When recording a djembe session, there are two options for a great sounding recording. One option is a mobile recording setup and the second is a professional studio setup. Both options offer a wonderful sound experience depending upon the desired outcome.
When setting up the microphones for a mobile recording session, we use a stereo pair of Rode NT-5 microphones and a Sony Field Recorder PCM. One of the microphones is set to record the sound coming from the top of the drum and the other microphone is set to record the sound coming from the bottom of the drum. Each microphone is placed the same distance from the drum. In our case, we usually place the microphones about 12” away. Different drummers find that various setups work for them, so feel free to experiment with microphone placement in order to get the most satisfying recording. It is important to place the microphones at a distance that both records the best sound and alleviates as much background noise as possible.
After recording, simply import the music into Pro Tools so that you can edit and adjust the levels of the sound. For our mobile recording, we wanted a sound that was as organic as possible. To that effect, we did not do any EQ tuning or add any compression.
To set up for a studio recording, we use an AEA R84 ribbon microphone for the sound coming from the top of the djembe and an ATM25 microphone for the bottom of the djembe so that we can catch more of the bass. Being that this is a studio recording, the room will be acoustically treated for the best sound results. The signal chain we use for the top microphone is: R84 ribbon microphone into Neve preamp 31124 into a Purple MC77 Compressor into a Mercury EQ-P1 equalizer into an Avid 16x16 HD converter into Pro Tools. For the bottom microphone, the signal chain we use is: ATM microphone into a BAE 1023 preamp into an EL8 distressor (compressor) into an Avid 16x16 HD converter into Pro Tools.
Pro Tools is a digital audio workstation platform developed and manufactured by Avid Technology. It is used by many professionals in the music recording industry and is available in several price categories. When the desire to record a djembe session arrives, the ability to use high quality software does not necessarily mean breaking the bank.
Whether recording a mobile djembe jam session or recording in a studio, the proper software and hardware make all the difference. Hopefully, these tips will help turn any djembe playing session into a recording experience worth sharing with the world.