Saturday, November 16, 2013

HOW TO MIX ROCK / METAL DRUMS (a guide for dummies) PART 1/4

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about one of the most interesting topics of all, and one of the most complex: how to mix a drumset.
First off let's say that there isn't just one way of mixing a drumset, the variables are endless and everything changes according to the genere, the drum parts tuning, the number of microphones, and the choice of using samples or not.
If we want to use a drum sampler, in facts, we can take the drummer's playing via triggers, and then use a drum sampler to assign to each trigger a virtual drum part. Today many bands record their albums like this: the drum parts are played and the sounds are replaced by midi drum samples, and only the cymbals, the thing that sounds more "fake" when not microphoned, are tracked traditionally.

Speaking of acoustic drum tracks, instead, let's assume that we have an 8ins usb interface, and 8 microphones (click here for a dedicated article on how to mic a drumset). I would track the drumset in one of the following ways:

acoustic rock drumset

1 microphone for the kick
2 microphone for the snare (one top, one bottom)
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
2 microphones for the 2 toms.

acoustic rock drumset alternative

1 microphone for the kick
1 microphone for the snare top
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
2 microphones for the 2 toms
1 microphone for the room

acoustic metal drumset

1 microphone for the kick
1 microphone for the snare top
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
3 microphones for the 3 toms

Obviously if we have more Ins in our audio interface we could really use some more microphones, like a room mike, a ride cymbal mike, a subkick or more tom microphones, if the drumset is bigger (Click here for a dedicated article on how to mic a drumset): I have decided to go just with 8 tracks because that's the standard amount of inputs most of usb audio interfaces have.
If we are planning of mixing samples with the acoustic sound, we can also use just one microphone for the snare, and use the spare interface In to use a room mike, a large condenser one. The room microphone is needed more if we are mixing a rock/hard rock song, and less if we are mixing an extreme metal tune.
If we want to mix a metal song and we are planning to blend some sample with the acoustic sound we can also just switch the snare bottom mic to an eventual third tom.

Obviously we can also decide to use microphones just for cymbals and use triggers for all the other drum parts, so that the when the drummer hits the skin the trigger sends a midi impulse to the computer, and the impulse is replaced by a drum sampler.

Since we have already covered the topic about how to mix cymbals (click here to read the article), here we will focus on the whole drumset and on the remaining drum parts: Snare, Kick and Toms.
Assuming that we have a set of 8 nice and clean tracks, recorded at the right levels, with the drum parts tuned to perfection, a drummer that played well, and all the microphones in the right place, we can start editing, until we feel that the song is precise enough to move on with the mix.

Before star sculpting the sound of the single drum parts we must make a background choice: are we using a mix buss compression? In that case we're going to keep it in mind when compressing the single elements, since the two stages of compression will stack (click here for an article about serial compression). The situation will be even more complex if we decide to apply a specific compression on the single elements, then a compression on the whole drum buss, and then a whole mix buss compression. In this case, we must lower each compressor settings accordingly, in order to balance between them and have a final result that doesn't sound over squashed.

If we are dealing with samples, since samples are 99% of the times already half-processed or completely processed, I would probably go with a soft drum buss compression (and only if the drumset needs more punch), just to glue together the elements and not to squeeze too much the transients: the ratio should be very low, like 2:1, the release should be around 100ms (it depends on how fast our track is, what matters is that that the release "matches" the time of our drums), and the attack should be slow as well (e.g. 30ms, otherwise we risk to lose the "snap" of the snare), in order to let the transient to pass and then to add tightness.
If we are not using a Room Microphone we can recreate it with Parallel Compression: we must route all drum tracks to a separate buss, and compress it very heavily (and, if we need more room, we can also add a reverb), now with the fader of this track, we can decide the amount body to add to the whole drumset.
If samples are completely unprocessed, we can also process them as if they were recorded acoustic, but obviously we won't need a Gate.

If we are dealing with acoustic drums, instead, the need of a drum buss compression depends on the amount of compression we're applying on the single drum parts (which could be enough), and if we're using a room microphone. The room microphone in facts can be used to add some parallel compression to our drumset: we can compress it very heavily (this will add a lot of body to our drum sound), and then adjust the volume of this track just to decide the "amount of body" we want to add to the whole drumset, and this is a great alternative to drum buss compression, that doesn't touch the transients of the single drum parts.

Additional awesomeness: instead of using a Buss Compressor on the drum buss (maybe because we have already used strong compressors on the individual drum parts), we can also use a Virtual Console Emulator; it is a tool between a Compressor and a Saturation device, that can give to our sound just the character we need without over compressing it.
Another alternative is to use a Harmonic Exciter, to bring out some of the high frequences we couldn't obtain otherwise, but beware because this tool can breathe life into dull mixes, but it can also really screw up everything, so use it with caution.




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  1. Awesome post man! Loving this drum mixing tutorial, waiting for part 2 and 3!!! Thanks so so much for sharing your information!!

  2. it's a pleasure! become also fan of our facebook page for all the updates!