Drum Room Mics 

My last recording session involved some experimentation with a few different room mics so thought I would explain them in this blog post. The reference tracks that the band gave me all had big roomy drums, so I used this session to experiment with a few different positions.

The first was a u87 placed around the corner, facing away from the drums. This position had no direct sound, so captured lots of the rooms characteristics. The purpose of this microphone was to add sustain and decay to the drums, especially the snare. As the microphone was so far away from the drum kit it had a slight delay to the close drum mics, which helped to achieve the sustain. The drummer hit the snare drum hard and consistently and I drove this quite hot through the API desk, this helped get a really punchy sound. 

Mixing

This microphone had lots of resonant peaks, so the first process was to use an EQ to attenuate these. By using a lowpass filter it will take out lots of messy rumble and make sure it’s not clashing with the low end of the kick drum. 

To help bring more room tone in the the drums, a compressor added to the chain. It was hit pretty hard to get the most out the rooms with a slow attack and fast release to make sure it didn’t choke the transients.

 

However it was still sounding a bit too natural. It needed more aggression and character to the sound. As this mic is just going to be blended in, there was room to get away with adding more processing to alter the sound. I added the decapitator and add a bit ot drive in the N setting.

 

The next room mic was a Coles 4038 placed above the kick drum facing the edge of the snare drums. The idea was inspired after reading the article: Inside Track: Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color (will add a link at the end). Engineer Shawn Everett talks about how most of the drum sound for some of the songs came from a ribbon microphone (RCA 77) in that position. I was blown away by the drum sound in that record so had to try it! 

The microphone sounded great! It captured loads of punch from kick drum and lots of crack from the snare drum. For this band’s sound it wouldn’t have worked to use this as the main drum mic but blended in it added lots of punch to the drums. For mixing I started by cutting off the extreme lows and attenuated some low mid muddyness. 

To create a console emulation and add some saturation, I selected the Brit 4K E from Slate Digital’s virtual console collection. Then used the SSL eq to boost some highs and add a bit more bottom end. Next I hit the FG-116 compressor at about -5dB, to tighten up the sound. 

Finally to emulate a tape machine I used slate digital’s virtual tape machine. This added a little saturation and smoothed out the high end. 

SOS article: http://www.soundonsound.com/people/inside-track-alabama-shakes-sound-color

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Mix Bus Processing

After watching Nolly’s nail the mix i’ve really got into mix bus processing at the start. It makes sense to mix everything into a compressor rather that just adding it at the end, which can drastically change your mix. It is also a good way to get a good starting sound quickly. Here’s what I used on my last mix:
A good way to start off with compression is the slate digital virtual bus compressor rack. This is a great way to quickly audition 3 different compressors and see what works best with your mix. For this mix I chose the FG grey, which is a SSL bus compressor emulation. The compressor was set to the fastest release and slowest attack to make sure it didn’t kill the drum transients. By setting the high pass filter to 70Hz it stops the kick sub from triggering the compressor. How hard I hit it usually depends on the type of track, but for this track I hit it at about compress at about – 2 – 3 dB then pulled the mix to around 70%. This is quite aggressive for mix bus compression but it felt right and really brought the whole mix forward whilst also glueing everything together. 

The Sie – Qhas a real nice silky smooth high end that adds nice air and bite without adding harshness. 

Finally I added the FG-N EQ from Slate Digital’s virtual mix rack. This is a really aggressive eq but sounds great when used subtly, so its important to be careful not to overdo it. To add more punch the eq boosted at the low end and sweept around until the low end started to punch and gel together, this was found this at about 120 Hz. I then did the same with the upper mids and ended up boosting around 2.5kHz which added some attack to the mix. 

This was a good starting point but its important to keep checking back throughout the mix and make small changes if needed. Its also worth keeping an eye on the compression, making sure you don’t end up hitting it too hard.

Check out Nolly’s nail the mix here: https://nailthemix.com

Bottom Snare

Here’s another drum mic post. I’ve always just used a 57 as it’s a go to for so many people but have found myself hardly using it in the mix recently so decided to do a bit of experimentation. Eric Valentine talks about using a large diaphragm condenser microphone underneath the snare but facing at the batter head of the kick drum. This position gets a more of an open sound of the snares and also some attack from the kick drum. It also adds a bit more sustain to the snares, this is real useful as this is one of the first things I do when mixing the bottom snare mic. In a gearslutz post (link at the end) Eric Valentine mentions that this is a go to microphone placement of his and that he has tried this with lots of different microphones, each working in their own way. I’m going to experiment some more with this, trying different microphones and placing the microphone closer to the kick drum to get some more attack from the beater.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/q-eric-valentine/469683-eric-valentines-underhead-issues-2.html

Snare Mixing

I have just been mixing a track from the EP that I recorded with Hush Mosey. I was real happy with the snare sound so thought i’d write a blog post about how I went about getting the sound. One thing to note is classic phrase: ‘you can polish a turd’. The most important part of a good snare sound is a well tuned snare being hit by a drummer who actually knows how play. In this case I was lucky enough to have both, which made mixing easy! 

The first process was the SPL transient designer, adding some attack. This just makes it sound like the drummer is hitting harder, which is never a bad thing in a rock song! Next use the slate digital virtual channel adds to add some harmonic saturation with the Brit 4k G setting. The SSL style EQ works well to add some air and body, using a bell for the low end keeps it tight. The Neve style EQ, is a lot more aggressive and works well to add some crack around 4.8kHz. Finally some light compression with the FG -401 stars to tighten up the snare and starts to control the peaks. 

For heavier compression it’s best to keep the release fast and the attack as slow as it goes to keep it sounding open when hit hard. Hit the compressor at about – 7dB, this will start to make the snare sound aggressive and tight.

At this point the snare will be sounding nice and punchy but fairly clean. Tape emulation works well to start adding some subtle saturation.  

However this is best used subtly, as soon as you drive it too hard it can start to kill the attack of the transients. So hit it lightly then finally add more saturation, such as the decapitator. Drive the plugin then try each distortion. For this track I found I preferred E, which is an emulation of a Chandler/EMI TG Channel but its worth trying each as each will work differently for different snares.

                                

                        

Snare Double Mic

Snare Double Mic

I’ve never experimented too much with different snare drum microphones as the sm57 just tends to work. But when after reading about this, I had to give it a go. The idea is to tape a small diaphragm condenser (akg 451) to a 57 to record to the batter head of the snare drum. The 57 captures lots of midrange punch, whilst the 451 captures a lot more high and low end. The 451 is perfect for this as it has a bump around 3-4kHz which adds lots of attack and crack to the snare and also a – 20dB pad, which makes it possible to close mic such a loud instrument without damaging the microphone. On its own the 451 can sound a little lifeless but when blended with the 57 it works really well. It captures the punch from the 57 with nice extended high end crack from the 451. As its a condenser microphone the bleed from the high hat as a bit more of an issue, but as this microphone is only been used to blend in with the 57 you can get away with gating it more aggressively to minimise the bleed. You can also now buy clips that are designed for this that connect the two microphones together, although i’ve heard that it’s easier to get them in phace by taping them but i’m yet to try it. I’ve attached audio examples of each microphone individually and then both together.

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Building Up A Bass Tone From A DI

Building Up A Bass Tone From A DI

Whilst mic’ing up a nice bass amp can have great results, I don’t believe that it’s essential for a good bass sound. This blog post is going to be all about building a bass tone from a DI. For this track the band played together live, the drummer and bassist were locked together in terms of performance. So I had to make sure the mix did the track justice in making sure they sat together nicely.

The kick drum had lots of body around 60Hz, so first make sure the bass doesn’t overlap. A multiband compressor is perfect for this. Use a low shelf at 60Hz, then side-chained it to the kick drum. This means that every time the kick drum plays the compressor kicks in, moving everything below 60 Hz of the bass out of the way of the kick drum. Set the fastest attack, so that as soon as the kick drums hits the bass is compressed and then play with the release so it is just long enough to stay out of the way of the entire kick. A multi band compressor can work better than a broadband compressor for this application as it allows you to compress heavier without sounding like it’s ducking, its only getting rid of the overlapping frequencies. 

Too control the dynamics add a compressor, such as the Slate Digital FG-116, which is a ‘modern’ take on the 1176. Set a gain reduction of about 3dB and set the attack and release both fast so that it clamps down on any peaks. 

Next add some saturation from the plug in Saturn. This is a multi-band distortion, which makes it perfect for bass. It allows you to split it into different bands. I left the lower frequencies alone and added a tape saturation to the mids/ highs. This kept the low end clean whilst adding a little bit a character to the tone without adding too much grit. 

Too emulate a bass amp, used an IR (impulse response) from amplitube. Keep the track playing whilst scrolling through different amps and until you find one that fits the song. 

This can add lots of low end rumble and some resonant spikes. Use an eq to cut out the low end and notch out some of the resonant spikes.

At this point the tone was starting to sound nice but could do with a little more more presence and punch. The Virtual Mix Rack is perfect for using multiple eq’s, each having different characteristics. First using the SSL EQ, which is quite clean and precise, sweep around to add some pick attack and then again to find some punchy midrange.  The custom series lift, using the present mode, boosts the upper midrange and adds some harmonics. This gives the tone some nice presence that helps the bass cut through the mix. The FG-N, which is modeled from a neve EQ is a really aggressive and colourful EQ so I made sure to use it subtly, only boosting 1dB at 800Hz which added some midrange punch to the bass. 

                                                           

To make sure the low end is locked in place add another multiband compressor and compress from around 60Hz – 300Hz. This works when when used subtly at about 2 – 3 dB of gain reduction, any more can start to kill the low end.

With the Fab Filter pro Q side chain setting you can see the frequency response of another instrument in the same EQ. Set the side chain to the kick drum and you can see both waveforms. This is great for carving out space and blending the two together. This feature is helpful, however its important to not rely on the visuals and trust your ears!

Finally add a limiter to further control the dynamics and make sure the bass stays at a consistent punchy level. 

Hi Hat Bleed

Hi Hat Bleed

Hi hat bleed can be a real problem when micing up a drum kit. Here are two techniques I use to minimise it during the mixing stage. Start with the Fabfilter multiband and select the expander option. Set this so it only affects everything above 3kHz, with the fastest attack and a pretty fast release. This starts to get rid of a lot of the hi hats, whilst keeping the natural sound of the snare. 

Next add a gate. Fabfilters gate is perfect for snare’s because you can set the range so that it doesn’t completely cut off in between hits, resulting in a choked snare sound. Use a fast attack and play with the hold and release until they keep as much decay of the snare as possible without letting the hi hats creep back it.