I just got back from the NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. It is the biggest and baddest toy store for musicians and techs in the country. Hundreds of distributors and manufacturers of musical instruments, analog/digital hardware and software, loudspeakers, earphones, DJ and lighting products all demonstrating their newest products to tens of thousands of attendees.
Church Drums: Thou Art A Shield About Me!
So with all the articles I write about audio, live sound, and recording, you’re probably expecting a summary of the new toys and you’d be right to assume that. That article is on the way. However that is not what this article is about. This article is about your church drums and drummers. It’s funny but at NAMM, walking through the drum exhibition, I wondered how any person could last in this environment for four days and maintain sanity. It was louder than a hundred freight trains. Is there nothing they can do to reduce the levels? Don’t we ask the same questions regarding the drummer (sometimes it’s the guitar player) in our church? What can do we do about it?
The church has tried various methods to minimize the volume of the drums with plexiglass screens and enclosures, electronic drums, and other methods.
Let’s take a look at shields. Shields can work if they are incorporated with a full enclosure. Some are better than others. Sometimes they appear to be bigger than the church.
You’ll notice that there are panels on the bottom front; back wall and ceiling that absorb the drum energy. The top front panels are clear plexiglass and don’t absorb or, in my opinion, reduce the level to a significant degree and in fact, reflect energy back at the drummer and make it a very unnatural place to sit.
The thing that disturbs me as a musician is that we have now disconnected the drummer from the band that he needs to be a part of and also from the sanctuary that he also has to be aware of. Have you heard the expression “Play to the room”?
If we are removed from the environment we are performing in, there is no way we can determine the dynamics of our performance.
Carl Albrecht, a dear friend and celebrated drummer for Paul Baloche and many worship artists, has a great article on this subject and it can be read HERE!
As an audio engineer, I am fighting to get the drums to sound distinct. The drum sound is smeared because of the multiple microphones picking up the reflections from the glass. I was talking to a legendary sound engineer from Nashville about this. He had actually made a multi-track recording of individual microphones on a drum set behind a shield and then outside of the shield. The results were as expected. When listening back to the individual microphones recorded behind the shield, every microphone sounded identical to the others. In other words the snare mic sounded like the tom mic, the tom mic sounded like the overhead. They all sounded the same. When the shield was removed, each microphone could be heard distinctly with no smear or blur. Why have multiple microphones on the drum set, if they all sound the same? You may as well use an overhead microphone and a kick mic, and that is recommended. Another thing you might try, if you insist on using the shield, is a boundary microphone placed right on the shield and ditch the overhead.
If the drummer is not fully enclosed and sitting behind a simple plastic screen, then we really have done little to lower the levels and may have made other things suffer the consequences. This is especially true if the drummer sits in front of a hard surface (sheetrock, glass, brick). The drum energy will reflect off the screen, hit the hard surface behind the drummer and go over the top of the shield into the sanctuary.
You also have to be aware of where floor monitors are located. If singers are in front of the drum shield, their monitors could reflect off of the shield and back into their microphones.
I know that many of you are thinking: “How can you say that? We’ve reduced the level a great deal by utilizing shields.” That is your perception and I will not try to change your opinion, but you haven’t solved the root of the problem. It’s a placebo. The original intent of shields was to prevent external sound sources, i.e. floor monitors, guitar amps, etc. from getting into the drum microphones. We’ve altered the original intent of drum shields to do something they weren’t intended to do. Otherwise, why would we have churches doing ridiculous things like putting shields around electronic drums?
Electronic drums are an excellent alternative for churches that want to lower the levels of the drums. The problem is not the drums, but finding drummers who want to play them. There are so many new models and technologies that have really made electronic drums more like playing acoustic drums. One of the deterrents to playing electronic drums is the look and feel. Drummers don’t want to play things that look like they came out of a LEGO box with small rubber pads. We now have electronic kits that look like and are real drums.
But these solutions don’t get to root of the problem. We throw money at solutions that are merely band-aids. What is the problem? It is simply lack of drummer’s skill and or experience.
How much does a drum enclosure or an electronic drum set cost? $2000.
Has it occurred to you that $2000 could pay for a boatload of drum lessons?
Wouldn’t you rather invest in people than plastic?
It’s not going to immediately solve your problem, but is ultimately the best solution.
Invest in people not material.
There is a great website for drummers who want to raise their level of skill: www.mikeslessons.com. It’s affordable and of the highest quality. I strongly recommend it.
What are some alternative solutions to lowering volume?
Drummers can learn to play with more dynamics and Nick shows us some techniques and tools that can be utilized to make a big difference.
Remo also showed some new drum heads called the Silent Stroke, which can reduce the level by as much as 20-30 db.
If you have heads like this on your church drums, you may want to look into applying triggers. Electronic drums are basically triggering samples of highly produced drum, percussion and musical instruments. Now your drum set could in effect become an electronic kit just by changing the heads and buying triggers. You’ll need a drum brain, e.g. a sound module, to produce the sounds and one of the best things I saw at NAMM was the new drum module from Pearl called the MIMIC. That’s saying something for an audio guy.
If none of these options are the right choice, you might consider smaller church drums that produce incredible tone without the level. One such choice would be the kits available from Joey Parrish Designs. Joey was the original drummer for Chris Tomlin and has been the drummer for Shane & Shane for many years. He is also an amazing drum builder. His kits are made of beautiful woods that produce amazing tone and are highly portable. Check them out!