Mixing Room Mics
Room mics, it's different every time. Every room you work in is gonna require slightly different treatment, but they tend to be nice and fun because you get to have a bit of fun with compressors and it can be a really good place to try out some character compressors that maybe are not very clean sounding at all, introduce a lot of distortion or have a very thick, kind of pumpy sound to them and you can use those to really make the room sound larger than life. I'll actually start with the mono mic that we threw up, the U 87. The cool thing about a mono mic is it doesn't distract so much from the-- I dunno, you can actually get pretty messy with it, you can distort is very heavily, you can roll off a lot of the top end, but it doesn't detract too much from the overall, the side picture of the kit, it doesn't muddy up the sides, it doesn't muddy up the cymbals on the side. If you make it too loud, then it will start to pull the cymbals inwards and you'll really hear it on the sustained pa...
rts. It's the kind of thing that you blend in softly underneath the sound of the drums. But I chose here to use the compressor that we stuck on during tracking, just to monitor with, the Kramer PIE compressor, which is made by Waves and I really like this compressor, it's got a wicked sound for room mics. It's very characterful, it's supposed to be like a buss compressor, but for me it's probably too color to use it in that capacity. I don't pay very much attention to the VU meter because when it says you're doing 3dB of reduction, it sounds like a lot more than that. So we'll just listen first to that mic dry and then I'm gonna put the compressor in place. (drum track plays) So as that compresses you're getting a lot of extra distance, I feel like, on the snare sound especially. You really start to even out the difference between the direct sound you're getting through the front with the room mic that's coming from the back, but we're bringing up a huge amount of cymbal noise in there as well and it doesn't sound very good. So there's a couple of ways we can deal with that and the first on of those is EQ. I chose to use this EQ and actually placed it before the buss compressor because I felt like the kick was also setting the compressor off a bit too much, so I figure that the high-pass filter here would really help reduce that. If I actually just take off the other EQ parts that I have going here and just show you what it sounds like with just the high-pass filter. (drum track plays) Don't get me wrong, the kick does sound kinda cool in that microphone, but it's kind of creating too much movement with the cymbals for me. For a different style of music you could maybe use that. Or you maybe wouldn't compress it so hard and use it as more of a kind of kit picture mic. But a combination of low-passing and finding where the cymbals really sound harshest is a really good way of getting rid of that character while also, since this is a mono mic, it doesn't matter so much about the top-end information. We're gonna use it basically to fill out the meat of the drums. So I'll start with it at zero, playing alongside the rest of the mix. I'm also sending some of this to the PowerLock compression buss. And then I'll bring it up and level and hopefully we hear it kind of creeping up underneath the drum sound. (drum track plays) So it sounds cool, but what I'm finding is that when I'm getting it to the kind of level that the shells are really starting to sound exciting, the hi-hat, for example, is just way out of control. And I can hear the overheads, but I can also hear a really clangy-sounding hi-hat right in the middle and I don't like that. I have a trick for working around this, and I tend to use this on all my room mics. And again, I'm gonna lean on a FabFilter plugin and I have this kind of saved as a preset. This is a gate plugin like we used on the snare, but it has an upward mode which means that instead of cutting volume in between things, it actually expands the volume when something crosses the threshold. So it's gonna bring up the level of something when it crosses the threshold and in that case I'm gonna use the snare drum as an external sidechain, we spoke a bit about sidechaining earlier. I'm gonna feed that into this and what it's gonna do is every time the snare is hit, the room mic, this particular room mic, is gonna come up in volume. I'll show you what that actually sounds like, but to do so I have to have the snare track playing otherwise this isn't hearing the sidechain. So I'll hit the the snare sorter button and we'll just listen to those two mics together. (drum track plays) What I did there was just exaggerated a lot so that you could really hear the snare kind of bumping up in volume every time, every time it hits you can really hear the decay coming up in the room mic. (drum track plays) You can actually see it happening there on the fader as well. I'm gonna bring this down in ratio a little bit, I don't want it to be too obvious. But what that's gonna give me is just a little bit of extra headroom so that I can get the snare especially to sound really big and explosive in that microphone, but the cymbals are gonna be kind of reduced. (drum track plays) So I'm really hearing the effect of that and I've kind of got the hi-hat to a tolerable level. Hearing it in solo you're hearing it quite up front and grungy. Once the rest of the mix is in place, you're probably not gonna perceive that. It's also gonna help with this gluing together of the drum kit sound that we've been talking about. When it comes to the other pairs of rooms we've got two stereo tracks here and I've chosen to treat them slightly differently, to one another, that is. And the first ones which I looked at were the KM 84s on the stereo bar, which had a very clean sound to them. (drum track plays) So the compressor I chose to use is actually a lot more than a compressor, it's also a kind of saturation device and all of the different parts of this work together: we've got a saturation section over here, a compression section over here, which kinda just has one knob, but then multiple modes and also a mix control, and then there's an overall kind of density saturation control in the far end. And even if i were to set this so it's not really doing anything, if everything's at zero, just having this in the chain is actually gonna do something to the sound. If I bypass and then put it on, you'll hear. (drum track plays) For one, it's made things a lot louder, so I'm gonna turn that down a little bit so we can compare it like for like. (drum track plays) There is still a little bit of a level difference, but hopefully what you can hear is it's kind of rounding out the sound a little bit. It was also triggering just a tiny bit of compression, but really not very much. I love what that does, it doesn't really make it sound dirty, yet, but it just adds, again, a kind of cohesion, a kind of glue to the sound I'm hearing through those mics. I am now gonna add a little bit of saturation to that and see what happens when I do that. (drum track plays) I like what that's doing there, it's giving me a little bit of extra grit on the snare drum especially. I could push it further by actually reducing the headroom in the saturation unit, let's see what happens if I do that. (drum track plays) So that's sounding kinda cool to me, it's sounding a bit more rock.
It's a little fuzzy on the top of the snare there.
Yeah, exactly, which I think is gonna work quite nicely with the context of the rest of the kit. I don't really wanna hear too much of the very initial transient of the snare in this room mic. It's a little bit delayed away from the mic and I feel like it's gonna blur up that image that we've worked really hard to create in the snare track. So generally with room mics I'm looking to shave some of that off. Also, by reducing the dynamic range, we're giving a more level signal that's gonna sit in the mix and not distract too much. I'm also gonna apply a little bit of compression and I'll do it fully wet and then bring back the mix control and we'll see where we end up. (drum track plays) That to me is kinda cool. I feel like it's brought out more of the room tone and because of the mix control, we're actually able to bring back some of the cleanness of the sound, it's definitely dirtied up, but it's nowhere near as bad as if I'd have left that 100% wet, that was really quite a pumpy room sound. And then finally this density control can be really cool for adding just bit of extra fatness to the shell sound. So we'll hear what that does. (drum track plays) I feel like what I've achieved with that compressor, and I didn't mention that's the Kush Audio UBK-1-- I don't even wanna call it a compressor, it's like a processor, I guess, is I feel like we've extended the size of the room and made it sound a bit bigger, a little bit more grungy. But we've also kept some of the character of that room mic'ing position, which I liked to begin with. I'm gonna go a little bit different routes with the further mics, the ones we put behind the gobos. And firstly I found that there was quite a lot of resonance occurring, which I think was a result of them being behind the gobos, you're getting some reflected sound within that area. And just running a boost around this area I was able to find somewhere where it sounded muddiest. So I'll show you first without, and then I'll scan the area and you'll hear what I was hearing. (drum track plays) Right kind of around there, I'm feeling like there's a lot of woof-y, windy noise going on, so just cutting some of that isn't going to eat too much into the overall sound, but it's hopefully gonna correct for the gobos, but we're still gonna get the benefit of the gobos blocking the cymbals there. (drum track plays) The other thing which I've done is I've used a transient designer, which is something which a lot of people would use to increase the amount of attack, perhaps on a snare drum or a kick drum. I'm not so much of a fan of the sound of using a transient designer for those purposes, but it also has a control which allows you to bring up the sustain portion of any signal and that can work really well in room mics for extending the size. I'll show you what that sounds like, first of all just set to nothing, then I'll gradually increase that. (drum track plays) It's a very different sound compression to me, it doesn't bring out cymbal artifacts in the same way until you really, really push it. And I don't want to push it too far, but doing that just gives me a slightly bigger room sound and hopefully that's gonna contrast nicely with the other pair of room mics. So let's take a listen to those two room mics together and then we're gonna do a little bit of processing to those. (drum track plays) Pretty much already sounds really good. That balance I was gonna adjust it, but to me that's a really nice balance between these KM 84s and the UMC 800s that we had wider. I'm kind of hearing an outward expansion on the hits, which is what I'm always seeking to hear as it hits the close mics and then gets to the far ones, which has the transient designer to kind of extend things further outwards. When it comes to EQing room tracks, my main technique is generally to make it quite loud and listen to it in the context of the rest of the drum mix. I find that when you do that, the frequencies that are most annoying present themselves quite quickly. So I'll just try doing that here. I'm gonna flatten the EQ out and I'll show you what I mean. (drum track plays) Do you hear that? Around there it's a really kind of awkward sound in the kick drum and the snare, and it's not gelling with the rest of the kit sound. Obviously this is very loud in the mix, but by hearing it in contrast and having the rest of the mix fairly in place, you can kinda find the zones where the room mics are gonna fight with that sound, bring those back and then when you bring the level of the room mics back, you get a sound that overall sounds really coherent. Coherency again is the key. (drum track plays) I didn't mention, but there is a high-pass filter here. I'll show you what happens, I'll show you how much of that I'm taking out. I'm not too interested in having a load of muddy snare body especially in the room mics. I'm looking for a fairly thin sound, as far as going to low-mids and down. So I tend to high-pass quite high, probably at about 200, a little bit higher, but I'll show you what that sounds like as I roll that up. (drum track plays) Right around there is good for me I think. You'll notice again there's quite a lot of cymbal wash. I am low-passing this just a little bit. I don't want to have too dark cymbals out to the side, coming from this room mic. 'Cause we've got really nice overhead sound and I don't want to muddy that up too much. So I'm gonna use that same trick that I used on the mono room mic. I'm gonna use this upward expansion triggered from the snare, so every time the snare hits those room mics are gonna come up in volume. I'm gonna bring them back in the mix, and then finally I'm gonna toggle on this notching EQ that I had which is copied from the overhead sound and I'm also gonna use the parallel compression as well to give us our final room sound. (drum track plays) Now listen in context with the rest of the kit, we get this. (drum track plays) Final listen in context, we get this. (metal song plays) So that kind of wraps up on the drum mixing side. I've kind of rushed through the room mics and the overheads 'cause I'm aware that we have a lot of the rest of the mix to look at and we spent a huge amount of time on the drums. Perhaps we can maybe take some questions on that before we move on to bass guitar.
I notice you've used several different compressors. How do you decide which one to use for which task?
When it comes to the stuff we were just dealing with with the room mics, that's very much something which I will just let my mood dictate. I like to pull up a different compressor on each session and just see what happens. I've got a few favorites: the UBK, the Kramer PIE compressor are both ones which I tend to use a lot on room mics, they have a lot of character and give me a lot of extra options. But in general when it comes to the close mics, I've found that the Metric Halo compressor that we used before is a really, really great compressor for really bringing out the attack of stuff, it's got a huge amount of attack. And I've really been enjoying this FabFilter Pro-C 2 compressor that just came out. To me I haven't had to push that quite so hard to get that kind of smack-pop character from the snare drum so I've been really happy with how that one's been working out. But it's just kinda come over time that you find some that seem to more quickly give you the result that you're after. It's not to say that you couldn't get that result with a different compressor, but just you pull it out, make some rough adjustments and it's already most of the way there.
So when you do the rooms, so when you do the rooms do you notice that the compressor on the master gets hit differently when it's soloed? How do you deal with that?
The master buss compressor is really just being triggered by the snare and kick, the room mics are really not gonna be impacted by that too much. I don't really worry about that so much until I'm trying to balance the drum kit with the rest of the mix, to be honest. I've never found it to be a problem to be doing things that way. I haven't been going back and checking, but throughout the mixing process I would be coming over and seeing how hard I'm hitting that compressor over here and using the trim plugin before it to dictate that. We'll actually just take a look now and see what we've... (metal song plays)
To a beginner in the studio, what's the most important or essential EQing-- What's the most important or essential EQing when you're recording drums? So is EQing the most important thing?
Is EQing the most important thing?
I mean EQ is gonna have to be done to drum tracks, I've found, to get the kind of sounds that we're going for with Periphery or any kind of mainstream, commercial rock or metal production, I think there's no way that you could just use microphones alone and compression and get something that's gonna be suitably bright and energetic. If you mean how do you go about EQing things, it's kind of an art form in itself and it takes a lot of critical listening, but the best technique I can give you is something you might have noticed me doing a few times, which is to boost and scan the frequency area. If something's sounding a bit muddy, you kind of scan through the low-mid area and find where it's sounding ugliest and then cut that. I find it's easiest to do that than if you make a cut and jog that around, I find that very difficult to really decide on a problem area. I would also say try and be moderate with your moves. It can be really tempting straightaway where if you're using a new EQ that maybe has a different graphic, you might find yourself making far greater moves than you should be. I try and do probably about 75% less than what my initial move would be. I kind of go the full way and I back it off a little bit because generally the ear gets so satisfied by removing whatever it was that you didn't like that you tend to overdo it, just naturally. So I would say experiment with not EQing quite as much as you think you have to because if the source tones are in place, it's probably not gonna take that much work. But at the same time, if something needs 15dB of boost, then give it 15dB of boost.
Right. Ari wants to know do you have a drum buss where you send all your drums, or do you just send your drums out to parallel compression?
Yeah, so my parallel compression, my reverb and parallel compression both sum back through my drum buss which is over on the very far left. And I didn't really talk too much about it, but I've got another compressor here which is doing extremely little, it's just kind of balancing out the drums in general. I'm not using a particularly fast attack, but I am using a fast release so it's quite transparent. I like what this does, but it's by no means essential. I think when the drums are playing we're only getting 1 or 2dB of gain reduction there. It's just an extra bit of glue and that's affecting both the parallel compression and the reverb as well and that's not got any kind of mix styled in with it, that's serial compression. And then I do have a little bit of further saturation here, which is emulating like an API console kind of sound. And I'm using this module here just to give an extra little bit of shimmer and low-end, but you could bypass these and the drum mix would stay pretty similar. If I soloed that and then bring those two in and out, you'll hear the difference. (drum track plays) I'd say you're getting a little bit of a kind of tighter sound with that compressor in place, but it's really quite negligible and a lot of the time I'll have absolutely nothing on there, a lot of the time, actually. But I have been into this compressor recently, so maybe I'll start using that a little bit more in that capacity. It's very handy to have an overall fader for the drums if it comes to automation or just mixing, wanting to be able to mute everything. I don't like if I've got a mixer with 70 channels or whatever like we have here, I don't wanna have to go from one end to the other every time I wanna silence one instrument. So I generally like to have a final buss set up for all the instruments.
Do you time align or shift your room mic tracks at all?
I have never really messed with that. I know that it's a popular technique with some people, I tend to prefer to get that distance by using compression or the transient designer kind of route. I get the idea though and perhaps-- Whenever I've tried it it's kinda been noticeable, there's been quite a noticeable slap back or it hasn't really added enough for me to warrant doing it. That said, as I say, some people seem to be really into it. Try it, see if you really like it, maybe it will work well for your particular room, maybe you can find the right compressor for it that will smooth over that initial slap and give you something that will work really well. But generally I don't, I kinda get that just by putting the microphones a bit further away.
Cool, one more question and then we'll keep cruising. Tyler wants to know: is it important to remember to bring down the level of the overheads? I noticed the cymbals are just there to color the songs in most cases.
Yeah, I'd say it's quite difficult actually to balance the drum kit in general without the rest of the mix in place. Sometimes I'm a little bit surprised when I solo the drum buss at how things are leveled. And it's also to do with how the whole mix is interacting with the master buss, with the compression there. Like sometimes if I were to mix drums in isolation, I'd probably have the snare too up front and it seems to alternate between having too little cymbals and too much cymbals, it's really quite difficult to judge, but once you hear the whole mix in place, especially with the vocals, the cymbal level kinda tends to dictate itself. I also wanna make sure I have enough level from the overheads to get a really high-fidelity cymbal sound because there are cymbals coming through the room mics as well and that's not the way that I want the cymbals to be presented. So it is always a balance between having those room mics in the mix and not having to resort to using samples, but also keeping the cymbal sound clean. That's one of the main reasons we're using the gating trick to keep the cymbals in check.