and is entitled to profit from the sale of albums. Steve once stated that if he did so, he would be like a builder who visits the house after twenty years and orders himself to pay extra for the fact that the house is standing. As a producer, he is also against interfering with what the band plays and modifying the composition in order to conform it to commercial trends. He is the owner of the Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, which is in the category of the best recording studio.

A specific sound

My first contact with Albini's sound was completely unaware. I just bought a Nirvana CD titled In Utero. The first thing that struck me was the specific double reflection in the percussion sound. I did not know exactly what it was about then, but undoubtedly the matter was intriguing. After a while, I found out who was behind creating this sound. The album was created at Pachyderm Studios located in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. I must admit that I fell in love with his approach to working in the recording studio. The process of "drilling" into the topic has begun. From Nirvana through P.J. Harvey, The Jesus Lizard, Nine Inch Nails, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, or the solo album of Robert Plant & Jimi Page.

Ps. Eventually, after protests from the In Utero label, Scott Litt was mixed by producer R.E.M..Albini, which was just too harsh in sound, which in turn suited Cobain very much.

An atmospheric recording studio with original sound

Albini became famous for its specific sound before settling down in its magical Electrical Audio. He created them in his own way in various spaces. In his current headquarters, he gets a specific sound in studio "B" by recording drums in a huge staircase. You probably have associations with Hedley Grange and the famous Bonham sound in When The Levee Breaks. Yes, but Albini has its own signature and its own concrete live room which is a combination of a staircase with a bunker or inside a chimney. As I mentioned before, the most original element of the sound of Stevie's albums is drums. Let's move on to the description of the microphonics technique used by this outstanding sound engineer.

Set the drum kit in the so-called The "sweet spot" is where the drums sound best. Each room has a point where the microphones best reflect the sonic character of the set.

We set up the microphones

- we start with a stereo microphone (blumlein system).

Figure-of-eight ribbon microphone with two ribbons at 90 degrees to each other. We place it in the center in front of the set, the distance from the center of the snare drum which will be the center of the phase universe for us;) we select it at about 1.2 m. Of course, the basic tool verifying the sound of a given shot must be only our ears. If the microphone does not reflect the sound of the set as accurately as possible, modify its setting, look for a place where "the kick sounds best";)

- overheads.

Their place will be behind the drummer, they listen to the set more or less from the level of an adult's ears and point towards the snare drum. We can start from a height of 1.5 m and also modify the height and spacing depending on the sound and the correctness of the phases, which must be remembered always and everywhere. This method allows you to get a nice stereo panorama and a very natural sound of the cymbals. You can use both condenser and ribbon microphones.

- bass drum foot.

Albini really likes the Beyerdynamic M380 microphone. This discontinued bass instrument microphone is based on a headphone insert and is quite an unusual microphone, because it is dynamic with an eighth characteristic. However, it is characterized by the fact that it practically eliminates the so-called sound effect. "basketballs" that are very easy to obtain in bass drum recordings. This microphone is placed practically centrally inside the drum. This Beyer it is a white crow, it is very difficult to access, so we can of course use another one. It will have an effect on the sound but just because it will be different doesn't mean it will be worse. The Sennheiser MD421 will have, for example, a more aggressive character, a cool bass but also a strong attack, the Electro Voice RE20 or RE27 will have an emphasized midrange, and the AKG D12 will have a more subdued midrange and warm low end.

In addition to the bass drum, it uses a miniature Countryman Isomax microphone, but located above the beater on the strike side. You can use a different mic here by trial and error, you have to remember that pressure at this point it can be dangerous for some microphones.

- snare drum rack tom and floor tom

In this topic, we use classic close-ups that will complement the percussion sound image developed by microphones for further shots. A bit like the Glyn Johns method described earlier. Steve uses the Altec 175 condenser microphone for the snare drum. I mostly use the Beyerdynamic Opus57 for the snare drum and the Shure Unidyne 545 for the toms. They work great. To fully capture the sound of these elements, additional microphones installed on the bottom of both snare and toms can be used. Of course, we remember about phases because the more microphones, the further away from the ideal.

- room mics

A key take on the percussion that characterizes Stevie Albini's sound is room recording microphones. These are usually two omnidirectional condenser microphones that lie in front of the set on the floor. We can place them as far away from the set as possible, depending on the size of the live room. Sometimes it is even worth placing them in the next room to enhance the effect. With proper compression of the signal from these microphones, we get the sound of the room quite clear and having a great impact on the whole. Additionally, the Albini passes this signal through a gentle delay with slightly different timings on both channels. I personally am a big fan of using "room mics" and complementing the general sound of the drums with them. - additional microphones The whole set can be supplemented with a microphone placed above the ride cymbal, which will take care of the proper attack of parts played with e.g. a stick head.

Originality is something that always pays off in recordings

Among other things, thanks to such unconventional methods of recording instruments, albums are unique, original and unforgettable. The dominant role of the composer and songwriter cannot be forgotten. Playing with sound in the recording studio, breaking the rules, paving new paths is the essence of this profession. Of course, everything in accordance with the laws of physics;) Creative use of studio rooms, large live rooms is to squeeze the quintessence of sound from "live" instruments and transfer the listener to an alternative sound reality. Such actions are possible at Vintage Records Studio.

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