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Mixing Kick Drum in an Aquabats Song

Transcript
My name is Cameron Webb, and I’m here with Pro Mix Academy, and what we’re doing today is we’re going to be mixing a song by a band called The Aquabats.

The song we’re doing is a song called Super Rad, and Super Rad came out around 1997, and The Aquabats are a Ska band that came out of Orange County. Let’s talk a little bit about the members of The Aquabats. So at this time, you had the lead singers, his name is Christian Jacobs, and Christian Jacobs since has gone on to create TV shows like Yo Gabba Gabba! He also created The Aquabats super show, and that show you can see on Netflix, and Yo Gabba was a preschool show, and because of my relationship that I’ve had with The Aquabats and with Christian over the years, I’ve been involved in all of those shows as well, which is super exciting.

The drummer was Travis Barker from Blink 182. He was — when I first met The Aquabats, he had just quit Blink 182, and the first session we worked on, I was excited to record Travis, because I knew how good he was, and I remember the band walking in the room and they walked in with a drum machine, and I looked at the guys, and I said, “Why do you have a drum machine?” I said, “Where’s Travis?”

They said, “Travis quit yesterday, so now we’re going to record with a drum machine instead of Travis.” So I missed this Travis Barker phase, but luckily, these were the multitracks recorded about a year before that. Let’s get down to a little bit of mixing, and a little bit of what I did to try to recreate what we’re doing.

If you’ve seen any of my other videos before, you realize that I kind of start with drums. I build it up from drums. So for me, you need a core rhythm section to get a quality mix, so real quickly, let’s just play a little bit of the drums soloed up, and you’ll hear — at least, I can personally hear the Travis Barker style and what he does.

[drums]

Snare drum. Snare drum is just cranked up like crazy, and that’s cool. Most producers would ask you to turn it down. No click track as far as I know. At least, there’s no click tracks printed anywhere, it’s just his natural meter and it’s awesome. Great, great awesome, natural meter.

[kick]

So basically, when I’m tracking drums, I like to compress the drums a little bit, but I don’t like to overcompress, so I do a thing — it’s kind of a sidechain-esque compression, where everything doesn’t get compressed with the drums. Part of it gets compressed and part of it doesn’t, and what I found out is that there’s a plugin that I really, really like that’s made by McDSP, and it’s this right here. The 4030.

The 4030 has a little knob here. It’s a mix knob. So basically, when I crank it all this way, and if you can see this right here, everything is being compressed all of the way. When I take it to the middle, or actually, let’s take it all the way left, there’s no compression going at all. So what it is is it’s similar to what a lot of people used to do on a board, where they would take — they’d have a kick drum over here, and then they’d send it to a compressor, and then they would blend in some of this compressor right here, and you’d have a blend of compression and raw, dry signal.

So this is that same trick that we do in here, but McDSP found a way where we can mix that, and you’ll notice that Slate makes a 1176 that does the same kind of trick, which is really cool. So basically what I do is with all of my drums, I’m going to subgroup them to this stereo track that has that, and part of the reason why I do this is with the compression is when you have a sound that has an attack, it’s a short attack, and it goes away really fast when it’s a drum. Part of this compressor, what we’re doing is we’re trying to catch that attack, but we’re trying to extend the length that you hear that sound, and when you compress it, it compresses it, it locks it in, and then it slowly uncompresses, and it makes the signal longer.

So if you were to take — if you were to look at a waveform here, one that had no compression, it would be a quick attack, and it would drop really fast. If you had a lot of compression or a tube compressor, it’s going to be a slower release, so all of a sudden, that signal would be more of a bubble signal that would last longer, and that’s part of like, what — that’s part of one of the things that I really love about mixing and compression, because compression is really important to me. That’s like, one of my favorite things, and tube compression and good Distressors and compressors like that, they have a lot of that character that they add this length to your sound.

That’s a big thing that I love.

So let’s just jump really quick to the kick drum, and just so you know, like I said, all of the drums are going to that drum subgroup. It’s called Drum Sub up there. Right below it, you’ll notice there’s a mono subgroup up there as well. We’ll talk about that in a moment, but that’s also going there. So we look at the stock, and you’ll look and you’ll notice that on the kick drum, I’ll start with an EQ, and the sounds on this were pretty good, so I didn’t want to mess with them much, so honestly, you’re going to look at this EQ, and you’re going to be like, “Cameron, are you doing anything?”

I felt like I needed a little, little top end, so I’m adding a little top end, and the way I get this top end is I don’t just say, “Hey, I need 4kHz, or 10kHz, or 14kHz.” I just listen. I just listen and I tweak the knobs, and I crank it back and forth until I find out what I really, really like.

So it’s really, really minimal. If you look here too, I also had a filter on this. The reason why I have the filter is there seems to be a lot of bottom end that kind of floated around on this when I would compress it, so basically what I’m trying to do is I’m rolling off some low lows, it’s probably below 50, which in theory, your speakers are going to get to about 50 or 60, but there’s — you don’t really — most speakers aren’t going to have a 25, or that kind of low frequency, so that’s just going to muddy things up, it’s going to mess up compressors.

Next in my chain is I go — I have another McDSP plugin which I love. It’s called the 6030, and it’s actually the first one that comes up, but it’s — what I love about it is it’s similar to a Fairchild. It’s similar to an Altec 322c, which is a compressor I use a lot.

I love this compressor. You can put it on, and you don’t have to hit it very hard, you just hit it lightly, and it just…

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[kick]

It adds a little bit of control. As you can see here, I’m hardly touching it. When I was hitting this too hard earlier, it was giving me more of that woofy bottom end that I didn’t like, so I backed it off a little bit.

This is to help me get a little more consistency in the kick drum. Travis’ consistency is great, but we try to get a little bit more than what is natural with an artist.

There’s not a lot of settings on this plugin, so there’s not a lot to tell you. There’s the threshold, which you saw me crank up and down, the time constant, which is the release. Now, I put it to the fastest release, which is actually still a pretty slow release, because it’s kind of based off of like, a tube compressor. If I were to put it on the slow, it literally just parks there the whole time. The other setting is just the output, and I’m just kind of adjusting based off of if I were to put it in bypass, I want it to be fairly similar — a fairly similar level to when I have it on or off, so that’s kind of why — it’s a makeup gain is what I’m using it for.

After that, we go into the SSL plugin. One of the reasons why is I don’t — I’m going to talk to Christian later on and figure out where this was mixed, but I believe it was mixed on an SSL, so my first instinct when I wanted a compressor and EQ was to go to the SSL plugins that we have.

This one you’ll notice, when you start to look at it, it’s a little more — I’m doing a little bit more work. Not a ton of work, but I’m doing a little more. You see, I’m doing a similar thing with the filters here. Do I need to do it? Is it redundant? Well, maybe because of this compressor hitting before, it might matter a little bit. I basically would just test it, and I’d choose, “Hey, does this sound right?” And that’s why I chose to use that filter.

These filters are great. They work for everything. They’re awesome.

Then let’s just jump to the compressor next. The SSL compressors, they’re awesome. They’re — if you use them right, they’re subtle, and they just add that glue to things. I keep the ratio usually around three to one, which is pretty good. I believe it’s three to one, it says three right there. Then threshold, I base it off of the meters.

[kick drum]

So I look at the meter here. This is definitely a setting that is not very aggressive, and you’re not going to notice it — you’re not going to notice it sucking the life out of everything. If I need it… The core sound is pretty good. Let’s take all of the compressors off of it for a second.

It’s a good core sound. I have no idea what mic he was using. I have no clue, but I’m not worried. So then I look at EQ. You’ll notice that it seems like I’m brightening it up, and I am brightening it up a little bit, because I’m trying to add a little bit more definition to what he’s doing.

I think the magic comes on the low end, and the magic comes from the higher mid-range. Those are the two like, important ones for me. This top high end one, if you’re too aggressive with this, it gets too bright and too brittle for me, so I’m always very careful with this. With the mid-range, the slope is always nice, because you can open it up to a wide, whatever… Convex, whatever it is, but a wider frequency range, or narrow.

I usually choose the wider or kind of straight up, and then basically, like with everything else that I do, to choose my frequencies, I’m usually going to crank them up loud, and I’m going to find frequencies that I like or dislike. So frequencies like this, I wouldn’t like, and I would dig this out, but here, I was searching for a little top end, without making it too clicky, and I kind of like that frequency right there. Somewhere around 4.

So basically, what I’m doing is I’m choosing there, based off of giving a little clarity in everything, and I — you get down to the low mids, I mean, in general, it’s kind of the — people always talk about like, if you want a heavy metal kick drum, take all of the 400 out, because it’s a bad frequency, and it’s not always a bad frequency. Sometimes it’s interesting, so it just depends on the song and the way it was recorded, and if you look here, you’ll notice that I’m probably actually around 400 or 500 that I’m scooping a little bit out, because I felt I needed a little bit more clarity.

So you’ll notice that I’m doing that. You can tell here though that I’ve got this other little trick going on where I have a narrower Q is what I’m going to call it in that. I want a little more bottom end, and I basically say around 60, because most people’s cars are around 60-100. That’s where stock cars are kind of set at, and so I use that, and I love the feel of that.

The rest of the stuff is all — I’m not using the gates, or… It’s all in phase, so I don’t have to worry about that, and the trim, everything is pretty much normal. So basically, straight forward. So that’s my kick drum. So I start — personally, I start with a kick drum, and I base all of my levels around the kick drum. My kick drum will usually be around 0, and you can see my volume is at minus 1. The only reason why is because as I was mixing, I turn it up or down. So it doesn’t always stay there, but I like to start at a good point where you’re not too loud and not too quiet, because there’s nothing worse than having everything too loud, so it’s hitting the stereo busses way too hard, and having to turn everything down.

It always changes, even though you just turn everything down equally, it just never feels the same, so you want to be careful about your gain structure, let’s just call it that.

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