Over the past year or so, I’ve been spending some significant time working on making my drumming videos better. I was doing OK (not great) with what I was doing originally, but the quality needed an upgrade.
As soon as one of my drummer friends said, “your content is good, but the audio quality could be better,” I knew I had to step it up. And I looked around online. He was right. The quality level of the videos being made by the people with bigger followings was (and is) generally significantly higher than those with fewer followers. And you want a lot of followers, right?
Now, I’m not the biggest online social influencer, but I’m moving in the right direction. This blog gets a lot of traffic and, as I write this, I do have 42,000 plus followers on Facebook. But I want more. And I want more on other platforms too. That’s not going to happen unless the quality of the content I publish is high. That goes for me and it goes for you too.
A couple of other examples of videos I’ve made recently that reflect my “higher quality initiative” are here:
You can also have a look at recent videos from my YouTube Channel ✅ Please Subscribe ✅: Mark Feldman’s YouTube Channel
But I digress…
If you’re using Zoom to capture your audio and or video (or both) or you use Go Pro’s, you might want to upgrade. Now, before you flame me for dissing Zoom and Go Pro, let me explain. First of all, I own a bunch of these products. I do have several Go Pros and Zooms. For the Zoom stuff, I have both audio and video products. And yes, they both have 4K now, so that obviously helps with the video quality.
But Zooms and Go Pros are built for portability and Go Pros are specifically built for action. They have to sacrifice other features in the pursuit of their portability goals.
And Zoom audio just can’t compare to what you can do when you put microphones on your drum kit and record multi-track into a pro-level DAW.
I think Zooms and Go Pros are both great for recording rehearsals or live shows or for otherwise evaluating how your playing is developing or how your band is sounding. But for your drum videos on social? I am not using them for that anymore.
So, what am I doing? Well, first, let me give you an example of what my stuff is looking and sounding like these days. Then you can decide if you even want to listen to what I have to say. Below is the most recent video I’ve published:
The video above isn’t perfect, but the general level of quality is pretty high. One thing I don’t like that much: the alternate angles (besides the front facing shot) are not the best; I’ll need to dial that in better. But the audio is pretty good and the cameras I’m using are 4K so the video is crisp (it may not completely translate on YouTube however).
Two warnings. First, If you want a cheap and easy way to do this, you should stick to Zoom and Go Pro. You can’t have everything. If you want quality, it’s going to cost some money. There is a bunch of gear that I had to invest in to make this upgrade. And it’s definitely not easy; you’re going to have to learn a lot of new things including how to work with some pretty complicated software. Second, your playing and technique, drums, heads, tuning ability and cymbals are the most important things for your sound. Before you ever deal with anything written about below, make sure you have all of these in good “working order.” The best recording and video gear in the world won’t help you if you don’t play well or if your instrument itself is sub-par.
OK, warnings over. Let’s get into the details.
I’m using Canon’s Vixia HF G50. It’s not cheap–it’ll run you about $900. I have two of them so I can get two angles. It shoots 4K video, so the image quality is fantastic. Since I want to be able to do these video shoots by myself (no crew–just me), there are a few other details that are important to me.
When I shoot, I want to be able to sit down behind my drums and play, or play and talk, and I don’t want to stop multiple times for different takes. I want to “set it and forget it,” so to speak. That means I want to be able to simply press a button, and then sit behind my drums and get into a flow without worrying about if the camera will continue to run or if it will somehow just shut off.
With Zoom and Go Pro, I couldn’t do that. The cameras would just stop unexpectedly. I’d never know when they would stop and I couldn’t control it. Either they would run out of power or the memory card would fill up. That really wasn’t good for me at all. I needed a camera that would shoot for a few hours continuously and not be limited by the power or memory constraints.
The Vixia can do that. I press the button on each camera, and it will shoot video for a couple of hours without stopping. The Vixia has an external power cord so I can just plug it in–no worries there. And it has dual memory card slots, each of which can hold an SD card of up to 2 Terrabytes of memory. That’s a HUGE amount of memory! I’ve been using 512 memory cards and that allows the camera to run for several hours.
Tripods and Lighting
You’re also going to need tripods to position your video cameras with and you’ll need some kind of professional lighting. These are musts. If you have a great video camera and crappy lighting, game over. If you have a quality camera and you can’t position it such that you frame the shot you need, your video won’t look good.
Here’s what I got:
- One Vivitar 82″ tripod ($45 at Amazon)
- One Magnus tripod VT-350 ($99 at B&H)
- One set of GVM 560AS lights ($269 at B&H)
The tripods are nothing super-special, but they are solid and get the job done for not much money. The reason for the 82″ tripod is to be able to capture a pseudo-overheard shot, which you can do with an extra tall tripod.
The lighting by GVM is a basic three light kit. I really don’t know much about lights and tripods, but I can tell you that these all work fine. Don’t underestimate the power of lighting. Great lighting will make you look like a star. With bad lighting you’ll look like the ugliest person on earth.
Video Editing Software
This is the first of three significant software packages that you’re going to have to get familiar with if you really want to dig into making these videos. I use Final Cut Pro. There are others, including Premiere Pro by Adobe. Final Cut is made by Apple and I’m into Macs, so I figured I’d try it. Again, this is not an easy piece of software to learn, but it works really well. I use it for every video I make. It costs $300.
Sound and Audio
Here’s where it gets complicated and potentially expensive. The only way to get your drums to really sound good in videos is to record them like you would in a recording studio: multi-track. At first I hired someone to do that for me but it got too complicated and costly. I also wanted to be able to do this whenever I wanted to. So, I had to learn how to do this on my own and get my own gear.
Below are the details of how I do it and what I use. I’m not saying these are the best components for doing this, but they’re working for me.
You’re going to need a DAW. What is that? It stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It’s the software within which you can make recordings and manipulate them. It’s the endpoint for your recorded signal coming through the microphones at each of your drums.
There are many options here: Logic, Garage Band, Pro Tools, Cubase, and more. I chose Pro Tools because it’s the industry standard. I had planned on doing remote studio recording anyway, so why not pick the DAW that most of the professionals use? There’s a big learning curve, but I had to bite the bullet.
There are easier DAWs to use, so feel free to look into this further. My opinion is that it makes more sense to do a little more work and have the software that the pros use. Already this has paid off for the remote recording sessions I’ve been doing.
Pro Tools costs me about $32 per month. I know, I hate subscriptions. But, what can you do?
You’re going to need a powerful computer to house your DAW and run your recording operation. I bought a MacBook Pro a few years ago and it works great. I’m no computer expert; I just know you need a pretty good one if you’re going to do this and have it go smoothly. Get enough RAM (at least 16GB) and storage (250 to 512 GB minimum) and make sure you have a powerful processor. I do all my video editing and audio work using an external hard drive to free up space on the computer, so consider having some large external hard drives (1 TB or more) on hand. This is going to cost you a few thousand dollars, so be ready.
You’ll need at least one of these. An audio interface is the box that you connect to your computer and plug your microphone cables into. It allows the flow of your sound capture through the microphones and into your DAW. Again, I’m not an expert on this, but I did some research and decided to go with Focusrite–their reviews are great.
Generally, audio interfaces will have 8 inputs max. But for drums, you may want more. I know I did. I thought I’d need 16 inputs to be safe. The easiest way to make that happen is to link two 8 input interfaces together. I bought the following two Focusrites–8 inputs each–and linked them together:
- Clarett 8 Pre (thunderbolt)
- Scarlett OctoPre
One of the things you’ll discover when you start researching and learning about audio engineering is that the pre-amp is very important. Wikipedia defines a pre-amp as follows: A preamplifier is an electronic amplifier that converts a weak electrical signal into an output signal strong enough to be noise-tolerant and strong enough for further processing. Without this, the final signal would be noisy or distorted.
The reason a pre-amp is so important is that since it’s the first step in the signal chain, and it boosts the signal to useable levels, it needs to be very quiet. A low-quality pre-amp will add unwanted noise to the signal, and that’s a bad thing. A very very bad thing.
The reason I’m telling you this is that Focusrite is known for having very high quality pre-amps and that is one big reason I bought these units. The prices as of this writing: The Scarlett OctoPre is about $450 from Sweetwater and the Clarett 8Pre Thunderbolt runs about $900. I warned you; getting into this is not cheap.
You are going to need some mics to get going on the audio portion of this too. I’m not going to talk about mic placement or all of your microphone options. There are many theories, opinions and philosophies on these matters. I’m just going to tell you what mics I’m using.
I’m getting a good enough sound with what I’m doing that people on the socials are letting me know they like the audio quality. Perhaps more importantly, people are paying me to record drum tracks for them. This has to mean that I’m be doing a decent job, right?
Some of the mics I’m using are pricey and some are on the lower end of the pricing continuum. My overheads are inexpensive, while my tom mics are expensive. The snare mic, the SM-57, somehow is cheap but still used by almost every pro in every studio. Go figure.
Here are the mics I’m using as of this writing (and their prices at B&H):
- bass drum: Shure Beta 52-a ($189)
- snare drum: Shure SM-57 ($99)
- toms: Earthworks DM-20s ($349 each)
- hi-hats: Shure SM-81s ($349)
- overheads: SE Electronics SE7’s ($199 per matched pair)
- lavalier: Countryman B3 Omnidirectional ($189)
You might be asking: “what is a lavalier?” I did too. It’s a mic that is used for speaking that clips onto your shirt or lapel. It’s tiny–see the photo–and a half-decent one, like this Countryman I’ve been using, will sound great and be almost undetectable to the viewer.
The model I use is not a wireless, but has an xlr attached that plugs into my audio interface. If you are making instructional videos where you’re going to talk and explain, you need one of these.
Mic Stands and Cables
I’m not going to give much detail on this, except to remind you that you will need these. Mic stands will allow you to position your microphones in the proper places to capture the sounds from your drums. XLR cables will connect the mics to your audio interfaces. My only advice is not to buy the cheapest mic stands and cables. They’ll break. Go midway in the pricing for stuff that will last. You don’t need gold plated cables, so you don’t have to buy the most expensive stuff either.
Music Notation Software
If you’re making instructional drumming videos, you will often need to integrate some rhythmic notation into your lessons. That notation has to look good. The software I use to do this is Finale. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the notation in many of the drum books you see is created with this software.
It’s not easy to use, but your documents will look amazing once you have some facility with it. Every PDF on this blog that has music notation included was created with Finale. The software retails for $600, but you may be able to get a significant discount if you are teaching ($350).
OK, that’s it. I’ve given you all the info…you know what I do. Think it over. Are you willing to spend the money and do the work to make this happen? If you’re a drummer and you want to present yourself to the world on social media, your content has to look and sound great. I encourage you to dig in.
Now let me see your videos!!