Tips for getting great tom tones?


After some time to get to grips with Hydrogen, I am now really satisfied with the drum sounds I am recording. I am very satisfied with all instrument tones, with the exception of toms. I found my way around compression, EQ and other FX applied on the kick and snare, with very satisfying results, but I am really struggling with toms. Nothing I try gets me the sound I want…

Any ideas for getting tight, powerful rock tom sounds?..

Any help appreciated

Although I’m no “mixing” expert, I usually tend to add a bit of EQ (low end to get depth and high end to get click) and reverb (include snare with this reverb too). Don’t go crazy with this, but just enough to make the drums feel like they’re in an auditorium or some other type of room with reflection. Since you’re using Hydrogen, you don’t have to worry about gating.

good call from hippie… just don’t overdo the bass on the tom tones as that can end up muddying your low end and losing definition on your kick.

Hey there,

Thanks for those suggestions. I am glad I was already thinking of that, so at least on the right track. However, like I was saying, I can´t get it to work for me.

You see, the type of drums sound I am after, at least from a reference stand point, is Dream Theater´s Mike Portnoy sound. I have got close enough in terms of the kick and snare, but it feels miles away for toms.

Does anybody have any clue about what to do in order to get such tom tones?

Well, that could be a bit tricky, considering you’re trying to find the sound of Portnoy’s 20-piece kit with standard 5-piece kit in Hydrogen. As a drummer, I can tell you that drum tones are specific to the drum wood type, the drum heads, the drum size, etc. For all you know, you may be trying to alter the sound of a standard drumkit (12" 13" 16" toms, 14" snare) to sound like 8" 10" 12" 14" 16" toms w 13" snare. As you can see, the only similarity between the kits are the 12" and 16" toms. What you’re after may be very difficult to achieve.

I don’t have much experience with Hydrogen and I only see the “Vintage Yamaha” set as the best bet for “acoustic” drums. Perhaps play around with “pitch shifters” and/or “chorus” plugins to alter the key/tone.

since you’re working with hydrogen, I’d say the best way to get good tom tones is to get good tom samples.

Kit tuning it critical, as is the player. I’ve done sessions where there was a smoking set in the live room, that was tuned really well, and someone I knew from the studio was playing it while I was hanging mics, and I’d get really excited, until the actual guy in the band sat behind the kit… and it all went away. He just didn’t have it.

I’m with hogiewan and Ricardus here. There is no other way to get a great tom sound except to have the samples come from very well-tuned toms played by a good player in a good sounding room. I know a lot of people are sometimes frustrated with advice like that, but it really is the secret.

I recommend sampling Portnoy’s drums straight up from a DT album! I’ve been using his Awake kick for years :slight_smile: 9:00 has that drum intro and there are drum-only sections in (probably) every DT album from which you can rip some clean samples.

if you need to get more punch on toms you can also try the 80´ trick, putting a reverb on it and then gate the reverb. but then mix it slightly under your natural drumsound if you dont wanna sound like fine young cannibals or phil collins :wink:

more punch on a tom? sounds like a shoutout for steve harris’ “Barry’s Satan Maximiser” plugin … careful with that axe, eugene!

And since we use analog, I can hit tape REALLY HARD, and get all kinds of lovely analog tape compression artifacts.

That said, there is a simple fact about drums that I learned long ago. Rock and roll Drum sounds do NOT exist in the real world. It’s all in the studio. Killer input sounds, and strong EQ are required.

Ricardus, yes, you re completely right! I remember the time I was trying to play the Drums like it sounds on a metal production, and I ended up deadly tired after the first song. ;( It s just not there in the real world, its all postproduction. Drums originally sound like we know from old jazz records, i.e. elvin jones playing on a coltrane album…

Yep. But I like that sound, too!

yeah, same to me…

Since my analog machine is 16 tracks, I often just hang an X/Y for overheads, and I mic the snare, and kick, and put a Stereo Blumlein in front of the kit for more room. Six mics, and it sounds classic, and cool, but I can get the snare and kick sounds I want since they have their own tracks. A well tuned set of Toms, and a player who actually HITS them, takes care of the rest.

As several have pointed out in this thread, if you haven’t got a pretty good sample sound to start with, no amount of EQ or compression is going to transform it into something good. If you aren’t in a position to record your own samples, there are lots of good drumkit samples available on the web. Some of them are very reasonably priced, but one thing I’ve found with the cheaper ones is they can have quite restrictive licensing conditions, eg. they can only be used in original compositions (or even just in the end user’s own compositions).

BTW, those advocating sampling off a record are on dodgy ground. If you release a recording using these without clearing it with the copyright owner you could be sued.

One common mistake that engineers make when recording toms is putting the microphones too close to the drum. There is really no difference in distance whether you are recording jazz or tight metal. Keep the microphones at least 2-4 inches from the tom. If your drums are tuned right and you use the right mic you do not need to use any EQ.

If you want a clear jazz sound without a lot of low end, you can use AKG 414s about 4-6 inches away. If the drummer sucks, don’t bother. Its not worth it to have a AKG 414 smacked by a stick.

If you want a tighter/punchier sound, you can use a microphone like an Audix D2 2-4 inches away.

Do not aim the mic right at the edge of the head. On average, I have mine about 3 inches away aimed about 1/2 from the center. Sometimes I have to play with this a bit.

Other thing that can effect tom sound is overhead placement. Make sure your toms sound good when the overheads are soloed in mono. If your tom is out of phase in your overheads it can really screw up the sound. Make sure you know how to properly place overheads in an XY configuration or properly measured from the “center” of the the kit.

Also, if the drummer sucks and doesn’t know how to hit the drums right, you are out of luck. I’ve had really crappy sets/sounds played by very consistent drummers and it still sounded good. You can beat on a box and if you have sweet groove and attack it can sound good.

Engineers should learn how to tune drums.

A good drummer with studio experience will know that the crash cymbals need to be away form the toms. At least 12 inches. Also if the drummer comes in with toms highly-angled, you know you are going to have a tough day.

Use rings or gels for getting rid of rings.