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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
I set it about the same as for the kick, maybe with more compression.
I wanted a warmer sound so I decreased the top and boosted the low-mids.
This is the final touch to a snare. It really makes it go THWAACK! The
saturation is very cool. A very nice crunch.
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.
Helps smooth out the hi-hat, preventing it from jumping out and then
getting lost in the mix.
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.
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.
I use this because the output of DaD Valve is too hot for the Opto
setting on RenComp.
I compress my toms usually even more than the snare track. It really
adds an excellent attack to the hit.
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
I also prefer not to pan the cymbals full wide.
Compressor Bank CB1
To even out the big hits and for that retro sound.
To clean up the low-end roar and bring out the highs.
Really near rooms.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As of April 1st,
2003 the Hard Disk Life DigiStudio sessions are no longer available for
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.
here to read previous columns.
©2002 Charles Dye