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Author Topic: Drummers in cages, not free range  (Read 729 times)

Bill McIntosh

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Drummers in cages, not free range
« on: January 06, 2019, 08:18:05 pm »

I am throwing this out requesting the collective wisdom, experience, and opinions.

We (the tech team and the music ministry team) are considering moving from e-drums (a fairly nice Pearl set) to acoustic drums for our sanctuary praise team.  We do not get particularly loud, IIRC we measure about 88 to 90 db C slow at FOH (balcony, about 75 feet back from the stage area).  There is one practice amp on stage for the electric guitar, firing into the player's feet behind a half wall.  Two keyboards (PA only), acoustic guitar via DI and 9 foot grand piano -- sometimes a flute mic'ed.

Music selections are mostly covers of current Christian -- if you heard it on WAY-FM or K-LOVE we have probably covered it.  There are also traditional hymns, an orchestra, and a pipe organ; not relevant to the praise team.  (For reference, the pipe organ typically runs >95 dbC slow).

Another requirement is that the drum platform needs to be rolled out of the sanctuary through a standard double door.  I am guessing the opening is about 6' wide by 7' tall.  The platform is about 15" tall.  We d not move the drums frequently. If we go acoustic in a cage, we will probably have to disassemble the cage.

For those of you using acoustic drum kits, do you use a full or partial drum cage to control levels?

What micing and monitoring do you do for the kit and the drummer?

Does your congregation like the results?

Full disclosure, I am not in favor of switching -- the cage plus a mic kit looks to eat up $3K plus whatever a good quality drum kit costs, for (to my biased opinion) no net gain in engagement with the worshippers.  But I try to keep in mind that I could be wrong, and making the musicians happy could improve worship.
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Erik Jerde

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2019, 11:11:55 pm »

Good drummers can play the room and don’t need a cage.  You can get plexi shields that mount to drum stands to use as a reflective surface for the cymbals which can work quite well.  At the end of the day though the best solution is to fix it at the source.  Just like every other instrument.  Cages are big, ugly, expensive, and generally disliked (for good reason) by every musician.
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Matthias McCready

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2019, 02:24:52 am »

I am a fan of drum cages, both as a former drummer and a sound engineer... there I said it!

Now in the discussion of drum cages, I find the ones most people are familiar with are either the plexiglass shield (which does have its place in a large enough venue) or the Clearsonic Iso cage. I predominately dislike both of these options.

The half cage (shield) only reflects the sound, it can be useful at keeping the cymbals out vocal mics directly in front of the kit, but it does little else. I have found that for many churches this can make problems worse as the sound is not absorbed and drummers tend to compensate by playing louder. Pesky musicians! :-)


The cheaper cages (Clearsonic) are of poor quality, they do not sound good and are not well built in my opinion, if this were all that existed for drum cages I would hate them too!

There are however much better options. Check out the Whiteley Pheonix, Total Drumcage, and Drumperfect. I believe the Total Drum cage option has wheels, but it would be too wide for your door. Ultimately I do not think there is an option that breaks down easily if you need to move it off during service. There are some solutions that can be built in a just a few minutes, or it could become part of your stage.

Nicer cages often have airconditioning (as they can get quite warm) and other amenities. If you put some thought into it a small room or full encloser can be a great place to play!

--

To the language considering that drum cages are for weasels (I poke fun!).

I agree! How many jazz venues are the size of a large living room? And yet there is a real kit! I enjoy a player who can play expressively and in tempo, while keeping their dynamics tightly restrained, however, how many players do I encounter who can do this? Painfully few!

At one of the churches, I work at I am blessed to be able to work with incredibly talented professional paid musicians, and in a large venue, however, neither of these are descriptive of most houses of worship I have been a part of.

Many church musicians serve for free, and while their hearts are in the right place, their skills are limited. If I had to choose which evils I would accept I would rather put a cage down allowing the player to focus on their parts and hitting consistently (drum sampling in recordings poses a difficult standard!).

Finally, I will say that drums are a loud instrument, I always played with plugs, even playing with hotrods rather than actual sticks can be decently loud. Putting monitoring over that can cause hearing damage, especially if someone is playing with real sticks and doing contemporary music. A proper set of custom molded IEM's provide isolation and a good mix, however, at the point, a drummer is using any sort of headphones they have most likely lost their ability to control their volume.

You will be fighting a losing battle to try to get them to play quieter, and ultimately there are tonal differences in how hard the kit is played. I love the sound of rimshot (the Bonham hit) but this technique is often loud, a good solid hit can easily be 115 dbA. You do the math, but most small to moderate venues cannot afford that kind of SPL.


----

Question: How much will live drums cost?

Answer: A heap (outlined below is what a professional player would enjoy playing on)

-Hardware Budget $1500 (DW 9000: kick pedal, rack tom stand, snare stand, and two cymbal  stands; iron cobra hat stand, and roc n soc throne)

-$1,000-4,000 for a 4 piece kit of high-quality drum (DW Custom, Yamaha Absolute Custom, Risen, etc. etc.). There are some fantastic kits for sale on Reverb right now for good prices. The main church I work at has Risen kits at all seven campuses, they sound very good but tuning is finicky (someone has to be a skilled tuner for them to sound great, I presume it might have to do with the way they ventilated?).

-Good cymbals will cost $1,000-3,000. I tend to push this cost off on the player, as this is part of their "tone" and hard hitters should pay for their own mistakes. It is more than acceptable to provide a base kit (hardware, kick and toms), and to have players bring their own sticks, snare, and cymbals. If you want tonal consistency, you could provide a nice house snare such as Mapex Blackpanther or a Ludwig Black Beauty. If you must buy cymbals avoid Paiste, they sound phenomenal but crack faster than any other brand I have come across, even for light hitters. The only guys I know who play them and love them are sponsored. If you must buy check out Meinl Byzance or Zildjian Custom K's, keep in mind they are hand hammered, so every cymbal sounds unique. For modern worship music the darker sounding the cymbal, the better usually, 15" hats are in vogue right now.

-A good cage will cost $3,000-12,000...

-Mics (advice) don't buy a cheap mic kit. Budget $300-2500 Get nice mics even if it is only 1 or 2 such a 57 and a D6. There are a plethora of threads on drum mics. For reference, I use the following quite frequently kick D6, Beta52, Yamaha Subkick, Shure Beta 91 (I often use 2-3 mics on the kick). For snare 57, i5, b57, sE v7x etc). For toms D2, D4, D6, 421, b98 etc. For mic packs I am a huge fan of the Audix Elite (I love the SCX 25 overheads!).

-Finally, you will want some sort of IEM system this could be as cheap as $40 Beh***** headphone amp or it might be a complete system which would cost upwards of $6,000 (Roland M48, Allen & Heath ME1, Digital Labs etc) these are my favorite
three brands right now, each unit has their advantages.


----
Is this cost worth it? Well I suppose that depends, however, I love the nuance of real cymbals and the dynamics of a real kit. Please note there are skilled players out there who can lock it at an appropriate volume, and you can always use brushes, hot rods, lightening rods, Ultratones (by Ludwish) or broomsticks (note the inherent tonal changes in each). The ultratones provide a more natural feel, and cymbals sound better than hotrods while still being quiet however for the toms and snare the fundamental low end is lost. You can have live drums and have them sound good without investing in an enclosure. However, that is very player dependant, an enclosure simply gives one less major variable to factor in for every service.
--


For my personal cage I settled for cost-effective rather than sexy. I ended up picking up $3.5k Drum perfect cage for under a $1000 in mint condition from a church that did not want it anymore. With this cage even a small venue (think large living room) can have a good drummer rocking away. For a larger venue, the enclosure offers control and minimization of stage bleed.

A good cage gives the drummer liberty to play at the dynamic level they want to achieve the tone and feel for the song, while it allows for me to mix at an appropriate volume for the audience, I get complete freedom on how I mic and make the drums sound in the house with little to no bleed from the actual kit itself.

A quality cage or a well-designed drum room will have drums sounding delightful, and from there you just have to capture that sound with mics! Poor cages reflect too much, and good ones absorb, which provides a nice tight sounding kick, it also makes micing much easier.

I found drum cages to make live recordings much easier in less than ideal environments, it helps shape the tone of the kit (absorption, reverb can always be added) and it keeps the rest of the stage inputs fairly free of drums.

----

Do people like the results? Yes!

A well thought out enclosure makes a drummer happy (a poor one will make them pissed). I do a lot of prayer events (IHOP style), which if you are not familiar often go for days straight. As it a constant steam of people at all hours these events usually take place in small venues where acoustic drums would not be possible, a drum cage literally makes or breaks these types of events.

When I have a happy drummer, a happy congregation, and a happy sound engineer it is a good day.


Hope that is helpful

Matthias
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Mike Caldwell

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2019, 10:25:32 am »

Unless you have a very controlled drummer making them happy by using an acoustic drum kit will make for un-happy worshippers.

I'm going to boldly say that 98% of your congregation could care less or even notice that you use electronic drums. But they would all notice if the room volume gets out of control from mixing around an un "caged" drummer.

When I've had to mix to the stage volume of a loud drum kit in a setting where volume needed to be controlled I'll put some kick in the mix to fill out the bottom end and the rest of the crashing and banging is just stage volume and mic bleed.
I will put up an overhead, snare and hat mic and if needed on slower laid back songs I may put a touch of those in the mix.

In addition to sounding bad and associated volume issues with a loud drum kit on stage there can be an acoustic visual disconnect, you hear the loud drum kit coming off the stage in one location and the rest of the mix coming from the PA system over head, left right, ect. 

A totally sealed drum cage would work but looks ugly, hard to move, ect.

Does your drum controller allow for some individule outputs, something like kick, snare, hat, toms, cymbals. That would let mix the key elements.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2019, 03:09:37 pm by Mike Caldwell »
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Tim Weaver

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2019, 03:10:29 pm »

Please spay or neuter your drummer before releasing them from the cage. Controlling the drummer population is the only humane way we can deal with this problem....





I work at a smallish megachurch. We have 2 drum booths. I think they are both clearsonics, one has the roof, but the other one is open on top.

Our open topped booth is in the main sanctuary. It works great for our room, but we have a lot of wood and curtains in this 600 seat hall. The other drum booth is in our youth room which is much smaller, maybe 150 seater room, It is fully enclosed and it does get hot. We cracked open one seam and put a fan in there for our goldfi- I mean drummer....

I would not want to move a kit with a sheild around it ever. Putting these things together is one of the most painful things you can do on a stage. I rank it right up there with gaff tape that has folded over a cable and stuck to itself.....
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Bill McIntosh

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2019, 04:20:53 pm »

Unless you have a very controlled drummer making them happy by using an acoustic drum kit will make for un-happy worshippers.

I'm going to boldly say that 98% of your congregation could care less or even notice that you use electronic drums. But they would all notice if the room volume gets out of control from mixing around an un "caged" drummer.

...................................................

The perceived musical outcome is where I have been trying to focus. 

Matthias -- thanks for the details, there is a lot to consider in your post.

The main worship space can seat about 1200, 900+ on the floor and 250+ in the balcony.  It was built in the mid 1980s and is fan shaped with a down sloping ceiling, curved wall of vertical wood strips behind the choir space, so no parallel wall anywhere in the room.  We have some dampening material on the back wall and balcony face, but I don't think it is doing much. Another clarification -- the drums would only be removed for a specific event, definitely not during a service.  Bridezilla could make enough noise to make us move them, but also for graduations.  (Some local private schools and a couple of technical/trade schools rent the room).

The plus side, our current drummer is also percussionist for the orchestra and does not flog the drums -- he has a pretty good touch and could manage the stage volume.   But the next one may be Animal from Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.......

I think I am going to propose that we rent a decent kit for a few weeks with no cage, and get the response from the praise team and the congregation. 

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Mike Caldwell

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2019, 04:31:16 pm »

It sounds like your in a larger space with half-ish way decent acoustics. With the current drummer it may work.

Was there a certain reason, person or event that started the electronic vs. acoustic drums discussion in the first place.

Matthias McCready

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2019, 05:04:00 pm »

The perceived musical outcome is where I have been trying to focus. 

Matthias -- thanks for the details, there is a lot to consider in your post.

The main worship space can seat about 1200, 900+ on the floor and 250+ in the balcony.  It was built in the mid 1980s and is fan shaped with a down sloping ceiling, curved wall of vertical wood strips behind the choir space, so no parallel wall anywhere in the room.  We have some dampening material on the back wall and balcony face, but I don't think it is doing much. Another clarification -- the drums would only be removed for a specific event, definitely not during a service.  Bridezilla could make enough noise to make us move them, but also for graduations.  (Some local private schools and a couple of technical/trade schools rent the room).

The plus side, our current drummer is also percussionist for the orchestra and does not flog the drums -- he has a pretty good touch and could manage the stage volume.   But the next one may be Animal from Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.......

I think I am going to propose that we rent a decent kit for a few weeks with no cage, and get the response from the praise team and the congregation.

Sounds like a big room and skilled player I would not worry. In all honesty, I usually prefer either no cage or a full enclosure. I have seen a real kit work for Rock & Roll playing in very small venues with no plexi or absorption, just the guys knew how to play. For your current space, I would give the kit a shot, and see where you are at.

If the drummer is heavy-handed there are (as mentioned different stick options)

I am having trouble picturing your space, but one option (depending on the kit location) is to get some pipe and drape. At the megachurch I work at, several of the campuses use this when weddings and other more formal events are held (to hide the kit). Throwing up a quick section of P&D is a lot quicker than moving the whole kit.

Depending on how comfortable the drummer is with tuning and where you are genre-wise you could also look into a smaller kit, this can also help with dynamics. 18" and 20" kicks can be a lot of fun and if you mic and process them correctly they can sound huge. Take a look at some jazz and bop kits.
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Taylor Phillips

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2019, 09:38:25 pm »

I don't have much experience with cages, but I do have some experience in transitioning from electric to acoustic drums as the sound guy.  In my limited experience with cages, I didn't find a noticeable difference in having it there or not, so the clean look of not having one, plus not having to move it around wins out for me at the moment.

As for transition from electric to acoustic, the couple of times where I've been a part of it, it's been very well received by everyone who noticed, not only including the drummer, but the other musicians, congregation, and even other techs.  In both of those cases, our only monitors were wedges, so removing the kit from the monitor mix made an enormous difference in stage volume.  As surprising at it may sound, I actually had more drums in the board mix with the acoustic than the electric.  (well, surprising the first time, not the second)

Now, the biggest differences I found between mixing acoustic and electric kits aside from the above are as follows:

 - Acoustic kits have more dynamic range than electric kits.  A good drummer on an electric kit requires more attention from the FOH engineer than a good drummer on an acoustic kit.  When the music gets louder or quieter, so can the drummer if the kit is acoustic.  If it's electric, you have to be on top of it at FOH when the song's volume  changes.  Otherwise you can have some embarrassingly loud BOOMs in the middle of a prayer, or a confused congregation wondering what the praise team is clapping to.

 - Electric kits are a pain to mix between monitors and FOH if they only have stereo outs.  The drummer has what he want's to hear in his monitor or his headphones, but neither of those sound like what it does out in the sanctuary.

 - Electric kits generally don't sound that great when they are quiet, at least to my ear.  I'm not quite sure what the reason is, but I'd pin it on the dynamic compression of the samples that amplify certain parts of the sound that only make sense to hear if it is played loudly.

 - Electric kits frustrate good drummers who are used to acoustic kits.  Due to the decreased dynamic ranged and lower sensitivity, a drummer who is used to an acoustic set can have trouble actually triggering the samples on an electric kit when the music gets softer. 


As for acoustic kits themselves, not all of them are created equal.  Some sound bad, some sound good, some are loud, some are quiet.  There is an acoustic kit that will fit into just about any musical situation.  Also, the 2nd most important thing besides the drummer is not the kit itself or how it's mic'd, but how the kit is tuned.  A cheap, well-tuned kit can sound better than a high-end kit hasn't been setup properly.
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lindsay Dean

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Re: Drummers in cages, not free range
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2019, 03:19:50 pm »

      My previous church  was made almost exactly like yours.
    But with professionally designed/installed acoustic absorption on the back wall's balcony and under , diffusers on the side and some diffusion in the back behind the choir.
  I can tell you from experience on the days "animal" sits in or your otherwise dynamic drummer gets into the music it will ruin your mix, will flood your choir mics and cause issues.
    It's  much better overall to bite the bullet and put the drummer  in a full enclosure. If they are more concerned with the overall sound of worship experience they won't care if they're in a cage
we did after I asked many times.
    It made a huge difference in the overall mix and the recording mix.
also we did let him leave the door open on one side away from the choir with a fan of course.
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