How to replicate Led Zepplins “When the Levee Breaks” Drum Sound

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An iconic drum sound to say the least, this drum sound came from just 2 microphones set up in a stairwell.

According to Led Zeppelin guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, the song’s structure “was a riff that I’d been working on, but Bonzo’s drum sound really makes a difference on that point.”

We were playing in one room in a house with a recording truck, and a drum kit was duly set up in the main hallway, which is a three storey hall with a staircase going up on the inside of it. And when John Bonham went out to play the kit in the hall, I went “Oh, wait a minute, we gotta do this!” Curiously enough, that’s just a stereo mic that’s up the stairs on the second floor of this building, and that was his natural balance.

Andy Johns recalls,

“Bonham set up his kit at the bottom of Headley Grange’s three-story stairwell. Engineer Andy Johns recalls placing two Beyerdynamic M160 ribbon microphones at the top of the stairwell in a stereo configuration. According to Johns, those were the only mics placed on the kit. The drums mics were amplified and compressed through a Helios console and run through a Binson Echorec echo unit, which is also known to impart its own compression to the signal.”

Led+Zeppelin+-+When+The+Levee+Breaks+-+CD+ALBUM-461011How you can do it:
This drum sound is a testament to the fact that sometimes less really is more. Experimenting with the use of room microphones on drums and compression can really create unique drum sounds without necessarily having to setup a microphone on every part of the kit.  With the advent of Plugins and Computers, we sometimes take the musicality out of things. Sometimes we can create a better sound using the natural acoustics.  Give it a try sometime!


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