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Mixing Programmed Drums

Discussion in 'F.O.H.' started by undercurrent217, Aug 13, 2015.

  1. undercurrent217

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    First off, I did run a quick search and didn't see much on this so forgive me if this has been covered.

    I have some questions about mixing programmed drums as they obviously have a different feel and I would imagine require a slightly different technique than a mic'd kit. My main question is in regards to use of compression (if any) but I'm also curious to hear what type of processing (eq, reverb, limiting, etc) people tend to gravitate toward when mixing a programmed kit. I know there's no "one size fits all approach" but i'm always looking for tips and knowledge.

    First off let me explain my method of getting the drum tracks in the first place as it's probably different than many of you. I have an old program from Acoustica called "Beatcraft". It's a standalone program and not integratable with my DAW (Reaper). I haven't buckled down and upgraded my drum software yet so I just stick with that because I know it so well at this point. I load samples in and program accordingly, basically selecting which beats of the measure I want hit on a grid. It's tedious but whatever. While I'm able to, I do not use any processing on the drum tracks at this stage - no eq, reverb, etc. Just raw samples. All I do is pan how I want the kit to be arranged and get basic level adjustments. Next, I need to get the drums into my DAW. I bounce each part of the kit to individual tracks so I have more control for mixing. So, a track of only snare, only kick, each tom, etc. All of the crashes/china however I have on one track. Hats and ride still have their own tracks. I also do a track of the entire kit and use that as kind of a room mic. I'll throw some reverb on it and put it fairly low in the mix, just to give that room quality a bit.

    So now I have everything loaded in my DAW and I can begin to tweak away. I'm curious how one might use compression in this scenario, if at all. My understanding of compression is to generally even out the peaks and get a consistent apparent volume of the track. This makes sense to use for a real drummer as they don't hit everything with the same attack or velocity. Programmed drums however are a pretty consistent velocity. The only times I'll adjust that in Beatcraft is when I want to make a fill or something nuanced to sound more human, so I'll tweak the levels of each hit. Beyond that, I don't really see a need for compressing, say, the snare. Or am I wrong? Is there still a sonic benefit to using compression on any part of the kit or the drum buss as a whole?

    Also, where is a general starting point for reverb placement? Verb on overall kit, just on certain pieces of the kit, etc.? Both?

    Looking forward to your thoughts and advice.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Jormyn

    Jormyn Member

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    - Mixing programmed drums isn't any different from real ones *in theory*, there are just some things you need to do with one (evening out hits, say) that you don't need to do with the other.

    - You may find it easier in the long run to leave everything panned to the center before you bounce your tracks down, so you can pan them in your DAW and have more flexibility.

    - Compression is used for, among other things:
    a) levelling instruments - drum hits obviously, getting a consistent volume between different parts of a guitar riff is a great one.
    b) shaping each instrument's sound so you only hear the bits you want - more crack on the snare but less ring, or vice versa.
    c) evening out the mix as things like toms come in and out so your volume doesn't jump around too much. This is also where you'd have a kick sidechain-compressing your bass.

    b) is often the big one with metal drums, since a good mix means managing all that percussion pretty closely. Think of it as the rhythmic equivalent of surgically EQing everything so each instrument has its own space.

    - Reverb depends on your genre, really. The techier/deathier/etc you get, the less reverb you typically want. Maybe a bit of room to glue the kit together, maybe nothing but your direct mics for a really dense blastbeaty song. Personally, I've got to have some just-shy-of-the-80s hall reverb for things to sound suitably power metally, so I make an aux track that my guitars, vocals, leads, bass, and drum bus all get sent to. If I can't get an appropriate amount of reverb on the snare, kick, or toms without the cymbals blowing out the mix, I'll send a bit of those tracks to the reverb bus as well. Don't forget that having a separate reverb track also lets you process the reverb differently, too - compressing the shit out of the input and rolling off the lows and extreme highs can make the reverb sit behind your instruments a bit better.

    Since it sounds like you're new-ish to mixing, I would highly recommend the Systematic Mixing Guide. It's an ebook, dirt cheap, and insanely helpful for stuff like this.
     
  3. He's Dead, Jim

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    Everything Jormyn said, I second buying the Systematic Guide, and please for the love of god and all that is holy just save up and buy EZ Drummer 2 with the Metal Machine expansion.

    As for compression and whatnot, I've never mixed live drums tbh but I understand what's involved, and my impression is that programmed drums remove much of the "technical" aspect (i.e. getting things phase-coherent, fixing room nodes/problems, leveling, etc.) but still afford you a lot of room for everything else like compression, limiting, and saturation. I still use your average maybe 25 ms attack, 100 ms release, 3:1 ratio compressor for the snare, with similar settings for the kick. I still clip the snare. I still clip the stereo drum bus and high pass everything. You're performing the same steps, but maybe with some slight modifications based on the source's volume and dynamic range. But it's essentially the same.
     
  4. undercurrent217

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    Good info guys, much appreciated. I guess you could say I'm new to mixing. I've been slowly learning production over the 6-7 years and my mixes keep getting better. At this point I'm trying to really hone in and actually learn about the technical aspects of things instead of relying solely on my ears and guessing with stuff like what type of compression ratios to use. I'm starting to care more about learning the techniques and not just winging it. As it turns out, I have a $150 gift card to Guitar Center I've been saving for a rainy day. EZ Drummer 2 is $149.99. Might have to pull the plug. Also, stylistically the music I make is something I would define more as hard rock than anything SUPER metal. We have our moments but there are a lot of dynamics and I like a good, organic yet slick production. No blast beats or anything, all clean vocals. This might be taboo here but I'm definitely a fan of Bob Rock and more recently I'm liking Kevin Churko's stuff as well.
     
  5. Dans

    Dans Member

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    I've been playing with programmed drums for a few years and just recently realized my overuse of compression on them.

    I think you're right on the consistency of programmed drums and I also understand how we can shape the envelop of the drum hits by compression. I used to compress pretty much all the drums just to get them smash harder but often end up with an over-compressed mix.

    So these days I changed my approach to programmed drums and immediately got a better result. I now try to only compress the OH to bring up the cymbals' energy and tame the snare hit there a bit, and only compress the room tracks a little for a more audible "tail". Other than those, I'll leave kick, snare and toms all uncompressed (since the hits are already very consistent). The compressors on drum bus, mix bus will handle the rest of compression from there.

    And when I feel the need to shape the transients or want them to smack harder, I nowadays just use transient designer + clipper to achieve that. Clippers help taming the peaks while maintaining the transients so I don't really have to compress anything with high ratio.

    If sometimes I need the "color" from certain compressors, I'll use 1:4 or even lower ratio with 2 to 3db gain reduction max on specific drums, just to get enough polishing going on.

    Just my two cents. Hope that helps :)
     
  6. MultiM

    MultiM Member

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    The Metal Machine EZX fits a lot of styles, not just metal, you can take a look at made of metal EZX too.
     
  7. bryan_kilco

    bryan_kilco Member

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    I probably have the same problem as Dans. I work with programmed drums 99% of the time and tend to compress every shell, room and leave the OH's alone. Thinking "these are gonna slam sooo hard", which in a lot of cases they do. But I found myself thinking "do these drums even need it, considering the hits are all very even already".

    One of the biggest problems for me is getting programmed drums to sound natural, velocity-wise. I use Reapers "auto" Humanize feature but for actual fills and rolls I go in and adjust every hit by hand.
     
  8. He's Dead, Jim

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    The change in dynamics you get from compression is pretty key to a great drum sound imo though. I still compress most hard snare hits around 3 db. It is easy to overcompress, but you can always dial in a sound you like then back off the wet-dry until the dynamics come back to life the way you want.
     
  9. Random3

    Random3 Member

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    What I do is program the MIDI in such a way as it sounds like an actual drum performance, rather than a drum machine.

    Then export and treat it like a live drummer.
     
  10. undercurrent217

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    Not to get off topic but since it was mentioned...is it standard practice to compress and/or use reverb on rhythm guitars?? I always felt the heavy distorted rhythm guitars are already compressed enough from the amp or source. It would make sense on clean/acoustic/lead however...just wanted clarity. Also, I wasn't aware of Reaper's "humanize" feature. Is that only for midi or can it be applied to imported drum tracks?
     
  11. Jormyn

    Jormyn Member

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    Again, it's a genre thing.

    I think the default answer about compression for heavy guitar is "no, fuck off" - they're so compressed already that why would you bother? That said, there's a time and place for everything. The most common use in heavier styles is for getting a consistent volume between your palm-muted chugs and more open notes. Killswitch Engage's "Rose of Sharyn" shows up a lot on this forum, so I'll use it as an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgMsACFMIq8 - the very first riff is all "chuggachuggachug" and then it has a "meedlymeedly" tail at the end of the fourth bar. Depending on your pickups (EMGs are really compressed already, for instance) and your amped tone, there can be a pretty hefty volume drop from one to the other. So, to get a more consistent level, you can either automate the track's volume or throw on some gentle compression that'll pull down the palm mutes and leave the melodic part alone.

    Reverb, in general, usually follows a rule of "more techy/deathy = less reverb". When you've got a lot going on in your mix, reverb can destroy any clarity between the notes. Conversely, when you've got a slower, fatter, chunky tune like Enter Sandman you've got a lot of space to play with. I don't think there's actually much reverb on the guitars there, but it's the sort of mix where you could really push it if you wanted to.

    As for humanizing... by itself, I believe it only works on MIDI. However, Reaper can do beat detection for you that puts a little stretch marker at each hit, and then I think there's a function somewhere to humanize those. However, it's worth noting that most humanizing works by just adding/subtracting a random amount from each note's position and velocity, which certainly helps it not sound like a machine but does nothing to make it sound like a real drummer - real drummer have more predictable variations, like how you can hear the hi-hat going TSStssTSStssTSStss, or how after the first couple of notes in a fast part the velocity goes down because you can only use your burst muscles for so long. Etc. Learning how a drummer would play the part, or at least knowing what a drummer is capable of, goes a long way.
     
  12. Dans

    Dans Member

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    Some great stuffs here, really enjoying the reading!
    Btw I just wanna mention that the reason why I kinda shy away from compressing the drums too much is partially due to the fact I play with pre-processed samples (EZDrummer and SSD), I'm not sure if my approach will be the same if I'm working with Superior Drummer (probably wont differ too much since the hits will still be consistent, UNLESS you program them with tons of dynamics intentionally, which is a good approach actually).
     
  13. Dans

    Dans Member

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    I'd like to echo what you just said by sharing my approach when making my own album with virtual drums. After I have all the drum patterns down, I then "humanize a little (a function in Studio One)" so the hits varies in timing and velocity by a small amount, then I go back in and tweak the velocity according to the drum patterns (immitating a drummer's performance) or even timing at times (like flamming, you need to grab them to where they sound right). Seems to work out pretty well for me.
     
  14. ForHerDeadEyes

    ForHerDeadEyes Señor Member

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    By that I assume you use the Humanize function in the MIDI-editor?
    There's also the JS: MIDI Velocity and Timing Humanizer plug-in that you can use non-destructively and add some humanizing before the VSTi..
    If the VSTi doesn't add anything..
     
  15. He's Dead, Jim

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    This is really critical. When I first started programming drums I would use Reaper's midi humanize (midi editor window --> edit --> humanize- I think its keyed to the H on the keyboard?) and think I was done. But then you listen to it and, yes, it sounds less like a machine...but it still sounds "off."

    What really helped me to understand how to program based on how drummers play were two things: (a) watching a shitton of videos of drummers like Blake Richardson, Matt Halpern, Matt Garstka, Brann Dailor, Danny Carey, Danny Walker, etc. on YouTube at half speed, and (b) loading up the MIDI files that come with Toontrack's metal expansions, which were recorded using a live drummer and e-kit, and looking at where the drummer starts to fall off the beat and which hits are emphasized over others. It's a pain in the ass, but you can start to imitate it yourself. As a side-effect, your own programming will get dramatically better just in terms of creativity and thinking about what to have the drums do during a song.
     
  16. Machinated

    Machinated Member

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    sorry to be that guy but programmed drums always sound like programmed drums and unless it's written to be an aesthetic choice over replicating a real drummer, it always sounds like shit.

    the biggest issues are the midi parts first and foremost and then the cymbals. I can't think of one example of programmed drums that sounds amazing, so unfortunately it's a case of damage limitation and a constant uphil battle you'll never win.

    if possible get a drummer to play on an ekit or try and find a real drummer/kit somehow. or accept its going to sound like a shit demo and move on.
     
  17. Jormyn

    Jormyn Member

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    sorry to be that guy but amp sims always sound like amp sims and unless it's written to be an aesthetic choice over replicating a real amp, it always sounds like shit.

    the biggest issues are the lack of tubes first and foremost and then the fizziness. I can't think of one example of amp sims that sounds amazing, so unfortunately it's a case of damage limitation and a constant uphil battle you'll never win.

    if possible get a Mesa full stack. or accept its going to sound like a shit demo and move on.

    ----

    The OP is asking how to get better results with what he has, and how to get a more realistic sound.

    Your point is valid, but do you see why it's not very helpful?
     
  18. SocialNumb

    SocialNumb Damn Christians!

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    sorry to be that guy but metal always sound like metal and unless it's written to be an aesthetic choice over replicating real music, it always sounds like shit.

    the biggest issues are the lack of musicians and foremost and then the screaming "vocals". I can't think of one example of metal that sounds amazing, so unfortunately it's a case of damage limitation and a constant uphil battle you'll never win.

    if possible get a real band. or accept its going to sound like a shit group of angry adolescent drunks and move on.

    :devil:
     
  19. bryan_kilco

    bryan_kilco Member

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    Yeah, in the midi editor.

    EZDrummer also has a humanize function.
     
  20. Machinated

    Machinated Member

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    HAHAHAHA.

    OK, so it wasn't my most helpful post but the original question is basically asking how a compressor works/how to process drums without any kind of reference or context. the point I was making was that no matter how much time is spent on MIDI drums the things that make them sound fake are inherently going to be there so no amount of mix processing will hide that.
     

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