How to Balance Stereo Drum Overheads

Matt Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, and mixing101.co.

I want to talk about a problem that if you’ve been engineering for any period of time, you’ve probably run into, and that is matching overheads.

A lot of times, especially when I’m getting overheads that I didn’t personally record, I will run into a situation where they don’t really sound the same, and what happens is the whole image of the drum kit ends up leaning off to one side.

I’m going to play it, and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

[overheads]

Right? It feels like the snare is kind of hanging to the left, and that might be for a number of reasons that could happen, because there’s disproportionate volume, it could be simply because of the way it was recorded with a stereo pair, or it could be because the phase is offset, and we’re actually hearing the left side slightly earlier than we’re hearing the right side.

Well, in this particular case, the level is actually favoring the right side slightly, and the phase is perfectly aligned, so what’s really going on is the EQ contour of the right side is darker, and doesn’t really match the EQ contour of the left.

So what I’m going to do is make the two sides match, and by the way, this can happen simply by using mics that aren’t matched, or simply just not using the same type of mic at all, or it could be because of slight angling things, like maybe the one on the right was slightly off axis from it’s source, and therefore created a darker response. It can happen for a lot of reasons.

The bottom line is we’ve got to fix it. So I’m going to use the FabFilter Pro-Q2. At this point, if you’ve seen my videos, you know I’m a big fan of the FabFilter stuff, and here’s yet another reason why.

The FabFilter Pro-Q2 has this really cool feature called EQ Matching. The way it works is I’m going to send the left side of the drums to feed the side-chain detector of the EQ that’s on the right side.

And now, I’m going to go to the analyzer, I’m going to take off the pre-EQ analyzer, and just focus on post= and side-chain.

Now let’s play it.

[overheads, right]

This is going to show us an analysis of the two different EQ curves.

The one in red that’s sort of lighter is the left side, and the one that is in white, that’s the right side.

So you’ll notice that the right side is slightly, slightly more aggressive right in the mid-range, but it’s a lot less aggressive in terms of the top end.

So that’s what’s creating this disproportionate image.

Now what’s really cool about the FabFilter is not only can I get those analytics, but I can also go to EQ Match…

[overheads, right]

And I can generate an EQ curve that will match the left from the right, and you can actually see on the graph that it’s become a lot closer.

So now we’ve got something that’s going to match much more closely to the left side. Now, I’m going to bring the left side back in.

[overheads after EQ Match]

Here’s without.

[overheads without EQ Match]

With.

[overheads with EQ Match]

And you hear that we have a much more centralized image.

Now, I’m going to make a couple of small adjustments here. I think that we need a little bit more upper mid-range. We need a little bit less of the top treble, we probably don’t even need this top boost at all. Because remember, we do have the hi-hat feeding the EQ curve. What we want to do is centralize the image, but the hi-hat is not supposed to be centralized.

I’m going to spread this out a little bit and back this off a bit.

[overheads]

There we go. So with a little tweaking, we now have a drum sound image that feels very much balanced.

Before.

[overheads, before EQ]

You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool, and that would’ve taken a lot of work to get right if I was doing it without these features.

Alright guys, I hope that you learned something. Until next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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