Drums

Useful articles relating to drums and drummers, relevant to all musicians, producers and singers / songwriters.

Compression of drum tracks during drum tracks production

 Learn how to apply appropriate dynamic control to drum tracks to beef them up while still maintaining a natural sound.

Phase alignment of drum tracks using phase alignment plugin

 Phase-aligning multiple microphones is a critical step in achieving fullest drum sound. Elements of drum set can disappear from the mix if not properly in phase. Learn what to do and how to ensure all of your tracks are in-phase with one another.

Eq'ing of drum tracks using modern DAW EQ

You can greatly manipulate characteristics of a sound with an EQ. It is one of the most precise sound-sculpting tools. Learn how to use it properly to bring out the characteristics of drums, while hiding unwanted overtones.

A dilemma of whether you should make drum tracks sound human or robotic

Remember the good old days when records were cut using only the finest session players around? Rhythm sections would record a take after take until THE take would satisfy the producer.

Well, many things have changed in the last two decades. While computers have enabled most musicians to bring their ideas to fruition, so have they enabled mediocre musicians to fake their way through.

Gating of drum tracks for great-sounding drum mix results

Gating is a process in which a processor (a plugin) reduces or completely removes sound under a certain sound level (threshold). We are going to gate snare drum and the kick drum, but using different techniques.

Time alignment of drums tracks using DAW tools

 By time-aligning drum tracks, we compensate for delay in sound between different mics.

Demonstration of drum tracks editing using modern DAW tools

 We'll manually edit portions of tracks that contain little material that was meant to be recorded, but a lot of unwanted "cross-talk" signal. This is the case with toms.

Learn how to effectively process and mix raw drum recordings for incredible, full-bodied, larger-than-life results. 

 

Introduction:

In this guide, I am going to explain concepts and techniques related 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 the 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 a 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.

 

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

 

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. drumsticks 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 for a great-sounding drum set recording?

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. Let's keep in mind that there are many ways and variations on the type of sound one may want to achieve. Generally speaking of 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”.

The 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 to hear a DRUM SET  placed in a physical space 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. Introduction

2. Editing

3. Track Time Alignment

4. Gating

5. EQ

6. Phase Alignment

7. Dynamics

8. 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 in at least 32 bits floating point, 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 effect, 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 phases by 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 a partial phasing.

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

 

Ok, let the magic begin...

 

We'll start with editing.

penning of a drum chart on music manuscript, demonstrating proper way to write drum charts

How to write efficient drum charts that will make your drummer happy and produce great results fast. The ultimate guide to drum-charting!

icons demonstrating time and money that could be saved y hiring a professional session drummer

So, you have worked on your songs for 2 years now, arrangements are ready and you've booked a studio to record your debut album. Your mate Dave, drummer that you've played some gigs with should do the job fine and it will save you a few bucks. Or so you think!

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