Making Black Beans: Drums (Part 2)
It’s been almost 1 year since the release of our debut EP, Black Beans. At long last, here’s the next installment in our behind-the-scenes blog series.
We were extremely pleased with the quality of the drums on Black Beans EP. Adam actually thought for a moment that the engineer, Blake La Grange, did a bit of sample replacement to make them sound so good. But no – they just sounded perfect to begin with.
So how did we get such great sounds? To be honest, a lot of it was luck. But we had a few ideas, tips, and tools that contributed to the overall quality
The main factor: the drummer.
|Note: All audio files in this blog article are property of Temple Wildlife and may not be reused without permission.|
Dan the Drum machine
Adam and I met in 2015 and started writing together almost immediately. The vibe just clicked. Taking a slight moratorium due to my wedding in 2016, we then hunkered down to finalize our handful of songs at the beginning of the new year.
So here came 2017, and we were trimming the fat off our songs. Refining sounds. Solidifying parts. Examining flow.
February came around. March started to pass. Our original goal was to get the EP tracked, mixed, and mastered by Adam's birthday in September. If April was already here and we hadn't even started tracking yet, our timeline was going to be missed by a long shot.
And it was. But who gives a damn?
May rolled around and Memorial Day weekend came in a blink. This was it: a 3 day weekend to knock drums out and get recording started. We reached out to a few drummers (very last-minute), realizing this was the crunch time we needed to hit. We ended up being incredibly lucky to snag a great friend to track drums. Dan Eggenschwiler signed up for the gig, and, with about 72 hours prep-time (did I mention it was last-minute?), he came ready to roll.
Dan is a Nashville pro. We gave Dan demos that had some basic Logic Drummer grooves on them to show the ins and outs. Operative word there: basic. They were by no means the grooves we wanted. We were hoping to find a drummer that could take our standard parts and create drum arrangements that complemented and perfected the songs.
Dan freakin' nailed it. Here's a cool GIF of him doing his thing.
Drum gear FOR an indie pop-rock sound
Let's get down to the good stuff: Dan's drum gear.
A close second to Dan's ear and abilities, his gear definitely made the record come together. Dan knows technique, Dan knows tone.
The kit sounded incredible. A vintage Ludwig kit, Dan has mixed and matched his pieces from a few different years. Here's a rundown:
Snare: 6.5" x 14" Ludwig Supraphonic
Rack tom: 1964 Ludwig, 10" x 12"
Floor tom: 1967 Ludwig, 16" x 16"
Kick drum: 1960 Ludwig, 18" x 22"
Extras: Roto Toms
When we brainstormed about the overall feel we wanted for this record, Adam and I immediately thought: Phil Collins. We were digging on a lot of the '80s vibes going around in indie pop rock, and drums play a huge part in that.
While the '80s contained a huge variety of drum influences, we really wanted to accentuate the grooviness by using rototoms. According to our good friend Wikipedia, rototoms are basically drums that have no shell and are tuned by rotating.
After we told Dan we were feeling some roto-vibes, a good, old-fashioned Facebook post granted us access to a set of rototoms from Fork's Drum Closet in town.
You'll hear the rototoms the most in "Prides", playing their part to fill out the drum grove. We also sampled them for some spots in "There Is Fire", and even played around a little bit with using them in "Porcelain Animals". But they didn't quite seem to click there as well as they did in "Prides", so we omitted them from the final tracks.
Recording techniques for drums
Recording the drums was super hard. In fact, we totally ended up botching 1 song and had to cut it from the record. (It was day 2, and we forgot to turn the room mic back on, not realizing it was off until we finished tracking a song – whoops.) On top of that, neither Adam nor I are by any means trained engineers, so we had enough phasing issues to impress the Star Trek crew.
Despite our ignorance and lack of knowledge, our perseverance shone through, and we got some incredible sounds for the record.
|Note: Make sure you take a peek at part 1 of this series to get a rundown on all the preamps we had available. I'll be referencing those a lot in this section.|
Signal Chain for drums
While we didn't have the amount of time we had desired to explore and experiment with preamps, we pretty quickly nailed the tone we were aiming for.
Despite our quickly accumulated confidence, it was still so hard to determine if it was affected by placebo. Were we just telling ourselves that it sounded good because we had put in all this time and effort? Or did it actually sound good? Fortunately we had a few friends drop in throughout the first day to reassure us that the drums sounded as good as we thought. So we pressed on in good conscience.
I'll start off broad and give the input list with signal chain, and then I'll cover some highlights after.
Drum signal technique
The room mic played a huge part in accomplishing the final sound. Running through the WA76, we basically just slammed the hell out of it. For most of the songs, we ran the compression ratio at 12:1. But it was after we tracked the last song that we realized we should have gone to 20:1, or even higher to really get some glue out of the drum mix.
We tracked the drums in this order: "Walking In My Sleep", "Prides", "Everest", then "Porcelain Animals". We wanted to save an easy song to end with, so "There Is Fire" was the last we tracked. Our goal with "Fire" was to push the drum tones to sound as naturally electronic as possible. Yes, I realize that's a paradox. But if you listen closely you can understand what I mean.
With this tone goal, we threw a Big Fat Snare Drum (BFSD) on the snare, and cranked the compression on both the room and snare. For the room mic compression, we initiated the All Buttons In technique, which basically slams the compression off the charts. It sounded so dirty and messy and wonderful. We also crushed the snare at 20:1 with a super fast attack and long release. From the combo of compression and the BFSD, the snare sounded fat, thick, and very snare-y. Every hit sounded like an EDM sample. It was marvelous.
For the other songs, we dialed back the compression a bit, and got an overall smooth, clear sound. Since "There Is Fire" was the last song we tracked, we couldn't really go back and apply the lessons we had learned on the previous tracks. Which was a major bummer, because we found some incredible tones for that song. Live and learn, I suppose.
Editing our indie pop-rock drums
Remember me mentioning I'm not a trained engineer? Yeah. I introduced a ton of phasing issues while recording the drums.
Fortunately our mixing and mastering engineer, Blake La Grange at Mercury Mastering, fixed everything right up. BTW – what you're hearing in these samples is my own attempt at fixing some of those issues, not the final mixes he used in the record.
Despite the problems with my mic technique, we still got a great sound and dove into editing. We tightened up a lot of the tracks by hand in ProTools, and then put finishing touches on the tom tracks by deleting and fading the empty space.
Overall, we're really happy with the sound we got on the drums. Very clean, full, and rich. Dan did a great job, the mics sounded great, and Blake brought to life the sounds in our dreams.