Tips and Tricks for Mixing Drums
Okay, so my very good friend, Ben Wysocki is the drummer of The Fray, and he was in town this week to record, and I was recording a song by an artist called Jessica Roadcap. Jessica is a wonderful artist from Nashville, an amazing singer/songwriter, and she just won the Blackbird Academy of Arts in Arkansas, she just won their songwriting competition.
So we got to record a song over the weekend, it was a lot of fun. So what I wanted to show you here was we’re going to take Ben’s drums, and we’re going to look at the relationship between the samples, the small drum kit that’s recorded here, there’s some fun stuff like the snare we used, we’ve used on other songs, you can learn a little bit more about that in a second.
But one of the things that’s important to me is I get asked a lot about parallel drum compression. I do like to use it from time to time, but in this instance, I didn’t do it on the whole buss, I just did it on a certain element of the drum kit. So let’s check that out.
Great, so Ben came by here to spit fire. He played the kit in there. The snare drum I have in there is a Ludwig Supraphonic, and I used that snare drum on How to Save a Life. That’s the snare drum we used on the single.
It’s also the snare drum that’s on pretty much every song I think, except for one, possibly two on the second Fray record. So it’s like an old friend. He picked it up and looked at it, and had a laugh when he saw it. We use it all the time, it’s on a lot of the last Aerosmith record.
The reason why I mention it is because it’s probably the most used snare drum of all time, the Ludwig Supraphonic. It’s on more records than I can care to think of. So many records from the ’60s and the ’70s. It’s a wonderful snare drum. You can get them used on eBay pretty inexpensively, and Ludwig still makes them. So I highly recommend it. I’m not sponsored by Ludwig, I just really like the snare.
Plus, you know, we have the ’64 Ludwig in there, we have a combination of Paiste and Zildjian cymbals. They’re all mixed and matched. They’re not really any particular one, you know, style. They’re just what sounds good in the room. The drum setup is really, really simple. We have a pair of 340 Lewitts on the overheads, we have a Lewitt kick drum mic, we have a Lewitt 140 on the hi-hat.
We do have C-12a’s on toms, which is incredibly expensive, but they just happen to sound really, really good, and we have 57s, top and bottom on the snare. It’s a really, really simple drum setup. It goes through there with no EQ on it. It just gives us fat tones.
So let’s listen to the actual drum sound as it is.
So this is the live drums. Obviously, we have some compression and EQ on it.
So I’ve compressed it quite heavily. If you look at the kick in here, there’s not a lot going on. The snare does have a time adjuster, which is pushing it back 133 samples in time with the overheads. I think the most fun thing I’ve got going on is this side snare. The side snare is an RCA ribbon mic. If we have a listen to this on its own…
Okay, so what I did that was interesting on this, if I take the compressor off for a second, you’ll hear something. Here’s without a compressor on.
[side snare, no compressor]
It’s basically the kick as loud as the snare drum. Put the compressor on.
[side snare, with compressor]
Now the kick is coming out, so what I did is there’s a kick sample up here. This kick sample is feeding the compressor. It’s sidechaining to buss 1 here. So what that does is it compresses every time the kick plays. It’s a great old trick, and it’s a way to remove your kick drum from your snare.
Now, obviously, if you’re playing four on the floor, you’re doing this groove where the kick and the snare are playing together, that would be completely useless, but he wasn’t. There was no time that he plays the snare at the same time as the kick.
So that side snare mic, the RCA ribbon mic, might be picking up the kick, as well as the snare, but it’s not being amplified as much because the compressor is compressing every kick drum using the sidechain function here.
So what we do is we set to buss 1 here, and then on the sample here, we’re sending from buss 1. We sent pre-fade, meaning it doesn’t matter whether this is soloed or not, or muted, it will always hear it. So we can do any adjustment we like.
Most importantly, we can hear the snare on its own.
So here’s with the sidechain compression.
[snare, with sidechain]
[snare, no sidechain]
Hear the kick? It’s great.
Also what I love about it is it does let a little bit of the kick go through, but just a little bit of the attack, so it doesn’t ruin the bottom end, it kind of gives us a little bit more attack on it. So that was nice.
It’s amazing with the way that ribbon mic works. You barely hear any hi-hat bleed.
Great. So I had some fun with it. So if we go back to the drums, the standard drum sound.
All in all, pretty good drum sound. The other fun things we’re doing is there’s a parallel compressed snare bottom.
So I’ve got this parallel compressor going on here, and what this parallel compressor is going on here, if you see the compression, it’s pretty aggressive.
Super fast release, just letting the attack go through. A lot of snare top. Snare bottom. And then of course, a side snare.
So those three, you can do this, you can setup a separate auxiliary, or you can mult your tracks, and what I’ve done there is I’ve multed my tracks to do this.
So I’ve got duplications of my snare top, snare bottom, and side snare, which is the RCA mic. So those three are going to my parallel compressor.
Take the compression off…
[snare, no compression]
So look at that compressor setting, what it’s doing. Pretty generic three snares together now.
Now, it’s kind of adding a lot of energy to the track. It’s a great 1176 trick, so attack, full left, release, full right, and we’re setting gain reduction, and it’s being hit pretty hard, and it’s on limit at twenty to one.
So we’re letting the attack come through.
This started a few years ago. There was the song, Coming Home, which was actually just cut recently, and this came from when I was working in my old studio, and I was just trying to add more attack to it.
You see, when I first started, you know, with Pro Tools, the transient designer was not — first off all, I don’t even think the hardware version was available, but there was definitely no way to do that transient designer trick using a plugin, so I’d have to manufacture these kind of things myself, and as much as I love the transient designer, I still do things manually.
So take it off.
[drums, no compressor]
Put it back on.
And it comes from years of messing around with 1176s. Great. So that’s adding some energy to our track. Let’s put it all back in, you’ll hear it.
Great. Next up, we have three kick samples and three snare samples from Addictive, and this is what we get.
[drums, with samples]
Take them out.
So basically, I’ve got the generic samples I use there, but you can, the great thing about Addictive, or any of those softwares, whether it be Steven Slates or EZDrummers, you can actually tune the snares. I think it’s important to tune the kick and the snares, particularly, the snare to the snare of the track. So without…
Drop it in.
Take it out.
So it’s just kind of adding some nose to the track. So dropping in the basses, with and without.
[drums and bass]
Then it’s the D28, which is actually kind of a big part of the sound for me. The D28 is a snare sample that I’ve had for a long, long time that I use a lot. It’s part of my sample pack, so if you haven’t already, sign up on the email list and you’ll get it, but this snare one.
So there, you can see, you know, how those few little elements are really helping the drum sound.
Cool. One of the important things for me is when you’ve got a drummer like Ben, a lot of drummers that can do that grace note stuff is capturing it. That was the reason for the RCA mic, was when we first started tracking, I really felt like I wasn’t picking up a lot of that, and then sidechaining the compression from the kick, removing the kicks from it, meant I was able to push that grace note stuff really well.
[bass and drums]
For me, when you’re using a small drum room like we have, it’s all about just sort of getting the best for each of it. I could take those samples and push them louder, or I could add some reverb to them. Remember, the Andy Wallace trick is to take the snare sample only and use that to trigger the reverb, so there’s no bleed of hi-hat and stuff into it.
So we are with the D28 using a little bit of the verb to trigger a lot from that.
[D28 with reverb]
[D28, no reverb]
Well I hope you enjoyed the video. Please, as ever, leave a whole bunch of questinos and comments below. It’s a whole can of worms that you open up when it comes to recording drums. There’s so many different ways to record them, and so many different ways to mix them, and the great thing is, even if you have a small room, like mine is very, very small. We can manipulate and make the drums sound bigger.
The drum performance was not edited at all. We had Ben play live to a piano/vocal, and then we recut some stuff to him. I played bass to it. We kept it feeling natural. This is a track that has to breathe. Jessica is an organic, real artist, but at the same time, we had to have the drums be a little bit more slamming than just the four or five mics, so there’s a combination between the samples blended in with the live drums, and then the parallel compression on the snare.
So I hope you enjoyed that. Please, as ever, leave a whole bunch of questions and comments below. Let us know how you do things, and let’s have a great discussion, and thank you ever so much for watching, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing!