Roger Hawkins drums when recorded by Tom Dowd are my favorite recorded drum sound. I asked my friend and recording engineer Jeff Yurek for his thoughts on this recording.
Jeff Yurek - My initial thoughts listening to the record were that the drums were recorded using a very minimalist technique. Most likely they’re using great, classic mics (that will cost many thousands of dollars today) in a great room (Atlantic Studios on Broadway in NYC). In terms of technique, I thought probably two mics, possibly a ribbon mic overhead, placed very low (by today’s standards) and definitely a spot mic on the kick drum.
The sound is all about the tuning of the drums, a very sparse drum set. Most importantly, it’s Roger’s touch. You simply cannot achieve this sound with the hard hitting hi-hat technique commonly employed by modern drummers. You can just feel how low the overhead mic is and it’s not something we do a lot of today. It’s this low mic that’s just kind of near everything, probably closest to the snare side of the kit and capturing all the drums ringing in sympathy with each other, all this kind of glue and vibe in between the notes.
When you have someone who can play the hats/cymbals with such light touch and hit the drums appropriately hard that’s all it takes.
In terms of post-processing all I really hear is a bit of EMT plate verb added in varying amounts on different songs. I don’t think there is a significant amount of compression (for context The Beatles were in the middle of popularizing super compressed drums right at about the same time- Sgt. Peppers was release at almost the same time). Compressors were not numerous in studios. Even if you wanted to compress the drums, you’ve most likely only got one comp and you’re recording the whole band live, so you’re going to use it on Aretha to keep her huge dynamic range in check. Keep in mind also that they’re recording to tape which does compress transients depending on how hard you push it so it’s not like zero compression the way it would be today if you just ran two mics into a ProTools LE rig.
Mic choice (ribbon mics also naturally compress transients, see below), placement and maybe a bit of EQ (sounds like some low-end boost on kick for sure) get you everything you need.