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Tips for Mixing Drums

Transcript
In this video, I’m going to be showing you tips and techniques to mix drums — a vital element in music production.

I’m going to be covering strategies for mixing acoustic drum sets, and drum loops. I’m going to be using Neutron 2, but you can follow along with whatever plugins that you have at your disposal.

Let’s get started. In most mixing consoles and DAWs, you must use separate controls to change the level and panning for each track. It’s expected to encounter faders for level and knobs for pans. However, adjusting a track’s fader and pans simultaneously requires that you have a control surface, both hands free, and great two hand coordination.

Graciously, iZotope has changed the mixing game with the introduction of the Visual Mixer. It features a single control to simultaneously adjust level and panning in a single window. Applied to drum mixing, and you can fiddle with, in the case of this session, six controls in one place, rather than having to mess with six faders and six pans across six drum tracks.

So I have the Visual Mixer on my master buss, with each drum element sending info from the tracks to the soundstage that we see here. Information is being shared with the Visual Mixer from the track, so long as I have an instance of Neutron 2, or the lightweight Mix Tap plugin on that track. There’s Mix Tap right there, and there’s Neutron 2.

I should mention that Mix Tap isn’t necessary for any tracks that already have an instance of Neutron 2. If we go back to the Visual Mixer, you’ll see that panning is left and right, and level, or quieter and louder, is up and down. It’s that fast and easy.

In this session, I’ve saved three separate snapshots: A, B, and C. These are essentially formations that I can audition instantly as the song is playing to see which drum position scenario best compliments the song.

Let’s toggle between them now throughout this drum loop, starting with A.

[drums, snapshot A, B, and C]

Let’s walk through each one of these mix snapshots so I can share with you my thinking when I formed them.

In snapshot A, this is very much a drummer’s perspective snapshot. We have the hi-hat here on the left, floor tom over by the right, overhead ride on the right, and I’ve also increased it’s stereography with the width slider.

We have our rack tom at the top, and we have our kick track front and center here, and we have our snare track just down here. I can actually toggle these little nodes over here and they’ll sort of come to life and we can manipulate them even further.

I also have my overheads over here on the top left, also widened to give a bit more presence and ambience to the room.

In snapshot B, I have a very wide sort of experimental mix. This mix was all about making sure that the snare was up front, and that the overhead and rides were very far apart and very wide to give a very larger than life, overly ambient room tone to this drum sound, and in scenario C, it was a little bit more experimental.

Again, where I had the snare very far back, the kick at the top, the ride very high up at the top right. This was just more for fun to see if I could get away with it. I should say that if I want to rearrange these positions at all, I can simply click X over here and create a new formation where let’s say, I have the ride down by the bottom right, the snare in the center, the hi-hat maybe just behind the snare, rack tom very top. The kick let’s say exaggerated very loud and very wide.

When I’m ready and happy with my formation, you can just press set. And now that’s saved, so if I go back between B and C, B looks like this. Our super wide mix. And C looks like this. The one that we just came up with.

I should also add that the moves that I make here in the Visual Mixer are reflected in the Neutrons and Mix Taps that are hanging out on the tracks.

So for example, if I want to go for the snare here and make it really quiet, and also narrow its sort of stereography and move it over here to the bottom left, just for exaggeration’s sake, if I go over to my snare, go over to my Neutron, you’ll see that I made the output very quiet, and also, our pan slider is over here to the left. So the changes that you make in the visual mixer are reflected instantly in the individual instantiations of Neutron 2 and of course, Mix Tap.

Having an abundance of processors and parameters is fun and empowering, but it’s also dangerous. Something as minute as the wrong attack time on a compressor can impede your progress toward the right sound.

One way to play it safe is to rely on Neutron 2’s Track Assistant to steer you in the right direction. Place it on a drum submix, and let it configure various modules according to your current and desired drum sound. In the example here on the screen, all of my drum tracks are being routed to one stereo summing track called drum sum, where Neutron 2 is inserted.

So what I’m going to do is go to my Track Assistant. I’m going to leave auto-detect for the instrument type. I’ll let it figure it that it’s drums. I’m going to go for a style of warm, because that’s what I want. I want a warm, shimmery kind of drum sound, and I’ll leave it on an intensity of medium. When I’m ready, I’ll play my loop, and I’ll press next to get the process started.

[mix]

So in about ten seconds, we have a custom built preset for our drum submix. I’ll press accept, and then I’ll investigate the changes that were made in each module to see if I want to build on it or start from scratch, but already I’m hearing a much warmer, much glossier drum sound than I had before.

Let’s do a before and after in the mix. Here’s before.

[mix, before and after drums]

If your kick and snare don’t hit hard enough, or your toms ring out too much, consider Neutron 2’s Transient Shaper to be a go-to secret weapon. It offers shockingly effective and simple manipulation of attack and sustain properties, and gives you the bonus of a dry/wet mix control. Plus, its handy, real-time scrolling waveform display shows both the original signal, and the gain trace of its activity.

So in this mix, I’ve got an instance of Neutron 2’s Transient Shaper open on the kick, the snare, and the rack tom. All instances are optimized to achieve the preferred balance of attack and sustain in each drum sound.

So let’s first have a look at the rack tom. You’ll notice that the first two bands, I pulled down the sustain considerably. This is to reduce the ring that I’m hearing in that rack tom. I’ve upped the attack however in the first and second band. A little bit less in the second band. This is to restore some thud and some sort of oomph to the rack tom, and I’ve taken down the attack from the top band almost completely, and I’ve also lowered the sustain. This is to get rid of some of the top end that I’m hearing in this rack tom sound.

Let’s do a before and after and again, in the before, listen to the ring of the rack tom, and also listen to some of that top end that’s poking through.

[rack tom, before Transient Shaper]

And in the after, listen to how the moves that I was describing earlier, bringing down the sustain in the first two bands, and bringing down the attack in the top band, have helped to reduce the ring, and also to get rid of some of that top end that was poking through the rack tom before.

[rack tom, after Transient Shaper]

Now if we jump over to the kick track, again, my Transient Shaper is engaged, and I have very similar settings across the low, mid, and high bands here. In the low band, I’m using a little bit of a boost, because we already do have a lot of punchiness from this kick track before the transient shaper was added, but I wanted to add more. So I did that over here, brought the sustain down a little bit, and then in the mid-band, where obviously the mid-range energy is, I wanted to accentuate that too, just a little bit less than the first band. And I brought the sustain down to get rid of some of the ringing and decay that I was hearing in the kick track, and also in the top band to restore a little bit of the crispiness, we have the attack up here to bring up the sort of perceptual loudness of just the top end of this kick track.

Let’s do a before and after of just the Transient Shaper. Here’s before.

[kick]

And here’s after.

[kick, after Transient Shaper]

So the result of the processing with the Transient Shaper is a much more focused, much more powerful kick drum track. You’ll notice that when we jump over to the snare track here, the decisions that I’ve made with the attack and the sustain sliders are very different from the decisions that I made in the attack and sustain sliders of the kick and rack tom.

This is because the snare has a different sonic character than those other two drum elements do. Namely, that there is more frequency information in the mid-range and top end than in the kick drum and rack tom, which are primarily thought of as low end elements of a drum kit.

So we have to approach the snare with a bit of a different mind set. A bit of a different attitude. That’s why I’ve increased the attack in the mid-range here to around 8.2dBs, and I’ve lowered the sustain. This is to keep a very tight, focused sound in the mid-range, and I’ve done similar stuff here in the top end, and this is to give a kind of crispiness to the top end of that snare. Give it a nice sort of sheen. So I’ve added 6.9dBs of attack, and I’ve lowered the sustain here.

And again, this is just to achieve a very framed, tight snare sound.

Let’s do some before and afters.

[snare, before and after Transient Shaper]

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So to me, after the processing with the Transient Shaper, we have a much more focused, sharper snare sound.

So after all of that tweaking and fine tuning in the Transient Shapers of the rack tom, kick, and snare, let’s do a before and after with the Transient Shapers disengaged, and then I’ll turn them on so we can hear the difference that that sharpness and focus to those three elements makes in the mix as a whole.

[mix]

So the multiband Transient Shaper allows us to sculpt a pleasing sound for each element of the drum set, which gives the whole kit a much punchier presence.

Have you ever wanted more kick when dealing with drum loops and stereo drum mixes? Just add a little EQ, right? Sure, maybe. I mean, although it makes sense to grab an EQ, there is a problem with traditional equalizers in this situation. Say you use a standard EQ to boost 60Hz by 4dB on a drum loop. That 4dB of gain applies throughout the duration of the loop, not just for the kick, so everything in the drum loop will be tonally impacted by the EQ.

Now, one solution is to use an EQ that can boost or cut in response to the kick. The equalizer in Neutron 2 can do just that. It can operate as a dynamic EQ, which allows you to apply a boost or cut, triggered by the level in the frequency zone that you specify.

So in this loop, I’m going to find out where the most energy is frequency wise in the kick drum, and then make a boost dynamically so we can just accentuate the low end of the kick without affecting everything else in the kit.

In order to find that energy, I’m going to play the loop and use the Option+Click on a Mac or Alt+Click on a PC to scrub around the frequency spectrum and find that energy. Let’s do that now.

[drum loop]

I’m going to settle on around 60Hz, so I’m going to bring my frequency slider over here to 60Hz. I could just double click and type in 60 if I want. Now I’ll make a boost.

[drum loop, adjusting low end]

So if I leave this node static in the equalizer and press play, we’re going to hear all of the frequencies around the 60Hz being affected by the boost that I had made, because we’re using a static EQ node. Have a listen.

[drum loop]

To me, that’s way too tubby and subby for what I’m after. I just want to focus on making little sharp boosts to around 60Hz at around 8dBs every time the kick hits, not everything else. So what I’m going to do is turn this mode into a dynamic node by pressing that button and going up instead of down.

So now watch what happens.

[drums]

So after picking that spot, setting my node there and turning it into a dynamic node, I’m increasing the gain of the selected filter whenever it crosses the threshold that I’ve set down here. We get a nice sharp boost of low end just at that particular area.

So if I bypass dynamic mode, it sounds like this with a static EQ.

[drums, no dynamic mode]

I’ll engage it back into dynamic mode.

[drums, with dynamic mode]

Now our boost is much sharper and much more focused. Let’s bypass it so we have no equalization going on so you can hear that little difference that that dynamic boost makes. Here’s with no equalization…

[drums, no EQ, then with EQ]

So with Neutron’s dynamic EQ mode, I can make very sharp, specific, focused boosts to make sure that I’m only accentuating areas in the drum loop that I want to accentuate.

Even perfectly miked acoustic drums will not have perfect isolation from mic to mic, so there will be some bleed from the snare, toms, and cymbals in the kick mic, and bleed from the kick, toms, and cymbals in the snare mic, etcetera etcetera.

Now, too much of this bleed turns into a real headache in the mixing process. The downsides of editing out the bleed from the recorded tracks is it might lead to a choppy sound, and will certainly take up your limited time.

Using gates is a classic solution that iZotope has modernized and made even better by utilizing multiband functionality.

So I have Neutron 2’s gate instantiated on my kick and my snare track. Let’s start with the snare right now. I’m going to bypass the effect. So we’re going to hear this track before we brought the gate to the table. Have a listen.

[snare]

So let’s think about what we’re hearing. We can definitely hear the snare, but we can also hear the sound of the room, we can hear a few guitars in there, so what we get without a gate is a very unfocused snare track.

Now, I’m going to unbypass the effect, and we can hear what Neutron’s gate brings to the table.

[snare, with and without gate]

So now what we hear is a much more focused snare, because we’re able to cancel out the sound of the room, the guitars, and everything else that was in the way of that snare track. Notice I have two bands enabled here on the gate. I have lower band enabled, and I also have control over how much of the mid frequencies and upper frequencies I want to omit via the second band here. If I want to, I can add an extra layer of customizability to this gate by enabling the third band here.

In this case, I’m pretty satisfied with the sounds that I got by just playing with these two bands here, and also notice that we have the hysteresis mode enabled, and we can do this for any band.

What hysteresis affords us is essentially a threshold for the threshold so we can dial in some very smooth gating ballistics.

Just like we did for the snare, we’re going to listen to the kick now with the effect to the kick bypassed so we’re not going to hear it. We’re just going to hear the sound of the kick as it was recorded in the room that day.

[kick]

So what are we hearing? We’re hearing a really nice thump from that kick, but we’re also hearing guitars, the sound of the room, overheads, it’s a bit messy.

So what I’ll do now is unbypass the gate so we can hear the kind of clarity and focus the gate brings to this kick track.

[kick with gate]

And you’ll also notice here that I’m adding an equalizer after the gate to restore a little bit of the thumpiness that was taken away from the gate’s processing. So I’m adding a little bit of a boost here at around 80Hz. 75, 74Hz. I’m also adding a little bit of top end and sparkle just to get the snap back in that kick track. It’s really convenient in Neutron too that we can just turn on another module as we see fit, and add more processing to the sound without having a whole bunch of plugin windows floating around.

So by taking advantage of the multiband functionality of Neutron 2’s gate, we can bring up the best of each aspect in the drum kit, which leads to a punchier, more cohesive drum sound overall.

Thank you so much for watching this video. We hope that the strategies that we’ve shown you here will come in handy the next time you tackle a multi-mic drum kit or drum loops in your mix. Take care.

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