Mixing Drums

posted on #1
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This is in response to the discussion started on [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=892&rowstart=20#post_6209]this thread[/url] regarding mixing my drums. I've moved it into it's own thread so that it's easier to find and it's in the correct forum! It's going to be a long post but I hope some find it useful and/or informative.

I, of course, welcome any and all constructive feedback as to how I can improve matters. I'm no expert on mixing, this is just what I've learned over the years and, in particular, through being on here. This is not a how-to, just what I do to get my drums sounding good enough for the Loops. Recording and mixing drums is a highly time-consuming exercise to do properly so a lot of what I do is about shortcuts and time-saving. I just don't have the time or inclination to spend hours perfecting the sound for each loop!

I've chosen about 30 seconds of isolated drums from [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/backingtrack-jam-52452.php]loop 52452[/url]. I've chosen the intro of this one because I hit just about everything on the kit in a short space of time.

I'm not going into the actual recording aspect - I covered that in another thread. This is about mixing them to be fit for upload. The only thing I'll mention is that, at recording, I record at a medium gain - I do not run the levels hot, just below 0db. With digital, you don't have to worry so much about having the best signal-to-noise ratio so I leave a lot of headroom. I'm probably peaking at -7db, maybe -5. My interface is very quiet so induced hiss just doesn't present itself. I do have gentle compressors on the kick and snare during recording to keep the worst peaks in check. There are no noise gates, etc. - they're handled at mix down. I never interfere with the raw capture as you might lose something you want.

I've divided the sound processing of my drums into what appears to be 7 steps, 2 of which are optional to me and depends on the track I'm adding to. For the purposes of this demonstration, I've left the mix faders in the positions they were in at mix down so each stage, the faders are in the same place.

I use a 'template' in Reaper when I record. This has all the correct inputs mapped to the correct tracks for my current setup. It also has all the effects and sends I use set up and ready to use, although everything is disabled initially for recording. I use these settings for all recordings for convenience's sake and my sanity!

Excluding any audio editing, I can go from recording to uploading to the loops well inside an hour thanks to this template. With the exception of altering reverb lengths, etc., there's little else to do.

1 - Raw Recording
This is the initial raw recording, no processing whatsoever on anything. This is 'as is'.

[url=https://copy.com/neEWmfoNLBuISkUT]Raw Drum Recording[/url]

2 - Kick and Snare processing
The kick has Apple's AUDynamicsProcessor (noise gate mode), Reaper's ReaComp and Melda Productions' MEqualizer applied in that order, the EQ using a kick preset but with the low end boost slightly reduced. The snare has Reaper's ReaComp (with make-up gain enabled) followed by Reaper's ReaEQ using their snare drum preset with the default bass boost reduced. Notice I record with quite a bit of ring on the snare. It might sound ringy in isolation but it helps the cut in the context of a mix.

[url=https://copy.com/EWRAVkgQp3bsOJ2X]Drums with Kick and Snare processing[/url]

3 - Tom and overhead processing
The toms have Apple's AUDynamicsProcessor acting as noise gates followed by Reaper's ReaEQ tom preset. Note all that ring and boom from the toms when the rest of the kit is being played is gone - it's particularly noticeable when I go into the main backbeat towards the end of the previous examples. The overheads just have Reaper's ReaEQ applied, using a modified version of their default 'overheads' EQ settings except I roll a little less bass off than they do.

[url=https://copy.com/4SSFuifeqv4E2YKJ]Drums with all EQs, noise gates, etc., applied[/url]

4 - Reverb processing
Now it's starting to sound half decent so it's time to switch on the reverbs. I have three reverb sends set up on separate tracks (I don't use them on each audio track as that's just wasting processing power as they're mostly shared):

- A noise gated reverb for the snare (I never gate the snare itself - you lose all those lovely ghost notes)
- A 'no gate' reverb for general ambience. The kit overheads are sent to this, I also sometimes send the loop template to it too to help with blending the kit in.
- A tom reverb. For the toms. I find they need their own reverb as they often need a bigger sound which, if applied to the rest of the kit would make it sound muddy.

All three use the same reverb plugin with different settings which I adjust on a per-recording basis. It's a free plugin called Smartelectronix Ambience. For this example, I'm not using a very big reverb. The reverb sends tend to boost the signal of what's been played so you might notice the snare now comes further forward in the mix.

[url=https://copy.com/ZgnfTx2FsexLslzO]Kit with reverbs enabled[/url]

5 - Master kit processing
The next step is optional but I use it more often than not. The whole kit mix is placed under a 'folder' (Reaper's way of grouping faders) and then a multi band compressor applied to the whole thing. I usually use Apple's own Multiband Compressor from GarageBand as I find it less fiddly to use than Reaper's one. I use this on a case-by-case basis as sometimes the compressor just takes too much 'bite' from the kit sound. In this example, I'm using Apple's 'Sub Control' preset.

[url=https://copy.com/rj2soqMFHEvSitDc]Kit with master multi band compressor applied[/url]

6 - Master mix processing
Right, pretty much done. Lastly, I apply a couple of effects to the actual master mix fader. The first is Voxengo's free 'Overtone GEQ'. This puts a little bit of shine on the whole sound (including the loop template) and I'm using the 'Stereo Sheen' preset. Secondly, and finally, Thomas Mundt's free Loudmax plugin is applied. This is just a gain maximiser/compressor with only two sliders! I don't use this aggressively, just so that the very highest transients trigger the compression limiter.

For the HD versions of the upload, I disable the reverb sends to offer completely dry drums, mute the loop template and run the mix again. Nothing more, nothing less.

[url=https://copy.com/2kUsnQCsxZwjCOUb]The final mix[/url]

7- Mixing

For actually mixing the kit, I do it in this order, after enabling all the above effects first.

1) Dial in the overheads to 0db on the faders
2) Bring up the kick drum
3) Bring up the snare (I'm aiming here to add 'punch' and 'power' without removing too much of the ambience the overheads give)
4) Bring up the toms
5) Adjust the reverbs to match the ambience I want
6) Enable/disable/adjust the master multi-band compressor
7) Adjust the drums group fader to blend the levels in with the loop template

The key for me is to mix the close-miked parts of the kit (kick, snare and toms) to the stereo overhead mics. The relative mix of the overheads give the drums character. A high overhead mix gives an open, jazzy sound. A low overhead mix will give a tight, dry sound. It's also to try and achieve a good blend with the cymbals.

8 - Stereo processing (very optional)
There's an optional plugin I have set up on the master fader but I very rarely use it these days. It's Melda Productions' MStereoExpander plugin. It's fantastic and really widens the stereo soundscape. But I find there's a heavy price to pay and that's subsequent adds and uploads sound a bit 'phased' and start to fill up with digital artefacts, especially if someone else applies a similar effect. So I use it sparingly, if at all these days.

[url=https://copy.com/bLNcvXErGWtoI2nm]Kit with stereo expander[/url]

So that's it. As you can see, I don't do mixes and then separate mastering stages. This is all to do with time. I've 'preset' as much as I can so I can get on with the process of recording and not dreading losing half a day mixing it.

Hope this is helpful :)

Thanks for listening (reading).
Edited by mpointon on November 06 2015 16:23
posted on #2
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Gonna read your story tonight Martin!

So cool that you share your musical recording explorations!


Have a good weekend!
posted on #3
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Real good write-up Marty.
Enjoyed listening and learning from you.
As always, your drums sound great. And loos as if you have stream-lined the process.
That is great, and thanks for sharing !
posted on #4
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Thanks, MasterK. It was the conversation with you on the other thread that started this. I'd be interested to hear what you think about how I can improve on my mixing and choices.
posted on #5
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Hey MArtin,
thanks for the excellent step-by-step breakdown here!
Two things crossed my mind when reading this: First of all, I'm really no big friend of noise gates... if set too narrow, cut off cymbals or tom rings really disturb my listening experience, and some VST gates I have tred had such slow attack that some of the initial sound was cut before the gate opened... Of course this highly depends on your mic setup, and some gates can be configured to "listen" to specific frequency ranges which let them act on a better assumption base... anyways, I'd be carefull with gating.

The other aspect I have been missing in your approach is the use of delays - and I'm not talking about echoing delays, but mere delaying of the one initial signal.
From my experience, you'll almost always have some kind of bleeding signals, so, fr example, you'll hear some of the bassdrums "thud" on the overheads. Since the Bassdrum mic is much closer to the source than your overheads, it will pick up the bassdrums signal a bit earlier than the overheads. This will compromise your stereo image, since your ears will empicture the bassdrum being somewhat closer to you than the rest of the kit. I have experienced some quite interesting results when delaying the power sources like the kick and snare just by a few milliseconds, so they blend with the overheads a bit better.
Once set, you might want to include these settings into your recording template - if you don't fiddle around on your mic setup all the time, they should remain the same across recording sessions.
Please be aware this is an "icing on the cake" kind of advice that you may experiement with, your set sounds quite well the way you record right now :)
"Sorry - had to do it!" - Les Claypool

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posted on #6
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I found [url=http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr03/articles/sequencergates.asp] this article on noise gates[/url]. The look-ahead option (if present) should solve the problem Dick mentions.

It is very possible that part of the excellent sound on for example early Beatles recordings is due that only one mic was used so no strange timing artifacts could occur.
Pure fingerstyle
posted on #7
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Hey Marty !
As always I love the sound of your drums, I have said that many times my friend.

The only thing I might add, is bring the master up some, that is all I usually do when I mix your drums. The signal is there, and is being broadcast to the listener. I think your just shy about being over-powering. But you do command the beat. So, keeping you highest in the mix, just under the singer is what I shoot for.
Also, what Dick said, and Nilton touched on is correct, the signal from the kick bleeding into the overheads, can cause a timing error.
When the company I work for installs some EAW's or line-array's, or Sub/Full frequency setups in churches, or big areas, (university gymnasiums) we time-align everything.
Now, we have Sencore high end equipment to do just that, but before we started using such equipment, we used a simple RTA (real time analyzer) with pink noise and measured foot marks.
We sometimes put in a main set of speakers, and then farther from the stage we put in delay sets.
We measure from the ambient source, and then add delay to the main set to compensate.
Our rule of thumb is 1 ms of delay per foot.
After we got the equipment, we tried the rule of thumb against the measurement, and we were really close, the machine told us 19.5 ms and we had measured 20 feet.. lol..
So, that all being said. if your kick is mic'ed at the batter, then measure up to the overhead, and add accordingly. you can then a/b it and see if it makes a difference. Then play with it to get it to sit just right.
I would suggest someone else play, so you don't think about your body movements, and really listen like I do when I hear your recordings, or Baer's, or others. Subjectively of course. :) It just makes you concentrate on the mix more.
( I can always mix someone else's tracks way better than my own, because I overthink my playing, timing, sound, volume, effects, etc.)

I hadn't heard back if you read up on the whole dithering or not, and I think you had said your "Reaper" program has those set automatically.
I would maybe think of that, just to add that in. Not pushing it on you.

One other thing is I mentioned about delay as an effect on the tracks, different delays and different times, for the same reason we are talking about it now.
The listener is hearing a whole drum set, and different sounds get to you faster than others.
High freq. gets to you faster, and lows come in late. (Doppler effect on left to right or right to left, or think basketball player at 60 yards away from you, the hit comes before the whump, and you see the ball hit, before you hear it.)
And from a stage perspective the highs will reach your ears about 1-2 ms at 20-30 feet, before the meat of the bandwidth does.
So think about that for the delays between cymbals, and the mid of the toms, and the bass of the kick etc. Time them like real life. Put yourself in the audience seat. Not behind the drums on your throne.

One more thing I noticed in your recordings, was the stereo image was either backwards, or your left handed. The rolls on your toms went from right (high tom) to left (low tom, floor tom) or you added for effect, I don't know. Maybe you panned them that way intentionally.

Last thing would be, don't be afraid of high volume tracks.
This is normal, and the 85db rule thing, allows frequencies to be heard, that sometimes lay dormant in the "aural atmosphere" if you will. (think of a cowbell, if you hit it light it sounds one way, but if you make it ring, it grabs you. Same cowbell, just more freq. interpreted.) And I know some argue Db level, but it is true about all things that make noise. An 85 Db hit is not out of normal playing range. Most live drum sets I measure, come out at 85-95 Db about 4-8 feet in front of them when the drummer is playing a rock tune, or steady 4/4.
That is slow response, C weighting. The settings on the Db meter.

So, Bring them out. We love them. :)

Your real close, and a few tweaks here and there, and a little more "in your face mixing" and I think you'll have it as good as anyone else. :)
Edited by MasterK on November 12 2015 05:11
posted on #8
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Thank you for the comprehensive answers Dick and MasterK! That's a lot to digest and I appreciate the feedback.

To answer Dick first: Thanks for the tips. I've played with 'speeding up' the overheads by moving them back in sync with everything else with little luck. I've not tried moving the timing of individual tracks to line up with the overheads (more work, of course). I will try it that way around. I measure my overheads to be equal distance from the snare when setting up but I find with, in particular the hi-hat, the stereo image 'dances' from side to side suggesting there's a phase problem somewhere. I'll conduct some experiments with adjusting the track timings.

As for gates, the only ones I apply are on the kick and the the toms. They're set just enough that general ambience doesn't trigger them. Where I'm using a lot of dynamics on the toms, I just turn them off. I should add I never record using gates, only on mix down do I apply them.

MasterK: That's a lot to take in and I hugely appreciate the time you've taken to give such a comprehensive answer. I'll try some of your ideas for sure and I'll get back to you on the dithering aspect.

Another thing which springs to mind is my overall drum tuning. I tune my drums to what I like to hear when I'm playing as 90% of the time I'm playing live in an acoustic setting so go for what sounds best. In particular, my snare has quite a 'bark' to it which gets lost once it's been through my SM58s and it's all attack and no sustain or body (I play rim shots a LOT)!

My toms are tuned quite low. They give a great sound but a lot of their attack disappears at mix down leading them to be wooly and unclear - as you touched on about boosting their mid-range. I'll experiment with some tunings before messing with my EQ set-up.

Lastly, I don't want to be messing too much with mix intricacies on a per loop basis so am aiming for a 'one size fits all' approach, as I outlined above. I just want to record, mix and forget (within reason). I regularly record, mix and upload 3-5 loops in a day and don't want to be spending too long perfecting my drum sound each time. It's hard enough editing and mixing 8 drum tracks simultaneously without getting into the minutiae of the sound. If and when I get a job, my time will be even more limited so this approach matters a lot to me if I'm not to reduce myself to only a loops or two in a week (although that may give the rest of you a break!).

Thanks again, both.
posted on #9
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Hey Martin !
Don't worry too much about all that stuff.
Concentrate on playing, and having fun mate !
You have always sounded good on this side of the recording.
Just don't be afraid to crank it up ! :)
posted on #10
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This was very helpful. Thanks!
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