Show 100 – Using Speakers as Mics and Recording Drums at Greenhouse Studios

In this week’s show, Ryan talk about using different kinds of speakers as microphones and Jon talks to Chris Holmes at Greenhouse Studios about recording drums at a professional studio.

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Links:

Home Recording Tactics – (Jon affiliate link), (Ryan affiliate link)

Greenhouse Studios

iTunes Home Recording Show Page – Write us a review to celebrate our 100th show!

Here is the 2″ speaker from an answering machine that I used as a mic for the segment:

25 thoughts on “Show 100 – Using Speakers as Mics and Recording Drums at Greenhouse Studios

  1. Hi guys, thanks for the great show! πŸ™‚

    I’ve got a really newbie question here, I’d love to hear your input on something.
    Is it really wrong to use a shure sm58 to record a guitar amp? I know the frequencies are most compatible with voice, but how much of a “sin” would it be to use it? Do you think we should by all means use an sm57 and not sm58?
    Also, the room is quite acoustically untreated, but when testing with the dynamic mic the sound came out quite dry and warm (Legacy Amp0), no significant problems with acoustics and echos and room reverbs (we put some mattresses behind the mic and to the sides though). Is there something I’m missing here? We were frankly quite satisfied with the sound, something we didn’t really expect in an untreated room with an sm58 mic.

    Thanks a lot for your time, and sorry for the big message!
    Cheers!

    Alkis

    Thanks

  2. Great show!

    I found the use of the green bullet mic a creative idea. I’d like to share an experience that could be helpful to others. While recording drums on the stage of an empty theater, we taped a pressure zone mic to the stage as well as setting up the usual mic placements. I found the sound of the PZM to be quite impressive. I was surprised to find that the PZM produced a balanced mono image of the whole kit. The PZM is another way to go for having a lo-fi mono track that could be used for adding distortion, effects, and creating loops in a similar fashion to Chris Holmes’ green bullet technique.

    Thanks,

    Brian Russell Cook

  3. 100 was great. Love the small speaker mic, and the drum segment was an eye opener.

    My cohort Neil McDougall stated that while you can’t polish a turd, you can roll it in glitter. Well I just found out that they DID polish a turd on Mythbusters! It’s on youtube if anyone is interested.

  4. Sorry for the double post, I just listened to Show 76, and Jon mentioned using an sm58 on a guitar amp! So I guess I have my answer right there πŸ™‚

    • We will talk about it on the next show… but to put your mind at ease in the meantime, the 57 and 58 are the same exact capsule. The differences from there are all in the design. They are close enough IMHO to be interchangable in most cases.

  5. Hey!

    Love your show guys, been listening for over a year !
    Anyways, I actually tried using a 12″ PA monitor for a subkick and it was just a bit weird, first off I was surprised that i could just hook it up from the speaker input to a DI, but the problem was that there was just too much ring in the low end, no real attack and definition.
    But I will surely give one of those old 6″ car door speakers I changed from my renault clio a try πŸ˜‰

    Cheers from cold Sweden

  6. 12″ is too big to use as a sub. 8″ or below are ideal.

    I use my 8″ sub in support of kick, but you need to be very sparing with how much you add, and gating it from the ‘normal’ mic is usually advisable.

  7. Awesome show!! congrats on the 100th!! I going to the electronics surplus store and I’m gonna get a bunch of speakers of different sizes

    Cheers!!

  8. Anton – You don’t need the DI either. Just plug the speaker into a mic input (suitably hot/cold wired, of course). You may need to pad it.

    I’d hate to record a drum kit without my home-made sub these days. It really does add that natural extra weight to the bottom that’s tough to find any other way.

  9. Guys, having played drums for almost 40 years I have to tell you, the Greenhouse Studios interview, while fascinating, was a classic example of recording overkill! I cannot imagine using 16 mics to record a 5 piece kit. But then, having all those wonderful Neuman and other great mics (and lets be honest, while cheap in price, the SM57 is a fantastic drum mic!) running through a variety of Neve and Pultec pres, EQ’s, and compressors, and all running through that wonderful SSL console with its pres , EQ, and processing, Chris still feels a need to add usually 4 layers of samples but as many as 8 on top, what is the point of all the wonderful mics and outboard gear????? And to be honest, with all that gear and such, it didn’t seem that much better than far more simpler recordings I have heard and done. I mean, some of the best drum recordings ever made were recorded by Glyn Johns or using his 4 mic technique. But the key to his recordings and ALL good drum recording is a good drummer and a perhaps even more importantly, a very well tuned kit.

    Next, if it took an engineer (especially with all the practice Holmes has apparently had…) 2 1/2 hours to get the drums set up, it had better be on his time! I ain’t paying for more than an hour at the most nor should I! This get’s back to drum tuning. If it takes 2 1/2 hours to get set up, it would seem most of that time would be far better spent having the drummer tune his drums! Which brings me to my other point, tuning drums.

    A while back when you did some drum recording techniques, Jon mentioned he had learned how to tune drums in about 30 minutes. All I can say is, that is why that kick drum you borrowed for the mic shootout was so spectacular and why you can’t get that sound. It is almost impossible to tune a kit correctly in 30 minutes, let alone “learn” how to tune drums in that amount of time! Jon, I am not trying to give you a hard time, but it can literally take years to learn how to properly tune drums. There are so many things involved it would take far too long to list them all here, but here are a few of the main aspects;

    1. The differe3nce between top and bottom head tunings: a drum has several “natural” tuning frequencies, each having its own combination of harmonics and resonant frequencies. These factors are influenced not just by the size of the drum, but by the shell material, precision milling of the drum edges, and even the finish to name a few. And because of this, the drums should be separate for the initial tuning, and not mounted as a kit. And it is virtually impossible to tune a drum simply by making the tension rods either all the same length or the same tension. That is simply a starting point as there are minor variations in where the lugs are mounted, the length of the lugs, and so forth. Also, quite often it is necessary to “detune” one or more lugs on the top and/or bottom heads to eliminate certain harmonics and resonant frequencies.

    2. Once you have tuned the top head to the tone and note you like (yes, drums should be tuned to musical notes, more on that later…), then the bottom head comes into play. The tuning of the bottom head has a tremendous impact on the dynamics of the sound and can also radically alter the timbre, harmonics, and resonant frequencies, adding or subtracting either. This means it not only affects the tuning of the top head, it actually affects the drummers playing as it can alter the rebound of the stick almost as much as the tuning of the top head can. It can take quite a lot of experimentation to find the right combination to produce the sound and resonance you want. This all radically affects how the drum records. And then each kit and each drum has their own peculiarities meaning each drum has to go through this process.

    3. Just when you thought you had your individual drums tuned, you then have to go back and play them with each other as the different drums and the way they are tuned again affects the resonance, tone, and timbre of the other drums. This means you will most likely have to go back once the kit is assembled and do some more fine tuning. This is where things can either get hairy or they can be wonderful. The kit needs to be tuned to itself. This generally means tuning the drums to thirds or sometimes fifths, depending on the size of the individual drums and the overall desired change in pitch from drum to drum. This is why it is also always best to actually tune the drums to pitch. The result is the drums will blend in with the song far better and makes them sound far more “musical”.

    While I admit this is a very brief description of the actual process, it should be obvious that it takes a lot of time to properly tune a kit, let alone learn how to tune one! This should also help emphasize the importance of properly tuning a kit. In the end, it is far better to make the drummer take the time to tune his kit (preferably at home) than to waste a lot of time setting up a poorly tuned kit. No matter how good the equipment is, if the drums are not tuned properly, the end result will be far from pleasing. Of course if the drummer isn’t very good to begin with….

    I hope this has been helpful and while the actual tuning process is rather involved, perhaps this helps explain why proper tuning of drums is so important, perhaps even more important than having a guitar completely in tune!

    Sincerely,

    e.scarab

  10. uoohh! nice post e.scarab, I also had mixed feelings about that subject, why go through so much trouble to later replace drums and align everything? or add samples here and there, sounds like a very unnatural way to present a performance, it seems to me that we are letting technology take over the creative aspects of music, just because something is convenient doesn’t make it better…. oh wait am I talking about my ex-girlfriend again? geez!

    ps. don’t get me wrong Jon, the interview was very well done, cheers!

  11. Guys,

    Finally digging out from a project with self-imposed ban on distractions (i.e. listening to podcasts). Very, very good show guys and a fantastic interview Jon.

    Congrats on 100! (we’ll get there eventually…)

    Cheers, Dave

  12. Ryan,

    Thanks, yet another great show!

    Any chance you could post a quick ‘how-to’ on making a sub kick from a speaker. It sounded pretty simple, but I didn’t quite get exactly how to do it myself.

    Also, the comment you read about mic’ing the strings of an electric – I actually did that on a song I’m currently working on. I’d be happy to share some samples of that, is emailing you MP3s the best way to go?

    Thanks,
    Andrei

    • It is really simple to wire up a speaker as a microphone. Simply cut a guitar cable in half. Attach the tip to the + and the shaft to the – on the speaker. Plug the 14″ into a direct box and the off to your preamp as usual. Really no more complicated than that.

      Email your clip to ryan@homerecordingshow.com and I will play it on the next show.

  13. to e scarab,

    I agree with some of the things that you said, but most of it is classic comes off as you being old and out of touch. I’d love to hear drums you’ve recorded with 4 mics compete with quad tracked heavy guitars, 3 to 4 guitar lead lines, bass, 10 track vocal stacks and synths.

    Secondly, as someone who’s worked in MANY studios over the years, I’d also love to meet an engineer that gets you a killer drum sound in an hour. Again, I feel like you’re out of touch with how modern rock records are made. I’ve done drum dates where the engineer has taken up to 6 hours, and I promise the time is always worth it in the long run.

  14. Hi guys Chris here,

    Nice to see some discussion going on after the interview! Jon pointed out to me that there was some points raised that perhaps I’d like to respond to so here I am.

    E.scarab you raise some very valid points. Great drum sounds come from a great drummer, with a great kit, in a great room, with good gear….and level of importance is in that order. No one debates that at all, but I feel that Nick made a very valid point. You CANNOT compete in the moderm rock/metal/pop genres without a more substantial setup, and generally samples will be required.

    I’d love to be able to do minimalistic drum setups all day and really capture a roomy classic tone, but it’s completely unacceptable with the styles of music I work on. I could never get away with that at all…ever. A standard has been set and I must adhere to that standard to compete with the other people who make these kinds of records. I understand it’s not for everyone, but that’s a none issue. The people who come to me WANT that sound.

    If you disagree with this, please send us some drumtracks you’ve done (as nick said) so we can see how you would make it work against a heavily layered track.

    2.5 hours including actually setting up the kit and setting up mics seems to be quite fast if you ask me. I worked with Frank fillipetti on 2 different albums and he’d take up to a day to get a drumsound….think that’s too long?

    Finally if you don’t like the sound that’s completely subjective and you’re absolutely entitled to your opinion. Drums rarely sound good in solo, it’s more important to hear them against everything else. Unfortunately the drum track Jon and I used was for an upcoming major label release, so I am unable to share that…yet.

    I appreciate that everyone took the time to listen to the interview and thanks to Jon for coming out! If anyone wants to discuss this further with me, my email is:

    C_F_H_13@hotmail.com

    Thanks,

    -Chris

  15. All I can say is guys, if you think I’m old and out of touch, go back and listen to any Glyn Johns drum recordings including Zeppelin. And remember, there is no plagiarism in art. It has ALL been done before…You “young guys” saying I’m old and out of touch just haven’t listened to enough stuff to make that kind of determination and would seem to have missed out on some really great recordings and production if you think that. Listen to some Bill Bruford, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa (especially with Bozzi) or the Dixie Dregs. There is everything from soft jazz to metal on many of their albums but no autotune, no sample layers, no time stretching, etc. They actually PLAYED it that way! That was back before the days when every record by every artist, in every genre had to have the same “sound”. Can you say autotune????

    My point was not that the “old way” is the best way. My point was and is that with all the gear that was being used, there really shouldn’t be a need to use many samples, if any, because most samples don’t use that much gear when they are made! Say what you will, but if you can’t get the ultimate drum sound using the kind of equipment listed without having to resort to samples on top, in my experience and opinion, perhaps better engineering or better artist talent is the answer, not more layers. And please, let’s not turn this into “well, Chris has X amount of experience, what is yours” because that really has nothing to do with it. After all, as Chris said, it is all subjective.

    All I am saying is that if you can’t get every bit of sound you want with the quantity and quality of gear used, either something is wrong or it begins to look like the gear is being used more to impress the artist than anything, kind of like having stacks of Marshalls onstage but actually playing through a Fender Twin with a mic in front of it. When I get my drum room set back up and my Saffire Pro 40 gets hear, I will accommodate you with some tracks using far less equipment and let you be the judge. And I will even tell you that the kit I will be using is a 1972 vintage, Ludwig Vistalite, including the infamous 18″ floor tom. If you are familiar with acrylic drums, then you know how difficult it can be to get a really good, tight sound with them. For me, the sound is infinitely more due to years of trying different tunings than all the mics and pres in the world. And I still say, in my world, 2.5 hours just to get the drum sound is unacceptable, but that is my opinion.

    Next, over production is not locked in time. Quite a few top 40 rock albums of the 70’s and 80’s, including Journey, Def Leopard, and a host of metal glam bands (and many producers) would record the drums then go back and re-record each drum and cymbal individually. Whether it was worth the trouble or not is still open for debate…the same holds true these days. I agree with chepster that often the technology gets in front of and in the way of creativity. I’ve recorded with a single SM57 sitting on a towel on the bass drum (an old jazz technique) with amazing results.

    Chris, I also don’t want you to think I don’t respect the work you do or have done nor did I say or was meaning to imply the drums in the interview didn’t sound good. I merely said for all the gear and work I didn’t feel it was that much different than many recordings I have done and/or heard over the years using far less and I wondered at the need to use samples when you have such incredible gear to begin with. But at the same time I also think one of your own comments says a lot:
    “I’d love to be able to do minimalistic drum setups all day and really capture a roomy classic tone, but it’s completely unacceptable with the styles of music I work on.”

    For what you are recording, I can accept that response. But at the same time I completely disagree with the statement “You CANNOT compete in the moderm rock/metal/pop genres without a more substantial setup, and generally samples will be required.” This is where my age takes over and says that is an excuse for a lack of ability and/or talent by the engineer or the artist end and less a requirement of the music. Maybe metal, but even there I still say not every one goes to such great lengths or needs to. Ronan Chris Murphy of Veneto West perhaps said it best:

    “Even with the best gear in the world or fancy recording techniques, the heart and soul of a recording is the emotion and the feel of a performance, and of course the songs. When I have discussions with musicians about production and they begin to confuse production with “great drums sounds”, I tell them that good production is about getting the songs and the performances to a point where the drum sound does not matter, and then getting great drum sounds.”

    “As a young self-taught producer, I had not fully grasped how much recordings were governed by performance. The sound quality of my recordings were inconsistent, and I could not figure out why some sessions “I” managed to get it right and other sessions “I” got it so wrong. Why did some records sound really good and others not when I was using my same bag of tricks and the same equipment in the same studio. What experience finally taught me was that on some sessions I got lucky and had great players, and other sessions I failed to recognize what I needed to draw out of the players to make a great sounding record. I began to learn this when I would be mixing a record and the drummer would say to me that he wanted the drums to sound like AC/DC or some other great rock band. Try as I might, I could not get the drums to sound like AC/DC and finally I realized the obvious. Beyond the differences in recording techniques, I had the wrong materials to build the house the drummer was looking for. The building blocks of the AC/DC sound are Phil Rudd hitting straight, simple, hard and right in the pocket. The records in question I was doing had a drummer playing much more like a jazz drummer than Phil Rudd. I was trying to build a brick house out of crystal. Crystal will make you a fine jazz chandelier, but it won’t build you an AC/DC style brick house.”

    “Many of the recording or mix techniques you use in the studio to capture the spirit and energy of one style of playing will actually work against another style of playing. If a musician or producer is going for a particular sound on a record, that sound is built on the performance. If the performance is wrong there is nothing that will get you to where you want to go. You could never take a performance by Tommy Lee on a Motley Crue record and make it sound like Elvin Jones on a Coltrane record or visa versa. The sound of a record is governed by the performance.”

    That is the point I was trying to make. It is often the performance and the material, not the production or recording, that make a song “sound” great. I have to admit, I often cringe when I hear Jon and the guys talking about time correction, tuning correction, etc. and layering samples trying to make an imperfect and/or lacking talent performance sound better than it really is. That may be what someone is willing to pay for, but in the end it is a false representation of what the band sounds like and not only can it give the band a false impression of their abilities, it can lead to some really disappointed club owners and ticket buyers that go expecting to hear something at least akin to what they heard on the demo and/or CD only to find the band actually sucks! I think it would be far better to let the band know they really need more practice and try to make mopey elsewhere than to give them a doctored recording that isn’t indicative of what they are actually capable of. But again, that’s just my opinion, albeit one developed over 50+ years.

    For a classic example of what happens when the demo is heavily doctored and what can result, check this out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkKaTeWI3KM

    Then go to the SonicState.com website and listen to podcast 200 and Gaz talking about recording the demo these guys did that led them to audition for the X factor. It starts 20 minutes in the podcast…it is very enlightening…these guys are pros!

  16. After that lengthy discourse, there was one other thing I was thinking about relative to me being “old” and “out of touch” when it comes to what is or isn’t required to record drums in today’s market. Most pop/r&b/and rap and many, many, many gold and platinum records are recorded almost entirely “in the box”. The musicians are hired later for touring purposes….

    PS. Nick Fury, I’ll do even better; listen to just about any Who album starting with Tommy and while you’re at it, listen to the drums on “Live at Leeds”. I don’t think Mitch Mitchell layered any samples on his tracks and there are certainly oodles and oodles of multi-tracked leads, rhythm tracks, bass, and such and the drums seem to sit in the mix fine to me. John Bonham of Led Zepplin, one of the quintessential metal bands, recorded some of the best, most influential, and sought after drum sounds in a stairwell with ambient mics. I could go on and on through a litany of records pre 1990 and a virtual history of rock to give plenty more examples of multi-tracked guitar parts (more than quad…), etc., and drums that are not “enhanced” with samples or the amount of gear Chris used in his interview, but is that really necessary?

    10CC spent much of their time getting their sound using lush vocal sounds, and using layers of guitars and synths. There are “loops”, and “samples”, but not quite what you would call the same things now…in fact, they layered some 256 vocal tracks and chords to produce the sound in “I’m Not in Love” and with machines limited to 16 tracks (do I even need to mention the Beatles?). They did use loops however, a honking big 12′ tape loop!
    “It worked, but the loop itself β€” and this is where it gets interesting β€” had to be made up from multiple voices we’d done on the 16-track machine. Each note of a chromatic scale was sung 16 times, so we got 16 tracks of three people singing for each note. That was Kevin, Lol and GiGi standing around a valve Neumann U67 in the studio, singing ‘Aahhh’ for around three weeks. I’m telling you; three bloody weeks. We eventually had 48 voices for each note of the chromatic scale, and since there are 13 notes in the chromatic scale, this made a total of 624 voices. My next problem was how to get all that into the track.

    “I mixed down 48 voices of each note of the chromatic scale from the 16-track to the Studer stereo machine to make a loop of each separate note, and then I bounced back these loops one at a time to a new piece of 16-track tape, and just kept them running for about seven minutes. Because we had people singing ‘Aahhh’ for a long time, there were slight tuning discrepancies that added a lovely flavour, like you get with a whole string section, with a lot of people playing. Some are not quite in time, some have slightly different tuning, but musically a lovely thing happens to that. It’s a gorgeous sound. A very human sound, very warm and moving all the time. Anyway, after putting the 13 chromatic scale notes back onto the 16-track, it meant there were only three open tracks left!

    Now go and listen to the drums on “Dreadlock Holiday”. There were no samples layered on top, no time stretching, nothing like that. Whether it is your “style” of music or not, can you say it doesn’t sound as good as anything recorded these days? The point again is, it is often about talent, being creative and working outside the box that gets you great sound, not just having a shit load of high end gear….If the “new sound” requires so much special equipment, sample layering, etc. then why do most pre amps, plug-ins, channel strips, and consoles try to emulate the equipment of the 60’s, 70’s, and even the 80’s when sampling, infinite tracks, and computer technology were almost non-existent? There is a reason everyone wants to get that “analog” sound…But what do I know? As Oscar Wilde once said; “I’m not young enough to know everything”…..

  17. In Sound On Sound Bob Clearmountain said he used bass drum samples of Charlie Watt’s to beef up bass drum mixes due to Charlie’s bass drum volume varied so much. There’s no difference between a purist and a simpleton.

  18. Just some thoughts on the D112 – was telling a friend of mine about the show and mentioned the D112 slang usage/hatred. His reply was that he loves the D112 in the mix. If you listen to it in isolation you’ll never think “that’s the kick sound I want” but in the mix it settles well. Anyway, just food for thought and might be an issue of different musical styles (we don’t do/listen to hard rock/metal).

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