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December 18, 2007 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Garage studio advice: Help me best configure the space we have for recording.

We have access to an industrial park space (about 1,500 square feet, open, in a roughly standard rectangular shape) that consists of concrete floors, 30 foot ceilings (with wooden crossbeam/rafters and a foil over insulation "ceiling") and cinderblock walls, with no insulation at all. My drum set is in there, we have a Vox AC-30 Custom Classic tube amp, the standard Shure 3x SM-57, Beta 52 drum mic kit and... I think another Shure SM58 for vocals.

We're not looking to necessarily record all of us live right now; we're focusing on getting the drums sound a bit more mellow.

Here's the thing: we also have about a dozen (or 18) 55-gallon PLASTIC drums (think these) in the space that we could use to surround ourselves or create baffles in some way...

With that, any advice on if we should touch them at all, or if they'll just fuck with our sound? Further, any tips on how to get the best sound out of everything considering the acoustics of the space? We're pushing into an Alesis Multimix 16, Firewired into a Macbook running, for no, Garageband '08.

Many thanks!
posted by disillusioned to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What exactly do you mean by getting the drums to sound mellow? I'm guessing excessive upper midrange reflections are a problem now but it's not obvious from your post. What does the room sound like if you clap? If you hit the snare?

I don't think the plastic drums on their own will do a lot, if space out carefully they might be able to provide a bit of diffusion, though.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2007

Make a sound booth for the drums or sample them rather than live play and use them that way.

Micing drums is damn hard. You could check out the forums on Electrical Audio for some tips, maybe.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2007

If you can't insulate your space, just bring a bunch of 12 volt car batteries into a field and power the instruments and recording gear that way. No sound insulation needed!
posted by Sukiari at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2007

Response by poster: The duck:

I think I misspoke: We haven't had the real drum mics and mixer yet; thus far, it's been two shitty mics separated and combined before the macbook. So, terrible sound for a lot of reasons. If we space them out around us a bit, it might help, but we're just looking for standard studio sound for the drums, as best as possible.
posted by disillusioned at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2007

The drums, as mentioned above, are going to be difficult to get right. I would get some mattresses (there's tons of free ones on Craigslist, especially near universities), and use that to create a small drum room. You can construct something to hold it up relatively easily using 2x4's, or just prop them up using the plastic drums you have.

If that's not feasible, I would try to find a used office supply store and buy cubicle walls. Try to find egg-crates (maybe from a local IHOP or Denny's) and line one entire side of the wall with them. It will do a pretty good job of preventing unwanted acoustic transients.

If you're going through all this trouble with setting up the space, why not invest a bit more into the mic's? They're going to be a big limiting factor here. I strongly suggest you read the Home Recording FAQ on mics. Also, I recommend posting this question to the Home Recording BBS -- they're fairly knowledgable there.
posted by spiderskull at 1:06 PM on December 18, 2007

Best answer: Okay, the issue is to get the instruments to sound right in the room- as much as is possible- before worrying about what sort of mics you've got. Is there a recording in mind that has the sort of sound you're going for? A standard studio sound means something very different if you're say, Metallica than if you're The White Stripes or Radiohead or (name favorite band here).

A pair of SM-57s used as overheads should be an ok start if the kit sounds decent in the room. Get the drummer to play in a few different spots in the room. Put a finger in one ear, and listen to how things sound in different places, kit and you. You may well need to stand on something tall to find the place where it sounds right. If you hear something like what you're looking for, leave the kit there and get a pair of SM57s up, start with them a few inches apart and move them around. They may work best 3-4 feet apart, it's hard to say. Until you get the 57s, experiment with what you've got, you might be pleasantly surprised. You'll learn something one way or the other.

This all assumes, of course, that you can get the kit to sound decent in one spot. Treating the room acoustics may be necessary to do this. You won't be able to do much about bass frequencies without a lot of luck. If the high-hat other cymbals and the snare sound too bright and 'splashy', see if you can put a bit of carpet down under the kit. You might be able to space the plastic drums out and get some benefit, I'm not sure. Maybe you could use them to prop up some fabric to absorb some high frequencies. The problem with this approach is you can kill the high frequency problems without touching mid and low-range reflections; this can make a room sound boxy and dull. It's a bit of a balancing act.

If you can find a spot where things sound ok, start with the 57s overhead and put the beta-52 in front of the bass drum, it could be anywhere between six inches and four feet out from the drum. Start with just the overheads and fade up the kick drum mic and see how things go from there.

And have a read of this.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2007

Best answer: I'm guessing when you say "mellow", you mean "not pinging and echoey like i'm in a concrete room". Well, the best way to fix that is to create a better-sounding smaller room.

There's probably a lot of flutter echo off the walls. The room is pretty big, so covering all the walls in material is not going to be cost-effective. I'd suggest building 'gobos' - acoustically absorbent panels covered in fabric. No, your eggcrate mattress cover won't work, and that stuff is really flammable, so watch out, or you could have a Great White-esque disaster at practice.

If you have the $$, buy some acoustic treatment. That stuff can get expensive fast, and since you're recording yourself with pretty bare-bones gear, i'm guessing you don't have a gigantic budget for this. A far cheaper option:

If you can perform basic carpentry without too much trouble, my suggestion is to find Owens-Corning 703; that's a rigid fiberglass insulation. Look up a local insulation distributor and see if they have that, or a comparable version. You don't want the stuff with foil backing on it. Rigid fiberglass usually comes in 2'x4' sheets, and there are different thicknesses. I'd say get the 4" stuff. Take appropriate cautionary measures for working with fiberglass - dustmask, goggles, gloves, etc. You'll need enough to build little walls around the drums, just like a fort made of couch cushions. Allow for a couple feet of space too, so the drummer can get up from behind the kit and move around the mics without having to move these gobos.

Rockwool is another option - it's less rigid than fiberglass, but can be cheaper. you'll need to use chickenwire or carpenter's cloth to hold it in the frame.

You'll need a frame to hold the fiberglass. This is a similar process to making a frame for a canvas. Build a 2'x4' rectangle out of 1"x 4" pine to fit around the sheet of fiberglass. Cover this with cloth to reduce the amount of glass fibers that can get out. Burlap is a pretty good choice - doesn't have too much of an effect on the acoustic absorption and is cheap, but does shed fibers and has a particular scent to it.

A good test for cloth suitability is to put it over your ears. If it doesn't cut off all the high frequencies you're hearing, it should be useable. Dense weaves and heavy cloth should be avoided. If it's blocking sound coming in, that means that frequencies are bouncing off it, rather than coming through to be absorbed by the insulation.

Depending on how classy you want these things to look, you can also build a second frame an inch or so larger than the first. Put the fiberglass in the first (inner) frame, stretch fabric around both sides, stapling it to the 4" flat of the inner frame, then build the second frame around that. It'll hide the staples and keep them from coming out. If you're going all-out, you can even stain and poly the outer frame.

You'll need a "foot" on these gobos that is perpendicular to the body, to keep it from tipping over when you run into it during a particularly face-melting solo. Two 18" lengths of 2"x4" screwed into the bottom should work alright. If you want, put some wheels on the feet. It'll make the gobos easier to move.

A diagram would probably make this a lot simpler, but I'm not going to attempt to make one in ASCII. I'm happy to go into further detail via email though.

Disclaimer: bands record in studios not just for a good-sounding space, but also for their expertise. (full disclosure: i am an audio engineer.) A lot of studios have flexible rates, depending on the project. Like Ironmouth said, micing drums can be hard. You know your budget, so price out this stuff and then consider whether it's worth tracking drums at a studio and then overdubbing other parts later.

best of luck.
posted by dubold at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2007

Couple things—how permanent are you looking to be there? Like, can you set real infrastructure?

Second, it's incredibly easy to use those trash cans: fill 'em with dense foam and put them in the corners behind the drummer. They help with standing waves, but also dampen.

You should probably pick up a copy of the book Practical Recording, which is full of easy, helpful things like that.
posted by klangklangston at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2007

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