Mixing Revealed Presents…

Every Mixer Tells a Story

Drums Set the Stage

Good mixers are storytellers. A great mix tells a story. It leads the listener through its self-defined world, whose sonic cues can place them in a moment in time, create a mood, and take them on a journey. The song, performances, and production do this as well, but a great mix can take the listener even deeper inside the song's world. This month we will discuss two elements that I begin each mix with. One is the concept for the mix (where we can decide what kind of story we want the mix to tell), and second are the drums + percussion (which we use to begin to set the scene.)

   

By using this 1969 Ludwig drum kit with coated heads, together with some light dampening, we were able to get a warmer, thicker sound.

This is our first in a series of seven columns where we will mix a song online. As I outlined in HDL5, each month we will focus on a new set of instruments, followed by the blending of the tracks into a musical mix, and finishing with automation to complete our mix. This month is also the debut of our FREE companion DigiStudio. By going to DigiStudio you will be able to download the session of the song we are mixing. This month the drum + percussion tracks along with the plug-ins I used to get the sounds will be there and you'll be able to follow along as we discuss each track.

Point of View
Before I move even one fader forward on a mix, the first thing I like to work out is what I call the mix's point of view. We touched on its importance in HDL4 and I'd like to repeat some of it here. "This is a critical point in mixing. In fact, more mixes go south here than at any other stage. The best mixes have a point of view, a commitment to a particular sound. It may be unique to your mix. It may be an invention of your imagination or simply a combination of sounds. Whatever it happens to be, there needs to be an underlying theme to the choices you are making."

To establish the point of view I ask myself a number of questions about the sound of the mix that I want to create.

1. What will be the mix's basic concept?

A. Should it have an aggressive or a delicate sound?

B. Am I going for a big sound or a more intimate one?

2. What is the mix's basic style? (Usually the musical genre of the recording.)

3. What are the mixes' influences? (Much like music, mixes are influenced by other mixes.)

4. Are we going for a modern sound, a retro/vintage one, or a combination?

I then use the answers to these questions to help me shape the sound of the mix. Since we will all be able to hear the same music, we will no longer need to discuss these issues in the abstract. We will answer these questions below.

The Song + Artist
I felt that for the purposes of this demonstration mix we needed a song that was not too heavy, but not too light. I wanted as many instruments as possible to be live, and I wanted a number of acoustic as well as electric instruments. An artist whom I was working with had the perfect song.

Crease, a talented Florida based rock band, has allowed us to use their song Live to Be In Love to do our mix.

   

Crease is a very talented Florida-based rock band. Their first album, Vindication, was on Roadrunner Records and I'm currently producing their second. A song of theirs, Live to Be in Love, had everything I was looking for, and they have been generous enough to allow us access to all of the tracks of the song. Thank you, Crease.

As far as the point of view for the Crease project, we are going for a blend of retro sounds and modern sounds, within the context of modern arrangements and songs. Live to Be in Love for the most part is a rock song, but with definite hit radio aspirations. What we're looking for is a not too aggressive sound, but not too light either. Big or intimate? I'd say not too big. That may evolve as we move further into the mix. There are definite modern hard rock influences going on here, but there are some retro ones as well. So, with the mix, the intention is to use a combination of vintage sounds together with more contemporary ones. In future columns, we'll discuss this further.

As a starting point with the drums I'm looking for a warm, thick sound (think late '70s). I'm not looking for a lot of hypie EQ and over-compression. All's fair in love and mixing and this could certainly change once all the tracks are in. But this is our current target.

   

Richard Serotta recorded the drums at Outline Studios in Miami. Outline's excellent vinatage mics and outboard gear were used.

We recorded the drums at Outline Studios, a great studio in Miami with lots of vintage mics and gear in the racks. We got a '69 Ludwig kit, put coated heads on it, and dampened the heads a bit. But not too much, I still wanted some tone. I asked good friend and excellent engineer Richard Serotta to record them, and he got a great sound — just the vintage feel I was hoping for. We recorded the song to a Pro Tools|HD System at 96 kHz. For the purposes of making it compatible with other Pro Tools systems, I down-sampled the session to 48 kHz before posting it on DigiStudio.

 

Drum Kits
Something I always keep in mind when getting my drum sounds is that a drum kit is not made up of separate instruments — it is in fact a single instrument. When mixing I look at drum (and percussion) recordings as having three elements — attack, tone, and ambience. I then use compression, EQ, and gating to control and balance them. Let's look at each instrument and the plug-ins I used in our mix.

Kick Drum

Analog Channel AC1 Console 3
This is my favorite console preset, though I use Console 1 + 2 as well. Although it's very subtle, using AC1 on your tracks can give your mix a smoother sound.

   

Waves Rennaisance Compressor is one of my favorite compressors — software or hardware. It also has many excellent starting points in its presets.

DaD Valve Bypass
I left this in just to show you, because I often use it on the kick with the Snare preset.

Waves Gate
I use the hold + release to contour the length of the kick. This one had too much rumble after the main body of the kick, so I shortened it.

RenComp Drums
Waves RenComp presets are excellent starting points. I then adjust the threshold for about 1 to 2 dB of compression on the kick. It really helps to bring out the beater as well as even out the dynamics.

RenEQ (Pultec/Neve)
This is a preset of mine with a HPF, and five bell-shaped bands with the Q set to 1.3, and then the bands set to the frequencies I often find myself hovering around: 100, 280, 2.2 k, 5.5 k, 16 k, with the HPF at 60 Hz. I rolled off a little on the lows to make the kick punch more, and then did some shaping.

Snare

DaD Valve Snare
This can do wonders for snares. It makes them much punchier and thicker, with a hi-mid bite. I set the input by ear for the desired amount of saturation.

Waves Gate
I use this to clean up the hi-hat from the snare track, but I don't allow the gate to close all the way. I want to leave in some hi-hat as well as the ghost notes on the snare. I just like it to accentuate the big hits.

RenComp Drums
I set it about the same as for the kick, maybe with more compression.

RenEQ (Pultec/Neve)
I wanted a warmer sound so I decreased the top and boosted the low-mids.

Tape
This is the final touch to a snare. It really makes it go THWAACK! The saturation is very cool. A very nice crunch.

Hi-Hat

Analog Channel AC1 Console 3
Same as for the kick. Adds a nice roundness.

   

I use McDSP's FilterBank for my precision EQ-ing. It has an extremely clean sound.

RenComp Drums
Helps smooth out the hi-hat, preventing it from jumping out and then getting lost in the mix.

FilterBank E4
The extreme HPF is because much of the body of the hi-hat actually comes from the cymbal mics. This gives the hi-hat a much cleaner sound and helps make its location in the stereo mix precise.

Analog Channel AC2
Like DaD Tape with a less crunchy sound. A soft tape saturation sound.

Toms

Instead of gates, I prefer to go through and just mute the roar in between the tom hits. It gives me much more control over my toms, especially with reverb sends. As far as getting the overall sound of the kit, I will use my cymbal and room mics (which, in this case, were really far overheads). I also prefer not to pan my toms full wide, going for something around +/- 50 to 70. I feel it's more natural and less distracting.

   

Waves Rennaisance EQ is one of my favorite EQ's. It has a lot of character and warmth.

Analog Channel AC1 Console 3
Like the Snare track.

DaD Valve Snare
Like the Snare track.

Trim
I use this because the output of DaD Valve is too hot for the Opto setting on RenComp.

RenComp Drums
I compress my toms usually even more than the snare track. It really adds an excellent attack to the hit.

RenEQ (Pultec/Neve)
I usually roll-off the lows if there is too much rumble and then boost the highs to bring out the attack. A boost in the low-mids brings out the tone.

Cymbals

I also prefer not to pan the cymbals full wide.

Compressor Bank CB1
To even out the big hits and for that retro sound.

FilterBank E4
To clean up the low-end roar and bring out the highs.

Room Mics

Really near rooms.

FilterBank E4
Right now I'm using no EQ, but I may roll off some lows and boost some highs or high-mids, depending on how I want it to fit with the kit.

Drum Sub Mix

Two faders to accomplish the compressed drum mix that is added in with the un-compressed drums. All the drums are bussed to a Drum bus, then two Aux Inputs are used with the Drum bus set for both inputs. I do not send the drum reverbs to the Drum sub mix.

-Drums-
This is the first Aux with only a Time Adjuster set to 69 samples, the amount of delay of the second Aux (-Squish-) to eliminate any phasing. I usually set the level of this fader to zero.

-Squish-
I mute the -Drums- fader and then use AC1 to add some analog console edge, and I set RenComp to really compress the drums. I go for a nice and tight sound on this fader, but usually not too distorted. I then fade it down, turn back on the -Drums- fader and then bring this one back for the desired punch.

Loops + Percussion
Live to Be in Love does not have these elements but I will give you some suggestions regarding how I often will treat them.

Full Drum Groove Loops
With this type of loop, if it is your only source of drums, then EQ and compression are the way to shape it. Compression to even out its dynamics (similar to my snare compression) and EQ to control the kick (with lows), snare (low- to high-mids), and hi-hat (highs). I will also often use DaD Valve with the Snare preset to add punch.

If the loop is supplementing other drums, then often you may need to use EQ + compression to hide flams between the loop and the programmed or live drums. I often will use a high pass filter at 180 Hz to 400 Hz to clean up these problems. Loops are often used mainly for the added groove that comes from their more high-end percussive elements.

It's also quite easy to automate the turning down of an offending kick, snare, etc., in a loop by automating it and then repeating the automation with PT's Repeat command. Usually I won't use any reverb, but sometimes a little Room or Gated Reverb works well.

Percussion Only Loops
Similar as above, but without the worries for eliminating kicks + snares. I normally use DaD Valve to warm it up. I'm also more willing to use reverb on a percussion loop. Room, Gated Reverb, or possibly a Short Plate

Tambourine, Bells, Triangles
I will often use a HPF to clean up the lows (about 180 Hz to 700 Hz). For reverbs I often like Plates on these instruments. Like with the hi-hat I may use compression to smooth over dynamic tracks. I will often use these instruments to create my back wall (see Reverbs + Effects below).

Shakers
Similar to the Tambourines above but normally with a smaller reverb like a Room. In bigger tracks, they may sound best with no reverb.

"Literally one or two intruments feeding into a mix's largest reverb is all that is needed to define the space of the entire mix."

Reverb + Effects
For drums + percussion I have a number of general reverbs + FX that I start out with. I almost always use all my effects in a send/return setup. I rarely will place any reverb or delay on the insert of an individual track, with the exception of the occasional flanger. It's much more DSP-efficient to set up a reverb on an Aux Input and then be able to share its resources among many instruments. Besides it helps to glue the mix together when you share reverbs.

An important rule about reverb is that in order to create space it's not required for many or all the instruments to have reverb. Literally one or two instruments in a mix feeding into that mix's largest reverb is all that is needed to define the space of the entire mix. With others feeding into the medium reverbs in a mix with lots of tracks, I will often leave a number of them dry. The large reverb on the selected few tracks creates what I call the back wall of the mix and all the other instruments fit inside the room (hall, etc.) that the large ones have created.

Room
This will often be the basic common reverb that I'll use on many of the drums and percussion tracks to give them a unified sound. Live kits don't usually require this, but sampled drums benefit greatly by sharing a room. The song always influences my room choice. Sometimes you want a brighter room and sometimes a warmer one. Some of my favorite starting points are the Megaverb Perc Room preset, and the Reverb One Medium Wood Room. Decay is usually set to a second or less.

LexiVerb is great for that smooth, glassy reverb sound. I love its plate algorithms.

   

Short Plate
I usually have two plates going in each mix. For the short plate I'll usually go with something brighter. This is the reverb that is my main medium-length reverb. I use it for most drums that I want to give a larger space to than just the room. My favorite starting point is the LexiVerb Snare Plate preset. The decay is set in the 1.2 second or so range.

Longer Plate
There is usually a plate that is intended for other instruments like the vocal, but it sometimes gets used on drums when I want a longer plate sound. My favorite starting point is the LexiVerb Vocal Plate preset. Actually I'm not sure if that is a preset; I originally programmed it into every LexiVerb I use based on a preset I liked on the PCM 80. I think it is now a preset. I usually keep the decay between 1.5 and 2 seconds.

Hall or Chamber
This is my big reverb. Usually warm and rich, with a relatively long pre-delay and a slow attack, giving it a soft sound. It's usually not suited to drums, but if I throw something into it and it sounds good, then I'll use it. I like the Chambers and Halls on Reverb One and I like the default preset of Megaverb — it's a Large Hall with a Lexicon 480 personality.

   

Dverb's Non-Lin algorithm has that AMS gritty zipper sound that worked so well on snares, kicks, and toms. Today, gated reverb has a cool, retro sound.

Gated Reverb
That's right, gated reverb. It can create a very cool sound sometimes, so I always like to have one available so I can throw different drums (kick, snare, toms) and percussion (bongo, conga, timbale) instruments into it to hear how they sound. I love the D-Verb Non-Lin algorithm with an AMS feel.

Multiple Reverbs
Using more than one reverb on the same instrument at the same time is very common for me. I found out a long time ago that my ear prefers the sound of different reverb colors overlapping each other. They create a richer, thicker sound that I prefer. With drums I will often combine the room with the short plate.

DigiStudio
As of April 1st, 2003 the Hard Disk Life DigiStudio sessions are no longer available for download.

Next month, we continue with bass and guitars.

 

Engineer / Mixer / Producer Charles Dye (Robi Draco Rosa, Jon Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar, Ednita Nazario, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin) is based out of Miami.
www.charlesdye.com
email: HDL@charlesdye.com

Click here to read previous columns.

©2002 Charles Dye