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My Studio

I gutted a hobby room and started on a remodel. Despite being small, the room is actually acoustically perfect for live drums — something I never anticipated when we designed the home, but am so thankful for now. Brick walls and tile flooring complemented by a sloped 13 foot wood beam and wood tongue and groove ceiling. I did some painting, added some decorative wood trim, added custom lighting, installed a 60" TV/monitor & WiFi, put in a kick-ass 4-speaker stereo system and placed a cabinet under the TV/monitor to house all of the stereo and recording gear. So, the room itself was ready. Outfitting it with drums and recording gear would be the challenge.

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There were a few concerns in setting up the room with gear due to it's size. First, I'm not one for a basic 3-piece kit with a hi-hat, crash and ride. I've always been 2-hi-hat and double kick guy. I also like a good selection of cymbals. So, all of that takes up space width-wise. Width I didn't have available, so there was no way I'd fit two kick drums, so I opted for the double pedal scenario. Also, I needed to figure out the most effective way to film and record, because there was no room for a multitude of cameras, tripods, mics, mic stands, mixer, interface, other outboard gear and a computer setup.

The first thing that I needed to do was to isolate the kit from the floor. You never want the kit sitting directly on the floor. A rug on the floor is just okay, but what I like to call a floating drum riser is best. I accomplished this by purchasing three tri-fold gym workout mats made of very dense 1.5" foam and placed them underneath 3/4" birch plywood. I then covered the wood with a good quality 3/8" thick area rug. The isolation was perfect. 

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Now for the drum kit. Since the kit would't be subject to the rigors of touring, or even regular setups and tear-downs from gigging, there was no need to buy an expensive kit. As for the drums (shells) themselves, after a lifetime of customizing my own drums, I can make any drums sound great. Also, when you mic, mix and augment the drum sound during a recording process, the fanciness of the shell material matters even less when it comes to the raw sound. Most of you that spend big bucks on your drums won't like this harsh reality, but experienced engineers can take the crappiest sounding drum kit and make it sound like a top-of-the-line kit. It's all about the mixing, plug-ins and utilization of digital samples if needed. That doesn't mean that I don't love and appreciate the work of quality drum makers. I have certainly played such kits over the years. I just really don't have a need to spend that kind of cash in my current scenario, that's all.

I had to order online, because we live in the remote mountains outside of the USA now and we are hours from any music stores. Amazon was my only hope, as any other shipping cost would be almost as much as the kit itself. I didn't care for the finish, but I ended up ordering a PDP Center Stage kit with an "Electric Green Sparkle" finish, because it was the only kit that I was interested in that happened to be in stock and ready to ship on Amazon (the others that I could have been interested in configuration-wise were listed as "currently unavailable"). The kit arrived in perfect condition in six days and was surprisingly very nice quality for being one of PDP's "budget" lines. The finish was even more hideous in person than in the product photo, but this was no problem for me, as I have been custom re-finishing my kits all my life, so I was looking forward to coming up with a custom finish.

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As soon as I unpacked the kit I got to work stripping it down to the shells. First, I modified the bearing edges for both the batter and resonant edges to my liking (I prefer the bearing edges on the batter and resonant to be different, based on many years of experience in creating my sound). Then after a coat of primer I went to work on my two-tone design of black and bronze, finished off with four coats of high-gloss polyurethane. I also coated the inside of the shells with the bronze so that the drums would have an even more custom look with my clear heads, followed by three coats of satin polyurethane, which helps give poplar shells a warmer resonance. Then I cut the tom mounting arms so that they did not protrude inside the shell, packed all of the lugs, floor tom leg mounts, tom arm mounts, tom bass drum mount and bass drum spur mounts with foam. I also cut and placed 1/8" thick neoprene rubber gaskets between all of the metal fittings and the drum shells. No more buzzing or rattling of any kind when I tapped on any of the shells without the heads installed. Then I re-assembled the drums

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I outfitted the kit with Evans heads. For the toms I used Hydraulic Glass for the batter heads and Clear Genera Resonant for the bottom heads. For the snare I also used Hydraulic Glass for the batter head and Clear Genera Resonant for the bottom head, as I turned the PDP snare into a tom, because I already owned a Pearl 6.5 x 14 Modern Utility snare, which has an Evans EC Reverse Dot for the batter. Let me tell you, that snare ROCKS, and for just under $200 it should be in every drummer's collection of snares! I put a Clear EMAD 2 on the kick, with the stock black PDP head on the front, which I cut a 5" port hole into for the mic. After tuning and some strategically-placed Meinl Drum Honey Gel Dampeners, the kit sounds AMAZING! Feel free to contact me regarding making economy-line drums sound like top-of-the-line ones.

As for the cymbals, stands, throne, sticks, pedals, miscellaneous hardware and percussion items, I purchased all of that a la carte on Amazon as well. 

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I know it looks like I can't get past my kit in order to access my gear cabinet, but that's just a bit of a depth perception illusion from the camera angles. I can go through on the left side of the kit . . shuffling sideways . . sucking in my gut.

Now for the recording gear. I've done a lot of engineering and mixing over the years. I've also been involved in a fair amount of 2-mic and 4-mic recording sessions over the years with my drums, so I was very familiar with how to achieve a good quality recording with the right mics, proper placement and creative mixing. I am able to achieve a very good sound with my 4-mic setup for most things that I record for my instructional media. That setup is as follows:

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Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic placed 4.5 ft. overhead, directly centered over the kit.  

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Audio-Technica

AT2020

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Shure Beta 52A kick drum mic placed partially inside the port hole at 6 o'clock at the lowest point.

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Shure

Beta 52A

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AEA R84A Active Ribbon mic placed 3.5 feet in front of the kit and off to my left at 59" height.

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R84A

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Aston Spirit Multi-pattern Condenser

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Aston Spirit placed diagonally behind the kit to my right, 4 feet back at 55" eight.

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Focusrite

Scarlett 18i8

4-mic Interface

Here is a sample of my sound with the live room 4-mic setup, which can be heard below: 

(headphones or external computer speakers recommended)

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When I need more focused individual tracks for sessions, I utilize a Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 interface with additional mics for the snare (Audix i5) and toms (Audix D2 for rack toms & D4 for floor tom).

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My overall sound for recording sessions is a mix of the live room mics and close mics, which can be heard below: 

(headphones or external computer speakers recommended)

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My audio interfaces and laptops are hidden inside of the drawers in the cabinet seen below. This keeps my small room clean looking and clutter free. The mic cords run unobtrusively underneath the cabinet, coming up from the back and connect to the interfaces inside of the drawers. The laptops sit on an insert on top of the opened drawers and are also connected to the 60" TV/monitor via HDMI. Everything is also connected to the kick-ass stereo system, which consists of a Yamaha RS202 Stereo Receiver, two Bose 201 Series IV speakers and two Polk Audio T15 speakers.

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My DAW is Reaper. I can either mix and edit at my computer workstations, or on my 60" TV/monitor from the comfort of my recliner via an Arteck wireless keyboard with touchpad. I also use the wireless keyboard to operate everything from behind the kit when I am recording. Yea, I know . . I suck.

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Arteck 2.4G Wireless Keyboard w/Touchpad

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I can also take my recorded kit and import it as MIDI into Superior Drummer 3 to create other drum kit versions of what I recorded. In case you are not familiar with it, Superior Drummer 3 is THE must-have world-class drum recording studio that is stand-alone software, or can be incorporated with your DAW. Two words to describe it? Unbelievably amazing.

Occasionally I get asked, if you have a great sounding kit, then why use Superior Drummer 3? The benefit of utilizing SD3 is that once I record my tracks with the room mics and close mics, I can then create several more versions with different sounding drums and provide the client with not only my live kit, but 4 to 6 additional different sounding kits to choose from when mixing. It's a wonderful benefit that provides clients with a flexibility that they love. You drummers that say "that's cheating" simply need to get over that. It's been a dirty little secret and an industry standard for decades now. I would say that 70% of the killer drum sounds that you hear on your favorite songs are a product of augmentation or outright replacement. It's all about what sounds best, because recordings are forever. And after all, it doesn't change anything regarding the drummer's playing style or talent. So, get over it and embrace it, because it's not going away.

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My voice workstation is minimalistic in nature as well. The setup provides for excellent acoustics, in conjunction with the rest of the room's auditory properties. Again, Reaper is my DAW at this workstation, with all of the cool plugins related to voice recording. A Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface connects Audio-Technica AT2020 and a Shure Beta 52 mics to the computer. Yes, I know what you're thinking . . "a Beta 52 kick drum mic, for voice?" For me, with the right settings and plugins, that track gives me a nice smooth underlying low end that compliments the AT2020 perfectly. Trust me, I've tried several other higher-end mics and this combination just works perfectly for my voice work.

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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

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Shure

Beta 52A

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Audio-Technica

AT2020

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I also have a small laptop workstation. that is equipped with a high-quality voice microphone that is connected to a wireless transmitter. This sends the mic signal to its wireless receiver that is connected to the audio interface at the voiceover workstation. This desk is also outfitted with a small softbox light and cell phone camera for filming my podcasts and social media videos. I also enjoy killer sound with Creative Pebble V2 bluetooth speakers and OneOdio Studio Pro-10 headhones.

I also get a lot questions regarding what gear do I use for filming. 

My studio is equipped with 3 cell phones. 1 Huawei Mate 40 Pro (overhead), 1 Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus (side views) and 1 Motorola Z4 (feet). I started doing this after an article I read in 2019 about well-known full-length Hollywood movies that were shot with cell phones. 

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Samsung Galaxy

S20 Plus

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Motorola Z4

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Huawei Mate

40 Pro

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Canon XL2 Camcorder

I also utilize two Canon XL2 professional camcorders that I have had since they came out in  2004. They are cinema-quality cameras that still more than hold their own today. Although they weren't HD, they shoot in 16:9 and their footage still rivals the top HD cameras of today.

Aside from the regular room lighting  the natural room lighting, I have four 16" x 16" Neewer softbox lights that are equipped with some super-bright LED bulbs that really make the drum kit pop in the video recordings. I also have a small homemade softbox at my laptop workstation for filming podcasts and social media content.

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Neewer 40cm Softbox

DooVii 500W Equivalent Corn Bulbs

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The Neewer softboxes are outfitted with DooVii 500W Equivalent, 6000K, Daylight LED Corn Bulbs. These are without a doubt the brightest and coolest bulbs I have ever used. They literally generate no noticeable heat.

Brief Studio Video Tour

So there you have it. That's how I created a killer drum studio that produces badass drum tracks — in a 15 x 8 foot home studio. And when I don't feel like mixing or working on my website content in the studio, I do it from my outdoor office with a view.

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