In addition to the main components of your drum kit — the kick, the snare, and the toms — there are two other elements that need dialed in: the overheads and the room mics.
Each of these parts are important, and they demand individual treatment. Even if your main components are dialled in to perfection, fine-tuning your overheads and room mics is still paramount to achieving a pro-level drum mix (whether you use samples or recorded audio).
Knowing when to use — and how much to use — compression are two of the most significant skills you’ll need to master in order to put the final touches on your drums. It’s what will transform an acceptable, yet tame-sounding, drum mix into a serious fire-breather.
In this post, we’ll delve into the correct way to compress these elements of your drum mix. Well also explain the other steps you’ll need to take to take your drums to the top.
Get A Great Recording First
Before you even think about piling plug-ins onto your drums, you need to evaluate the raw tracks. Solo each element, one by one, and give them an honest listen.
If your overheads and room mics sound bad, compressing them will highlight their worst characteristics. Thus, compression will make your drum mix sound worse, not better.
Anytime you’re dealing with poor-sounding drum tracks, you should re-record them if possible. And because overheads and room mics are extremely susceptible to bad acoustics, you should capture the drums in an acoustically treated room.
We can’t emphasize this enough: nothing screams “amateur recording” louder than drums captured in a nasty-sounding garage or basement. Of all the instruments in a contemporary rock mix, drums will benefit the most from a pro-studio recording environment.
If you’re unable to re-record the drums (for example, you’re mixing somebody else’s project), there are workarounds, however.
Instead of using the existing room mics, try running the overheads and close-miked drum tracks through a convolution reverb loaded with a high-quality room IR (impulse response) and print the result to a new stereo track. Then, when you’re working on your mix, substitute the new stereo track for the original drum room tracks.
After that, try augmenting the existing overheads track by blending in a bit of the close-miked drums and the same IR used above. Again, print the result to a new stereo track and substitute it for the original overheads track.
The result will sound like the drums were captured in a studio-quality drum room instead of a garage or basement.
Once you get your overheads and room mics squared away, you’ll be ready to move onto the next step.
Clean Up Your Low End
Overheads and room mics with excessive low frequencies are a guaranteed way to muddy up your drum mix. That’s why it’s very important to eliminate low-frequency mud and unwanted resonances from these tracks.
A highpass filter is your weapon of choice for eliminating unwanted low frequencies from your tracks. So, fire up your favorite parametric EQ plug-in, and cut the unwanted low-end.
Overheads can be employed in two ways: as the foundation for your drum mix, or as a supplement to your drum mix.
If overheads are the foundation of your drums, you’ll bring them up to level and use your close-miked tracks to fill in the gaps. If overheads are a supplement, you’ll bring your close-miked tracks up to level then increase the level of your overheads until your cymbals are at the correct volume.
For foundational overheads, start with a cutoff frequency around 30Hz and a slope around 12dB. Increase the cutoff frequency until your drums sound too thin, then decrease the frequency until it sounds right.
For supplemental overheads, you can get by with less low-frequency content, so start with a cutoff frequency around 80Hz and work from there.
For best results, make these adjustments in the context of a full drum mix, or even a full mix with all your project’s tracks playing.
You’ll also want to resolve any unpleasant resonances in your overheads and room mics. Resonances are out-of-control frequencies that not only rob your tracks of dynamics and headroom, but they also lend unsettling sonic artifacts to your track. ………….
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