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6 Drum Tracking Tips That’ll Blow Your Workflow Up!

6 Drum Tracking Tips That’ll Blow Your Workflow Up!

1. Know Your Daw!

Make sure you have full, easy control of the recording. Does this sound obvious? Hear me out. If you’re operating the DAW yourself, make sure you know the simplest and quickest way to loop sections, jump from section to section, give adequate pre-roll, etc. If you’re at another studio and someone is operating the DAW for you, make sure they can do these things QUICKLY. No fucking about. This process will take many hours, requires attention to detail and will sap your energy and concentration. Absolutely eradicate anything that could slow you down here. Nail the workflow.

2. Section By Section

Take a section at a time. Put practice pads on the kit and have the drummer bash through the section on a loop several times to get into the groove and the feel. Remove the practice pads, give him another one or two practice takes. Then go for a proper take. Repeat as necessary (perhaps three takes in total) until you have, in your opinion, a good selection.

3. Know What You Can Work With

Listen carefully (but quickly – you need to keep the session moving) through each of the last three takes (or however many you tracked), selecting the best bits from each take and comping them together. Given that you’re working on small sections, this should only take maybe a minute – give each take a listen or two, chop, chop, paste, done. Don’t worry about precision editing just yet, but make sure there are no obvious, glaring issues, like cymbal or tom sustain being wildly inconsistent from take to take.

4. Listen And Re Track

Listen, with the drummer, to this comp. Does it have everything you need? Could any of the fills be stronger? If need be, go for another one or two takes, focusing primarily on any bits requiring extra attention. Comp together and reassess, repeating this until you’re satisfied with the part.

5. Play In Your Punch In’s

Repeat this for each section, ensuring that the drummer always plays the first bar of the following section and, if needed, the last bar or two of the previous section if you think it’s necessary (maybe there’s a tom fill at the end of the last section that’s going to ring out over the top of the next section).

6. Drums Need Tuning Too…

Check periodically for drum tuning issues. Solo the drummer’s snare and compare it to a sample of the same snare that you would ideally have recorded at the very start of the session, after drum setup but before tracking the first song. Repeat for the other drums if need be.
This probably seems like a long winded way to work, when you could just get three good takes of the whole song and comp together the best from this (and hey, maybe for certain styles or certain bands this would absolutely be the best way to go and is the best creative choice). But man, I am fed up of dealing with poorly played drums that are never going to sound 100% like a pro record. I don’t mind editing drums at all, that’s not my problem. The issue is that editing may fix timing issues, but not an overall poor performance (in terms of energy, consistency, tone, etc). If you start with the best possible source material, the editing will be quicker, the result will sound better and you might even enjoy it more!

(Michael Macdonald)
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