Kenny Sharretts
Drum Technician - Drummer - Educator
Tuning Drums For Your In Ear Mix, and Your Venue
by Kenny Sharretts on January 22nd, 2020

     Hello everyone. Pro Drum Tech, Drummer, and YouTube Educator, Kenny Sharretts blogging about drum tuning on the 2019 Elvis Costello/Blondie Summer Tour with a quick discussion on adjusting your tuning for your IEM mix, and/or your venue. With some tours I do the venues tend to be similar in nature. On an Arena tour, you can tune for an arena, and generally stay at that tuning the entire tour. Same with a shed tour. With this tour, however, there were a variety of venues from arenas, to sheds, to theaters, which means I have to accommodate for the venue in my tuning. Moreover, some of the sheds we played had metal roofs that were closer to the stage than others.  This factor can GREATLY affect the sound of drum set in the In Ear Monitor mix. This is important as on this tour the ENTIRE band was on IEM’s, and we had 4 very live vocal mics onstage. Drums love getting into vocal mics a lot more than vocalists like the drums getting into their mic. LOL! Hence I have to make sure my tuning accommodated Mr. Costello’s mix so he can hear his voice clearly, while at the same time getting the drum sound my drummer Pete Thomas desired as well. This is in addition to tuning for the FOH mixer/venue. Whoosh so many parameters to take into consideration.

      With IEM’s the sound is going straight into your brain! There’s no PA to color the sound, and no distance factor that allows a sound to develop. Straight to the brain!  Hence for the IEM mix, the key for me on this tour was to limit the amount of excess air in the drum sound, and keep the tones warm for some of the brighter rooms we were playing. This especially challenging as Pete uses coated Ambassadors on his snare, and toms which sound/feel amazing, but don’t have quite the attack of clear heads or clear 2 ply heads. This is where interval tuning comes into play. By manipulating the tuning interval  between the drum heads of each individual drum, and the intervals between the drums you can greatly affect the sound of your kit in an IEM mix.  Much like the difference between my UE 11 Pros I use for drumming, and my UE 18 Pros I use for my tech work. My 11’s have 4 drivers on each side for a bright, clear sound with TONS of sub as one of the drivers is a sub driver with a dedicated crossover. For drumming they are amazing. The drums are powerful, my vocals are clear/warm/sit well in the mix, and the bottom end/kick drum is massive. On the other hand my UE18 Pros, have six drivers per side, and while they have plenty of bass, they do not seem as bass heavy as my 11 pros. The setup of six drivers per side gives me a clean, clear, and powerful mix that allows me to EASILY hear any changes to the mix. Changes usually indicate an instrument that has failed, or is ABOUT TO fail. The “hear-ability” of my 18’s helps keep me on my toes for my artists. One show I actually knew the snare head was going to break BEFORE the artist did, and was crouched next to him to swap snares THE MOMENT IT BROKE! Win win I say. LOL!

     I took a similar approach to tuning for the IEM mixes on the Elvis Costello shows. Clean up the excess so the tones are clear, and powerful without a lot of excess “AIR” in the sound. The first thing I did was tune the toms about a 1/2 to whole step higher than the “low as you can possibly go” tuning Pete Thomas LOVES. This helped to increase the presence/projection of the toms in both the FOH, and IEM mix. I then tuned the 13” and 16” a perfect 5th apart to create more separation, and definition between the two tom tones. For 13”/16” tom setups I generally use a Perfect 4th between the two drums to keep the 13” in the thunder zone, but the 13” sounded stellar at the perfect 5th in the FOH mix so that’s where we settled.

     As far as intervals between a drums 2 heads, for the outdoor sheds, and arenas I generally tune toms using a perfect 4th interval between the batter head (root note), and the resonant head (perfect 4th above root note). For the “Tin Roof” sheds, however, this interval created too much attack in the IEM’s, and Vocal mics due to reflection from the “Tin Roof”.  So in these cases I chose a tuning interval of a major 3rd between the tom heads to warm up the tom sound, and the tone of the tom’s sustain. In addition I used a half of an R-Tom “Moon Gel” to take the edge off of drums so they still sounded completely wide open, but had a bit more focused of a sound. This “cleaned up the air” around the tom mic resulting in a more focused, and controlled tom sound without sacrificing much tone or sustain. At some venues Moon Gel was completely unnecessary, but I gotta be honest they really do help focus the drums tone. If your kit is TOO RINGY in your IEM mix, one half moon gel on the toms, and snare will clean it up immediately WITHOUT killing the tone of the drum.  Next I tuned the snare to a tight C#/G# Perfect 5th Interval (about one whole step lower than Pete generally likes it)  in order to warm the crack of the snare, and allow it to more easily settle under the lead vocal. I used a 2 tent tape mute on the snare simply to take that little bit of ring off of the snare, without shutting the drum down. This helped IMMENSELY in the IEM mix for the whole tour. If the drum still had an unwieldy ring in the room? I'd add a half moon gel y'all. Finally I tuned the Bass reso head only a half step higher than his batter to preserve bottom end/control sustain as Pete likes his Bass drum Batter a bit tighter than the norm. For The tour I replaced the Puresound 20 strand Blasters with a set of Puresound 24 strand Brass Custom Pro Snare Wires to further warm up Pete’s cracking Brady snare. Now while I must admit that I’m a lover of completely open drums tuned to even head tension, it’s not always applicable to every room you play. In the end, all the little methods I used combined together to make for a very solid sound in EVERYONE’s IEM’s without sacrificing the drum sound for the FOH mixer or the drummer. #drumtechgoals Thanks for reading, and please look for my next drum tuning blog coming soon.

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Kenny "Dexter" Sharretts

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