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Church Sound: It All Starts With Drums

Getting the drum mix isn't always up to the sound crew; it starts at the source.

By Andrew Stone November 5, 2018

Image courtesy of Danny Crump

Stone Pyramid Scheme

This one is easy to understand and I won’t even ask you to buy into a multi-level marketing scheme. The Stone plan is the only marketing scheme I’d consider getting on board with.

Look at the drum kit overall as a pyramid: anything located near the bottom of the pyramid needs to be played harder than the things located at the top. So for most standard drum setups these days, the kick can be played the loudest, then the floor tom, then the snare, hat, and rack tom, with cymbals being played the lightest.

This has been a good rule of thumb for me for many years and works well both onstage and in a studio setting. Pyramid schemes aren’t all bad. It should be noted that this may be a bit hard for some drummers to deal with but this is where we go back to the control issue. I submit that you could use this pyramid scheme as the first aspect your drummer could use to improve the way their performance translates to your room.

Self-Mixing

This one kicks things up a notch and requires the drummer to really have a good grasp of what it takes to blend all the drums and cymbals together into one cohesive instrument.

How many of us have had (or have) drummers slay the hats like they’re beating them to death and then barely play the kick and snare? Self-mixing requires one to play the drums not only from a musical vantage point but from an audio one as well.

A well-known producer in Nashville explained this to me many years ago and it made perfect sense. By me beating the crap out of the cymbals, I was just completely overwhelming the other microphones. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as fun to play his way and not just bash away at everything. But it did change my viewpoint on being a professional drummer and it gradually helped make me think more musically on how I was playing the drums.

Now that I don’t make my living playing drums anymore, but mixing them, I will say that in a live setting it’s nearly impossible for an audio engineer to chase a drummer who doesn’t utilize some degree of self-mixing.

This means the drummer has to feather the hats instead of killing them. Playing “through” the snare drum to achieve a satisfying “oomph” instead of bashing it like a child hitting a trashcan. Easing into the cymbals with control so you can actually hear the tone vs. flat out destroying them. Hitting the toms while paying attention to the tone elicited from them, not just hitting them because the church bought them.

Listen to almost any good live or studio recording (what makes a good recording is another blog topic) that has real drums and pay close attention to the different volume levels of the various drums comprising the recorded drum kit sound. I’ll bet money that the drummer was in complete control of his playing and the drums were controlled to the nth degree.

I’ll also bet that there was a tremendous amount of attention given to the volume relationships of all the drums and cymbals on the kit (hello Stone Pyramid Scheme and self-mixing). Getting the drum mix isn’t always up to the audio guy—it starts at the source.

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About Andrew

Andrew Stone
Andrew Stone

Production Director and Senior Audio Engineer, Church on the Move
Andrew Stone is the Production Director and Senior Audio Engineer at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. He is also a founding member of MxU, a brand designed to create and inspire better leaders and better audio engineers. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (stone.rocks), read his blogs on COTM’s Seeds website (www.seeds.churchonthemove.com), and check out his latest endeavors with MxU at www.mxu.rocks.

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