Welcome to part three of our Inside the GRAMMY Museum blog series with David Trau, head engineer at the museum’s Clive Davis Theater. If you missed part one and part two, take a few minutes and learn how Trau approaches live vocals and acoustic guitar.
As head engineer, David is responsible for running sound for some of the most celebrated bands and artists in the world. On any given day, he might be working with Brian Adams, Dion, Graham Nash, Weezer—the list goes on. Many of the performances at the theater are acoustic, but it’s not uncommon for performances to feature a full rhythm section. Due to the venue’s small size—it seats 200 people—it’s important for David to get a tight and controllable drum and bass sound to avoid overwhelming the other instruments onstage. We sat down with David to learn about some of his favorite microphone choices for bass and drums as well as some of his favorite tips and tricks for mixing.
Bass is pretty straightforward—I prefer to use a DI, and I like a low, deep bass sound with some high- mid articulation. I always try and use a DI signal from the back of a great sounding amp but will grab the signal directly out of the pedal board if the amp is substandard. I use mild EQ to carve out a little bit of room in the lows for the kick drum. For compression, I use a 3:1 ratio, a mildly fast attack of 12-15 milliseconds and a 60–100 millisecond release, depending on how smooth I want it to sound. I don’t want to compress the initial attack—I just want to tighten the main part of the transient response (or the impact of the note) to create sustain.
Anytime there’s a hole in the kick drum, I like to place an AKG D12 VR, so half of the mic is just past the front head and angled toward the beater—with the mic pointed slightly toward the bottom corner of the shell. I compress the signal and try and find the transient to get a really good thump that you can feel in your chest.
I use a cardioid dynamic microphone on the top of the snare and a supercardioid dynamic on the bottom of the snare. It’s very much a studio technique—it allows me to get a lot of clarity from the bottom of the snares as well as the fat and punchy sound from the top. By blending them together, I can create a fuller sound than either mic alone. The bottom mic also gives the snare some isolation from the hi-hat. I can also use transient compression to lengthen or shorten the sound.
I really like the attack of the hi-hat, so I try and angle an AKG C41 B small-diaphragm condenser to capture some of the stick sound. Then it’s just a matter of keeping the mic out of the way, while avoiding drum wedges.
I place two AKG C414 XLS condenser mics about a foot and a half over the kit and close to the symbols, since there’s so much bleed anyway. I try and use them to supplement the overall sound, so they stay pretty low in the mix.
When I’m mic’ing drums, I always try to keep the stereo image in mind. Every microphone shifts the placement of the drums in the stereo field a little based on the type of microphone and its placement. My main concern is to ensure the snare stays centered and focused when I bring up all of the drums in the mix. To help accomplish this, I make sure that when I place the mics, I do my best to draw an imaginary line from every drum mic to the snare. If the snare is centered in the placement, it will also be centered in the mix, creating an overall tighter, more-focused sound.
Stay tuned for part four of Inside the GRAMMY Museum to hear stories about some of Trau’s favorite performances at the Clive Davis Theater.