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Recording Drums with Enter Shikari’s Rob Rolfe

We put DPA’s new range of microphones to the test at iconic St. Albans venue, The Pioneer Club, with Enter Shikari Drummer, Rob Rolfe. You'll gain exclusive insights into recording drums and achieving true, pro-sounding results.

Continue reading below, and be sure to scroll to the bottom for our video overview of the entire process...

Rumour has it that Enter Shikari have a real shot at landing their first UK #1 album when A Kiss For The Whole World drops on April 21st, so the timing of this recording session seems perfect - drummer Rob Rolfe is back at the venue where it all started for his band some 20+ years ago, The Pioneer Club, St. Albans.

“The Pioneer [Club] is somewhere that will always be very close to our hearts,” Rolfe reflects, scanning the room with a smile as he sets up his custom British Drum Co. kit. “I played my first show here when I was about 14, I think - Enter Shikari have made great memories here.”

They certainly have - and the band will never forget their roots. St. Albans lads through and through, three of the four-piece - including Rolfe - still live locally, and do a lot for the local community.

The Pioneer Club is steeped in history, and has played host to some rock and roll legends over the years. The Zombies and Argent both hailed from St. Albans and cut their teeth here in the 1960s; and in the early 2000s Enter Shikari, Bring Me The Horizon and Architects all graced The Pioneer stage.

Today, Rolfe is helping us test out DPA’s latest range of microphones. Recording drums is never an exact science, and there is certainly no one way of doing things, but I’m going to keep it as simple as possible, working with a four-mic setup: kick, snare and overheads.

First, I position a pair of wide cardioid DPA 2015s as overheads - each about two feet above the cymbals, equidistant to the snare, which is crucial to keep them in phase. I then position a compact cardioid DPA 2012 on the snare, about three inches from the skin, just inside the rim; and a DPA 4055 inside the kick drum.

Unlike most kick drum mics, the 4055 has been ergonomically designed to be as versatile as possible: as a result, I decide to get it right inside the kick drum, closer to the beater than I would normally go, or could get to.

I then connect the four XLRs to the back of my USB interface, which is the rather impressive QSC TouchMix 30-Pro. This is a small-footprint, touchscreen mixer (as the name suggests) with a very solid EQ and dynamic section, and some quality built-in FX. This model also has 32 I/O.

It’s the second time I’ve recorded with this bit of kit, and the first time I’ve run a drum kit through it. I plug this into my MacBook Pro, pull up Reaper (my preferred DAW), activate four tracks, and select the QSC interface from Reaper’s drop down menu. It takes seconds. That’s what I love about the TouchMix - setup is absolutely no hassle whatsoever, it couldn’t be more plug and play.

I ask Rolfe to play his kit, and ultimately at this point I’m just checking for clipping. Setting the channel gain through the TouchMix is very simple, and once I’m satisfied that it’s not going in too hot, and all looks fine on the MacBook, I hit record. Because I’m in a live venue, literally at the side of the stage, separation is minimal to say the least(!) but that’s no issue for this demo. I have headphones with me for reference which I will use after each take.

A few minutes later, I bring up the tracks in Reaper play them back, and I have to say I’m pretty astounded, for a couple of reasons: first, the snare ‘snap’ feels like I’ve already EQd it and have applied light compression - but it’s gone down at source, as is - there is nothing on it at all.

Soloing the snare on headphones further proves how clean the sound is, with no audible noise on the channel, and how good the room sounds - I’ve also managed to capture a great almost gated reverb sound, too, just through the natural acoustic of the room. I’ll pretend that was intentional!

There is also real meat there: a fatness to the sound in addition to the clarity. What an impressive microphone the DPA 2012 is, and what a great preamp. We might only be using four [pres] total here, but the fact that there are 32 of them onboard this QSC mixer really does make you think. My gut feel is that the TouchMix-30 Pro will hold its own against a number of way more expensive alternatives.

What’s also evident as I solo the overheads is how crisp they sound. They’re airy and sharp, and they’re also picking up the toms very nicely, which is what I was hoping for. And the 4055 on the kick has the bite and the punch - a very transparent mic, which can clearly handle very high SPLs.

Rob now puts on his IEMs and starts playing along ‘properly’ to Enter Shikari’s most recent single, (pls) set me on fire, and it’s at this point that he starts really hitting the drums. I pull back the gain a little, and when I’m happy again, I hit record. We do five takes, and I invite Rolfe to come and have a listen.

“What have you got on the snare?” he shouts, headphones blaring. I explain that there is nothing on any of the kit, and he appears genuinely surprised. “No compression on anything? Wow.”

That’s a genuine wow, too. I happen to know that Shikari record and produce a lot of their material themselves, and they play around a lot with triggers when it comes to the rhythm section - besides, Rolfe’s a drummer, so of course he is going to be meticulous about his drum sound.

When I get the recording back into my studio, I also get the wow factor all over again. What hits me first is the absolute clarity of capture. The last time I recorded a drum kit, I took along my Focusrite ISA 828 preamp - which of course is excellent, and particularly clean-sounding; and I can honestly say there is no glaringly obvious difference in quality playing back these drums tracked through the TouchMix against to those that I cut using my ISA 828. That is pretty incredible, in my opinion.

I’m sure there are differences, and if I dived in further I’d perhaps find them - but my point is, with four quality microphones and this mixer, a great recording is absolutely possible. As far as I’m concerned, I won’t need to take the ISA 828 out of my rack next time, which is fantastic.

I inevitably start to process the drums using my go-to SSL 4KB channel strip (that thing is also a beast, by the way); and yes, a bit of compression and EQ adds some lovely texture and flavour to the kit, but take it off, and you still have a very clear - and surprisingly big - drum sound.

In the accompanying video, which I’ve embedded within this article, I’ve kept everything as it was coming out of the TouchMix and taken almost all the studio processing off. The only processing you’re hearing is about 1.5dB of master buss compression courtesy of the SSL G-Buss, just to tighten it a little - there is nothing whatsoever on any of the individual channels. When you listen back, you will hear Rolfe in isolation and playing along with the song. We bring the music in and out intermittently, which will hopefully give you the best of both worlds. And what about that natural room reverb on the snare!

“These DPA mics are really quite special, sonically,” declares Rolfe after listening back. “I’ve recorded a lot of kits over the years in a lot of studios and venues with so many different - and more significant - setups. What strikes me about the recording is the overall clarity but also the depth of sound. I would never think that is four microphones recorded totally flat. And it’s also great on a personal level to hear how nice The Pioneer room sounds, too!”

To summarise, yes it can be great fun to record a kit with two mics on the kick, two on the snare, mics on each tom, a pair (or two) of room mics and a mono trash mic for good measure - but it can also be a challenge, and there are many factors to consider, particularly if you’re a beginner. I have always felt that keeping it simple is a great place to start… and in this instance, I hope I’ve proved that it’s also not a bad place to finish.