Drums reproduction

Considering audio's desire to reproduce live performance as accurately as possible, why do you think the drums are recorded so far back in the mix? I've attended many jazz and fusion performances and many drummers are at the sonic forefront of their bands. Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, et all sonicly fill the room like nobody's business. Even less powerful drummers are on equal footing with their bandmates. Why does it not sound so on recordings? The drums are politely included for percussive colorations but in no way dominate like live. Example: Elvin Jones live powerfully fills every bit of the room to the point that it can border on exhaustion. But on recordings he can sound like a pipsqueak in comparison, just another polite member of the band. Please don't confuse the performance of the musician. It seems like it is the producers choice. Why?
You're absolutely correct when you say it's the producers' choice. In general, that is for most types of music, it more appropriate for the drum sound to be limited in its size and impact so as not to overwhelm the rest of the band. If it's an entirely acoustic band then the drums are by far the most dynamic instrument and in live situations good drummers know how to modulate their playing to fit the venue and balance out the groups overall sound. It's interesting that the three drummers you mention are all band leaders and are known for their powerful sound. I suspect when playing live, as the bandleader and headliner, they simply tell the sound man to "turn up the drums!"
But in smaller clubs, they may not be amplified at all yet they still fill the room. I think our systems are also be at fault.

Good thread, Richardmr.
depends on the sound guy for the live shows just like the producer. New school mixers go for the big thump and overbaring bass while the old school guys leave the bass and drums as a solid bottom but not in the way of the soloists. The latter is by far my preference.
I think it has more to do with marketing and sales.

In order to reproduce drums close to live level, you need top notch equipment and a well-treated good size room. I don’t know how many of us have the amp and speakers that can reproduce that kind of dynamic. I know mine cannot. Also, most of the listening rooms have standing wave problem. If drums were recorded at live level, the bass from these recordings will overwhelm the room, triggering all kinds of resonance; causing heavy, unarticulated, one-node bass, and robbing most of the details of other instruments. I don’t think too many people will buy recordings sound like that.

So in order to make recordings sound good in average system, they got to tone down the drums.
So, do you mean producers purposely turn down the drums with the expectation that people's systems can't handle it? What about the symbols, intricate high-hat work, or the poor drummer that's doing a quieter piece? I believe he loses impact because of the poor volume level. Guitar work can be extrordinarily amplified. Sidssp - If what you say is true about bass overwhelming the room, how come it doesn't always happen live, like in an acoustic arrangement as Drubin says? The wierd thing as well is that this seems to be an across the board problem, regardless of music style. It's the pervasiveness of this that seems strange. You would think SOMEBODY would push the envelope a little bit.

Hi Richardmr,

Drums are one of the most difficult instruments to mike, record and reproduce either through a live sound system or home audio system.

Drums and cymbals are able to produce very high energy SPL waves. The nature of the wave is that there is an intense leading edge transient to the waveform coupled with a complex harmonic structure. These waves tend to reflect off of the room surfaces quite energetically. Close microphone technique is usually the norm and trying to capture natural reverberation without coloration requires tremendous skill. Most microphones overload with the initial transient and there are tradeoffs in the design of microphones that are robust enough to handle the task.

Additionally, the recording system has to cope with these trasients and waveforms - some accomplish this more successfully than others. Mixing the the drums "down" relieves the recording and playback system of stress.

I have been a professional drummer for over thirty years and have played with everything from hard rock, pop, folk, country, light jazz, ethnic and totally acoustic music ensembles. Depending on the choice of drums, drum heads, sticks, brushes and technique, a drummer can vary the intensity from barely a whisper to deafening levels. Microphones, mixing boards, recording sytems, amplification, speakers and producer's sensibilities can rarely keep up.

Best Regards,

Barry Kohan
Virtually all instruments are purposely turned down because the recording chain and home playback systems cannot handle the dynamics. Your system can't handle a grand piano, operatic vocalist, trumpet, drum set or a stack of Marshall amplifiers. My system can't handle them either. To Drubin's point, filling the room with sound is very different than dominating the room which seems to be Richardmr's observation. You can actually fill a room with sound at fairly low volumes. My experience with both live and recorded music is that it's rarely appropriate for the drums to dominate the sound mix. Also, if properly recorded and your system is of high enough quality and well set up, then there shouldn't be a substantial lose of the music's impact at lower volumes. Obviously, this last statement doesn't apply to music that is solely intended to be listened to at LOUD LOUD volumes.
Onhwy61 - I've used Cobham, etc. as extreme examples of drummers who "lead" their bands. But, as is the case with someone like Elvin Jones, with Coltrane and McCoy Tyner in the band at one time, Elvin was not the "lead" player. But he was dominant nonetheless. And I don't mean just during solos. I just think percussion domination has not translated to recordings like other instruments. Do you notice the loss of visceral impact on recorded drums compared to live? I don't lose it on other instruments the same way. Please don't confuse my wanting all percussion to sound like MegaDeath or the like. I would like it to be more sonically equitable. Then we will approach "live."
Do you have any suggestions for "best" drum sound on cd?

direct/reflecting speaker designs generally capture that impact. shahinian/gradient/ohm,etc. lots of generally accepted hi end brands don't come close to recreating it. ....as much of a 'feeling' as a 'sound'.
even after getting my head thumped several times at shows i still know it's

A CD on the top of everyones best of list is Nevermind by Nirvana. The drummer, Dave Grohl (sp?)(current lead singer, guitarist and writer for the Foo Fighters) is most definitely in the forefront of the sound of this already classic rock recording. I would say that the drums definely "dominate." Put on track 4 and buckle your seatbelt.
Speaking of dominating drummers... I saw great drummer this weekend: Stanton Moore with the band "Galactic" (from New Orleans... very jammy and funky) Wow, this guy can really get after it.
My comment may not be completely relevant to the topic at hand but is anyone else as impressed as I am at the reproduction of Jeff Hamilton's drum solo at the end of track 7 "Devil May Care" on the live recording of Diana Krall's cd and dvd "Live in Paris"? Just my two cents worth.
Just a question for the more experienced music fans, but does this have something to do with the basic structure of the music? In jazz, drums are part of the rhythm section; back-ground support for soloists to build their repertoires on. If recordings are "as-is", I would think that the drums would overpower some of the less dynamic instruments, and drown out some of the more neuances found in the soloists' works.
Mhu - What you suggest can be true, sometimes. But, as an example, of which there are countless, I played a Red Rodney/Ira Sullivan lp from the 80's called Sprint. The drums are so quiet it seems like their confined inside a bubble. It's so unlike live.
I'm personally glad they don't dominate on recordings. And, for that matter, I'm glad that nothing dominates (except if intended). "Live" (the quotes are there because much of what we call "live" is actually amplified) is much more difficult to control than a recording that an engineer and producer tweak for many hours. I'm saying, much of time, I find recordings better BALANCED than live performances. That it NOT to say that recordings are better in other ways.
Its all about producers optimising for RADIO play not home recorded media (LPs, CDs etc). Dynamic contrasts are generally thrown out of the window, and everything is recorded to sound loud