Drummer Tips: Prepping Your Kit for the Studio

Getting ready for your first recording session can be both exciting and extremely daunting. You’ve got exercises to practice, songs to learn, budget and time constraints to balance, and a plethora of gear to deal with. But that’s not all you have to worry about.

Your playing and sound is going to be scrutinized by your bandmates, engineer and producer like never before. It’s important to make sure your equipment is in top working condition – anything less could mean the difference between an ok recording and a great one. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your drums in the studio.

Change your drumheads.

Maybe your drumheads have seen countless gigs and practice sessions. Perhaps they’ve been sparingly used but haven’t been changed in a few years. Heck, they probably sound just fine on stage or in rehearsal, right?

Regardless, it’s important to re-head your kit before going into the studio, where every single sonic aspect of your kit will be under the microscope. Re-heading makes tuning easier, meaning you won’t have to struggle to find a good sound, and can help prevent the need for excessive EQ or sample replacement later on.

Specifically, replacing your snare drum heads is an absolute must. In most modern genres of music, the snare is the “lead” voice of the kit. It’s played the most often and will usually sit fairly high in the mix. While you’re at it, take a look at the snares themselves – if any are bent or missing, it’s time to replace them.

Ideally, if your budget allows, replacing all your heads (batter AND resonant) is always the best option. Although reso heads don’t take a lot of physical abuse, they will stretch out as they age, making them harder to tune and affecting the tone of the drum.


Tune your drums – after you set up in the studio.

This is arguably the most crucial item on this list. Tuning your drums well will not only make you sound better, it will make your engineer and producer VERY happy. It’s important to re-tune after you’ve loaded in and set up in the studio, even if you’ve already tuned your drums prior to this.

Reverb Drum Key Leather Keychain

Reverb Drum Key Leather Keychain

Room dimensions and floor/wall material have a huge effect on the tone of your drums, so making them sound fantastic in your garage may not translate very well once you’re in the room where you’ll be recording.

If you’ve got the time and money, your best bet here is to load in your drums the day before setup begins. This will give them ample time to acclimate to the studio environment. If this isn’t possible, try arranging your load-in/setup time so your heads have a few hours to settle in between setup and recording.

Once you’re ready to tune, instruments such as the DrumDial and TuneBot can help you achieve measurably consistent tone, but don’t forget to bring plenty of drum keys, too! A lanyard or keychain drum key is generally your best bet, as they are harder to lose and extremely handy in a pinch. This will allow you to keep your drums in tune in between takes, ensuring your sound is consistent on every single track.

Be sure to bring along some muffling materials as well, like MoonGel for your heads and a pillow for your kick drum – you never know what sort of overtones a particular room is going to bring out in your drums.

Check for squeaks, buzzing and rattles.

The bass drum pedal and hihat stand are the most common culprits here, but everything from a loose cymbal wing nut to an internal lug spring can cause unwanted sound. This may be hard to detect when you’re slamming away at your practice spot, but under the microscopic eye of a close-mounted mic, the slightest rattle can ruin a perfect take.

Rattling lug springs are common on older kits, or if you play with any of the bottom heads removed. Removing lugs and inserting foam or cotton into the housing can correct this problem.

Try teaming up with a bandmate, having them check for errant noises while you play (or vice versa). Afterwards, tighten anything that needs it, and don’t be afraid to apply some lubricant where required – lithium grease or 3-in-1 oil are both good choices.

Cymbal stand wingnuts can be replaced by handy quick-release options, such as the Tama Cymbal Mate and Vater Slick Nut. They use spring tension to hold themselves against the threads on the stand, eliminating rattles. They’re also great for gigging!


Grab some fresh drumsticks.

Drummers generally find splinters uncomfortable and a hinderance to their playing. But more than that, deteriorating sticks can actually make a noticeable difference in your tone. As the tip of the stick wears down, you’ll find your ride sound morph from a satisfying “ping” to a mushy, undefined mess. If you’re a heavy backbeat player, those constant snare rim shots will eventually degrade your stick to the point where the “crack” of striking the rim loses most of its sparkle.

Consider the type of sound you’re hoping to achieve, and try out a few different pairs of sticks before your session. Though you might have a preference for heavier sticks for live drumming, don’t limit yourself – what works live may not be best for the studio. Try different weights and different tips, dowel rod sticks, mallets and brushes. Then bring all of them with you – enough of a variety to cover all of your bases in case some last-minute ideas surface during the session.

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Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Maybe you’ve got a pristine transition badge Ludwig Jazz Festival that’s your pride and joy, or a beat-to-hell ‘80s Yamaha Brass snare that’s been with you for decades and has come to define your sound. Whatever the case, it’s essential to acknowledge the fact that your gear may not end up being right for a particular session or song. You need to be prepared to set your equipment pride aside and sub in some house gear.

Many studios – especially larger/older facilities – will have multiple kits, snares and cymbals on hand. Often, these collections are curated over the years by studio engineers and producers who find a drum or cymbal that fits the vibe of the studio particularly well. Pro session players will often switch out snares, cymbals or even whole kits between songs just to optimize their sound for a given track.

If you own multiple sets of cymbals and snares, it’s always a good idea to bring them along. Even if they’re not your first choice picks, always keeping your mind open to trying new gear is important. You’ll often find that your performances improve because of your willingness to experiment. Your future self – and your bandmates – will thank you for it.

Respect the gear.

At the end of the day, the practice you put into preparing for your session will be the biggest factor in determining the strength of the final product. But your gear is the vehicle that gets you there and needs to be respected as such. A moderate investment of time and money into your drums before you record can end up paying huge dividends down the road – a better drum sound means less time and money wasted in the studio and guarantees a better final mix for you and your band.

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