What Do the Pros Do?
Listen to the mixes on broadcast shows like The Voice, American Idol, Live From Darryl’s House, and Later… with Jools Holland. Notice that these mixes are essentially devoid of any direct cymbal miking. Music videos, live theater, and movie soundtracks follow a similar pattern. Sure, you might occasionally hear a little leakage, but you’ll probably never hear a ride or crash cymbal that is equal to, or louder than any of the drum heads, other tonal instruments, or vocals.
In fact, there’s generally just kick and snare in the mix, with maybe a little tom support if the arrangement specifically calls for it. When hit hardest, none of the cymbals should come through at a level that is equal to any of the vocals, nor even as loud as the main chordal instruments.
Why do these engineers mix like that? Because they recognize and understand the negative noise-masking effect that cymbals bring to the show. For most live events, it’s all about the vocals; their tone, nuances, dynamics and texture. Cymbals wipe out most of those qualities when allowed to dominate.
It seems I’m not the only one who has issues with cymbals. Market demand finds its way to the splashy, crashy, hashy, trashy, bashy, clash, mashy, gnash, washy, world of cymbals. I see that Zildjian (and probably others) has released the L80 series of low-volume cymbals (nice oxymoron). They claim they’re “80 percent quieter than a traditional cymbal without losing the authentic Zildjian feel.”
Another approach comes in the form of product called Cymbomute, from UK Percussion Concepts. It’s a damping ring that surrounds the edge of each cymbal. Figure 3 shows a before and after lab test of a 16-inch crash cymbal. The blue trace shows how much energy still exists after 2 to 3 seconds. The red trace shows a much quicker decay of about 1 second when the Cymbomute ring is applied. If you still insist on putting up overhead mics and routing them into the main mix bus, either of these new solutions might help save your mixes.
Last night I watched and enjoyed The Show Must Go On – The Queen & Adam Lambert Story. If you watch it, listen carefully. You’ll notice very little cymbal crash or splash in the broadcast mix. If they can live without this 4-octave wash of background noise, so can you.
P.S. – Within a couple of weeks, the mix engineer at church figured out he had the overhead mics running too hot. Things are back to normal now.
 Graphs from Zildjian 20-inch ReZo Crash cymbal review published in Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, September 3, 2013 at hometheaterhifi.com.
 “Percussion Frequencies Part 2 – Cymbals” at musical-u.com
 Cymbomute Customer Reviews at ukpercussionconcepts.com
Technical editor Michael Lawrence also contributed to this article.