Today I want to talk to you about famous Glyn Johns method to record the battery.
But let's get into the action right away, do you know this piece, right?
Yes there is no better advertising for this technique than John Bonham's batteries in Led Zeppelin.
In fact, Glyn Johns was the name of their sound engineer who invented this system to be able to record the battery in the most airy and big way imaginable at the time.
And, in my opinion, although Johns has recorded many historic rock drummers, no one has given an interpretation of his best method of Bonham, which in the imagination of us all is direct synonym of power and majesty on the instrument.
The Glyn Johns method is ruthless. In fact, the drumming performance resumes as it is with very little editing possibilities, given that it considers the kit as a single linked set.
The recording will be huge, spacious, airy and uniform.
If you have a great drummer in your hands, the recorded track will be fantastic, I assure you.
If, on the contrary, you have to register a drummer who is not very dynamically equipped, it is better to turn to systems aimed at isolating the individual pieces of the kit so as to have more freedom later during editing and mixing.
Do you want to hear the Glyn Johns method employed by me? Here is a recording made many years ago when we had very few microphones available and we tried to get the maximum result with the minimum equipment. The piece is called Hyperuranium and Pio is on the guitar. Not bad right?
When we think of recording the drum professionally our mind will automatically figure complex 8, 10, 12 and more microphonic techniques.
Although no one forbids us to use as many microphones as we like and like in the field of recording, the “less is more” adage is almost always true, better to avoid overdoing it, in order to concentrate on the performance and to have fewer choices to be made at the time of mix.
The recipe for recording modern batteries is usually a mix of dynamic microphones placed very close to the individual pieces of the kit, with two stereo overheads placed at the top and some microphones to shoot "the room".
But today we are going to examine this impressive method which involves the use of only 4 microphones in the face of an incredibly powerful and musical final effect (as long as it is performed in a workmanlike manner).
Do not despair if you fail to get perfect recordings with Glyn Johns on the first try, as it is a method that leaves a lot of space for free personal interpretation there is a need to get a lot of fun to learn the nuances of your own room and your own microphones.
But I assure you that with a little patience you will get amazing results.
Who is Glyn Johns?
Glyn Johns is a British musician, sound engineer and producer famous for having worked with so many giants in the rock world including: Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Eric Clapton and The Beatles.
How to register the battery with the Glyn Johns method?
To put his method into practice you will need to 2 overhead microphones (ideally large diaphragm capacitors, but with my band Pik we used small ribbons and the result was fantastic), a microphone for the kick (dynamic or condenser) e one for the snare (dynamic, I recommend a modified 57 replacing the resistance).
The main point is that the main sound reaches 90% from the overheads while the other two microphones on the case and snare drum will serve to reinforce these fundamental elements of the kit and will give us a bit of freedom in the mix.
Put like this, it looks like the usual standard system, but the stroke of genius of dr. Johns was the highly unorthodox arrangement of the two overheads, let's go and see better what it is all about …
The method is set by taking the first over and placing it at about one meter directly on the side above the snare, pointing downwards.
Then record the microphone as it is and make a test with the battery, the kit should already be portrayed in a balanced way with this configuration, snare drum, tom, case and cymbals must already appear as a homogeneous musical ensemble.
If you don't hear enough drums in the test recording then proceed to angle the overhead a bit towards the tom, if the cymbals sound too loud and annoying, put the microphone higher.
Remember that every drummer has a different hand and requires a different configuration adapted to his use of dynamics.
Once you have achieved a good balance within the first microphone, things get interesting. I take the second overhead and place it exactly over the right of the eardrum, about 15 centimeters above the edge of it, so that it looks at the snare drum and the hi-hat. The "overhead" in this case is not used at all "over your head" or from above the head but it serves to capture the kit from a completely different angle, side.
The trick to placing the two overs in phase with each other is to make sure that the grid of the two microphones is at equal distance from the center of the snare drum.
To make sure of this, you can use a very common microphone cable and let the drum hold the end of the snare well, perhaps by the drummer himself, swinging the cable between the two microphones and making sure it extends over the same distance.
When panned, these two microphones alone should give you a fully balanced, clear and powerful stereo recording of your kit. You should hear the crack of the snare exactly in the center, the plates around very open and the drums very powerful and clear.
What will be missing in this phase of the configuration will be the kick punch and a bit of thickness of the snare. Here's what the other two microphones are for now.
Once you have ascertained that the overheads sound good on their own, the final 10% remains to complete the technique. Take the kick microphone and place it on the resonant outside of the case. Put it in a point where you can have the fullness of the attack, so as to complement the recording of the over.
For the snare, place the microphone 5 cm above the snare circle. Experiment with the right angle to get the desired timbre, don't be satisfied right away because a dynamic well placed can make the divine snare drum.
Remember that these two dynamic microphones just need to complement the sound, the substance of this must come from the over, if this is not trying not to use them to put a piece, but go back and try to have a good image of the kit already with the first two main microphones. This is the key to the Glyn Johns method.
Microphones that are too light will not perform as well in this technique, as are not too accurate microphones.
As for the mix, obviously place the kick microphones and snare in the center, as you would in any other normal situation. Then take the over positioned over the snare and pannalo half to the right, say at 3, without going too far to the right.
As for the other one, the one placed above the eardrum, place it at the far left of the pan. This serves to give a sense of great depth to the whole kit. Starting from this position obviously you do the necessary tests and don't forget to use your ears instead of your eyes when I mix.
Remember these steps to get the most out of this technique:
Try to always have new skins (resonant and hinged), a kit of new skins patently matched can do wonders for the sound of a battery and bring even a mediocre set to glory.
The room where you record is fundamental to get the best from Glyn Johns, as this is a very airy technique, it portrays much reverberation and reflections in the room, so to have the classic Bonham sound you need very large spaces (if you are curious go online to search for how it was recorded the battery in the fourth disk of the Zeppelins …). The better the room sounds, the better the recording will be.
There are no fixed rules. Use this method as a starting point and learn to adapt it to your needs, every battery, every room and every drummer are different, don't be afraid to experiment and move your microphones around. Once you understand the basic technique you will know what to do to get the sound you want.
Legend has it that this technique was discovered by pure chance, that this serves as an inspiration for you to experiment in your turn without being afraid.
Next time and good recordings with the Glyn Johns method, send me your recordings and let me listen to your music, I'm curious!