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MIXING MULTITRACKED DRUMS
With drum machines and samplers becoming increasingly prominent in music production, mixing real drums is becoming something of a lost art. Paul White explains the basics of this important mixing skill, and shares some secrets on how to get the best drum sound.
In the world of synths and samplers, we take acousticseparation for granted, but when it comes to mixing acoustic drums, things are very different because of the usual way in which a drum kit is miked up. Normally pop productions use close mics for each drum, a pair of overheads to capture the overall kit sound and room ambience in stereo, and often a separate hi-hat mic. The first thing you notice when you play back recordings of real drum kits is that eachmic will have picked up more than just the sound of a single drum or cymbal. Obviously, the overhead mics should have picked up a bit of everything, but you'll probably find that there is considerable spill from the whole kit on even the close mics. In fact, if the drums were recorded at a live gig or in a small studio where the band all played together, there will also be spill from the otherinstruments to contend with as well. While spill can lend a sense of coherence to the complete sound, and is not necessarily a problem in its own right, it can cause real problems when you come to mix if you need to control the balance and tone of the drum kit. So how do you obtain a decent amount of control over individual drum sounds while also keeping a convincing overall kit sound? Kicking OffLet's concentrate on the kick drum first. The close mic will include spill from the snare drum and the toms, so using a gate to clean it up will usually be a good first step. Drums need fast attack-time settings, because of their percussive nature, though this setting can also have a beneficial side-effect: if a gate with a very fast attack time is used, the chopping effect that the gate has on thedrum's waveform as it opens can give the sound a little extra definition. Set the gate release so that it closes fully as soon as the sound has finished — if you set it too long, the drum sound will be followed by a trail of spill, though if it's too short then the natural decay of the drum will be lost. In addition to killing spill, setting a suitable release time can also control any excessiveringing in the drum head or shell. If the gate
MIXING MULTITRACKED DRUMS
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insists on triggering from other drum sounds as well as the kick drum, use a frequencyconscious gate and shave a little top end off the signal feeding the side chain. At this point, the kick drum will probably sound quiteunnatural when heard in isolation, as the gate will kill all natural ambience, but don't worry about that yet. If the kick drum level isn't even then patching a compressor in after the gate can help to sort this out. However, this setup can also help if the sound lacks definition. If you set an attack time which is not too short (5 to 10mS), it will allow the initial click of the drum hit to pass throughthe compressor before any gain reduction is applied, increasing the sound's ability to punch though the mix. To best achieve this effect, use a fairly stiff ratio of around 4:1 and adjust the threshold so that around 10dB of gain reduction is being applied to the loudest beats, then set the release time so that the compressor's gain returns to normal before each beat. If the kick sounds 'stodgy',as often seems to be the case in live recordings, this can be remedied by patching in an equaliser after the compressor and then boosting a little between 5 and 8kHz, in order to give the sound more of an edge. Don't worry about this bringing up noise or high-end spill, as the gate is already cleaning this up. If your setup forces you to EQ pre-compressor, or even pre-gate, there's no need to...