TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 44 Mixing Drums

Happy New Year from all of us at TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group. We hope 2012 will be a great year for all our clients and readers alike.

Drum Kit Showing Hi-Hat & Various Cymbals From The Drummer’s POV – Hi-Hat Left, Lowest Tom Right.

Continuing with our look at drums in the mix, this week it’s the turn of  the Cymbals and the Hi-Hat.

Consider when placing your mics that, the cymbals produce most of their sound above and below the metal plate in a figure-8 pattern (if you were to look edge on). The hi-hat produces lots of high-end transients and most of its sound is generated horizontally.

The height you position cymbals above the toms will alter their sound which in turn affects what is picked up by mics.

There are also cymbals which work better for recording than live work.

Using An AKG 452 Under The Cymbal.

If you have used specific mics for the cymbals (see this blog for tips on recording), you can often get rid of frequencies below the 150-200 Hz range, by using a shelf EQ. This removes rumble picked up by the mics. If the cymbals come across as ‘cheap’ and clunky you may be able to improve their sound by cutting a few dB at 1-2 kHz. To give them that ‘ring’, try adding a shelf EQ above 10 kHz.

We’ll discuss the use of the overheads in the mix next week. But bear in mind these mics (if you used them) will pick up so much of your drum and cymbal sound, you may decide that certain specific mikes are redundant when it comes to determining the overall sound of the kit in the final mix.

Hi-Hat & Snare Miked.

The hi-hat sound is characterised by the ‘ring’ between 7-10 kHz. The stick noise is around 5 kHz and the ‘clang’ between 500 Hz to 1 kHz.

The hi-hat may well be picked up by other mics in the kit, especially the snare mic. But assuming you have used a good quality mic and it was optimally placed, you could use a shelf EQ above 10 kHz to boost the brightness of the hi-hat. To remove rumble picked up by the mic, use a similar EQ setting to the one used for cymbals. To give it that high, crisp ‘tssshh’ use a wide bandwidth (or low Q setting) around 15-16 kHz.

The quality and sound of cymbals and hi-hats can vary enormously from different manufacturers and price ranges. So the application of EQ should be approached carefully in isolation of the cymbal sound and in comparison with the whole kit submix and all the other instruments, especially the rhythm section.

It’s essential to listen to instruments in the setting of the overall mix. As all the instruments are interdependent upon each other.

Toms Panned From Just Right Of Centre (Highest Pitch) Over To The Left (Lowest Pitch). Hi-Hat Panned Right Or Centre, Cymbals Right & Left. The Kick And Snare Are Normally Down The Middle. Centre Double Kicks, Or You Could Try Splitting The Kicks Evenly Off Centre Left & Right Slightly.

With regards to panning the cymbals, there are two perspectives used. Either from the point of view of the drummer or the POV of the listener. So as we mentioned last week, if we were to take the listener’s POV, the toms would be panned with the highest pitched just right of centre, moving left as we go down in pitch to the biggest floor tom. Cymbals can be placed right and left depending on the spread width and effect you want. The hi-hat is usually panned right or centre, depending on the genre of music.

Alternatively, if you intend to use the overheads in the drum submix, you will want the individually miked components to be placed in the same position in the stereo field as you hear in the OHs. For example, solo the OHs and listen to where the hi-hat appears. Let’s say it sounds like it’s at 2 on the clock. Match the hi-hat close mic track to the same position in the OH’s stereo picture.

The cymbals and hi-hat rarely, if ever, benefit from gating. Cymbals especially, have such a relatively long decay that it’s impossible to gate them effectively. Far better to clean up the cymbal and hi-hat track in the editing stage if necessary.

Many DAWs Offer A Non-Destructive ‘Strip Silence’ Option. Setup The Parameters So That Only Unwanted Audio (Below A Specified Level) Is Removed.

One method is to use the non-destructive ‘Strip Silence’ feature offered in many DAWs. But you have to be very careful in setting up the parameters so that you don’t strip away any of the sound you want to keep. If you do remove wanted material accidentally, you can hit ‘Undo’ and try again.

Or better still, simply edit out unwanted drum sounds from the cymbals and hi-hat tracks and apply fades in and out, so that the sounds you do want to keep don’t jump out at the listener. This method will give more control than a global gate setting any day.

If you do end up gating cymbals (not recommended, unless for a special effect), a little reverb added can restore the decay sound that inevitably gets cut off by the gate.

Pro Tools Automation.

You could also use automation to clean up tracks, but this will use up processing power in your computer’s CPU.

With any clean up procedure, you should always do a before and after comparison though, to make sure you’re actually improving the sound.

Spill from one drum mic to another is unavoidable with a multiple mic setup and is often the very thing that gives drums that real sound. So gating the hi-hat is really best reserved for ‘fixing’ the sound e.g. making it tighter.

If you notice serious problems with your drum sound in the mix stage… may have to re-record them…..not an easy or popular option.

However, if the session is finished and the drummer is no longer available, you may have no choice but to resort to some or all of the above suggestions to get your tracks in shape.

Tama Rock Kit With 14” Hi-Hat, 16” Crash & 20” Ride.

It’s therefore vital that you get the best drum sound you can, the first time. As trying to make a badly recorded drum kit sound good is always going to be an uphill struggle. So, take the time to tune and set up the drums and cymbals properly; place the best mics correctly and get the drummer to play the kit for you prior to hitting the record button, so that you can make sure everything is as good as can be.

If you only have a few problems with a specific cymbal and/or drum in the mix stage, you could always try triggering a sample to replace the offending hit(s). Or alternatively, record a wild hit then place it at the right sync point in the track.

I think it’s always worth sampling all the individual drums and cymbals from a kit, separately, just before you start recording the kit as a whole, for ‘backup’ purposes. You never know when you’ll need a clean snare, tom or crash cymbal hit. Make sure you label each drum and cymbal sample as accurately as possible, including size and make. Then add them to your music library for future use.

Check out our drum posts starting with tuning, by clicking here.

As I said in an earlier blog, if you can achieve a great recording of the drum kit, it usually yields an easy mix.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at mixing drums by considering the use of the Overheads and Ambience tracks.

TCM Music Group have access to many great session musicians, including Troy Luccketta (drummer with Tesla). If you’re interested in finding out more about our recording packages, or simply have a question about recording, mixing or mastering – please click here.

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  1. Sirs, You’re compressing (pun intended) so many terrific tips in each post that this could easily be one of the best online resorces on home tracking! I’ just started this same month posting about reel to reel and analogue outboard gear ( , feel free to strip the URL if not allowed here) and I’m wondering if you’ll have a section covering those devices too? Keep up the brilliant work!

    • tcmmastering Says:

      Apologies for the late response, it got pushed down the list before I saw it. We at TCM love analogue and reel to reel, we grew up with it. But the majority of home studio users tend to go for digital today because it’s cheaper, requires less maintenance (usually) and provides greater editing/post production facilities. Sad but true. We may at some point in the future cover analog in more detail. Nevertheless, a lot of the techniques described apply equally well to reel to reel and digital audio workstations. Thanks for your comments.

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