Time Alignment Of Drum Tracks

This is a part 3 of the tutorial on how to process individual raw drum tracks into a finished product. Make sure to read all the parts.

1. Introduction

2. Editing

3. Track Time Alignment

4. Gating

5. EQ

6. Phase Alignment

7. Dynamics

8. FX (reverb/ ambiance)

When I talk about track time alignment, I do not mean "quantizing" of drum tracks to the grid. Since overhead mics are further away from other mics close to the drums, they will capture the sound with the slight delay to the rest of the mics. By track time alignment we mean to synchronize the tracks to each other.

Let's have some fun!

Overheads track alignment.

Firstly, we are going to align Left OH with the Right OH using the snare drum notes as a reference. Since we want the snare drum to be in the middle of the stereo image, we must use the snare for OH alignment. Simply slide one of the overhead tracks to match the waveform of the other one. Make sure to disengage the "snap to grid" feature before moving anything.

Before aligning the overhead tracks to each other.

Before aligning the overhead tracks to each other.

After aligning the overhead tracks to each other.

After aligning the overhead tracks to each other.

We can leave the OH mics now where they are, but if we are looking for a very tight snare drum sound, we can shift them to align with the snare drum track.

We are going to use our top snare drum track as the reference track and time align overheads and bottom snare mic to it.

Then we are going to time-align the toms to the overheads. We will also time align sub kick track to the kick 1 track.

So, let's find a snare drum rim shot first. Then zoom in all way until you can see zero crossings of a snare transient.

Before aligning the OH tracks to the top snare drum track.

Before aligning the OH tracks to the top snare drum track.

Shift the overheads tracks to the left until they are vertically aligned with the top snare track.

Overhead tracks and top snare drum track aligned.

OH and top snare drum tracks aligned.


You may need to cut off a small portion of the tracks at their beginning so that they can move to the left (if they are at the beginning of the sequence).

Note: If you are looking for a fatter sounding snare with more ambiance from the OH mics, then you can leave the OH where they were (after aligning them each other) and just align the toms to the OH's.

Bottom snare drum track alignment.

Now, let's align the bottom snare mic (if necessary) to the top one. Pay attention to the polarity of the bottom snare drum in relation to the top one. If they look like a mirror image, that means that they are “out of polarity” or “out of phase” with each other. We need to switch the phase button on the bottom snare track or use the off-line “phase-reverse” processing on the bottom snare track. It is imperative that the snare drum tracks are in polarity with each other, or the snare will pretty much disappear into the mix.

Toms tracks alignment.

Select all events on Tom 1 track (individual hits), so that you can move them all together at the same time and keep the relationship between them. Align them with the overhead track in the same manner. Pay attention to align the tom 1 to the left channel of the overheads (if the toms in your overheads are going from left to right).

Align the tom 2 to the overheads in the same manner as the tom 1, but keeping it in the center of the stereo image.

Tom 3 and 4 should be aligned to the right side of the overheads.

Kick drum alignment.

Align the “Sub kick” track to the “Kick 1” track.

That completes the time-alignment process.

Now it is time for some Gating!