Mixing Snare Drum
Let's solo the snare. I'm going to show you first with the reverb and then I'm going to bypass it because it's quite a distinct difference just hearing that and then we'll bypass all the plugins and see what's going on. (drum and cymbals) One thing to note, that sounds like a huge amount of bleed but, bear in mind that there's nothing else going through the parallel compression bust to tame it in between the hits so, it's easy to freak yourself out by listening to that in solo and being like, oh my god, that's so much bleed but, actually, in reality it's going to be a lot less than that when you hear it in context. If I actually get rid of the parallel bust and show you the difference with and without on just the snare track, you'll hear a very distinct difference. (drum and cymbals) So, maintaining the bleed is so important to be on the snare because of exactly this. I need that parallel compression to get the kind of snare sound that I like so, I need to keep the bleed to a minimum d...
uring engineering, during tracking and that's why during tracking I opted to use the B57 even though I felt like SM had a better representation of the snare. And, what we'll go straight into now is actually how I'm maintaining, how I'm moderating the bleed at the source. So, I'll show you now what the actual raw snare sounds like. It's not entirely raw 'cause it's going through our top down mixing. I'll bypass these plugins over here. Again, they're not doing very much. Just listen, this is the snare top and bottom mics. (drum and cymbals) What's really good to note is it sounds really good. It's a well-tuned drum. Matt hits really hard. We chose microphones appropriately and I did apply, I should mention, a small amount of top-end enhancement to the snare top mic which generally always needs to be done. I think it's at 8k on the preempt. It had a top-end boost and I think I must be putting about four DB of shelving eq into that so, it's not entirely as it came off the microphone but, it's also not like, a life or death difference there. It's just helping things along the way but, yeah, hopefully your hearing already that, that snare drum has a ton of attack to it, 'cause Matt hit it really hard, really well. It's also tuned well and if the drum isn't tuned well, it won't have that kind of pop character to it but, there is substantial amount of bleed there. (drum and cymbals) That's the top mic on it so, and you can hear that cymbal whistle coming through quite clearly. The bottom mic is typically where you can help yourself out with that top end information because it's picking up the brightness of the bottom snare so, we'll listen to that now. (drums and cymbals) I don't want to have to lean on that too heavily. That's going to make my snare sound really papery if I have to use too much of that in the mix. So, actually, I think the inspiration for this, was kind of, was it, was it not, it was a Creative iPlus, I think, that I purchased when it came out, the one that was with Kurt Ballou and he was talking about using a dynamic eq, which is basically, an eq will do a certain thing, whatever you set it too, when a threshold is exceeded. That's extremely similar to what a multi-band compressor does. A multi-band compressor just means it's compressor or, it's basically multiple compressors that just act on certain areas of the frequency spectrum and this, funny enough, made by Fat Filter, they keep coming back up again, is an extremely flexible multi-band compressor that allows you to not compress frequencies but, expand them. In other words, in between the hits, when the threshold is not exceeded, it's cutting. It's, basically gating just the high frequencies and I'm just doing this on the snare top mic and this is an absolutely crucial part of getting my snare sound because this is going to really reduce the amount of cymbal that you hear in between the hits without necessarily turning down the level of the cymbals. So, let me show you with and without and then, we'll talk briefly about the settings. (cymbals and drum) Okay, I'm just going to do one thing because the latency correction doesn't quite kick in and if I'm summing those two mics, it will hear out of face for a second. I'm just going to listen to the top mic. (cymbals and drum) It's kind of hilarious really. That one thing there changed my life. It really did. (laughing) When it comes to mixing snares... That gives me so much head room to play with. What I'm doing is I'm cutting, how much am I cutting here, like, 15db of top-end, like, shelving from everything above 2 1/2k. These are not, these are not really strict settings. There's nothing too special about those frequencies I've chosen. You know, you can push it either way and see what happens. But, what's going on is I've got a threshold control here and the snare has so much headroom because it's... we recorded it in such a way to minimize the bleed that it can very accurately see when the snare drum is struck and allow that top-end information through. I've got it set with very fast attack and release so that, the top-end only appears for a split second. The sustain of the snare drum doesn't really need to have too much top-end. It's the attack that really needs that top-end to sound like a snare.
And this is only the snare top that you're doing this to?
This is only on the snare top, exactly.
You've got that high-end in your other mic too.
Correct. So, the bottom mic, this is why I don't do it on the group. The bottom mic is going to have the kind of sizzle of the snare wires throughout the sustain.
So this really, as I say, changed my life completely. Listen again with and without. (drum and cymbals) You can hear it triggering a little bit awkwardly on those ghost notes but, I'm not worrying too much about that, we can, maybe, adjust the threshold and what you're really hearing is just the high hat coming up a little bit, on top of those ghost notes. It's not going to be audible in the mix really and I am going to follow-up with a round of more conventional gating when we get to the bus itself. So, just by applying that we have so much ability now to process our snare. Lets, again, just listen now to the two mics summed and I'm going to switch this in and out and you can hear what the sound is like. (cymbals and drum) So now that we have that bottom mic in there, you can hear the sizzle of the wires. You would never really know that's what's going on apart from the fact the cymbal sounds like we put them in the next room, which is amazing. So, yeah, that technique right there is a lifesaver and I highly recommend you find a plug-in that can do it. As I say, this was probably my favorite one. It's so tweakable. I am actually using a sidechain here. It's triggering from the kind of areas that I think the body of the snare drum lives so, I can set the threshold and really get the ghost notes, as well as the hard hits and there's so much variation that you can apply to the settings here. So, I highly recommend this one. I think the waves, uh, multi-band compressors allow you to do a similar thing where you can change it from a compressor to an expander or a gate in each band and yeah, the Kurt Ballou Creative Live but, he was using, I want to say maybe, a synopsis eq that I don't have. That's a great lesson by the way. The Creative Live one with Kurt Ballou. I learned a lot of tricks from that so, definitely worth checking that one out. So, with that taken care of, we are going to move on to more general equing and compressing of the snare drum and this is the eq that I needed. It's really not very drastic because the source tone was good and this we kind of had from the beginning. This is, this is the whole ethos of the class is not having to fix too much because our source tones are really good. You can see I've got a 3 1/2DB boost up in the top end, a little bit of a mid-cut and this to me, is here because of the microphone that we used. The B257 has a bit more of a honky, mid-range character than a regular 57. It's not too flattering on snare drums. I generally find that, that needs to be taken out afterwards. I'm not having to do anything else to it though. Let's just look what that looks like visually, so you can see. (drum and cymbals) Oh, I need to actually put it on. (drum and cymbals) And, it's actually kind of pretty flat across the whole spectrum and that's pretty much what I look for when I'm trying to scope out how much top-end and low-end a snare drum should have if I'm using a frequency analyzer. Again, this comes from actually equing loads and loads of snares by ear and getting very frustrated with never really knowing, until I reference, whether I've got it quite right and the snare is such a tricky thing to get just right. And then, the one's where I felt like I did get it right, so I had access to the raw tracks or the final tracks from a session that somebody else did, where I felt like the snare was really good, I just kind of noticed this trend that most of those snares are pretty flat across the whole spectrum. Sometimes, they're a bit more scooped in the middle but, there's not a huge amount of extra low-end bump around the fundamental frequency and the top-end is almost always, kind of, extended up. If this was completely raw, I would expect to see a kind-of, downward slope, if the drum was really well-tuned. So, the top-end eq that I applied on the preempt has lessened the amount of work that we have to do but, it's right because the source tone was right. So, again, that's the lesson. If in doubt, try making your snare drum look kind of flat across the analyzer and see what it looks like. You might hate it. You can see it's not completely flat. There's some dips in the mid-range. There's all sorts of much smaller variations within the sound and that, as I was saying, is really where the character of this particular drum lies. But, it does help to record quite a bright sounding snare using a metal snare and if you can use a thinner head, that will also help get you that brighter sound of the source, so that, you don't have to rely on too much top-end boost, which is also going to bring the cymbals out. So, that's our snarey key right there. It's really not very much. The next thing I did is I used a more traditional gate. I don't always have to use these. At the very beginning of the first segment, we talked a little bit about not modifying a drummer set-up and, something with Matt's set-up is, he has his high hats quite low. That gives him the articulation he needs when he's doing more articulate stuff on the high hats and I didn't want to change that but, you might find with a drummer that keeps their high hats much higher, you don't need any gating. Simply having that multi-band there is taking out enough top-end that you don't need to do any gating. When, I do gate, I'm not actually reducing it to zero though and this looks very complicated and maybe I'll kind of minimize a few things but, basically, I'm going to set this gate to be very quick. The release is very short. The hold is very short and I'm only going to take... I'm going to start with maybe, 8DB of production off the snare. I'm not going to take it all the way to nothing because that's where you really start to hear the gate working. Sorry. If I hover over something, it brings up a little help menu thing. That's why that keeps appearing. So, let's see what that sounds like with and without the gate. (drum and cymbals) If you'd have shown that to me and couple of years ago, I would've sworn blind that somebody had pasted in samples on top of the natural track to give you that head room because that really has so much, transient information and so much body, way above the level of the bleed, that it really sounds like you've used a sample on there and it's afforded because of the way that Matt's hitting the drum, as well. It's really worth noting. If Matt wasn't hitting the drum well, none of this would be for anything. But, again, source tone is key. So, that gate is just going to give us that extra bit of head room. Now, that snare drum is going to sit in our drum track and it's going to sound just pristine.
It's amazing how much the multi-band helps you out there.
With the second gate, because a lot of times, you know, I have trouble using just one gate
You know, one conventional gate...
You'll hear, like, the cymbal, yeah, you'll hear it go like psssh.
as it comes through. Which is really a pet peeve of mine and you know what, in this, you might even hear just a tiny bit of that if you listen really critically during the course when Matt's wailing on the open hats. But, the reason why I keep the gate so short is so that that's kind of covered over and that's also where the reverb on the snare comes into play because that reverb is just going to extend and smoothly kind of bring back down to nothing the eq sound. I don't know how to describe it but, basically it's going to blend that sound back in with the kit and it's not going to be quite as noticeable as if I had no eq at all, no reverb at all on the snare. So, even if I was tracking in a really big room with a great room sound, I'd probably have some reverb on the snare just to help with that transition between, like, the gate kicking in. So, the next part of the process is going to be compression and this is not going to need to be too heavy handed. That snare already has kind of a compressed character to it. The reason why I'm going to compress though is not just for that but, it's to kind of combine the top and bottom sound. Currently, when I hear that, I hear two very distinctly different things going on. They don't sound so coherent, not like when you hear a drum being hit in person. That's partly because the bottom mic is just not as dynamic. It's not picking up the attack of the drum so, it's not reacting in the same way as the top mic is. By compressing the two together, I'm going to hopefully, create like one coherent snare sound. It's also going to allow me to have the bottom mic that bit louder without it completely distracting and like we spoke about before, I'm going to use an attack time. Here, I've got, like, just underneath 30 milliseconds. The release time is 100 and something milliseconds there. This is that compressor which I just got the other day. It's great. I think I'm going to try this punch mode though 'cause that really impressed me and I'll bring the threshold down until I'm hearing, to me, a descent amount of compression on the snare drum. (cymbals and drum) That's really starting to sound very exaggerated and I love how that sounds. To me, that so aggressive and in your face. I know that as, it kind of sounds exaggerated right now but, by the time the parallel buses back in filling in some of that information, it's going to be, just about, what I'm after. It's also going to bring the bleed up, as we discussed.
What kind of ratio were you using there?
Again, quite a lot.
I think that was, yeah, between three and four is generally...
And, a four to one ratio is actually pretty high.
You know a lot of compressors go up to, you know, 10, up to 20 or up to infinity, even if it's a brick wall limiter and it can be easy to see the range of it and feel like four is quite low, but, you're actually doing quite a drastic thing to the signal if you're taking away 75% of it on what goes over the threshold. So, generally I find that the sweet spot with a good compressor is somewhere like between six to nine db on a snare and that's as much, as I say, to do with gelling the top and bottom mics, as it is exaggerating the attack of the drum. I'm not going to put the parallel compression back in yet, because I wanted to avert the one last stage, which again, is our snare, sorry is our tape machine. I really love this plugin. I find that with the 15 ips setting it really smooths that top end in a very pleasing way. At the moment, that snare is kind of, a bit too white noisy for me perhaps. (drum and cymbals) And, this is going to help me get rid of that. I'm also going to absolutely slam it. You're going to see it going into the red and the reason I'm doing that is that I'm trying to level off the peak a little bit. As we discussed earlier, the snare piece is so huge, in comparison to the rest of the mix, that that's going to make everything further down the line work really hard to level it off, so I'm going to start by, kind of, clipping that down a little bit using something which is more gentle than, like, a hard clipping device. So, I'll start with it not doing too much and then, gradually increase. Well, actually I'll start with off and then show you what happens when it comes on. (cymbals and drum) So, to me, that is really starting to sound like my kind of snare sound. It's taking out some of the, too much kind of pokiness of the snare when it was just compressed. This is why I put it on the back end. It smooths things out and it's also going to make sure that the snares are all going to peak around the same kind of level. It's really going to add a level of consistency. I don't really like to use that drum leveler plugin so much on snare. I'll do it if the drummer is in need of some assistance but, especially a dynamic drummer like Matt, if I don't have to use it, I won't and in this case, I definitely don't. So, the only part of the chain we haven't spoken about is the reverb and this is the same reverb that I use on, literally, every mix that I do and I kind of stumbled upon it a very long time ago when I started mixing, because this company Stillwell Audio allowed their plugins to be used unlimited, for an unlimited length of time, with no restrictions as a demo mode and I got all their plugins and they were some of the first third-party plugins I had and I didn't pay for them until I took things more seriously and I guess I kind of stumbled into finding that this is a really, really great reverb on especially snare drums. I'm not really looking for a realistic kind of reverb sound on my snare drum. I want something that's going to be a little bit nasty... something that's, this is not supposed to emulate a real space. It's, like, a digital reverb sounding thing along the lines of, like, a lexicon unit but, it's not, like, a particularly hifi sounding reverb. I'll show you what happens, if I actually solo just the reverb. I don't know if I soloed it. Yeah. (cymbals and drum) Oh, maybe because of the fact that I haven't actually put the sound on. (cymbals and drum) So, it's a pretty bright sound. It's like, it's kind of, I don't know how to describe it, it's not like a pleasant space but, when you hear that with the snare... (cymbals and drum) You're also hearing the tom's coming through because they're also feeding to that reverb. When I hear it with the snare, it just has the character that I want. Often, really good reverb, you know, is too polished sounding, too dark or they sound really good on their own but, you put them in the mix and they're just kind of a wash of stuff, airy stuff, which maybe, in a more spacious mix would be great. But, that's it. You can see right on the screen that I use, pretty much, those same settings every time. I load it up on a sound almost like I have a hardware reverb unit in my studio, like you would have had in the outboard gear days and I never really messed with it. I just have it sitting there. It reacts so well to pretty much every style of music that I've ever mixed, because obviously, depending on how you process the snare, it's going to react to that but, it's always just want I want. It seems to blend nicely into the room mic sound as well. I'll go and just play a little segment now that we've got a process snare sound and I'll bypass the reverb and then bring it in. (instruments) So, to me, we're starting to get there.