The backbone of most bands is a solid drummer with a good kit to boot. But when you’re touring and don’t have the liberty to carry your own kit, you often end up getting drum kits that may not be in the best condition. Most engineers will acknowledge that once your kit sounds right everything else will fall into place. Of late, I’ve been spending some time working on an affordable drum trigger hack to deal with bad kits.

IMG_4781 have been around for a long time. But a good set of triggers usually costs a fat sum of money. While these work well, I wasn’t too keen on dropping that kind of dough on something I wasn’t sure would be useful in a live situation. Not to mention, there’s the added cost of a module to get the triggered sounds you need

IMG_4769.jpgBefore I continue let me elaborate a little on triggers and how they work. Basically they’re very simple devices mostly consisting of a piezo transducer and a mounting bracket that sits on the rim of the drum. The pickup senses vibration and produces an electric signal which is then converted to digital (MIDI) by a module which plays pre-recorded drum hits (samples) for every MIDI note it receives. The drum module can also be adjusted to accommodate a range of volumes, so you could in a sense reproduce the dynamic range of the drummer’s playing. IMG_4776.jpg

These became quite popular in the ’90s especially among metal drummers, but were still considered to be lacking in dynamics and unsuitable for other genres. However drum sample technology has come a long way since and triggered sounds have become commonplace in studio production today.

Getting back to using them live – since buying a bunch of expensive triggers was out of the question for me, a friend recommend that I get in touch with Naveen Ujre. Naveen is an audio engineer from Bangalore and he’s the go to tech guy for a lot of musicians in the city. You’ll see him behind the console for quite a few popular bands as well.

He had a trigger ready for me in a few days.  I decided to use my laptop and a sound card for a module. Basically, the trigger sits on the drum head on stage and feeds to the console through a DI box. From there, I just send the signal through my laptop and chose from a library of drum sounds. IMG_4772.jpg

After running a few tests I realised that the triggers work quite well but could use some refining in design and sensitivity. Because they’re running into a laptop and there’s a lot of conversion stages, the latency is noticeable and isn’t usable live in its current form. However I feel that the problem may be solved with a dedicated module and some adjustments to the trigger itself.

On the other hand this is a great addition in the studio. Instead of spending hours trying to get your triggered samples to line up to your recorded audio, having additional trigger tracks saves a lot of time. It’s not always necessary to have triggered drum tracks. But if you’re recording in a poor room on a cheap kit there’s no harm throwing a few triggers in there in case you want to use them later.

I made this video in which I highlight the use of triggers in the studio so you know what to expect if you’re using one for your projects.

Capture that space with room mics

Using room microphones on a drum kit is probably the best way to get a big drum sound. We don’t always get to record in big live rooms. But when you do, there’s no reason not to set up a few room microphones.

Room mics filter

There are probably as many ways to set up room microphones as there are major league engineers, but what you decide to use will depend entirely on the space you’re in, taking time to listen to the room and inspecting the studios mic locker.

Essentially, you could use any mic in a room. I’ve even seen engineers using SM57’s.
But typically a pair of condenser microphones is most common. A switchable polar pattern would be preferable because you may want to use these in Omni.

Sometimes tried and tested mic placement may not work. Here’s a video of a session in which the space outside the studio made for a more appropriate room sound in the context of that particular song. This is from a session I did with Bangalore based band Thermal and a Quarter on their album No wall too high.


I’d also like to take a moment to mention  Al Schmitt. He’s one of those legendary engineers known world over for his incredible microphone technique and extensive work on some of the best records ever made. He’s worked with Elvis, Sinatra, Ray Charles, Steely Dan and many more. If you’re interested in making records and you haven’t heard of him before I’d recommend watching the interview of him on Pensado’s place.

Tech 21’s Oxford: More Orange than Donald Trump

Everybody loves down tuned stoner doom guitars and people who say they don’t are most likely lying. As a guitarist and sound engineer, I often get asked about my preference of tone and gear and my reply is always the same – the simpler the better.

Shepherd guitar rigWorking on Bangalore based sludge band Shepherd had no exceptions. The guitarist Namit Chauhan originally tracked through a tube amp. And although it was a great amp it didn’t really fit the bill. I had worked on the mixes for a while before I decided the better alternative would be to re-record the guitars. At this point we didn’t have much time left and the guys wanted to put the album out asap. I needed a sure shot guitar tone for the album and going to a studio or renting an amp was out of the question.

Enter Tech 21’s Oxford. It’s from their Character line of pedals and is modelled after Orange amplifiers. This thing is all analog, true bypass. And best of all, it’s plug and play. The pedal has a cabinet function which allows you to plug it directly into a PA  or  sound card and you’re ready to go. It runs on one 9v battery and lasts seemingly forever. The controls are straightforward. Level, low, mid, high, gain and character. The character knob has a bit of a learning curve. To my ears it just adds saturation as you turn it up. What I love about this unit is that it’s easy to use and fun to mess with and nearly every setting sounds usable. Which is a far cry from its digital counterparts with their multiple screens and hours of tweaking in order to get the tones you want.

Although there is much to be said about digital multi effects units. When you want something that’s portable and requires literally 5 minutes of tweaking before you can get a tone thats ready to go you’d be hard pressed to find something better than a Tech-21.

All the guitars on the Shepherd album were recorded through the Tech 21 Oxford directly into a Scarlett 8i6 save a few guitar solos which were from the original recording. Namit currently plays a J&D Les Paul copy tuned 2 whole steps down. His current rig is Polytune>>Wah>>Oxford>>Akai Head Rush(delay). There’s a noise gate in there too, but it’s used as a power distributor and not really part of the chain.

If you want to listen to Stereolithic Riffalocalypse, check it out below.

Stereolithic Riffalocalypse by Shepherd