March 04, 2005

recording tips: djembe

originally uploaded by garrettwilkin.

This afternoon I will be recording djembe for the first time. Well, perhaps to clarify, I will hopefully be recording djembe "correctly" for the first time.

Drums in general are a difficult thing to mic properly. An acoustic guitar, it's obvious where the sound is coming from, and you can move the mic to the sweet spot. Likewise with a vocal, a piano, or a violin. But drums, now that's a different story.

When I record drum kits, which can have anywhere between 5 to 8 different drums and cymbals, I prefer to have at least 5 different mics set up. There are the obvious kick mic, snare mic, 2 overheads, and then a random other mic that I stick somewhere in the room to catch reflections of the walls. This seems like the obvious way to do things, mainly because the personality of each drum is emitted from one source. (sometimes you can mic the top and the bottom the snare drum to get the hit of the head and the rattle of the snares... and a little more rarely, crazy guys like to get the kick drum from both sides to get the beater hit and the whump of the drum... I rarely do the former, and never attempt the latter)

Hand drums are a different challenge all-together. Djembe for instance is made up of (at least) two distinct sounds: the slap of the head and the low-end drone that comes out the bottom. Mic only the top, and you get this pitter-patter that lacks any down-low rumble. Sometimes that could be desirable, mainly when you have a full kit in the mix and you just want the percussive slaps to drive the groove.

So comes the issue of micing the top and bottom. Do you mic the sound hole, getting all that direct low-end? Or do you try to mic a short distance away at the floor?

Karen Kane suggests putting a bass drum mic down at the bottom. Unfortunately I don't have access to one of those. Anybody want to buy one of these for me? Thanks, I appreciate it!

So we'll have to see what works the best. I have a good large diaphragm mic, but I don't think that it will respond properly if I stuck in the drum. I'll probably mic it away from the drum and mix it with the mic on the head. I'll take pictures so all of this stuff isn't too esoteric.

Check back soon as I'll talk about my experience in micing cello for the first time and trying to get the right sound on a grand piano!

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