A no-nonsense approach to getting great drum sounds, from top touring/session musician Dan Bailey.
Filmed with minimal edits at the drummer’s Southern California studio, Trackland, The Bailey Method is longtime touring and session drummer Dan Bailey’s first opus in the world of online education. When he’s not on the road with singer/songwriter Father John Misty, Bailey spends most days engineering and tracking drums for other artists, and this video course gives you an inside look on how it all goes down, from tuning and other preparations to setting up mics for different sounds and tracking songs.
Bailey takes a friendly and casual approach throughout the course, letting the camera roll as he changes and seats drumheads, tensions and tunes the drums to perfection, and makes fi nal tweaks. Eloquent and insightful, Dan packs each chapter with real-life info he’s collected from years of personal experience working as his own drum tech and audio engineer. “Teaching hadn’t been in my wheelhouse before,” he says. “But my buddy Dave Elitch was in my ear telling me to do this. I’ve never really studied privately or taught, so it was all from scratch. But the response has been surprisingly great. There must have been a knowledge vacuum that no one thought to address in this specific way.”
The Bailey Method consists of eleven chapters, including segments on the author’s recording philosophies, his personal approach for tuning each piece of the kit, minimal and multiple-mic configurations, and drum tracking on three songs with very different approaches and tones. While it took several months of planning, the actual filming for the various chapters went quickly. “I started doing an outline last year,” says Bailey. “But we shot everything in chunks over the course of a week in total. There aren’t a ton of edits, and some sections are eighteen minutes of just one shot. Luckily we didn’t have to redo anything, so the filming went fast.”
In the chapter on snare drum tuning, Bailey discusses his approach for quickly detuning a standard-sounding drum to achieve a classic fat, dead tone. But he didn’t get the results he wanted on the first attempt. Rather than cutting filming and restarting, Dan kept the camera rolling. “I’ve been tuning drums for years, and I still don’t know why sometimes that happens,” he says. “But I was really happy that it did while we were recording that chapter because I want people to know that at no point will your tuning skills be so perfect that you’ll never have to redo something. There’s no magic. It’s about feel and repetition. The more you do it, the better you get.”
When asked about whether he thinks drum tuning is more ritual than science, Bailey says, “As with most things in audio engineering, you’ll stumble across something that works and then make a mental note to come back to it again. So a lot of it’s ritual. What I show is the way I’ve gotten my sound for years. It works and is really mic friendly. I know what the tension should feel like, and I know how I want the heads to resonate together. But I don’t think you can tune drums via straight science, or else something like a Drum Dial would work every time. But it just doesn’t.”
Selecting snare drums for sessions is a similarly experience-based decision. “I’m lucky enough to have a lot of drums, and each of my snares has a particular personality,” Dan says. “So when I hear a song, I know which drum to start with.”
Contrary to the conventions of many studio drummers, Bailey prefers to start with an open, resonant tone and dampen to taste, even with the bass drum. “People often think that every unported bass drum is going to sound like a 28″ concert drum,” he says. “That’s not at all the case. The Camco I used in the video just sounds like a bass drum. A lot of that comes down to mic placement. The closer you place the mic to the center of the head, the more beater sound you’re going to get. So you can control how wet or dry a bass drum sounds with mic placement.
“If you’re playing a slow tune,” Dan continues, “then the bass drum can be more open and take up more space. I use deadening mostly to keep the notes from running into each other. I also like an open, cracking snare. But if you’re playing a tune at 150 bpm, that sound doesn’t work because there’s no clarity. I think it’s best to find out what a drum wants to do in its most open state and then manicure it from there. I always start with the snare open to see if the personality of the drum is fitting the song, and then curate the sound toward a more specific thing. If the drum is sounding good open, then it’s easy to throw on a little tape if it’s ringing too long.”
In the chapter on a two-mic setup, Bailey emphasizes the importance of dynamics and balance in order to achieve great drum sounds. “The overhead doesn’t lie,” he says. “If you’re bashing the ride, or if the toms are completely lost, it’ll let you know. One thing I like to do is put on one of my favorite songs and record myself playing along to it, using just the bass drum mic and overhead, and try to get something that sounds like a full mix. The floor tom is usually the one drum that you need to play harder in order to get it to translate to the overhead.”
Along the same lines, Dan cautions against focusing too much attention to the nuances captured by the close mics. “I think people make too many decisions based on the sound of the close mics,” he says. “The majority of the drum sound comes from the overheads and rooms. The close mics are there to fill in underneath and add some attack. But most of the time if the toms sound weird, it’s a problem with the position of the mic. A lot of people mike the toms too closely. Little moves make a huge difference, and usually they sound better if you back off the mics a bit.”
Despite his initial reluctance, Bailey is eager to start production on some follow-up courses. “We could have gone way more in-depth,” he says. “So I’m already storyboarding potential second and third courses that will go deeper into getting specific sounds and other things.”
Check out The Bailey Method at Vimeo.com/ondemand/thebaileymethod.