If you’re like most musicians, getting great-sounding drums seems like one of the world’s great mysteries (you know, along the lines of how the pyramids were built or how to cure cancer). You can hear big, fat drums on great albums but when you try to record your drums, they always end up sounding more like cardboard boxes than drums.

The most important part of getting killer drum sounds is to make sure that your drums are tuned properly and that they have good heads on them (okay, those are two important things). Seriously, if you spend time getting the drums to sound good in your room, you’re halfway to the drum sound of your dreams.

You’re looking for a clear, open tone on your drums. Resist the temptation to apply duct tape or other dampeners to the drumheads. Drums that are deadened and don’t ring clearly definitely sound like cardboard boxes when you record them.

After you tune your drums as well as you can, the next step is to take care of rattles that may be coming from the stands or mounting hardware. Tighten any loose hardware and move any stands that may be touching one another. You may need to make small adjustments to the pitches of your drums if they are causing hardware to rattle.

If you still have ringing or unwanted overtones, you can damp them slightly. Cotton gauze taped lightly on the edge of the head (away from the drummer) is often enough. If you want a real dry sound on your snare drum, you can use the wallet trick: Have the drummer place his wallet on the head — the drumhead, that is. (Use the drummer’s wallet because it probably doesn’t have any money in it.)

When your drums have been tuned perfectly, you’re ready to start placing microphones.