Drums are a crucial component to almost any great record. It’s important that a dummer lay down a captivating beat but it’s maybe even more important that a producer captures the sound of their drums perfectly or processes them in interesting ways to achieve a unique drum sound. With Sound Collective, our new online learning platform, you’ll learn how to perfectly capture the sound of every drum in your kit and make great drum recordings. Learn more about Sound Collective and subscribe at soundcollective.com. 

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Some records have drums sounds that are so defining that you can immediately discern which song it is as soon as the drums play their intro (i.e. Fall Out Boy’s Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down). Other records have drums sounds that are so iconic that they inspired a generation of drummers and producers. We want to take a look at some amazing acoustic drum sounds that were made possible by creative engineering or changed the way we make and listen to music.

Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks 

“When the Levee Breaks” is without a doubt one of Led Zeppelin’s most well known songs. The record opens up with a massive sounding drum beat full of delay and reverb which sounded like no other rock record that had come before. Fans and music aficionados raved over the unique sound when it debuted and many musicians still use the drum sound as inspiration today. Many wondered what producer, Andy Johns, did to get John Bonham’s drums to sound so massive. The way the drums were recorded has been debated for decades with many stories about how Andy Johns got the delay of the drums. Many say that the delay was a natural effect achieved by placing microphones at different levels of a large multi-storied stair case in mansion in England called Headley Grange. The idea is that the drum kit was placed at the bottom of the stairs and as it was played, the sound traveled up the stairs and was caught by different microphones at different times. When all the tracks were put together it created the delay sound on the drums.

Contrary to fan belief, Andy Johns has said that he got his delay simply by using a Binson Echrorec, essentially a big delay pedal. He also said he only used two M-160 microphones that were placed half way up the first set of stairs to record the drums. Once the drums were recorded, Johns said he heavily compressed the tracks and the sound was made.

The White Stripes – Elephant

Elephant is an album by The White Stripes that is characterized by its wacky yet catchy guitar riffs and simple yet powerful drums. The album features two of the bands most popular tracks, “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button to Button” which are, like the rest of the album, defined by a satiating riffs and some super cool sounding drums. Throughout Elephant, Meg White’s (Drummer for The White Stripes) kick drum is the glue that holds the guitar and the rest of the drum parts together. It’s a sound that cuts through all the rest and it’s obvious that the engineers wanted you to hear it.

The sound of Meg’s drum sound on this album was achieved by using only a few microphones. Producer, Liam Watson, used an AKG dynamic and condenser to capture the kick drum and room reflections and a Shure dynamic microphone on to capture the snare. During the mixing process of the album, many of the drum tracks were mixed down to one track but the kick drum had its own track giving the engineers the opportunity to push the kick drum to the front of the mix to give the recordings the punch they needed.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division is known for their experimental ways of recording to get obscure sounds to accompany their interesting songs. In their album, Unknown Pleasures, many of the drum sounds have been manipulated so much that it’s difficult to discern whether or not a drum sound was created by a drum machine or an acoustic instrument. Though sometimes difficult to tell, the album is riddled with a combination of digital and acoustic drum sounds. The digital drums were produced by a Synare, one of the first commercial drum machines. You can hear the Synare in action at the beginning of the song “She’s Lost Control”. It’s the large cracking sound that can be heard accompanying the snare drum. 

Martin Hannett was the producer on Unknown Pleasures and is notoriously known for being passionate about drum sounds. Often Hannett would add his own drum machines to his mixes to make the records drums sound larger. However, he did not do this on Unknown Pleasures. There are many stories of Hannett going to extreme lengths to record drums for the album like insisting that drummer, Stephen Morris, play only one drum at a time during a recording session in order to cut down on microphone bleeding. It’s also said that Hannett once set up a speaker in a toilet located in the studio’s basement bathroom that played a drum recording from Morris, which was then re-recorded to capture the natural reverb created by the toilet and room. 

Nirvana – Nevermind

Nevermind is the second studio album from the grunge rock band, Nirvana. Released in 1991, Nevermind was something very distant in sound from the bands first record, Bleach, and was something totally different from the hair-metal bands that were popular at the time. Nirvana’s album changed the sound of popular rock music, essentially inspiring the whole genre of grunge and 90’s rock music. Though many iconic moments are scattered throughout Nevermind, there’s no doubt that Dave Grohl’s drums are a major force in making the album the powerhouse that it is.

The album was recorded at Sound City studios in Los Angles, CA. which is a studio well known in the industry for producing phenomenal drum recordings. Dave Grohl’s kit had a very simple traditional microphone set up, nothing special or out of the ordinary. Each drum had its own microphone and there were a few room mics to capture the coveted reverb sound of Sound City’s drum room. In an interview about recording, Butch Vig, the producer of Nevermind, said he gives Dave 90% of the credit of the albums drum sound. Butch also said that Dave Grohl’s drumming is so powerful that it was what made the album so loud and heavy. Everything considered, the secret behind Nirvana’s drum sound was just pure drumming talent.

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