Drums are loud.
October 23, 2019 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm in an indie pop band. We practice in a bedroom-sized room at our bass player's house. This was perfect until we got a new drummer who plays on a real kit - our last one used a cajon and some more acoustic-type stuff - and the drumming is SO LOUD in that small room. We're having a hard time hearing each other (and even ourselves, really). What can we do to dampen the volume of the drums?

He is an extremely talented drummer. Fantastic. We had someone else in for an audition who was even louder, so I can tell he's modulating volume as much as he can. It's still real loud.

There has so be some way of reducing the drum noise, right? What do other bands do?
posted by something something to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
The traditional method would be to pack the kit with blankets or towels, though that doesn't necessarily help with cymbals. Looks like there are some specialty "drum mutes" that fit over cymbals, but I can't vouch for those. Back in my garage band days, the drummer just did the blanket thing and tried to play softly on the cymbals. Sometimes, he would use brushes instead of drumsticks, though that would change the "feel" for him since they don't bounce back the way sticks do.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:41 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are muffling pads you can put onto the drums, or have him practice with brushes, but honestly neither of those is really a great solution; they don't sound or feel great. The "right" solution is just for everybody to turn up and wear earplugs, assuming the problem is just the noise in the room and not the noise leaking outside.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:44 AM on October 23, 2019

Best answer: Pack the drums and use headphone monitors that can control which other band members you want to hear most.
posted by terrapin at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

The "right" solution is just for everybody to turn up and wear earplugs

Eek I disagree with that for a variety of reasons, not least being the Fletcher-Munson effect. It's hard enough to know how your band actually sounds in a small practice space.

I can testify that the Vic Firth drum mutes work pretty well, but pillows and pieces of bike tire also work fine if you're willing to do a little more work.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:55 AM on October 23, 2019

Best answer: 2nding terrapin. Mute the drums as much as possible. Then if you can swing it, run the all the non-drum instruments into a mixer, and control the volume and mix via headphones or in-ear monitors. (This is what my band does and it's really great.)

Pros: you may not need your amp if you're running direct into the mixer AND if you wear IEMs you get ear protection similar to earplugs. Cons: This can get really gear-extensive if you're on a budget.
posted by gnutron at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

or have him practice with brushes

or those multi-rod things, which, I think, feel more like sticks
posted by thelonius at 8:07 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

The right solution is definitely not to turn up.

You could also invest in a cheap electronic drum kit. They can be as quiet as you want them, so they're great for this kind of situation. There are full kits available for under $300. Then just run them into whatever you're the vocals through.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:23 AM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The cheap ass garage band solution is packing blankets hung on the walls to absorb the sound, especially the piercing high frequencies of the cymbals and snare. (Making absolutely no claims about the legality and safety of such solution.)

The less cheap ass solution is spend money on a larger dedicated practice space.

The even less cheap ass solution is buying smaller drums and finding less painful cymbals and the drummer working really hard on playing quietly. (This is, IMO, the best solution because if the drums are deafening in your space how do you think they're going to come across in the small bars and venues you're likely to play?)

Blanketing the drums themselves or using brushes or buying an electronic kit are worth bringing up but they do tend to get hefty push back from drummers because the feel is entirely different.

Setting up an in-ear or headphone rig for everyone is a viable option but can get real expensive real fast.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:38 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

the drum sticks that are many thin ones bundled together are called "hot rods", and are very useful here. They make them out of wood or nylon, and I think nylon ones are better able to be quieter while still maintaining a tighter sound.

If you've got time and money, Remo makes pretty good "Silent Stroke" mesh drum heads that keep pretty close to the sound and feel of real heads, and zildjan makes the L80 cymbals which are quiet and full of holes but still sound real good.

(the time in this case is having to switch out the drum heads if you plan on using the same kit for gigs as for practicing)
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

The even less cheap ass solution is buying smaller drums and finding less painful cymbals and the drummer working really hard on playing quietly.

Unfortunately, most rock drummers have two levels : off, and as loud as possible. They've never developed any technique for playing drums except hitting them as hard as they can, and they usually aren't receptive to the idea of totally reworking their playing style.

the drum sticks that are many thin ones bundled together are called "hot rods", and are very useful here. They make them out of wood or nylon, and I think nylon ones are better able to be quieter while still maintaining a tighter sound.

I think that's a brand name from Promark.
posted by thelonius at 9:11 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, pack the drums to dampen the sound; we also had some success with putting a small, foldable, transparent acrylic room divider between the drummer and the rest of us, if that's feasible (the one we used just showed up one day in the studio we used, so no idea about cost). Also, if you don't want to go full earplugs, I would sometimes plug one ear and stand with my unplugged ear facing away from the drummer.
posted by fiddler at 12:27 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

If buying equipment is an option, the Tama Cocktail Jam has worked great for my band in a living room sized space. That and lower wattage amps than we normally use. With a hi hat stand it's basically like a full set but not as loud.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:38 PM on October 23, 2019

The problem is that anything you do to dampen or quiet the drums is going to change the feel and sound significantly. You have lots of possibilities here, but the drummer has to decide what they're comfortable with, obviously. I can tell you that just going with it and playing at normal rock band volumes in a small room will probably damage your ears. (Ask me how I know.) Good luck!
posted by nosila at 1:38 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thunder rod is another brand name of the stick bundles, no idea if there even is a generic term.

The best solution is the one your drummer will actually sign off on. I am of the opinion that playing fast and quiet is a hallmark of a skilled drummer, and they should all see that as their highest demonstration of mastery...

The roland V drums feel great and very realistic to this non-drummer fwiw.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:45 PM on October 23, 2019

Best answer: The generic name for the stick bundles is "multi-rods", or if you want to get classical, the German word rute (ROOT-uh). Hot Rods, Cool Rods, Lightning Rods and Thunder Rods are all ProMark brand names for different weights of multi-rods. Most drumstick manufacturers make multi-rods. The cheapest ones around here are made by Stagg, but I don't know how globally available those are. My experience with multi-rods is that they all sound a bit worse than sticks, and they break easily, so I personally don't bother dropping $50+ on the ProMark ones.

As people have noted upstream, the "correct" option is for everyone to wear ear protection and turn everything else up to match. Fletcher-Munson probably isn't relevant here - usually you're practising for playing live, and you want to practise playing at the level you'll play in the venue. You don't want to get to the venue having spent the last ten sessions having had everyone tiptoeing over the tunes and then have horrible balance and tone issues because this is the first time any of you have ever had your amps set higher than 2.

That said, if you're practising in a bedroom rather than a proper practice studio, it's probably just impossible to turn everything up to match without upsetting neighbours. Assuming this is the case, or if you're already playing at the level you want to perform at and the drums are still way too loud:

The best option here is an electronic kit. Roland, Yamaha and Alesis all make electronic kits. Roland (V-Drum) kits are by far the best, and they're industry standard, but they're also the most expensive. I have a reasonably low-end model, the Roland TD-K4P, and I've swapped out the snare pad for a nicer mesh pad. I also have the carrying case. This has served me very well for bedroom practice sessions and small to medium gigs where miking a kit is going to be a pain.

Benefits of an electronic kit: you can hit as hard as you like, you can use proper stick technique, anything from this price point and up will sound absolutely fine and have a large amount of customisation, and live sound engineers love them because for once they don't have to deal with the drums overpowering everything. The most noticeable downside is around cymbal technique; with real cymbals, you can get a very wide variety of sounds, whereas electronic kits, even the very best $5000+ models, are limited to a finite set of samples (or sensor data to feed the modelling if you want to get technical in the case of the TD-50 etc.). In my experience, this isn't really a huge problem for anything except delicate and/or technical stuff. You'll also find the dynamic response isn't as good as acoustic drums, but that's less of an issue. I highly recommend this option over the others, but you'll have to spend some money. FYI, the Roland kits are more or less indestructible, so buying used is not a bad shout. Unfortunately, lots of people know this, so they hold their value quite well and you won't be able to get a massive discount.

The second best option is multi-rods. Brushes are not a good option if all you want to achieve is "playing the drums quieter" - while playing the drums with brushes is definitely quieter, it's not at all the same as playing with sticks. Brushes are really more for specific effect than for making your drums quieter. Multi-rods will make your drums noticeably quieter, but a determined enough player can still sound very loud with them.

Third best is muting, either with duct tape, towels/t-shirts, or purpose-made drum mutes. Mutes significantly change both the tone and the feel of drums. You can get the drums significantly quieter, but it'll be a very different sound and feel for the drummer. You can combine lightly muting the drums and using multi-rods for a bit of a compromise on this.

Fourth best is hanging stuff on the walls. This really helps more with deadening the acoustic and stopping the sound bleeding out of the room - it won't really make anything feel much quieter inside the room, it'll just make it a bit less metallic/fizzy if you've got a lot of hard surfaces. If the room has much in the way of soft furnishings (a couch, carpets, whatever) you will not notice a big difference.
posted by spielzebub at 2:49 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I missed someone recommending an acrylic drum screen. This is not useful unless you're in a large space - drum screens reflect sound rather than absorbing it. They're usually used on stage to reflect the drum sound away from the other performers while allowing the drummer to remain visible and maintain line of sight with the other players. In a small room, the sound still has to go somewhere.
posted by spielzebub at 2:53 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing custom musician earplugs. Two of us in my band (not including the drummer, who goes with standard foam plugs for some reason) use them, and they're lifesavers. Of course, that's assuming the drums are just too loud for you, as opposed to anyone outside your practice space.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:32 AM on October 24, 2019

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