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Secret to producing drum tracks from the raw recording

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How to effectively processes multi-tracked raw drum tracks to achieve their full potential.

Introduction:

In this guide I am going to explain concepts and techniques relating to getting the most of out of an acoustic drum recording and bringing the raw recording to its fullest potential.

I often hear musicians comment how recording drums is the hardest of recordings to do. That is only part of the challenge. The second part is knowing what to do with the recorded tracks! The main difference between recording/ producing real drums as opposed to other instruments is the number of microphones used to capture a single source of sound- a drum set. The more microphones are used, the tricker it gets to mix them, but if done properly you will also have the best possibilities of getting the best results.

The biggest problem with multi-mic recording of a drum set is the phase relationship between the individual components (tracks) ! We are going to look into ways of turning this “problem” into our advantage to get some tight-sounding, fat drums.

For a purpose of this tutorial we are going to focus on mixing a 6-piece drum set that was recorded with multiple microphones.

 

If you are trying to re-create a particular sound you've heard on your favorite record, please keep in mind that the following variants will influence the sound of a drum recording:

1. Foremost- the drummer

2. brand, model and size of the drums and cymbals

3. drum heads used

4. tuning of both heads

5. drum sticks used

6. room the drums were recorded in

7. microphones and their positioning

8. preamps and converters

 

Taking all of these into consideration you can see that it is nearly impossible to get an exact replica of a particular recording. However, we should focus on getting the most out of what we are working with.

We are going to get the best results when every step of the production process is done properly. That means that:

 

  • We had a great drummer who tuned his drums optimally.
  • He played the drums and cymbals with a good overall balance (not hitting the cymbals too hard)
  • The sound engineer positioned the microphones in such a way to get a full-bodied, well balanced sound of the entire kit as well as individual components.
  • We used an appropriate choice of quality mics, preamp and converters
  • and that the recording was done in an acoustically treated environment without nasty frequencies or flutter echo.

However, this is not always the case, so we'll have to use various techniques to make up for the deficiencies.

 

 

For the purpose of this tutorial, we are going to assume that we are working with a recording that was played by a great drummer and was recorded well.

 

What makes a drum set recording sound great?

Through the years of analyzing, studying and trial & error experiments, I've come to some conclusions as to what makes a recorded drum set sound great. Lets keep in mind that there are many ways and variations on the type of sound one wants to achieve. Generally speaking for modern types of music, we want the drums to have a strong bottom end in order to have punch and kick in the music. This is not only the case with the kick drum, but also with the other drums too. Drums need to have “weight”.

Second aspect is that all of the individual components of the set and individual notes played have to appear clearly audible in the mix. Cymbals have to be well-balanced with the shells (drums). If drums were well tuned and overhead mics positioned optimally, we should be able to get a pretty clear picture of the set just through them.

 

Objective:

We are trying to achieve a full-bodied, natural-sounding drums set that breathes with dynamics, punch and clarity. We want to be able to hear every element that drummer played.

 

Approach:

We are going to use overhead microphones to provide an overall sound “picture” of the set and we'll use all of the other mics to support them and create a clear definition of individual elements. Overheads microphones are the crucial element of a great-sounding drum recording and they act like a glue between the drums. Depending on the musical situation we're working with, overheads may be the only thing we need.  We want hear a DRUM SET and not a bunch of isolated drum components!

 

Tools for the job:

To get the most of your drum recording, you will need the following types of plugins:

Equalizer (I recommend ApulEQ by ApulSoft)

Gate (Sonnox Oxford Dynamics)

Phase alignment tool (Voxengo PHA979)

Compressor (Sonnox Oxford Dynamics)

Reverb (Wizoo W2 or Audio Ease “Altiverb”)

 

The process in which we will treat the drum recording can be separated into the following stages:

 

1. Editing

2. Track Time Alignment

3. Gating

4. EQ

5. Phase Alignment

6. Dynamics

7. FX (reverb/ ambiance)

 

Note: If you are using a system that supports 32-bit float point processing, then you should always work in that project environment and render your final output to 32-bit float point file. This way there will be no digital clipping possible and no truncation. All of the plugins I am going to show you in this manual use 32-bit float point internal processing. I use Cubase which also operates at 32-bit float-point internal processing. If your software/ plugins do not operate at at least 32 bit, you should consider upgrading to a one that does.

 

So, let the magic begin, but before it does, here is more important information on phase issues.

 

As we mentioned earlier, the biggest obstacle in producing a full sounding, punchy kit is the phase relationship between the individually recorded drum components. That comes in a way of “cross-talk” or “mic bleed”. “Why is this a problem?”, you may ask. Well, when you record a single sound source with more than 1 mic and those mics are not phase-aligned, there are going to be phase cancellations. If you are unfamiliar with the terminology and the affect, you can take an audio track and duplicate it, so that they run parallel to each other. When you hit play, you will get a raise of 6db on the output. Now, hit the “phase” switch on one of the tracks. Oooops, what happened? The sound disappeared! Yayks. This is an extreme example. Phase switch turned one of the track's phase for 180 degrees and the sound signal canceled out the sound signal from the other track = no sound at all.

Now you see what we are dealing with when mixing drums!

 

Each drum component has been recorded with every mic on the kit. In our example, we have 11 mics recording every component. Imagine how much of phase cancellation is going on when we just play the raw recording. Since every mic is positioned in a different place at various distances, and therefore sounding unique there is not going to be full phase cancellation, but rather partial phasing.

This will be manifested as the loss of bottom end and punch!

 

Ok, let the magic begin...

 

We'll start with editing.

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