The full version of this tutorial, along with many others is available in the Systematic Mixing Guide, available here: http://www.systematicproductions.com/mixing-guide.htm ----------------------------- Beware, if you start scrolling down now you may never stop! This one is massive. Never did I picture when I started writing that it would amount to so much, and at the end still leave so much unsaid. Drums truly are one of the most involved elements of any production, as is evidenced by how much there is to go over. Recording and processing them is a personal affair - driven by many factors - and it would be impossible to list every approach. So here we go for a broad approach, talking about common starting points and problem zones for standard rock and metal mixing. We also go over samples, their role in final drum sounds, and how to optimize their use. Drums are one of my absolute favourite things to mix. They tend to form the very extremes of a mix, from the cymbals - which are generally the highest and airiest of elements - down to the kick, which in many cases is the lowest. As such, they become the framework of a good mix, and thus getting good drum balance is critical. In the modern era, as many of you would be used to dealing solely with sampled drums, as there are those who deal with raw drumkits. The principles when working with both do vary slightly, but at it's heart the goal is always the same. You want to find a sound that suits the music. For the purpose of this tutorial I'm going to focus largely on my own approach, and the one I feel creates the best balance of vibe and punch - augmenting real drum kits with samples. This means there will be a large focus on keeping as much of the raw drums as possible and/or desirable. The principles will be equally applicable, albeit less intensive, to those dealing solely with sampled drum kits. Skimming over tracking Drum recording could be a whole bible unto itself (and actually is, if Glenn Fricker has anything to say about it!) so we will only briefly touch on the ideas behind tracking drums, and instead spend the majority of our time talking about how to mix them into a record. If your intention is to keep as much of the raw kit sound in your final mix as possible, it goes without saying that you need to get the fundamentals right. Unfortunately for you, drums are arguably one of the most difficult elements to get right across the board when tracking. Here is a quick checklist of some of the things you need to get right in order to succeed in keeping a quality raw kit sound on your record: -Very good player, who can hit consistently, and consistently hard. -Very good drum kit, which sounds open and minimizes muddy resonances. -Very good cymbals, which have minimal harsh resonances, and minimize their crossover with the vocal range (so, not big and low pitched!) -Brand new heads, ideally switched after every song. -A knowledge of how to tune those heads optimally (much harder and more creative than tuning guitars). -Very good room. For drums, the room tone is crucial, as it becomes a significant part of the drum sound in our mix. -Minimal spill in your close-mics. -An array of great quality microphones. -An array of great quality microphone preamps. -Good quality, 16-channel AD/DA converter. So - intimidated yet? Recording quality drums costs money - a lot of it. That's just the reality of something which has so many point sources that need to be isolated and treated individually to each other on a record. It's no wonder that more and more projects are skimping on drum tracking, and instead using samples to drive the record. Many are even completely circumventing real drum kits, and using entirely electronic drums. Now, in many ways we can circumvent those above requirements, depending on the type of project we are working on, and the type of drum sound we are shooting for. Modern metal has the advantage of currently sporting an aesthetic which favors very direct drum sounds, with minimal room and acoustic spill. This allows us to, in many ways, circumvent our need for a great room. In fact, if you are able to record drums in a decently dead room, whether it be small or otherwise, you can then isolate and process your drums with more precision, and simply apply reverb, or use room samples (we'll get to that) in order to create an artificial sense of space. This gives you a greater sense of control, and for many ultra-modern sounding metal productions is actually favorable over using a large, live drum room and acoustic ambiance. Rock music, on the other hand, can be a little more reliant on natural acoustics. A quality drum room is desirable, even if simply to retain the tightness of the bottom end on room and overhead mic tracks, as they are often used to solidify and enlarge the size of the drum sound. Getting to point A There is a lot involved in preparing drums for mixing. The tracking and editing phases are usually substantial and very involved. A lot of an engineer's personality can be found in how they tackle drums. As much of this is so personal, I can only hope to give a rough outline of common procedures, and what you may or may not wish to do with drums. For the purpose of this guide I'll assume that we at least have an acceptable raw drum sound to work with. Phase The very first thing you'll want to do after the drums on a project are all tracked is pull the DAW session up and start checking phase. Good phase is critical to raw drum sounds, and can be the difference to something which stays thin and washy, no matter how much you process, to something which is dense and solid. There are two major ways to go about correcting phase after a recording. The old-school way is to simply sit there, listen to the overheads, switching the close-mics in and out, and inverting the phase on the channels, listening to hear which sounds 'larger'. The dead-give away is the setting which gives the drums more body. The more body, generally the more in-phase the drum. So that's fairly simple, right? Well, yes, but it's also somewhat limited. If your drums happen to be 90 degrees out of phase with the overheads, then inverting the phase will do nothing for you. How do we get around this blind-spot? Well, that brings us to our second method for correcting phase, which fortunately modern DAWs have made very convenient and easy to do. You simply bring up your overhead tracks, and zoom right in until you can see the transient hit of whichever drum you're correcting. Now pull up the close-mic track of that drum, and nudge it back in time until it roughly aligns with the overheads. Note, this won't be perfect, because nothing is perfectly in phase with drums - but simply getting it closer should give you a larger sound. Repeat this for all your drums, and you should find a sound that is immediately more deep and dimensional, and creates a much better starting point for you in the mix. Editing This part is a love/hate of modern metal engineers. In many ways this part of the process is where the magic truly happens, as commonly average performances are tightened up into something inhuman. It's worth understanding that the vast majority of drummers out there don't have what it takes to record a world-class quality performance on drums - in metal, with its athletic demands, this is even more the case. You have to sit back for and while and wonder about what sort of unique individual it takes to willingly want to sit down and bash drums all day. Some do it because they aren't adept at any other instruments, or because it was the easiest way, but others – a rare few – are truly gifted and invested in their percussion. With that in mind, cast yourself back and realize that 99% of your time will constitute of working with the first kind. A lot of the time you simply need to throw the kitchen sink at the drums (if you're not tempted to include the drummer in that metaphor too) just to make it sound like a passable performance. This is relatively normal when working on modern music in this day and age, so grit your teeth, lube up and get ready to bear with me. There are multiple ways to edit drums, depending on the DAW you use, and once again, this could be a tutorial series unto itself, so we will only touch on the concepts, and less the techniques. The first order of the day, generally, is to tighten the timing of the performance. This can be done a number of ways, from slip editing, to using a Beat Detective style tool, to using an Elastic Audio style tool. My preferred method is the use of a Beat Detective style tool which is capable of specifying the strength of quantization. Slip editing tends to result in sounds that are a bit too rigid for my taste. Your own may differ! However, it's worth noting that using a tool with a strength control will give you the flexibility to choose just how much of the drummer's original swing you want left in there. This can be crucial in rock music, where putting something entirely to the grid is the quickest way to kill the groove. Remember, the drums become the basis of the timing and swing of the record! If they are too rigid, then every other element laid on top is likely going to feel that way as well. Now, assuming we've timed the performance to our liking, we can move on to manual silence editing. This is an optional process. Some people like having bleed in their close drum tracks, which is absolutely fine, if they're after that aesthetic. If, however, you want extra separation and cleanliness within your mix, you will want to do this. A common set of tracks to start with here is the toms. Since the toms are generally a fill element, and generally only come in once every few bars, the ambient spill on them can be discarded. The idea is to chop the audio at the start of each transient, leave the entirety of the hit, all the resonance that you want, and chop again after that sustain has ended. You can create your own release envelopes here by using fade-outs of your desired length. Some people will also manually silence hi-hat and ride tracks during this process. I personally don't, as I tend to not mind the bleed from hat and ride tracks. In a worst case scenario I will simply silence an irritating ride track during the mix, either by automating the channel mute on and off, or chopping and muting regions. The hat track is commonly so low in the mix that any bleed from it becomes largely inconsequential. Now that this is done, we want to move on to placing some clean hits. Assuming that you were wise and sampled the entire drum kit at the very start of the session, you will have a collection of samples to work with, across all velocity layers. The first order of the day is to get clean tom hits and place them at the end of every fill that has cymbals succeeding it. This way the cymbal bleed that frequently pops up when the drummer crashes on beat 1 of the following bar won't come through and mess up your balances. Use your own discretion here. Replace the hits where you see this bleed to be a problem. After the toms are all done and consolidated you want to move on and repeat this process for weak snare and kick hits too. When this is finally finished, and your drums are all consolidated, you have yourself a ready drum track with which to begin mixing! You will thank me for being so thorough during the preparation process, as this pays off in dividends during the mix, saving you both time and hassle. Now we're at point A, so? We're all ready to mix! What you do here, and how you attempt to coax tone from the drums will depend in many ways on your personal inclination and the sound which the song demands. Rock and metal drum mixing do tend to differ in some fundamental ways, so I will try to outline common approaches to both whenever practical. Overheads A common starting point for me is with the overhead tracks. The way these are treated tends to differ fundamentally between most rock and metal music, so I will split this part up right here. Metal Approach Start by jogging a high pass up the overheads until the bulk of the drum hits and their body disappears. Your general intention here is to use the overheads as cymbal microphones. Excessive drum spill is undesirable (although not catastrophic). If you find you get a lot of snare poking through, you can use a simple brickwall limiter to take the peaks down. Otherwise you can set up a compressor that's keyed by the snare track, and this will duck the overheads each time it's hit. Rock Approach Start by setting a reasonable high pass filter. For me this tends to be anywhere from 90 hz up to 170hz or so. A lot of this will depend on the quality of the room, which will determine the quality of low-end you'll be getting from the overheads. Don't be afraid to crank some lows into them. Try to see if you can get some beef and body from the drums here. Combining this with the direct tracks will give you more of a 'pillowy' characteristic to the low-end. Since we aren't high passing drastically here, we will likely be dealing with a fair amount of room mud. Check the area between 300 and 700hz to see what's going on. Usually a wide scoop around there is enough to clear things up and get it breathing. Both Approaches Now that we have the low-end and mids out of the way, we can focus on some universal principles on processing overheads. Bear in mind that the techniques listed in the above approaches aren't necessarily exclusive to their respective genres. You can do a metal record and still keep a lot of drum sound in the overheads. Feel free to be adventurous, and define yourself. The first thing to bear in mind is a potential trouble zone between 3 and 4kHz. This is part of the critical vocal range, and believe it or not, your cymbals will eat into it. A common approach is a wide scoop around this area as a starting point. Jog the cut around with your vocals going until you find that magic spot where they start to breathe through more naturally. In the mean time, make sure you haven't sucked all the life and presence out of your cymbals. After this things become very circumstance-dependent. Most cymbals will have resonant frequencies in a few spots, and your job from here will be to tame these as much as possible without killing all the life in them. Similar principles apply here as with guitars and fizz. These are generally tight resonances, and being such they just love to eat into the clarity and front-to-back depth of your mix. You'll be amazed at how much clarity there is to be gained here once you refine the art of 'ringing out' the cymbals. As always, be mindful of what does and doesn't need to be done. If you've tracked great cymbals with great mics in a great room, you may not even need to do anything more than the wide presence region scoop. So try to maintain perspective. Reference to your favourite records if need be for guidance. In regards to compression, this is a personal matter and will depend from individual to individual. I personally do like to compress overheads slightly, and I do mean slightly. It's more for the envelope control than controlling the dynamics. If you find you have a very uneven overhead track, it may very well be a better idea to automate intensively instead of compressing, as the compression will bring along with itself negative effects, such as pumping, tearing cymbals, with increased resonances you may not want.