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FEATURE ARTICLE

MARCH 15, 2001 ISSUE

Recording & Mixing Drums

BY BOB DENNIS

Introduction
This article is about how I recorded and mixed an album that I am working on called "GIFTVS," scheduled for release this Summer.   The sessions were done with an SSL 4000 Series console and a 24 track professional analog recorder in December 1999 and January 2000 at The Disc Ltd..  Although the reader's situation may be different, I'm sure you will find information that you can use on your next drum session.
Drum Set Up
The studio dimensions of Disc Ltd. is a 35 x 20 room with wood flooring and medium acoustics.  Bass traps line the longer walls at the top to reduce room boom and to even out the bass in the room reverberation. We set up the drums along one of the longer walls with professional 6-foot sound absorbing baffles behind the drummer.  Having the drums in the main studio gives a mild amount of reverberation to the sound and using the baffles assures a high degree of presence to the sound.    

Input #1 - The Foot Drum

Microphone Selection
I selected an Electrovoice RE-20 microphone.  This is a large diameter dynamic microphone that has variable D ports.  The large diameter diaphragm assures that the mic picks up all of the low-end generated  by the foot.   The variable-D ports assure that you get a smooth, natural  sounding low end.   The microphone has smooth frequency response to the highest audio frequencies and therefore will capture the "snap" of the foot also.
Alternate Microphones
I would have preferred a RE-27 microphone which is similar to the RE-20 but with a lower-weight diaphragm and coil assembly, giving it a truer sound.   Microphones that I would be happy with in a pinch are the Shure Beta 57, the Senheiser MD-421, the Shure SM-57.  I would not have been happy to use an AKG D-112 which a lot of people use but sounds like s**t.  I would have been unhappy with any kind of condenser microphone which would have a "restricted, cardboard-like" sound - even the best condenser mics have this characteristic. I could have used a good ribbon microphone.
Microphone Placement
I like maximum "skin tone" of the foot drum so I almost always place the microphone at the outer diameter of the drum.  In the middle, you get more low-end thud but few of the harmonic frequencies that are being generated by the skin.  
To get all of the shell sound, I place the microphone diaphragm even with the back of the shell.  This means I get both the shell and the skin tine. I usually place the microphone at the top of the drums so that any pillow or blanket used by the drummer does not muffle the microphone pickup.

FOOT MIC PLACEMENT DIAGRAM

Microphone Equalization & Sound Check
The equalization I used is as follows

Setting

Purpose

+ 9 dB @ 50 Hz, Shelf Response

Gives the drum good low-end push.  The amount should be an amount that causes a slight increase in level when you put the equalizer in the channel.

- 6 dB @ 400 Hz, peak response with Q=1.5

Reduces the cardboard sound and increases foot drum / bass guitar clarity.

+ 4 dB @ 4000 Hz, peak response with Q=1.5

To add sufficient hard beater sound
I brought up the level so that the peaks of the foot drum caused the tape machine's meters to read +3.0.  You can overdrive low-frequency instruments on analog tape and they sound better because of this
Generally for analog recording I equalize the drums before the sound is recorded on tape.  If this was a digital recording I would record without equalization and use thse kinds of EQ settings during the mixdown.
Mixing The Foot Drum
The foot drum is the sound in the production that I start with.  After I set the foot drum, I pretty much leave it alone, mixing the levels of other drum and rhythm parts to be correct with the foot at a fixed level.
Since I equalized before recording, I don't do much equalization during mixdown.  I add a slight amount of plate reverb with a very short reverb time (1/2 of a second) which helps make the drum sound like it's part of the drum kit rather than sitting in your lap. [See snare drum description for reverb parameters.

Input #2, #3 - The Snare Drum

Microphone Placement Approach
I used two microphones to pick up the snare.  One microphone is on top of the snare and one is on the bottom.   Since I am "micing in pairs" of microphones, I want to have both mics be the same model of microphone.   I particularly like the resultant sound for analog recording.  If you mic the top of the snare only you will usually have to use EQ to get the snare to sound right.  With two microphones, its a matter of blending levels.
Microphone Selection
I selected my favorite dynamic microphone, the Shure Beta-57.   This mic has a very true hypercardioid pickup pattern (that stays the same at all frequencies) which allows you to properly reject the high hat from the microphone's pickup.  The moving mechanism of the microphone (the diaphragm and coil) are 1/2 the weight of the older SM-57 and therefore the Beta version does a much better job of capturing the transient.
Alternate Microphones
I would have preferred a ribbon microphone like the Beyer 500 series (or even the 260 series), because ribbons would get a clearer attack.  A set of condenser microphones like AKG 414 would have sounded good but there would be less high hat rejection (the pattern is not as true for all frequencies on the 414).   Other microphones that I would be happy with in a pinch are the EV RE 15  the Senheiser MD-421.  I would not have been happy to use an SM-57 or SM-58 because of a muffled sound due to the transient not being picked up properly and because of increased leakage (because these microphones' pickup patterns vary with frequency).
Microphone Placement
I put the microphone at the edge of skin and angle the back so that the rejection of the microphone points at the high hat.  For the bottom microphone, I make a "mirror image" of the top microphone.  If I were using the MD-421 microphone I would turn on the bass roll-off.  With the 414 microphone I would both turn on the microphone pad an the bass roll-off.

SNARE MIC PLACEMENT DIAGRAM 

Microphone Routing, Equalization & Sound Check
I activate the phase-reverse on the console channel that I am using for the bottom snare microphone.  If the two microphones are mixed together without a phase-reversal, the snare will "thin out" because of phase cancellation of the lower frequencies generated by the drum.  I like to phase reverse when I cut so that the multitrack mater can just be mixed.  I like to record onto two tracks and blend the two microphones later during mixdown.  I always note on the log sheet for the reel, "Sn Bottom" and put a phase-reverse sign after the words.
Often I will avoid equalization during recording but sometimes a slight increase of presence or treble is needed to get the right amount of snap.  I always equalize the top and bottom snare channels at the same frequency but I usually use peak EQ on the top microphone and shelf EQ on the lower microphone.   This is because the snares on the bottom of the drum generate more high-frequency energy.

Setting

Purpose

+ 4.5 dB @ 7000 Hz, Shelf Response

For bottom snare. To increase "attack" of snare drum.

+ 4.5 dB @ 7000 Hz, Peak Response, with Q=2.0

For top snare.  To increase "attack" of snare drum.
I brought up the level so that the peaks of the snare drum top mic caused the tape machine's meters to read +0.0;  and brought up the level   of the snare drum bottom mic to cause the tape machine's meters to read -3.0.   You can overload an analog tape machine track easily if the pickup of the microphone is all high-frequency percussive energy - this is why the bottom microphone signal is recorded at a lower level.
Mixing The Snare Drum
The top snare track is used to establish the general level of the snare in the mix - usually equal to the foot drum level by ear.  I bring up the bottom snare track until there is enough snap.
For the drum mix, I will have three reverbs activated (see last week's tip).  On the top snare I will blend the shortest reverb with the medium reverb.  For the bottom snare, I usually only use the shorter reverb.  I pan both tracks center.  The chart below lists the programs use and suitable substitute programs I could have used.
PROGRAM FUNCTION SETTINGS SUBSTITUTE SETTINGS NOTE
PLATE Attack
Predelay:  0.0
Rev Time:  0.5 sec
GATED
Predelay:  0.0
Rev Time:  stock

provide  s attack/snap to the reverb

HALL Hall
Predelay:  18 ms
Rev Time:  1.8 sec
NONE  

provides good-sounding natural ring out

PLATE Room
Predelay:  10 ms.
Rev Time:  1.5 sec
ROOM
Predelay:  5 ms.
Resizev Time:  1.5 sec
smoothes transition between programs - makes reverb denser

Input #4 - The High Hat

Microphone Selection
I selected a 414 large-diameter condenser microphone. I activated maximum bass roll-off and put the pad to "-10".    I put the microphone on hyper-cardioid.  The biggest factor that caused me to choose this microphone  was the availability of the hypercardioid pattern.
Alternate Microphones
I could have used any condenser microphone that had bass roll-off and a pad.  I would not have used any dynamic microphone, because the high quick transients put out by the high hat would have been muffled by the best dynamic microphone.  I could have used a good ribbon microphone with a figure-8 pattern (bidirectional), which rejects the snare drum better. 
Microphone Placement
I put the microphone about 8 inches away from the high hat and kept the cymbal between the microphone and the snare drum.   Sometimes too much snare can get into the high hat mic and pointing it out away from the snare helps, as does the hypercardioid pattern.  I made sure that the axis of the microphone was in line with the axis of rotation of the cymbal.   I turn the bass roll-off switch to maximum and turn on the microphone pad.
 

HIGH HAT MIC PLACEMENT DIAGRAM

Microphone Routing, Equalization & Sound Check
I will often add a slight amount of extreme highs to accent the "sizzle" of the high hat.

Setting

Purpose

+ 4.5 dB @ 12,000 Hz, Shelf Response

For increased sizzle of the cymbal

-6.0 dB @ 200 Hz, Shelf Response

To reduce snare drum pickup as well as reducing ambience.
I brought up the level so that the peaks of the high hat read "-6" on the console's output meter.  The high hat is all high end and will overload analog tape at "0" level.
Mixing The High Hat
I mix in the high hat after I bring up the foot and snare drum.  I usually pan the high hat right and slowly bring up the high hat fader.  When the image shifts right, this is a good level.  Even with no high hat track in the mix, you will hear high hat through the leakage into the center-panned snare mic.  When the high hat track gets present enough in the mix you will hear the high hat shift to the right.
For the drum mix, I use the shortest reverb on the high hat track.

Inputs  #5. #6 & #7 - The Toms

Microphone Selection
I selected the Shure Beta-57 microphones to pick up the toms.   The biggest factor that caused me to choose this microphone  was the true hypercardioid pattern and how even the rejection is at all frequencies.
Alternate Microphones
I could have used the senheiser MD-421, or any high-quality dynamic microphone with a "true" pickup pattern.  I could have used a good ribbon microphone. 
Microphone Placement
I put the microphone on the toms much as I place the top microphone of the snare.  I point the rejection of the microphones towards the nearest cymbal.  The microphone is about a quarter-inch away from the drum skin at the edge of the skin. 
 

TOM MIC PLACEMENT DIAGRAM 

 Click On Image To Enlarge

Microphone Routing, Equalization & Sound Check
I routed the toms to two tracks using two busses (4&5).  All three inputs were routed to both busses, and the pan pots associated with the routing matrix, allowed me to pan the smallest tom (#1) fully-right, tom 2 in the center and tom 3 (the floor tom) fully-left.  The toms are panned according to the audience perspective but made more extremely panned then how the drum image would be if heard live. 
I will often EQ the toms much as I do for the foot drum.  I boost the smallest tom at a slight higher bass frequency because, compared to the other toms,  it generates less very low frequency energy because of its smaller size.

Setting

Purpose

+ 9 dB @ 50 Hz, Shelf Response

(Use 80 Hz for smallest tom)

Gives the drum good low-end push.  The amount should be never be an amount that causes more than a slight increase (2-3 dB) in level when you put the equalizer in the channel.

- 6 dB @ 400 Hz, Peak Response with Q=1.5

Reduces the cardboard sound and increases drum/guitar clarity.

+ 4 dB @ 7000 Hz, Peak Response with Q=2.0

To add a metallic attack to the toms.
I brought up the level so that the louder hits  for tom 1 & 3 read "0" on one of the console's output meters.  The middle tom should read "-3" on both the Left and right meters.
Mixing The Toms
I mix in the toms after the foot snare drum and high hat.  I pan the two tom tracks left & right and slowly bring up the faders.  There will come a point that I notice an increase in room ambience - at this point I reduce level slightly (2-3 dB).  I make final level adjustments when I hear the tom rolls
For the mix, I use the a combination of room and hall reverb on the toms.

Inputs #8 & #9 - The Overhead Cymbals

Microphone Selection
I selected two Crown C700 condenser microphones.  These microphones are primarily used for picking up the cymbals and the small diameter head on this microphone does the most accurate job of doing this. 
Alternate Microphones
I could have used any condenser microphone.  If I had used a microphone without a bass roll-off feature, I would attenuate the bass with a filter on the console.   I would not have used any dynamic microphone, because the high quick transients put out by the crash and ride cymbals would have been muffled by the best dynamic microphone.  I could have used a good ribbon microphone. 
Microphone Placement
I put the microphone pair slightly higher than the highest cymbal and use a 120 degree angle between the microphones (a "wide" XY configuration).  The more severe angle and the proximity of the pair to the cymbals increases the cymbal pickup and reduces the level of the snare drum 
 

CYMBALS  MIC PLACEMENT DIAGRAM

Microphone Routing, Equalization & Sound Check
I will often add a slight amount of extreme highs to accent the "sizzle" and presence of the cymbals.

Setting

Purpose

+ 4.5 dB @ 10,000 Hz, Shelf Response

For increased sizzle and presence of the cymbal

-6.0 dB @ 200 Hz, Shelf Response

To reduce tom & foot drum pickup as well as reducing ambience.
I brought up the level so that the peaks of level reach "0" on the console's output meters.  You will usually get the maximum level when there is a tom roll and a lower level )around "-6" on crashes. 
Mixing The Overhead Cymbals
I mix in the overheads after the rest of the drums are in the mix.  I listen to the overall drum tone change as I increase the level - in particular how the snare drum sounds will alter.  Besides giving presence and volume to the cymbals, these tracks will tend to increase the attack on the snare drum and the toms. 
For the drum mix, I use the attack reverb and a slight amount of room reverb.

DRUM MIXING  - Reverb Notes

What's Reverb like today?
An engineer of ours told me a few weeks ago that there was less reverb in mixes today compared to those of say 10 years ago.  One of my recording instructors had talked about this also.  I told Chaz (the engineer) that I thought he was full of s**t and there was every bit as much reverb being used today.
We met with gloves on in the mastering room (with the truest monitor speakers in the building) and listened.  Chaz is occasionally a recording instructor for RID and has a choice collection of current R&B always with him.  I wanted to see what changes in reverb there actually were in this idiom. 
After several CD cuts were played, we pretty much agreed with the changes but had different ways of describing the changes in reverb sound for the 21st Century.  Gone in today's mix of today is the long-tail reverb of last decade, and if it was present it was in very restricted amounts.  There is every bit as much reverb in the mixes but shorter reverb that often is more of the instrument's sound than of room effect added later. 
So What Does One Do Differently?
The stock programs in effects units usually have factory presets like the reverb used a decade ago.  There are two time parameters that are usually "out of whack" for today's mixing. 

PARAMETER

DESCRIPTION

PRE DELAY Also known as initial delay, which is the length of time that the reverb takes to build up after the direct sound occurs.
REVERB TIME How long, in seconds, that it takes for the reverb to die away.
So the first thing to be done to your hall programs is to cut the time parameters listed above in half.  This means the reverb is established twice as fast and dies down twice as fast. Room and chamber programs need the reverb time parameters reduced by 25% to 50%.  These few changes in parameter settings make reverb more like today's reverb sound.
In setting up the reverb for mixing the Giftvs drums, the following changes were done from stock settings:
PROGRAM FUNCTION SETTINGS ORIG SETTINGS
PLATE Attack
Predelay:  0.0
Rev Time:  0.5 sec
Predelay:  0.0
Rev Time:  1.8 sec.
HALL Hall
Predelay:  18 ms
Rev Time:  1.8 sec
Predelay:  24 ms
Rev Time:  2.2 sec
PLATE Room
Predelay:  8-10 ms.
Rev Time:  1.5 sec
Predelay:  0 ms.
Rev Time:  1.8 sec.

Copyright 2001, by Robert Dennis, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published in Recording Engineer's Quarterly and Alexander magazines with permission

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