Drum volume can be a big problem at churches of all sizes, and the solutions often aren’t as easy as putting up a plexiglass wall. Here are 10 ways to cut down on drum volume without breaking your budget, or getting in a fist-fight with the drummer:
1. Don’t put vocal microphones close to the drums.
I’ve been to so many churches where the vocalists are directly in front of the drummer. Don’t do this. Those crash cymbals will get picked up in the mics, making it impossible for the sound guy to turn down the drums without turning down the vocalists.
2. Mic the drums.
You heard me right. By miking up the drums, you’ll be able to boost the quieter tones like toms in the mix, and turn the other instrument’s volume down. Also, the drummer will be able to selectively blend in his drums so he can hear them without raising the dynamic level.
3. Finesse the drummer’s monitor mix.
If you can allow the drummer to hear himself upfront in the mix, he’ll probably begin playing more quietly.
4. Make sure the drummer has drums in his monitors.
This ties into #3. Don’t let your drummer pull out an earbud. Make him finesse his mix enough that he can hear everything in his ears, including drums.
5. Use low-volume cymbals.
The loudest and most abrasive part of a drum kit is the cymbals. Zildjian brilliantly helped tame this problem by creating quieter, great-sounding cymbals. You can pick up a set here.
6. Make sure the drummer is paying attention to the dynamics of the band.
I’ve only met a few drummers in my career that weren’t a little ADD, and as a result they sometimes will “zone out” during sets. If you’re a music director, never let this happen. Make eye contact during the set. Give cues for endings and beginnings. Mix it up dynamically to keep him/her on their toes. If you can keep the drummer engaged, you’ll be able to better match the dynamics of the whole band more musically.
7. Don’t put the drums in a “scooped” space onstage.
Any cup-shaped space on a stage will act as a funnel, pushing the sound waves of the drum kit out to the audience and raising the sound levels. Placing your drums in the middle of an open stage will keep it from reflecting out and raising levels.
8. Do acoustic sets with brushes.
If you’re still struggling with getting a drummer to play quietly, try doing an acoustic sunday and insist on using brushes and percussion instruments. This can be a great way to engage less experienced drummers and help them learn to be more tuned-in dynamically.
9. Don’t box him in.
Often plexiglass panels will actually make it louder. While I’m not completely against putting up plexiglass paneling to reduce noise (especially in smaller churches), be careful and use it tastefully. It can quickly turn into the sound funnel I mentioned in #7.
10. Get a musical mentor.
If you can’t afford to hire a pro drummer for your group, figure out a way for your current drummer to get mentored by a professional drummer. If that means you have to pay for lessons, it might be worth it.