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The Importance of Learning from Others

Hi there, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

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I just want to have a quick talk, because I get asked all the time for advice on how to make it, and how to be successful, and you know, I’ve talked a couple of times about this, and you know, talking about, you know, my experience of, you know, taking bands and working with them, and doing it on spec, and just making great music, and then learning and all this kind of stuff, but one thing that strikes me, and I just thought about this a minute ago, one thing that really strikes me that probably helped me more than anything else, when I have my own studio and other guys would come in and record and stuff like that, I noticed their different techniques.

Now when I think about it, we have YouTube. We have this incredible thing that we have that I didn’t have when I was up and coming, and you can get tips, you know, from watching these videos. You know, my videos and other people’s videos, because what I would do and what I realize now is I didn’t know about how to do something, and I didn’t know how something sounded until I knew how something sounded.

Now, that might sound kind of strange, but let’s think about it. Compression is a real grey area for instance for lots of people, and until something is so badly compressed, most people can’t hear the compression. Until their ear is trained to it.

So I remember working in a studio, and I did demos — actually, some tracks with an artist called Louise Goffin. Louise is Carol King’s daughter, and she came in and used the studio. She came in with Pink Floyd’s engineer. So this guy, obviously, Pink Floyd’s engineer, he knows what he’s doing, he’s coming into my kind of okay-ish home studio that I had built up, and he came in and he setup all the mics on the drum kit.

He had a pair of 87s that he put on overheads that he brought himself. I didn’t have 87s, I couldn’t afford them. He had a pair of 87s, he had an AKG D12, and he put it on the kick, and he put a 57 on the top and a 57 on the bottom, then he took my AKG 451 and put that on the hi hat, and that was the drum sound. And I was like, “noted,” that’s what he did. I also saw that he measured off the overheads. He took the 87s and he measured them off so they were in phase with the drum kit. He didn’t use any mics on the toms. The drummer came in, he played evenly, he didn’t hit the cymbals too hard, and I noticed, “Wow, if you’ve got a great drummer, you don’t necessarily need to mic the toms.”

Now, obviously, I like miking the toms. I like being able to push them out into the mix, but for the kind of music that they were recording, they had a very kind of Jim Keltner kind of drummer who was very contained, and laid really lightly on the cymbals, then really let the toms speak.

So I learned a lesson. I learned a lesson that there isn’t one way to record drums. That four mic technique — sorry, five mic technique, it was a way you could record drums that just sounded absolutely fantastic.

You know, I noticed in the mix, he only really used the two overheads, kick, and snare, he barely used the hi hat mic. That was just there just in case. So for that sort of four drum mic mix with a phenomenal drummer who knew how to play the drums evenly, it sounded fantastic.

So what I did is I started adding more mics to the drums from that four mic technique, because then what happened is I could just use those four mics with a drummer that played very contained. But with some of the younger guys who were like, sploshing on the cymbals so heavily but playing the snare really light, I really liked the fact that I had extra mics, because when they played the toms lightly, I could bring the toms to life.

So you learn from other people. You really do, and there’s no right way or wrong way to do this, and to be honest, for about a month afterwards, after Andy left the studio, I didn’t change his settings. You know. I saw how much little compression he was using on the snare. It was just tapping away, and I tried to emulate that every single time, and after awhile, I started understanding why it was good that there was just a little tiny bit of compression happening.

I started to realize in a mix, if my snare was too compressed, then all of the rest of the drums, especially the hi hat were bleeding into the snare. So ever since then, I’ve learned not to compress the snare too heavily until I mix. So my advice is to cherry pick all your ideas from other people, because you know, nobody should be too proud to learn from others.

There’s so many great engineers and producers that have come before us, and they’ve gone through the ringer learning tricks from other people, or discovering things, and another one, another lovely trick, for instance, talking of that, was a John Leckie trick. John Leckie, I don’t know when he did it, but he put a cymbal on the ground in front of the drums. Between the kick and the snare, sort of in that corner where the kick is and the snare is, and then put a microphone and put it on that picking up the reflected sound of the drums. Try it. It sounds really trashy, but in a great way. It immediately makes me think of a drum sound from The Bends. And I got that, Dave Jerden showed me that trick.

Dave Jerden also showed me the trick of using two microphones on the hi hat. He puts an SM57 and a small diaphragm condenser, like a 451, and he takes those two together, so they’re perfectly in phase, and then he blends them.

To be honest, it sounds great, because the 57 has this, [emulates SM57], and the 451 has the, [emulates 451], the top end. You blend the two together, you get a fantastic hi hat sound. And all mixers always tell me, “Wow, your hi hat sounds great.”

Now, I didn’t invent that, I got that from Dave Jerden. He also likes to top and bottom mic the toms, and he flips the bottom mic out of phase. Now, not only does that make the toms feel fuller and sound better, it also helps with canceling out a lot of the bleed from the other cymbals, from the cymbals, etcetera, because the cymbals are coming in, and they’re being heard a lot from the top mic, but you put the bottom mic in there, they’re also being heard from that. You flip the phase, amazingly, the toms start to clean up.

So even though there’s more microphones on the drums, there’s less bleed sounding between them, because there’s some cancellation. You’ll also find if you top and bottom mic the snare, the kick is bleeding in both microphones. When you bring in the bottom microphone and you flip the polarity so it’s out of phase, you get a nice full sounding snare drum, you also lose a little bit of the kick bleed going in there.

So these are all wonderful things that you learn from working with others and stealing their tricks, so you know, beg, borrow, and steal, and I found that I would do things not knowing why I was doing them, until my ear was good enough to hear the difference.

So experiment, borrow, have fun. This is a great process. Really enjoy it.

So thank you ever so much for watching. As ever, please subscribe, and of course, go to and sign up for the email list, and we’ll send you lots of fun free stuff, and you’ll get behind the scenes access on our Vimeo account, and also competition details for all the different wonderful things that you can win that we’re giving away as prizes. Thank you ever so much for watching.

Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at
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