eds1275 2011-05-27 - 1:56pm

Editing, eqing, and mixing drums the eds1275 way

Drums are the bane of the home-recordist. For almost all other instruments the recording demands are nothing compared to what it takes to record a drum kit. Let's take guitar for example - you usually record it with between 1-3 mics, acoustic or electric. So your average recording sound card in the $2-500 range can cover those bases. You may even have a nice preamp or two.
For drums however it's a whole new ball game. Not everyone has 4-18 microphones suitable for recording drums. Not everyone has that many nice mic preamps for recording. Many will end up just plugging into their PA mixers and using the mic pres in that when recording more tracks than they have preamps. So you absolutely have to make the best of what you have got.
Microphones are like guitars: in a way they are the most exciting part of recording - the gear. It's shiny, it makes sound, you play with placement and technique etc. They are also like guitars in another way. If you plug a great mic into an average preamp, the tone of that mic gets held back. Similarly, if you plug a cheap guitar into a wicked amp, you make the absolute most that the guitar has to offer. Microphone preamps are boring I admit. But don't overlook their importance.
Let's start right at the top: The basics. It makes so much sense and everyone knows, but, like flossing your teeth, it gets overlooked sometimes. Tune those drums, with good heads. Get your mics placed where they sound the best - this is totally subjective and there is a million articles out there already on how and why. The only advice I can give is the closer the mic is, the more attack you get with less low end - the further, the more tone you get but with pulling the mics back comes bleed. Can you live with bleed? Absolutely. I personally have no clue why people get so crazy on isolating mics and trying to minimize it. I see drums as one instrument, so the spill is kind of like sonic glue that brings the track together. But like anything else, there can be too much. So between mic placement and watching the phase, the next thing you have to do is get a great take.
I do most of my performance editing as I track. For example, the intro and first verse is great halfway into the chorus. I go back to the beginning of the first verse and push record. That give the drummer time to get back into the groove, lay down a second copy of the first verse, and then blast through the chorus. I keep going back until I have the song right through to the end, and of course this leaves me plenty of material to work with. So I edit the takes together and have a good performance by the end of it all. A little bit of flying in ome notes here and there, like a flubbed rimshot or an overly weak kick, these things happen.
After the performance is solid, it's time to get into the nitty gritty. I start with the inside kick and the top snare. Some people edit out the space between kicks and snares manually, some use gates... I use a protools feature called strip silence. It has some parameters to cut out anything below a threshold and add a little bit of time before and after the edits - so I usually leave like 3ms before each hit and then depending on the speed of the song some one the aftermath. If the song is a slow ballad for example, I'll skip this step. But if it's a metal song, I'll cut everything tight. Some people call this cheating, automating my editing. Time saving is a better word. Sometimes it
The snare and kick when previewed sound pretty lame all chopped up but when you bring the overheads/room mics in it just sounds tighter and cleaner than if there had been no editing. I use a side chain gate on the bottom snare [triggered from the top] and the outside kick [triggered from the inside] if I have those mics.
EQ is a big topic that I'll just brush on here. The biggest thing you can do for your drum sound is clean it up. Using high pass filters, pulling out the lows from things that don't need them such as the snare, overheads, toms etc. Just loop the drum in question and bring that filter up until it starts to affect the core sound and then back it off a hair. Then before you start tweaking the knobs have a plan first. Think about what you want to do with eq, and then go for it. I find it to sound more natural if I cut out frequencies around what I want to highlight. For example, if I want some more crack in the snare I will dip out before and possibly after where the attack of the snare is.
I sometimes do what is called parallel compression on my drums. The idea is you set up an Aux return with a compressor on it set to kill. Usually I will use a compressor that colours the sound quite a bit like the Bomb Factory 1176 emulation or the Digidesign Smack emulation of the Manley Slam compressor. Then I'll mix all the drums into this secondary compressor and bring it in underneath. It really gives a bit of oomph while leaving some of the dynamics intact - this technique is perfect for bringing out the emotion in the harder musical styles such as rock and metal.
Some other tips for recording drums:
-Use your better preamps for the overheads. They will have the smoothest sound for your cymbals. Then go in order of importance - snare and kick [or kick and snare] and then the other stuff.
-If you haven't got a mic for everything, don't worry about it. I personally almost never use a hihat mic in the mix and I often mic toms in pairs if at all.
-A small diaphragm condenser pointing up under the ride gives you great isolation and a good sound - just remember to flip the phase on it!
-Remove things you won't need. For example, if the drummer doesn't hit the splash or the middle tom or something just take it off the kit while you record. It will remove the temptation to hit it and leave you with less stuff ringing out to deal with.
-If something goes off-time when recording with a click, listen to it without a click before scrapping it. Sometimes things just have a great feel.

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