If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, and I sincerely hope everybody has had that privilege, you might recall that the drummer and his kit were sitting up above the stage on a drum riser. From an audience perspective, this means both the drum setup and the drummer are easier to see. While I’m sure the drummer’s ego increases proportionality to their height on the stage, it’s not the sole purpose of the drum riser. So what is a riser and what purpose does it serve?
What is a Drum Riser?
It’s simply an elevated platform which the drummer and his equipment sit on to raise them to a fixed height above the floor. The size and height of a drum riser will vary wildly depending on the situation.
A lot of risers are available in a 2×2 metre (roughly 6’ 6” square) size. Anything smaller than this and there’s going to be very little space for a full kit setup. When it comes to height, there’s as much variation as the overall size of the riser, but 20cm and 40cm (roughly 7.8” and 15.7” respectively) are common heights. Of course there’s some exception to this and some bands use huge risers in the name of showmanship, and why not?
A riser’s surface is generally covered in a material which provides some grip, like carpet or non-slip rubber. The framing is commonly made from aluminium which helps to keep the weight down for relocation, and the legs come in both fixed and folding types which will help with space when moving stage equipment about.
They can support a large amount of weight, hundreds of kilograms per square metre, but be sure to check the exact specs before you buy.
A band will often have their drummer on a drum riser. It’s not solely for aesthetic reasons, the extra height serves several purposes. Without a drum riser, the drummer is a couple of feet lower than the rest of the band who are typically standing up.
Communication between band members is critical in a live setting and bringing the drummer to a more natural height, at about eye level to the others, helps a lot with communication.
In a live situation, this also ensures the drummer is visible to the audience, who are typically at a lower level, instead of being obscured by the other band members.
Other reasons for using a riser on stage include the benefit of having the kick and snare closer to the ear level of the other players, ensuring that the beat can be heard more clearly, while lifting the cymbals above ear level.
In the Studio
A riser is not necessarily required in a recording studio environment. Some people like the way that a riser makes the kit sound ‘bigger’ due to the resonant space below the kit. It might be better not to use a riser in this environment for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, a good recording engineer will have the tricks to get the sound you’re after without needing to use a riser.
And secondly, the riser will introduce vibrations, rattles, and resonations that are hard to track down and could be impossible to eliminate, potentially causing serious issues with the recording process.
Protecting Your Hardware
Drum risers have purposes off of the live stage as well. A home drummer might choose to use a drum riser for a few reasons:
Some drummers will find themselves playing their kit in the basement – hopefully through their own choice and not as a punishment!
The basement might be ideal in some ways, keeping noise to a minimum for neighbours and family, giving you your own space away from distractions etc, but there are some downsides.
Drum hardware is sensitive, believe it or not. If there’s damp creeping into the basement floor, it’s going to damage your kit over time. What about if there’s a flood? The basement is going to be the first place affected. A drum riser will help to protect against both of these possibilities.
If you’re living in a flat or apartment, a lot of the time your challenge will be to keep your hobby from causing stress with neighbours and loved ones. Even an electronic kit will be heard through walls and especially the kick drum will be heard through the floor.
Without going to the hassle of soundproofing for drums, one way to help with this is to use a drum platform or riser. If space and budget are important considerations, then you’re probably not wanting to splash out on a professional riser.
Luckily, it’s quite possible and a bit of fun to make your own. There are some good videos online demonstrating how some drummers with a knack for engineering have solved the problem with different methods such as the ‘tennis ball riser’.
Making Your Own Drum Riser
Stephen Clark, aka The Non Glamorous Drummer walks you through the process of creating a tennis ball riser platform with great results:
Do I need one?
The primary and most important use for a drum riser is on the live stage where it gives you benefits such as improved communication between band members and bringing the kick and snare closer to ear level. In any other situation, assess what benefits you will get from the riser, vs any complications.
For example, in a studio recording environment, it will potentially introduce more problems than it solves through unwanted resonation and vibrations. For drummers at home in a flat or house close to neighbours, there are a number of situations where a small or even homemade riser will alleviate some problems with sound being transmitted through to the neighbours and surrounding rooms.
It might be tempting to rush out and buy a drum riser so you can look like your favourite rock star but be sure to weigh the pros and cons before you do.
For a live performance, the benefits are clear, and the use of a riser will help not only you, but your fellow band members.
For other situations, it may come down to personal preference, or the necessity of protecting your kit from damage, or isolating it from the floor to keep peace and quiet.
Do you use a riser or platform of any sort? Let me know in the comments below.