In my experience, one of the main reason some recordings have great drum sound & others have donkey-pee is the drummer's ability to balance his or her playing. Balance is the relative volume of each component of your kit to each other & the music itself. Nowadays it's really cool to beat the living f@#k out of your hi hats & cymbals as you wail through your choruses & though that may make you look bad ass on stage, sadly, it usually sounds terrible in a recording situation. This is true for EVERY drummer not just the hard hitters. I'd say 90% of drummers I encounter need to hit their snare better. If you want a fat snare crack, then stop crushing your hi-hats as if you secretly want them to break. If you want a big kick, then stop bashing the crash-ride till it sounds like white noise! It's all about relationship folks. If you look at a photograph of a building, how do you know it's tall? You don't, unless you put something like a car or a person next to it to give it scale. Why should your playing drums be any different? Remember, what might sound cool to you when you're sitting there playing might not necessarily work for the song &/or recording. Where the drummer's ears are in relation to the drums, is only ONE perspective. Your kit & more importantly your drumming needs to sound good from every point in the room & that all comes from playing balanced. Start thinking of your drum kit as ONE instrument instead of many & take the time ahead of recording to really pay attention to your balance & practice, practice, practice! Record just yourself playing with distant microphones in your rehearsal space. A video camera actually works well too when pointed away from the drums. Upon playback, does the kick cut through the mix of drums & cymbals? Is each hit of your snare even volume & tone? Really pay attention to the sound & balance of your playing & forget about your bad ass fills for a minute. The less surgical studio trickery I have to do to make you sound balanced, like eq, gating & compression, the better the chance we have of actually getting a really great drum sound.
Write drum parts that serve the song, the recording & are within your ability to play them. The best drum sound comes from drummers who are solid & consistent. Playing fast, complicated parts & fills usually doesn't record well. Performing cleanly & consistently is the hallmark of great musicianship & will always sound & feel better than a million overdubs, edits & studio trickery.
I am a big fan of click tracks if the drummer is comfortable using one. If you've never played to a click or metronome before, you'll probably need a bit of rehearsal before you get comfortable doing so. Don't be scared if it feels weird at first & don't give up after an hour. You WILL improve as a drummer & if used wisely, your songs & your drumming can greatly benefit from a consistant steady tempo. One thing I highly encourage is playing to an 1/8th note click rather than a simple 1/4 note one. With a straight 1/4 note click, the only time you clearly hear the click is when you are OFF TEMPO. Playing to an 1/8th note click means you clearly hear the upbeats so you know exactly when to strike the downbeats (i.e.: kick & snare). It's more clicks to listen to but I swear it will improve your accuracy & eventually your comfort in playing to one. Also, an added bonus is that 1/8th note click tracks can typically be monitored at lower volumes & your ears will thank you.
I can tune drums to exact musical pitches & can repeat the results every time. For the vast majority of drummers, drum tuning is a mysterious black art. There's a lot of "wisdom" out there regarding the subject & even products designed to make it easy. The truth is that it takes a lot of time & practice to develop the ear necessary to tune drums well. I have a method of tuning, which you're welcome to steal, that allows me to get great results during the recording & repeat them over & over.
New heads please!
Old beaten up heads are not cool & sound bad! Whether you plan on using my kit or yours, let's discuss heads before you purchase them. I've tried just about everything out there & I'll definitely have some very specific ideas on what heads will work best on your music so let me help you pick this stuff out. Please do not put your heads on without me. I generally like to have your kit at the studio at least 24 hours in advance so the drums can acclimate to the room & I can put the heads on & tune them.