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eds1275 2010-11-03 - 11:49am

Less is more!

  So the other day I got a phone call from some band who I'd never heard of asking for recording help. I was looking for an excuse to get out of the yardwork I have piling up so I zipped over to their practice space.

   They were well prepared, cleaned out the room, tuned the drums, and had everything miced up. They had laid down scratch tracks to a metronome, and were going to record the drums into an 8-input interface. Kick, snare, each of the 4 toms, hihat and mono overhead. The toms were miced with cheap vocal mics, and the overhead and hihat mics were the same behringer large diaphragm condenser. The snare had a piezo contact mic from an acoustic guitar on it, and the kick had a shure sm 57, because it was their "best mic". And they wondered why they didn't have a perfect sound! Not only that, the mics were plugged into a huge, cheap mixing board... again, a behringer - and then plugged into the interface. That was so they could eq before going into their DAW, which was Protools M-Powered. Several of the mics were using adapters to extend their length, some were using those cables that are XLR to TRS, and going into the line inputs on the mixer. Those cables probably came with the cheap vocal mics on the toms.

   The eq on the board wasn't worth the added hiss of an old behringer - it was 3 band with no sweepable frequencies and the roll off was high at 100 hz. I took that completely out of the chain after much fussing from the "engineer" - the guy that owned the laptop with protools on it. Next, I suggested putting the drums in stereo with two overheads and nothing on the hihat. What!?!?!? Take mics off the drums!?!?!?!? This is the first reaction of many drummers. "I'm the backbone of this group, and now you've crippled us!" I thought that was a little harsh. And that's just the hihat mic. Next I pulled off all the tom mics, the kick, and the snare.

   I suppose I have been spoiled for too long with nice gear, but I was beginning to worry about how good I could make this sound.

   We spent awhile with the drummer banging away trying to get a great spread with the two overhead mics. They were as high as they could go on the tripod stands, and spread out pretty far. The cymbals, toms, snare and hihats were coming through nice and clear. The kick was there - just not much low end. I tossed the SM 57 over the snare, and the airiest sounding vocal mic [an optimus - a brand I believe that can only be found at radio shack] underneath, with the polarity reversed. We had a decent groove going, but again the kick was weak, and we had a pretty poor selection of mics happening.

   What I ended up doing was putting another of the vocal mics in the drum just on the other side of the beater [it was an old sony with a built in cable that terminated in a 1/4 TS] - I originally was going to use it as a trigger for a sampler but we ended up mixing it in with the sampled kick because it had such a good sounding attack.

   The eq we ended up doing was minimal  -

  • boosted the highs of the overheads and added a little bump to make the snare crack some more, and rolled off the low end around 120hz. 
  • Took off the lows on the top snare mic
  • Took off the lows and mids of the bottom snare mic and gated it to the top mic
  • cutting the low off of the kick mic because it sounded REALLY BAD
  • I pulled out the top end of the sampled kick to blend it better with the attack from the mic. I also spent some time finding a kick that sounded similiar to the real one on the kit and changed the pitch of the sample to match.

   How do I use an audio source to trigger a software sampler? Most programs have a feature similiar to this, but in Protools they call it Tab to Transient. You push tab, and it finds the next note. It works pretty flawlessly, especially on percussion. So what I do is put the midi track right under the kick track [in this case]. I draw a midi note for the kick and copy it. Then I select both tracks [kick and midi] and press tab. When it finds the next kick note, I push the key command for paste - since I have midi copied, it obviously can't put that in an audio file so it spits it out right where I want it on the midi track, perfectly in time with the other kick. I push tab, then ctrl+v alternately like a madman for 30 seconds or so and I have a complete song's worth of kick triggers. Why would I do that instead of just pasting a sample? The next step is to zoom in to the waveform and the midi velocity - this is one of those tricks that is 100% my own creation... I take the pencil tool and draw the velocity in judging on the size of the waveform! Just try to match the height of the velocity marker with the peak of the waveform, it's easy and fast. Then all the kicks don't sound the same and you get a fairly realistic result.

   After adding a tiny bit of reverb to the snare, the drums sounded as good as they were going to. I thought they sounded pretty good, but the band was ecstatic.

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