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Bang On The Drum All Day: A Wide Range Of Tips To Optimize The Kit In The Mix

Veteran engineers and technicians share their approaches and techniques for capturing live drum sounds when time and/or resources are limited.

By PSW Staff May 30, 2018

Last month we asked veteran engineers and technicians to offer their tips and techniques regarding cabling and interconnect (All Wrapped Up), and it proved so successful that we’ve decided to make it a regularly appearing feature.

This time out, we’re focusing on drum sound, and more specifically, priorities when time and/or resources are limited.

As you’ll see, approaches are numerous and varied, which just highlights the fact that solutions can be as unique as the people who create them.

Approaching The Mix

Chris Huff: If I’m cramped for time, I start with bringing in overhead microphones, then the snare, followed by the kick. This gives me time to listen to any other mics while in cue and adjust my mix accordingly.

My drums are the foundation of my mix, as everything else will ride on top. For this reason, my mix starts with mic selection and placement. These two things can make or break a mix. And tighten up those overhead mic stands! Many times I’ve seen mics swing to the outside of the kit.

Ales Stefancic: Throughout the years I changed my approach to mixing drums, from starting with kick and snare to starting with overheads. I have the drummer play a simple straight beat with a cymbal hit on every bar. Then I bring up the overheads, checking for polarity issues and shaping their sound before proceeding to snare mics, then kick mic(s).

After adding in the hi-hat, I stop the drummer and we just quickly go over the toms. This has become the fastest way for me to get the “right” sound of the kit.

Nicholas Radina: I’ll jump in from a less technical side. Simply taking a moment to actually listen to the kit without reinforcement, and understanding the sound or style of music to be performed, can do wonders for your mixing and miking approach. My choices for a traditional jazz band are quite different than for a rock band. The player is always one of a kind, and the kit’s response will always be unique. Never start with presets or preconceived notions. Trust your gut and spin the knob that makes the most sense.

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten: I generally ask the drummer to play for me and stand in front of the kit and listen to how it sounds acoustically. Then I replicate that. Every player is different. Is the snare louder than anything else? Does the drummer bash on cymbals? I want my drum sound to be an extension of what the drummer is trying to achieve acoustically. The sources come from the artists, we just make it louder.

Samantha Potter: If I had to provide one piece of advice for drums in mixes, it’s balance. Balance is the key to everything we do. Just because you like loud drums doesn’t mean that’s what the music calls for. I want to hear every part of the drum kit without having a wall of sound and low-end blow me out.

Drums, in general, play a vital role in any mix and knowing when to let them shine through and when to bring them back is the difference between a great engineer and an “OK” one. The drums comfortably take up a mammoth section of the frequency spectrum, and it’s our job as engineers not to stifle, but to balance. Balance is everything.

Ryan John: My goal is to get the drums to accent the music on a song-to-song basis. Sometimes this means punchy and crisp, other times mellow and dull. So I tend to tailor multiple mics on each source to capture only a part of that sound, so changing the overall drum tone can be achieved with snapshots that are just simple fader moves rather than EQs.

Jonah Altrove: Kick and snare are the most important parts of the kit, so if those aren’t right, spend your time there, not on Tom 3. Kick should, of course, be driving your subs, but a lot of the perceived impact actually comes from the beater attack, up in the 3 kHz range.

Andy Coules: The high-pass filter (HPF) is a fantastic tool for avoiding the mud that afflicts many a mix and is particularly useful when it comes to drums.

One trick I use on snare and toms is to engage the HPF at about 80 Hz and then increase the frequency until it sucks all the life out of the sound, then decrease it slightly until it sounds nicely rounded. This not only avoids picking up too much of the bottom end of adjacent drums but also any other sound that might be nearby (such as a bass amp or drum fill).


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