A few years ago, I embarked on a quest to remove the last few bands of corrective parametric equalization from the input channels of my front of house mix for Umphreys McGee (UM). I spent two full years working out how to give up corrective EQ, and now I feel ready to explain how I did it.
It started with what I consider the core of sound for a rock band: kick drum, snare, and hi-hats. These three parts of the drum kit establish the core tempo and rhythm that the sound of the band builds from.
The kick drum should be ever present, solid but natural, with the lowest fundamental tone combined with plenty of beater contact. The snare drum should have a texture and complexity – an aggressive snap followed by a thick shell decay and a crispy wire rattle from the snares. The hi-hats are delicate and expressive.
The combination of a spring-loaded foot pedal and face-to-face mirror-image cymbals allows for a multitude of complex tonal options. Their decay envelope varies with pedal tension, from a short tick to a loose, splashy wash that works well in rock ‘n’ roll.
Add to this foundation a quartet of toms, rich and deep, with the clean snap of uncoated heads. The low richness of the skins is contrasted by a brassy chorus of cymbals, each with its own distinct voice.
I wanted my drums to sound like the drums on my favorite albums from the 1970s and 80s. I wanted “Aja” drums. I wanted “Tom Sawyer” drums, or my ultimate comparison, the drum tones Sylvia Massy got on “Undertow” – dynamic and impactful with rich overtones and beautiful decays.
I asked myself what was the difference between those drum sounds and my drum sounds. What qualities did I need to hone? The answer starts at the destination, not the source.