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Want to record your drums at home? Know little to nothing about recording but you’ve decided to not let it intimidate you anymore? This beginner’s guide will cover a few of the basic things you’ll need to get started, like how to set up your space and choose the right gear, mics, hardware, and software.

We’ll also go over how to work within a session, play the right way, and edit your recordings so you can crank out killer drum tracks.


The Space

The first step to making awesome home recordings is a great-sounding room. Here are a couple of things to think about when you set up:

Studio location: Not sure where to start? Living rooms, bedrooms, garages, and basements can all work great if you set them up the right way. Every room sounds different, and the best way to get a good sound is to experiment. Choose a quiet, cozy space where you’ll be comfortable spending lots of time. Make sure it isn’t too hot or cold, has good lighting, and is clean and dry (no one wants their drums floating away if the basement floods!).

Big rooms vs. small rooms: If you’re in a huge, open space, your drums will probably have a lot of echo (called reverb). In a smaller room, the sound will be more dead since it has less space to bounce around. If you have a choice, pick a medium-sized room and try setting up in different locations to see what sounds best.

Isolate: Try to stay away from appliances like heaters, washer/dryers, A/Cs, or fridges.  It’s sometimes hard to get total quiet at home (kids, dogs, neighbors), but less noise around you means less sound bleeding into your mics.   

Arrange the furniture: Big sofa in the corner? All good! Large furniture is perfect for absorbing a wide range of sound frequencies and making your room less boomy (aka broadband absorption). On the other hand, if it sounds like you’re in a tiny phone booth, take stuff out of the room or move it away from the kit to liven things up.  

Get a rug: It will keep your drums from sliding and reduce the ringing even more. A standard drum rug is about 5 x 6 feet, and will fit a 5-piece drum set (if your setup looks like Neil Peart’s, you might need a bigger one). Ludwig makes a nice one for about $100, but you can also go to your local hardware store and pick up an area rug with a woven bottom or pad. 

Use sound treatment: Putting panels and foam on the walls and ceiling will improve the sound even more by cutting down on high frequencies. For a professional option, you can get these foam acoustic panels for $59.99. You can also use egg crates, mattress pads, sheets, blankets, or that trippy tapestry from your college dorm, and hang them at the height of the drums. On the other hand, if the room is too dead, put wood panels on the wall to reflect the sound and add life to it. These professional diffuser panels are pretty cool, but plain ‘ol plywood works great too, especially if it’s bent and has an irregular shape. 

Set up a workstation that includes:

  • A small table or desk for your computer and audio interface
  • A nearby power outlet and a power strip
  • A shelf or stool for odds and ends like a drum key, dampening rings, tape, extra wingnuts, felts, headphones, chargers, and other accessories
  • A mouse (if you’re using a laptop). It’s much easier than using a trackpad with your recording software.

Build yourself a little nest and try to keep it tidy back there. You’re going to be running lots of cables from the mics to your recording setup and you’ll be more comfortable playing if everything is in place. 

The Instrument

Now that you’ve picked your spot, it’s time to get the drums set up!

Gear selection: It’s important to choose the right drums for the style of music you’re recording. Here are a few tips:

  • You can mix and match different cymbals and snares, but it’s a good idea for most of your drums to be the same brand or general model to get a uniform sound.    
  • Try to pick cymbals that have different sizes and pitches so they will complement each other. For example, a heavy 16” dark crash goes well with a smaller, brighter one
  • Make sure the tips of your sticks are in good shape so you get a clean cymbal tone.
  • Most of all, better gear always sounds better, so if you aren’t happy with your sound, it might be time for an upgrade.

Put everything in place:  It’s important to be relaxed and comfortable so you can give your best performance. Sit at a comfortable height so the top of the snare is just above your belt, and make sure you can reach everything easily.

(Check out this video for more tips on setting up and sitting the right way.)

Also, make sure your rack toms and cymbals are angled properly and not rubbing or rattling against other parts of the kit – all of that will get picked up in your mics. 

Change those drumheads and tune up:  You can have awesome, brand new drums, but they won’t sound quite right on a recording if the heads are shot. Pick up a new drumhead pack from Remo for less than $100 and tune ‘em up! Here are a few tips specifically for recording:

  • Once you change the heads, they will continue to stretch and settle in, so do it the day before you plan to record and play them a bit (especially the snare) to break them in.  
  • Tune up tight for R&B, jazz, or pop, and try out mid and lower tensions for rock.  
  • Make sure your toms are all different pitches – the smaller sizes should be higher.  
  • You can also get a tuning aid like this DrumDial for $59.95.  

We’re just scratching the surface here, and you can get more tuning info at this link.

Maintain and clean your gear: Drums are like old friends that will always be there for you. Treat them with love and care, and they’ll sound great when it’s time to record. Make sure all your hardware works. This means no rattling, missing or stripped screws, broken floor tom legs (the worst!), wobbly drum thrones, bad snare throw-offs, or squeaky pedals (try a WD-40 lubricant or Vaseline). Also, make sure the bass drum and hi-hat stand have working leg spurs to avoid sliding.

Dampen those extra overtones: Ever notice how sometimes when you hit the smallest tom, it makes the snare rattle like crazy? That’s not a sound you want on your recording, so here are some techniques you can use to kill those nasty frequencies:

  • Get a Big Fat Snare Drum Ring to lower the pitch and fatten the tone (snare/toms)
  • Apply some good ‘ol fashioned duct tape (everywhere)
  • For the bass drum, grab a Remo foam muffling ring for less than $20 to get a punchier tone
  • Put a pillow or blanket inside the bass drum. If there’s no hole in your bass drum, that’s ok, you’ll just have fewer muffling options unless you remove the bottom head.  

For more on this topic, check out https://www.drumeo.com/beat/pro-drum-studio-tips/.

Above all else, remember that the gear will only take you so far. The most important part of an awesome recording is a great drummer!

The Microphones

Now that your drums are set up and tuned, it’s time to pick some mics. There are so many different brands, styles and price options to choose from, but don’t worry  – we’ve got you covered. Here’s a rundown:

The number of mics you can use depends on how many input channels you have on your audio interface (we’ll talk more about that in the next section). It’s great to be able to put a separate mic on each part of the kit since that will give you the most control over the sound. But you absolutely do not need a mic on every drum to make a great recording. The Beatles’ classic album A Hard Day’s Night was made using just two drum mics – one on the bass drum and one suspended over the rest of the kit. You also do not need to spend thousands of dollars on mics to get a happening drum sound (good news!).

The 3 main types of microphones for recording drums

Dynamic: Best for bass drums, snares, and toms. They isolate more sound so other things don’t bleed in. They are usually the least expensive and most durable type of mic.

Condenser: Best used as overhead mics placed above the kit to capture the cymbals and overall sound. They pick up a wide range of frequencies and are more sensitive than dynamic mics.  

Ribbon: Best used as general “room” mics or for the overheads. They can be the most expensive type and are highly sensitive to sound and fragile (don’t drop these!). They process sound the most like the human ear. 

*Note: Some of these mics require something called “phantom power” (condensers), and some could actually be damaged by it (ribbon mics), so read the specs carefully before you plug in. Phantom power can be turned on/off using the “48V” switch on your audio interface.

Mic recommendations and uses for each part of the kit

*All prices in this guide are in USD and reflect retail prices for new products unless stated otherwise. These prices were last updated in 2020.

Mic Packs

These will get you going with enough mics for a 5-piece drum set without breaking the bank.  

  1. Audix FP7 Drum Mic Package ($499) – A quality entry-level option with 7 mics, clips, and a hard carrying case.
  2. Shure DMK-57-52 Drum Mic Kit ($399) – Only 4 mics, but tons of awesome value. 3 SM57s for the snare and toms, and a Beta 52 for the bass drum. 
  3. Audix DP-5 4 Mic-Pack ($649) – Includes a bass drum mic, a snare mic, and 2 condensers for the overheads (you’ll have to buy the tom mics separately).
  4. Sennheiser E600 Drum Mic Kit ($999) – Reliable, pro-sounding and a great value. Comes with a bass drum mic, 4 clip-ons for the snare/toms, and 2 condenser mics for overheads.
  5. Shure PGA Drumkit 7 ($499) – An inexpensive, entry-level option that includes everything you’ll need to get going (7 mics, 3 clips and a hard case).

The packs are a good place to start, but you can usually get better quality options if you buy individually for each part of the drum set.

How to mic a bass drum

The bass drum has a low frequency, so you’ll want to use a dynamic cardioid mic that can handle those big “booms”:

  1. AKG D112 ($199) – A great option.
  2. Shure Beta 52A ($189) Another dependable go-to.
  3. Beyerdynamic M88 TG ($399) – More $, but great sound.
  4. Audix D6 ($199) – Another affordable choice.

Placement

This is very important in determining the sound you’ll get. To start, place the mic on a short stand near the hole in your kick drum head (if you don’t have one, just put it about 2 inches away). The closer you get to the front head, the more attack or “punch” you’ll hear in the sound. Try out some different positions and see what sounds the best – your ears will lead the way. 

You can also try resting the mic on the pillow inside the drum, although that sometimes can be too loud and cause a distorted sound called “clipping”. 

How to mic a snare drum

While there are plenty of options to choose from, the Shure SM57 has long been one of the most durable, affordable, and quality snare mics available. The “57” is the Swiss Army knife of drum recording. It costs $100, lasts forever, sounds great, and is easy to use. A great choice!

Other options: 

  1. Beyerdynamic M201TG ($299) Good value and quality for the price.
  2. Sennheiser E904 ($169.95) – Compact size, affordable.
  3. Audix i5 ($92.50) Another entry-level option.

Placement

Putting the mic closer to the drumhead will give you more punch (smack), while moving it further away should create a fatter tone (thump). Even the smallest adjustment will really change how it sounds on your recording, so experiment and find the sweet spot.

You’ll need a mic stand (feed it between your crash cymbal and hi-hat stand), or try a clip-on. Some advanced engineers put a second mic on the bottom of the snare and blend the sounds together, but if you’re just starting out, one mic is perfect. Make sure to point it towards the top head and experiment to get that killer tone.

How to mic toms

Tom mics often come in packs of 3 which is great for affordability. Just like the bass drum and snare drum, it’s best to use dynamic mics which will help you isolate the sound. Condenser mics can work too in some cases.

  1. Sennheiser E604 ($349/3-pack) – These sound absolutely great and are easy to use.  They also come as part of the E600 mic pack.
  2. Sennheiser MD-421 ($298/each) Great sound, but they’re pricier and larger, and you’ll need mic stands.
  3. Shure Beta 56A ($159/each) – Another affordable quality option.

Placement

Point the mic directly at the drumhead for the best sound. Make sure it’s not in your way when you play – you don’t want to smack it by mistake! Just like with the snare, adjust the height and positioning to change the sound. If it sounds muddy and unclear, get closer; if it’s too thin and papery, move back. 

Overhead mics

Place two mics on tall stands pointing down over the kit to capture a wide snapshot of everything. You don’t need to mic each individual cymbal – you’ll hear plenty of them in your overheads. Overheads usually come in pairs (left and right). Small diaphragm condenser mics are a good choice since they pick up more surrounding sound than dynamics and can handle high frequencies like your cymbals. Ribbon mics will work too, and they usually have a darker tone (good if your cymbals are really bright).

Here are some options:

  1. Octava MK 012 ($399/pair) – Great value for the cost, comes with clips and hard case.
  2. Rode M5 ($199/pair) Hard to beat for the price.
  3. Shure KSM 137 ($665/pair) A solid medium-priced option.
  4. Neumann K184 ($799 each, $1600/pair) – Pricey, but top quality.

Placement

Put one overhead mic above your hi-hat/left crash cymbal and point the diaphragm (the part you would speak into) towards the snare. Do the same with the other overhead on the ride cymbal side. Grab a tape measure and adjust the distance of each mic so each tip is the exact same distance from the center of the snare. Start with 42 inches and move up/down/forward/back if your signal is loud or quiet. Make sure you’re not picking up way too much of one side of the kit or the other. It’s cool if one mic is higher or lower, as long as the distance to the center of the snare is equal for both. 

This will prevent something called “phasing” where the sound travels further to one mic than the other, which can muddy up your recording.

How to mic hi-hats

Some people put a separate mic on the hi-hat, while others prefer to use the overheads and room mic to capture that sound. If you have enough inputs and want to try a hi-hat mic, use a Shure SM57 or any other dynamic, directional mic (like we said before, it’s the Swiss Army knife of drum mics! We love the “57”).

Placement

Point the mic downwards towards your top hi-hat, about 2-3 inches away, and adjust the height if the signal is too loud or quiet.

Room mics

It’s the secret weapon to a great drum recording! Setting up a mic on the opposite side of the room away from the kit is a great way to make the sound full and rich. Large diaphragm condenser mics and ribbon mics work great since they are very sensitive.

Options include:

  1. AKG P 420 Condenser ($199) – Versatile and affordable.
  2. Warm Audio WA-47 JR ($299) – Great value for the price.
  3. Blue Bluebird ($299) – Warm tone.
  4. AKG C214 ($399) – Great value for the price.
  5. AKG C-414 ($1075) – Excellent sound.
  6. Royer R-121 Ribbon Mic ($1295) Top-of-the-line quality.

Headphones (or “cans”)

You’ll need a good pair to hear the music and/or click track you’re playing along with. There are two main types of headphones: open (less isolated sound) and closed (total isolation). Most drummers prefer the closed type, but it’s a personal choice and it’s good to try them out before you buy.

*Note: Avoid iPhone earbuds. They won’t isolate the sound or have any low-frequency response – you gotta hear that bass player!).  

Here are some headphone options that are perfect for drummers:

  1. Status Audio CB-1 Closed Back ($55) – Good quality at an unbeatable price.
  2. Beyerdynamic DT 770i ($149) – Super-comfortable fit, great sound.
  3. Sennheiser HD 280 ($79.95) – Good if you prefer a little less isolation.
  4. Shure SRH 840 ($149) – Sleek design, balanced sound.

Stands, cables, and accessories

These are very under-appreciated and important. Here are a couple of things you’ll need:

  1. 2 short mic stands with clips for the bass drum and snare mics.
  2. 3 tall mic stands for the overheads, room mic, hi-hat and toms (6 if you don’t have clip-on tom mics).
  3. XLR cables for each mic (the kind with the 3-pin input). Get some long and short ones – you shouldn’t need a 50-footer to get from your bass drum to your recording setup.
  4. Velcro cable ties to avoid tangles.
  5. Gaff tape or duct tape to secure cables to the floor so you don’t trip (Pro Tip: Do not put on painted walls – the paint will peel right off. Sadly, we know this from experience). 
  6. Quarter-inch and ⅛” cable adapters always come in handy.

One bad cable can cause a mic to sound distorted, and one loose screw can make a mic stand fall and spoil a great performance. Make sure everything works and is in good condition.

Possible mic configurations

How many mics you use – and where you place them – depends on the style of music you’re recording and how many inputs you have on your audio interface.   

If you have 1 input, put the mic overhead to capture as much of the kit as possible (not too close; try a height of about 42 inches from the center of the snare).

If you have 2 inputs, you can mic:

  1. Bass drum and use one overhead mic (most common), or…
  2. Bass drum and snare (less common, and best for R&B and styles where you’ll be mostly using kick/snare/hi-hat and less cymbals), or…
  3. Snare and 1 room mic (for certain types of jazz and styles with less bass drum), or…
  4. Use The Recorderman Technique, which means putting up 2 overheads at a close distance (remember to measure to avoid phasing).

If you have 4 inputs, mic the bass drum and snare and use 2 overheads.

If you have 6 inputs, you can mic:

  1. Bass drum, snare, 2 overheads, floor tom, 1 room mic, or…
  2. Bass drum, snare, 2 overheads, floor tom and 1 rack tom. This works for 4-piece kits. If you have more toms but not enough inputs, avoid putting a mic on one rack tom and not the other.

If you have 8 inputs: bass drum, snare, 2 overheads, 3 toms, 1 room mic.

If you have more than 8 inputs:  bass drum, snare, hi-hat, 2 overheads, 3 or more toms, 1 room mic.

The Hardware

Audio interfaces

Think of your interface as the translator that interprets the sound from the mics so your computer software can understand and record it. It’s like the giant brain of the whole operation. Most connect to your computer via USB or Firewire, and it’s important to choose one that has enough XLR inputs for each mic. Every interface has its own unique sound, and here are some options:

  1. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (8 XLR inputs, $499) – Sounds great, top-rated, easy to use.
  2. Behringer Uphoria UMC 1820 (8 XLR inputs, $328) – good value for the price.
  3. Roland Octa Capture (8 XLR inputs, $518 USD) – A little more expensive, but good quality.
  4. Tascam US 16×08 (8 XLR inputs, $299 USD) – Good value for the price.
  5. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (4 XLR inputs, $399) – Fewer inputs, but good quality.
  6. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2 XLR inputs, $159) – Budget option, good to get started.
  7. Motu M2 (2 XLR inputs, $169) – Another entry-level choice.

One other thing to consider is that cheaper, lower-quality interfaces sometimes don’t perform as well. They can create a lag called “latency”, or make unwanted humming or hissing sounds.  Better gear is less likely to do that, so take that into consideration when you buy.

Preamps

A preamplifier boosts the level of the signal that comes through your mics. You might think, why do I need this? I can just turn it up myself if it’s too quiet! Good preamps make everything sound clearer and less distorted. It’s like a quick power-wash and diesel fuel-up before the sound gets to your software.

Most interfaces have them built-in, and they all sound a little different. Those are good to start out, but if you get excited and want to upgrade, you can spring for an external preamp to use along with your audio interface. 

Here are a couple of options that are good for drums (Note: we’re just scratching the surface – engineers will nerd out on this topic all day if you let them):

  1. Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre MKll ($399) – 8 inputs, good value for the price.
  2. Presonus Dig-Max D8 ($399) – 8 inputs, versatile and cost-effective.
  3. Art Tube OCTO8 ($489) – 8 inputs, solid choice.
  4. Warm Audio WA-412 ($1199) – 4 inputs, higher quality.

The Software

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

This is the computer program you’ll use to record and manipulate the sound. There are so many choices! Some are perfect for beginners, while others have more features. We won’t go over all of them, but here are a few popular ones at different prices to get you going:

GarageBand 

Pros:  

  • Comes pre-installed on any MAC (there’s a PC version too)
  • It’s free
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Takes up less processing power than other DAWs

Cons:

  • Limited features for grouping tracks, fixing mistakes, adding effects, changing the tempo
  • No separate mixer window
  • Maximum of 8 tracks

Pro Tools

Pros:

  • Basic features are easy to use 
  • Many functions for editing/replacing sections (called “punching”), adding effects, changing tempos
  • Multiple file-type choices and options for exporting 
  • Longtime industry-standard for many professional recording studios

Cons:

  • Free trial version offers limited features (you can only work on 3 projects at a time, and the options for saving and exporting them are restricted)
  • Cost ($29.99 monthly subscription or $299/year) 
  • Requires more processing power (if you have an old computer, this can be a problem)

Reaper

Pros:

  • Reasonable price ($60 personal use/$225 commercial use) 
  • Stable platform 
  • Offers good features and flexibility for the cost

Cons:

  • Layout is a little clunky and dated
  • Takes longer to learn 
  • Not as many built-in effects and extras

Others

  1. Audacity: Free, but with many of the same limitations as GarageBand
  2. Logic Pro: Another popular favorite for pros, it has similar features to Pro Tools
  3. Ableton Live: Great for advanced users
  4. Cubase: A popular choice for producers who use MIDI instruments

How to choose a DAW

If you’re just starting out, try working with one of the free programs like GarageBand or Audacity. As you get more comfortable with recording, you can upgrade to Pro Tools, Reaper or Logic Pro for more features. Most have a free trial option so you can check them out before you buy.

The Session File

We’ve reached the fun part! It’s time to connect your drum mics to the interface, create a new session file, and start recording. This computer stuff can seem intimidating at first, but once you figure it out, you’ll be good to go. 

Each DAW has slight differences, but here are some basic steps. 

(Note: Images are from Pro Tools):

  1. Open your DAW and create a new session. You’ll need to choose the sample rate of your session (how fast the sound is recorded). 44.1kHz is a perfect place to start – that’s the rate of most CDs and mp3s. Lower sample rates take up less storage, while higher ones offer more detail.

  1. Create a new audio track for each mic you plan to use and be sure to label what each one is. Having a separate track for each mic will make it easier to isolate and work with the sound later on.

  1. Take an XLR cable (the one with 3 pins) and connect each mic to a different channel on your interface. Grab a sheet of paper (yes, actual paper – very retro, but good if your computer crashes). Write down which mic goes to each track number so you can route all the signals to the right place in your DAW (called “busing”).
  1. Route the signal using the input/output buttons (i/o). Set the input of each track to the correct number in your DAW. For example, if the bass drum mic is plugged into channel 1, set the input to “1”. The output should be set so you can hear the audio in your headphones (usually Stereo 1-2, which are your left and right speakers). 

  1. Create a click track: It will help you keep a consistent tempo and make it easier to manipulate your recording afterwards. You can edit and fix sections, or replace and add whole parts of a song more easily since everything will be lined up on a tempo grid (we’ll get to that later). Most DAWs have easy click functions so you can set any tempo and time signature you want.
  2. Record-enable and test everything by using the red “record” buttons next to each track.  Don’t press the main record button to capture the sound quite yet – you’ll want to check your levels first. Tap on each mic to make sure everything is routed correctly, and then hit each drum and see how loud the signal is. If the indicator line hits the red at the top, turn the volume knob on that channel down to avoid distortion or clipping. If the indicator goes about two-thirds of the way up, that’s perfect, and each track will need its own adjustments.

    Many interfaces have a “pad” button on each track you can use to tamp down the level even more if it’s too hot. You can also adjust the position of your mics to make sure the signal level and tone of each drum is perfect.
Good level
Bad level (clipping)
  1. Hit Record, rock out and test everything. Listen to the sound of each mic alone by muting all the others. Then, put it all together to get your killer drum sound dialed in.

  2. Record your track!

The most important thing to remember when you record is to play a steady groove, keep great time, and enjoy the process. Here are some tips:

  • Play along with a reference track (called a “scratch” track). This will give you some music to listen to and vibe with while you play, but it won’t be part of your final recording. It’s like a practice track. You can have other musicians record bits of a song on guitar, bass or other instruments, or just use an mp3 of your favorite tune.

    A scratch track will help you stay with the form, tempo, and dynamics of the song. If you’re using a click, it’s important that your scratch track be recorded at the same tempo. Use the “import audio” function in your DAW to add this track to your session.   Recording with a scratch track also means that your bandmates won’t have to be in the room with you while you record and you’ll be able to isolate the sound without things bleeding into your mics.  
  • Create a road map to learn your parts quickly and easily and play consistent parts with good dynamics.

The Engineering

Recording at home means you’ll be wearing two hats: drummer and engineer. You don’t have to learn every detail right away to make a successful recording, but knowing your way around your DAW will make things a lot easier. 

Organize and label your tracks: Otherwise, it’s easy to get confused about what is what.   

Use hotkeys and shortcuts to make things way faster (each DAW has different ones; for example, you can use Command-S (Ctrl+S on a PC) in Pro Tools to save, and Command-Z (Ctrl+Z) to undo).

Save everything frequently: Sometimes, bad things happen to good people; aka, sometimes the computer crashes. Also, make sure all other programs are closed since your DAW takes up a lot of processing power.

Keep checking your mic levels: This is especially important for us drummers. Let’s say you record one super-loud tune and the next one is quieter. You might have to adjust the positioning of a mic or nudge some volume knobs to keep from clipping, or you might have to boost the signal.

Use the playlist function (if your DAW has it) to keep your session tidy and organized. Playlisting is great when you record multiple takes of the same song, and want to keep more than one version and decide what to use later. For example, maybe you liked take two the best overall, but want to paste in a fill from the end of the first chorus of take one. Playlists allow you to neatly meld different takes together without making a mess of your session by creating a million new tracks and moving everything around manually. (Note: this only works if you use a click track and everything is aligned to the grid)

Creating groups is an easy way to edit multiple tracks at once. For example, if the overhead mics are too loud, you can tweak the level of both the Left and Right together if they are in a group. It’s also helpful to have one group that includes the whole kit in case you want to make an edit.

Check your disk allocation to see where your tracks are being saved. It’s a good idea to use an external hard drive that’s just for recording – a full hard drive often means a slower computer.

Adjust your buffer size: This is literally the tiny amount of time it takes for the audio to be captured. Sometimes you can experience a lag or “latency” when you record, and increasing your buffer size can make that go away. You’ll probably want to lower it again when you’re editing later since a higher buffer size can strain your computer’s processing power. In most DAWs it’ll be listed under “Playback Engine”.

Don’t forget to record-enable each track. It would be a bummer if you played a killer take and then realized it didn’t actually record (ooof!).

Save frequently (can’t stress this enough).

The Editing

Let’s say you just recorded a great track, but made one mistake at the end that’s driving you nuts. Maybe it’s a fill you wish you didn’t do, or a few bars where you got off the click track. You’re screwed…or maybe not! Learning some basic editing skills in your DAW can help you fix these things so you don’t have to record a whole new take.   

  • Punch in: This is when you re-record a small section of a tune to fix a mistake. A punch can be as short or long as you want, and in Pro Tools and other professional DAWs, you can use this function by positioning the start and end arrows around the bit you want to record. Give yourself a little extra space on either end of the punch since you can always use the edit/crop tool to get it just right later on.

    (Pro Tip: Make sure to punch using all of your mics. If you try to replace just one part of the drum set, it might not blend with the rest of the track since your overheads pick up sound from everywhere.)

    In GarageBand, you’ll use Cycle Record. This is one area where the pro DAWs really have more features to make this work. 
  • Add a cross-fade: This is when you blend the little part you re-did with the rest of the track so you can’t hear the spot where you made the edit. If you don’t add a cross-fade, there could be a clicking sound where the two bits of audio join.

    In Pro Tools, select the edit range and press Command-F. In GarageBand, you’ll have to fade out the original take, create a new track, and fade in the new part.
  • Cut/paste: Let’s say you had one bad snare hit where you missed the drum or clicked your sticks together. One of the best things about using a DAW is that you can grab another snare hit from somewhere else and just paste it in place.
  • Replace whole sections: This only works if you’re using a click track since things won’t line up otherwise. Let’s say you loved how you played the second verse of your song and want it to match the first. Use the select tool to cut/paste the whole verse and then add your cross-fades. Studio magic at work!
  • Nudge it: Let’s say you were a little early or late playing a hit. Separate that region (Command-E in Pro Tools) and use the smart tool and your ears to slide it into the right place. Again, make sure to select the whole kit since all the mics bleed into each other a little bit.

These basic editing functions are just scratching the surface of what your DAW can do. There are a ton of mixing tools you can use to make your tracks even better like adding EQ, compression, and other effects. But knowing how to do basic edits along the way is really helpful.

The Finish

You’re done! You made a killer drum track and you’re ready to share it with your bandmates, friends, and of course, The Internet. Here are some tips for finishing off the recording process and exporting your files.

  • Save everything (again).

  • Use the fader knobs in your DAW to adjust the volume level of each mic so everything is balanced and clear.
  • Do a basic mix to improve the sound even more. Most DAWs have plug-ins you can use to add a little EQ, compression or other effects. If you’re not having a professional engineer mix your tracks, adding a few of these elements can really go a long way, and there are a ton of great resources available if you want to explore this topic in more detail.

    (Check out this Guide To Drum EQ or this Guide To Mixing Drums)

  • Save (yep, one more time).
  • Bounce it downThis is when you combine all of your individual drum tracks into one file to export to a format you can listen to, send around and upload. Most DAWs have options to export in mp3 format (smallest file size), .AAC (slightly better quality), and .WAV or .AIFF (best quality). Mp3s are great if you want to email your tune or put it on your phone.

    If you plan to add other instruments or upload to Bandcamp or Soundcloud, use a .WAV or .AIFF. These are also usually the best file formats to use when adding video and uploading to social media. Facebook and Instagram tend to compress audio and video when you upload, so starting with a higher-quality file is your best bet.

    If you want to bounce only a part of your song, select that section before you start. You can also bounce drum stems (individual .WAV files for each mic) if a pro engineer will be mixing it and wants everything separated. Make sure to take note of where your bounced files are being saved so you can find them later. Viral drum video on the way!
  • Pick the right type of bounce: Most pro DAWs have a couple of options:
    • Mono Summed (feeding both the left and right channels of your mix into both speakers)
    • Multiple Mono (creates 2 separate files for left and right)
    • Stereo Interleaved (creates one single stereo file)

Stereo interleaved is usually the best choice since it puts all your data into one single file, which is easier to work with.

  • Back it all up: Make sure to save your entire session on an external hard drive.

And that’s it! I hope this intro to home drum recording helps you get started.


Rob Mitzner

Rob Mitzner is a New York-based session drummer who has been featured in Modern Drummer Magazine and has recorded for Billboard Top 10 charting albums, films, and Broadway shows. He has performed worldwide at venues such as Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian, Caesar's Palace and Boston Symphony Hall, and is a proud endorser of Hendrix Drums snares and Drumdots dampeners.

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