Saturday, December 28, 2013

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




Hello and welcome to this week's article! We have finally approached the end of the year and to the end of this long tutorial on the many ways to mix a rock / metal drumset!
The snare is the focus of the album, along with vocals, and the equilibrium among vocals, snare and kick it's the axis of the mix, the one that sets the mood of the song (higher kick and snare and lower vocals for death metal, higher vocals and lower drums for soft rock): long story short, we need to get the volume and the tone RIGHT, otherwise the whole album will sound cheesy.

If we have just the snare top track, we can start by using a gate, to take out at least part of the cymbal bleed (not too strong, or we'll take away also some of the good harmonics of the snare), then a hi pass filter up to around 70hz and finally a low pass one down to 12khz, to cut away some of the left cymbal bleed.
Now we need to take away the low-mid "mud", which lies among 200 and 500hz: just find the right frequences and take them slighly down, without taking away too much body from the sound (you can use a frequency analyzer to locate exactly where most of the energy lies).
Now if the snare needs some low-end boost we can lift with a medium-width boost the area around 125hz, but beware because we risk to end up by adding again the "mud" we have just taken out.
The last and trickiest thing to do to enhance the tone with an equalizer it's to boost the highs: if we feel that the snare sounds too dark we can try boosting somewhere between 2'000 and 6'000hz: this is the most delicate moment of all, because now we are defining the colour of the tone that will hit the ear of the listener first, so we must not overdo and be aware that the higher the frequences that we're boosting are, the louder will be the cymbal bleed.

Once we have found the right tone for our snare top track we can compress it at a ratio up to 8:1 (we must choose the ratio according to the dynamic range of the track: if we have many low energy snare parts like press rolls, flams etc, we need more compression or they will disappear in the mix, while if there are not and the strenght of the hits is consistent, we can lower the ratio).
The attack should be around 10ms, and as always we should set the release at a level that the compression can go back to zero or almost, between a hit and the other.
If we feel that by compressing we have lost part of the transient we can use a Transient Shaper to bring back some of the snap of the snare, usually avoiding cymbal bleed, but don't overdo because too much transient enhancement can make the snare too much "in your face" and unpleasant: we must always look for that euphonic "sweet spot" :)

If we need to transform the snare sound too much to get a decent tone, then we have a problem: an excessively processed snare it's a snare that sounds fake, therefore it would be a good idea to record it again. If we can't record again and we need a way to add some punch on the snare we can mix one or more samples with the original sound, and if we're good, we will find a sample that compensates the lack of frequences of our original sound.

Another way is to Double the snare track: we can process the first one like explained above, and use the second one just to add the "snap". We can gate the sound until we have only the snare snap, then we compress it very heavily, use some frequency exciter and eq to make the "snap" very strong, similar to a fingersnap, and then we can mix this sound with the regular snare to get the same effect we would obtain by using a sample, with the difference that this way the sound comes all from our drumset.

Finally, if we have recorded the snare with 2 microphones, top and bottom, we're gonna have a second track recorded pointing to the snare wires in order to give some sizzle to complement the top snare tone. This track can be also very useful to add some body to the top snare tone: instead of boosting around 125hz on the top track, we can boost the same area in the snare bottom track and see if it sounds better. About the hi pass filter, we can take out a bit more, even up to 90hz if we want, the important thing is to take a look at the phase: we must try inverting the phase to see the version that produces less frequency canceling, and use that one.

On the compression side, if we use more than one snare track (top + sample, top + bottom, top + top copy), my suggestion is to route them into a group track and compress that one, with the same settings suggested for the snare top.
If we need it, we can also set a clipper at the end of the snare chain: this is sometimes useful because, during the mastering phase, the limiting traditionally takes out part of the snare transient, but if we use a clipper (with very soft settings) we can recover part of that lost transient (it's not easy to explain how a clipped sound helps recovering its transient while it should actually work exactly at the opposite, but it works: the software recreates part of the transient).
It's interesting to notice that unlike for other instruments (e.g. hi gain rhythm guitar), in which the compressor should be as transparent as possible and the moment you notice it, it means that is damaging your sound, compression for the snare is a real tone shaping tool, and if used without exceeding it can bring up the wires of the snare bottom, and enhance the sound with an explosivity that cannot be obtained otherwise.

About the Reverb: if our drumset sounds a bit dry (or we like a big '80s style snare) we should create an fx track with the best reverb that we have and set it in order to make it sound similar to a studio room.
Then we must equalize it with a high pass filter that takes out everything up to around 200hz, and send it to our snare track (or group), to our tom group and to our cymbal group track, from there we can decide the amount of effect sent to each track according to our taste.

I hope that this long drum mixing tutorial was helpful, and by the way the song is mixed and mastered by me for my band, Strider. Contact us if you want a copy of our latest Ep "The Black Lotus", also to support my work with this blog!

Happy New Year from Guitar Nerding Blog!




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