TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 43 – MIXING DRUMS

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 43 Mixing Drums

As we are in the middle of the Holidays and many of you, I’m sure, will be spending time with family and friends, I’ve decided to put out the next few blogs in smaller, more easily digestible chunks.

Last week we considered the kick and snare drums and how best to treat them in the mix. Today, we’ll continue by looking at Toms. Next week, the first Monday of 2012, we’ll discuss Cymbals and Hi-hat in the mix. Then, we’ll finish our look at drums by considering the use of the Overheads and Ambience tracks. Check out this blog for more information on recording toms, cymbals, hi-hat, overheads and ambience tracks.

A Typical Drum Setup For Legendary Mixer Bruce Swedien – Note The Use Of Neumann U87s On The Toms.

As we mentioned (in this blog), you don’t have to record dozens of tracks to get a great drum sound. Three or four mics, well placed, can produce an amazing sound. The greater number of mics you use and tracks you record, the more difficult it will be to isolate specific drums. There will be spill from one drum mic to another and possible phase issues to address.

In addition, if you recorded the drums with the rest of the band playing at the same time, the other instruments may well be present in some of the drum tracks too. However, if you are prepared to accept all these challenges then more mics can certainly give you more options in your mix.

Remember, the recorded sound can be altered dramatically by using a different mic, altering the mic’s position, replacing the drum’s head, the use of acoustic panels etc. In other words, try to get as close to the sound you want from your drums in the recording stage.

The kick and snare are the two most important drums in most kit setups. But drums would be quite boring without the other components to add colour, syncopation and interest to the rhythm track.

A Basic Kit Showing Three Toms – Two Mounted On The Kick And One Floor Tom On The Left.

A common configuration for the toms is to have 3 – high, mid and low – a couple mounted (often on top of the kick) and one floor, but many drummers use more. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll assume you have gone some ways to record them with specific mic’s.

Toms come in a huge range of sizes and therefore pitches. The larger the tom, the deeper the tone. To give more depth to mounted toms, try adding a few dB around 200-250 Hz. To reduce any boxiness, you could try cutting in the 600 Hz to 1 kHz range. By adding some 3-5 kHz, you can increase the stick’s attack. Whilst the 5-8 kHz range will boost the presence.

Top: Floor Tom Miked From Above, Below: Mounted Toms Miked From Above And Inside.

Floor toms might need a slightly different EQ. Between 40-125 Hz, try boosting to increase richness or fullness. Try cutting a little between 400-800 Hz to get rid of boxiness. And to get more attack, boost between 2-5 kHz.

To make it easier to find the exact EQ frequency that needs adjusting, try using extreme cut or boost, whilst employing a very high Q or narrow bandwidth setting as you sweep through the frequencies. Once you’ve found the frequency that works best, moderate the cut or boost dB levels and widen the bandwidth a little.

Uniquely Shaped Staccato Drums.

Also consider whether you want to EQ before compressing or vice versa. Consider this guideline…..if the drum needs drastic EQ then compress before EQ. If the drum needs serious compression then EQ before compression. Ultimately, it’s down to what sounds best, so try both and see which you prefer. Click here for more information on compressing and the other forms of dynamic processing.

If you want powerful sounding toms try using a compression ratio of 4, 5 or 6:1. Don’t use too high a ratio, this might result in the compressor giving a sucking effect to the audio. Set the threshold to act on the highest transients and use a fast to medium attack time. Remember, you are compressing the toms. You don’t want the compressor to noticeably raise the levels of the other drums or cymbals.

Compression and a good short reverb can combine to produce a great, big sound on the toms. Try a small room or a short plate reverb setting. Of course it depends on your song…..if the toms are being used sparingly a longer reverb might work. If the toms are featured a lot, a long reverb could muddy the mix.

A Tama Kit With Double Kick, Five Toms & Hi-Hat On The Right.

Most people (drummers included) are right-handed, so the kit is usually setup with the hi-hat off to the right…..if you’re viewing the kit from the perspective of the audience. Last week we mentioned the usual position to place the kick and snare is straight down the middle of the stereo field.

The toms can be placed as you would see them – the highest pitched slightly off to the right, across to the left for the lowest pitched. You will need to listen to the toms as they are being played back to position them accurately within the stereo image. And if you are adding reverb or delay match the effect position in the stero image, with that of the tom you are applying the effect to.

Drum Kit With Multiple Mics, Including Overheads.

If you have used several microphones to record your drums, as you add more and more drum tracks into the mix, you will realise that the same components are represented on many different tracks. The Overheads especially, will pick up cymbals, toms, snare and more.

So once you have sorted out the kick and the snare, you could try adding the overheads panning them hard left and right. You may find that they provide enough of the remaining components to fill out the drum sound. We’ll discuss the overheads in greater detail in 2 weeks time.

Note: If you intend to use the overheads in the drum submix, you will most likely want the individually miked components to be placed in the same position in the stereo field as you hear in the OHs.

Next week we’ll take a look at the Cymbals and Hi-hat in the mix. Followed by the Overheads and Ambience the following Monday.

All of us at TCM hope you had a fantastic Christmas and Holiday break and wish all our readers a Happy New Year. If you have a music project coming up in 2012, why not get in touch with us to see what we can do for you. TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering have been providing production, recording, mixing and mastering services to musicians and the music industry for decades. For more information about TCM Music Group and the various services they can provide, please contact us by clicking here.

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