TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 45 Mixing Drums

Over the last few weeks we’ve covered the various individual drums and cymbals that make up the drum kit. This week we’ll conclude our look at drums in the mix, by considering the use of the Overheads and Ambience tracks.

Overheads: Spaced Pair.

We’ve mentioned the Overheads a few times and alluded to how useful they can be to pull the overall drum sound together.

The overheads are often set up as a stereo pair, for example X-Y Coincident, Spaced pair or Blumlein. There are other stereo techniques each with their own pros and cons as well as mic setups with one mic in front of the kit and one behind the drummer.

See this blog for more information on recording techniques for overheads and ambience tracks.

In reality, unless you were standing very close to a drum kit, you would hear very little stereo spread. So, how important is it to have a wide stereo picture of the drums in your song? That’s entirely for you to decide. Some songs will suit a wider stereo image than others.

Overheads: X-Y Coincident Pair.

If you do decide to go with stereo drums in your mix, listen to your overhead tracks sooner rather than later. Providing you set up your OHs as a stereo pair with quality mics, you should hear a pretty good drum mix from just these two mics. They will most likely have picked up the cymbals, hi-hat, snare and toms quite well.

By adding in the kick and snare specific mikes, you should be able to produce a drum sound that provides punch and clarity.

With such a wide range of kit components, it might be difficult to apply an EQ setting that works well for everything. Providing you are adding close miked tracks, you could try rolling off a lot of low-end from the OHs, maybe all the way up to 400 Hz. This can sometimes help the close mics poke through more.

If the drums heard in the OHs sound muddy, play around with the 100-200 Hz range of frequencies. If they sound boxy try cutting between 400 Hz-1 kHz.

TML Studio TCM Music Nashville – Showing Overhead Spaced Pair, Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat & Tom Mics.

Just be careful in applying any EQ. What works for cymbals for example, may not make your toms sound great and vice versa. So a compromise needs to be reached. However, don’t dismiss the OHs because of this. With a little effort, these two tracks can provide a great base to build your drum sound on.

Remember, if you recorded the kit using 10 or 20 mics it does not mean you have to use all of them. Only use what is needed to get a great drum sound. And when using more than one mic, there is always the possibility of phase issues. The more mics you use the more the problem gets compounded. So check for mono compatibility whenever you introduce another mic into the mix.

Also consider which way you want to ‘see’ the kit. Do you want the listener POV or the drummer POV? Whichever way you decide to go with, make sure you’re consistent when adding individual drums and cymbals to the OHs.

Kit From Drummer’s POV, Hi-Hat Left.

Kit From Audience POV, Hi-Hat Right.

When panning the OHs left and right, if the OHs have the hi-hat appearing on the right, don’t place the individual hi-hat mic track on the left. Listen carefully to the OHs (solo them) and determine where each kit component is in the stereo field, then add the individual tracks to match the position you hear in the OHs.

Gating the OHs does not work. The OHs are effectively capturing the whole kit. Gating the OHs will do the opposite and result in parts of the kit being cut out. So don’t use this processor to fix your OHs sound. If the OHs don’t sound very good, you may have to re-record them.

Actually, the OH’s often help to mask any gating artifacts from the individually miked drums…..another very good reason to have them as part of your drum sound.

Adding compression to the OHs is debatable…..some engineers do, some don’t. If you recorded your OHs as a stereo pair and do decide to use compression, make sure you use a linked stereo compressor to prevent image shift. If the two sides of the compressor are not linked, every time the crash cymbal is struck, the stereo image will move because the mic that is closest to the crash will compress more than the one that is further away. This is especially true for a Spaced Pair setup.

Best to use light compression in the OHs if at all, and compress the individual drum mikes.

Using A Royer SF-12 Stereo Ribbon Mic To Record Ambience In Kitchen, Drums In Next Room.

Ambient mics can add a unique quality to the sound of your drums (or any instrument). They are usually placed several feet away from the signal source and therefore capture more of the room sound. The position(s) that work will only be discovered by experimentation.

In a home studio setting, one room – your main recording room – may be somewhat acoustically treated. The other rooms are probably not.

Try listening to the drums from different points in the same room as well as different rooms. Bathrooms, kitchens or hallways may provide useful opportunities to place ambient mics that produce interesting results. Whilst the drummer is playing, move around until you hear a sound quality you like (the sweet spot), set up a mic and listen to the result. Providing you have enough tracks, you can always record an ambient track or three then decide in the mix if you want to use them.

If you’re able to borrow a church hall or other large reverberant space, you can capture some amazing ambient sounds which when added to your close mics, can transform the sound of your kit and other instruments.

Incidentally, if you want to hear what a great sounding room can do for your music, search out Beaver & Krause’s ‘Gandharva’. Recorded in 1971, side two of the LP was recorded in San Fransisco’s magnificent Grace Cathedral. Featuring Mike Bloomfield, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank and many other stalwart musicians of that era, it’s an amazing mixture of Jazz, Blues, Rock and Gospel – a unique album.

If you use more than one mic at varying distances on a single source, the sound will arrive at the different mics at slightly different times. So delays will be introduced as well as possible phase problems.

The further away a mic is from a source, the less attack will be picked up and there will be less signal to noise. So you may need to EQ out some background noise or rumble. Play around with the panning of ambient mic(s) to see what works best for the song.

Maybe the best advice with drums, is to start off simple – using the Glyn Johns mic technique – using three or four mics or something similar. Then as you become more familiar with your mic collection, acoustics, the recording and mixing processes you’ll feel inclined to experiment with more complex setups.

Getting a great drum sound can be one of the more challenging aspects of the mix stage. But as with everything in life, practice makes perfect. There’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty and just doing it. Fortunately in the home studio, the multitrack process allows endless attempts at getting the mix right. Take your time, learn your skills and have fun.

Next week we’ll look at Percussion before moving on to the other instruments in the mix.

All of us at TCM Mastering love music. We’ve all spent most of our lives in this business. So, if you have any questions regarding the blog, mastering or recording in general please drop us a line or contact us here.

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