How to Mix: Drums


Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy


Lesson Info

How to Mix: Drums

Well we've gotten everything recorded now with Thunder Pussy, the fabulous band here, and you've been so patient. We've recorded the drums, bass, guitar, lead vocals, we've done some over dubs with guitar, we've done some over dubs with vocals and we've done some crazy stuff, like we did a motorcycle solo, we did a telephone, cell phone actually delay vocals. What else did we do? You just taped a snare to a... Okay, yeah, well we're preparing things for the mix, it's time to mix, so in anticipation of the mix, we've prepared a few things. One is a homemade Cooper Time Cube as a vocal effect. It's a very short delay that goes through a garden hose. And we've also attached a snare to a speaker and done a snare re-amp, actually we printed it to track, to a track in Pro Tools, so that's already prepared and in the session. The last thing I wanted to do before we started today was get our stereo bus together. We don't have a lot of time to do this mix, so instead of like, futzing around...

with individual tracks I'm going to try to do a mix generally starting with the whole mix all together, because as we've been recording, we kind of have a balance. It sounds pretty good, we don't have to start from scratch with this, but what I would like to do is put everything through compression, EQ, and then these weird transformers, these old transformers to give it a kind of ballsy kinda sound. And that may be enough to... To really change and give this a finished, get it to start to sound finished, like a finished record. So, but Scott. Yes? We were having a discussion about how to set this up, and right now we've got our tracks coming up on the console, on the API Legacy basically. And then... Then out of that, through a stereo output. Yeah, so-- Hang on, let me finish. Through the stereo output we're going back into the Pro Tools, into bus, no, into 1 and 2. Into the burl, we've got a wonderful burl IOs over there. And we're going into burl 1 and 2. So, my question is, before we even get started, can we listen to the mix without anything on the way back. So no EQ, no compression, no transformers. We can in here yes. I don't know if they'll hear it out there on the broadcast because they're hooked up to a different feed but you can listen to the board right here. You can switch back and forth-- Well, hang on, I want to know how... I know that this is working like that, but how is everyone who's watching getting the feed? So actually they're patched in right here from... Let's see, where is the input here. They're getting patched into the inputs right here, and right now they're getting fed out from our Pro Tools returns that we're monitoring for the mix. So they're monitoring what we're monitoring from the playback of the mix. So they're hearing 63 and 64. 63 and 64, correct. Okay, so my question is, right now on the way to our stereo mix track, you have patched in... The transformers, the GMLEQ, and the Manley Vari MU as the stereo chain. Okay, can we remove those? So that we're still monitoring through the stereo track... Sure. But... What I'd like to do is take it out, take a listen to what we have, and then be able to put it back in so that we can compare what... To hear exactly what our transformers are doing. 'Cause that's what I'd like to do is to show what these things do, because it's a really interesting sound and I want to show what the, you know, the before and after kind of thing. But I need Scott's help for that. (chuckling) So as... Okay. Yeah. You got a plan? Will you do me a favor? Yes. Will you create a new stereo track? Okay. In Pro Tools. Yes. And off of 3 and 4 of the burl inputs... 3 and 4, okay. We will have the unaffected stereo bus feed from the board. Ah, very smart he is. And then that way we can still leave the chain on 1 and 2. Okay. And what we can do with that is just put that back in some channels on the board. Okay. Wait. And then we could solo one and then solo the others-- No, no. Feedback loop, sorry. Then yeah you'll just solo one and the other and you'll be able to feed it to them. Oh boy, that sounds scary. Hang on a second. How about... Okay, so they're hearing... Hm. Yeah, how is that gonna work? Well let's see here. Oh I know how to do it. I know how to do it. Okay I'm gonna mute that-- You'll just have them both assigned to 63 64. Yeah, have both assigned to 63 64 and then... Just mute on and switch back and forth, and it should be an unaffected chain and an affected chain. Okay, so burl 3 and 4. 3 and 4. Great. Let's see, so 1 and 2 will be the affected and 3 and 4 will be the unaffected, is that correct? Yep. Alright. And then they should both feed 63 64 which is going out to them and we should be good. Kay, I have our monitors turned down just in case something is gonna blow up. (laughter) Oh boy, we got things happening here. I'm seeing this... Alright, now. Now we're hearing nothing, now if I open up this, this is the unaffected. (upbeat rock music) Okay, so now we should be hearing the unaffected. Right now, okay. Go ahead and unplug. Yes. Okay. Put that back. Yep. Okay. So now I'm gonna mute that, now we're gonna check and see what the affected sounds like. Alright, and can you pull the affected? It should be 1 and 2. Yeah, okay, it looks like we have... I think we're set up. So now I'm going to get started here in some of the meat of the song and we're gonna do a really careful listen to the difference between the... The untransformered and the transformer stereo bus. Okay? And this is without the, you know we haven't done any work on the ix at all, we're just listening to the difference between having these funny metal boxes on our stereo bus and not. So we're gonna start by carefully listening to the unaffected. (upbeat rock music) Okay, so that's a little sample of the unaffected, now let's see what it sounds like when it goes through those things. Here we go, we're listening again. (heavy upbeat rock music) A little bit more stuff. Alright, I heard a difference, did anyone else hear a difference? Did you guys hear a difference? Yeah. Mm-hmm. Did you hear a difference? I can actually see a difference on the fish finder that we have up there on the board, you can see the upper end is a little bit curved off. Uh-huh. It just kind of smooths off. It rounds off the top a little bit. Rounds off the top a little bit, yeah. It gives is a little bit more blewf too. Alright, good. That's a good thing. So, I gotta work on the... Mix with the transformers for sure. The first thing I'd like to do, I'm gonna check balances overall and what I'll do is probably go through each of the instruments one at a time starting with the drums, check balances. I'd like to add some compression and some other things to the drums separately. But the entire mix that I'm working on now is gonna be run through the transformers and our stereo bus. Just so what... The stuff that I do from here on out is all gonna be run through this stereo bus. With the boxes on it. Okay, so I'm gonna start with drums and just sit with that for a while, isolate them one at a time, so I'm gonna mute everything else and we'll just work on that for a while. Alright, so I'm muting everything. And our vocals and the motorcycle. Scott? Yes? What are these things down here, do these faders need to be up? No. Alright. Where is out Cooper Time Cube coming back? It should be, look at the input here, the input for the hose is on input 16. So... The pre-amp is 37. Okay, so 37. So this one, let's make a... Let's call this Time Cube. Right? Yep. Great. And I believe I took it out of mic and... And we'll have it live right into this stereo, is it stereo B? Oh... There you go. There we go, great. That should be good. Okay. And then... Good, so that's ready to go. That will be fed off of mix 3. We don't need any of this stuff. Or aux 3 I mean. Aux 3. Yep. Okay. And you don't, do we need the tape delays running at all? Not yet? Not yet. Not until after the drums, right? Yep. Yeah. Okay, I'm gonna listen to the drums for a little bit here. (loud rhythmic drumming) So first of all I notice that our stereo bus is really slamming loud, and that's partly due to these transformers but I'm gonna turn them down at this... Limiter compressor over here. Let's see, I've got an output adjustment and I'll just bring it back, that should help us. Let's double check. (loud rhythmic drumming) Alright. So now we've controlled our basic level for our mix, by adjusting the input and output of our stereo bus compressor. And I'm gonna continue to listen to the drums and listen to the individual tracks now and affect those. EQ them and maybe put some compression on them. (rhythmic drumming) Alright. I'm doing a little EQ on the toms, the floor tom I thought was a little, needs a little more punch, so I'm gonna work on that for a second. I'll look for a spot in the song where there's some toms and I'll just... I'll loop it. Here we go. Loop play. (rhythmic drumming) Oh where are you? Where's our loop? Thank you Scott! No problem. Floor tom, bum, bum. Loop is selected, that's weird. I know, that's weird huh. (rhythmic drumming) I think it's when it's somethings on input, maybe. Oh. Can you just keep playing it for me? (rhythmic drumming) Alright, alright. Thank you. No problem. I'm gonna try... A plug in compressor on this to see if I can play around with it a little bit. So let's see... Edit window views, inserts, I'm going to add. Let's see what they have, I'm not even sure what they got over here. Hm. What do you got? I don't know. (Sylvia chuckling) Alright. Oh, we got a, oh I like this. The Bomb Factory is always good, it looks just like a limited 76 so we'll go with that. And let me play around with this. Hm. Oh, I know. We are monitoring through our stereo... Mix. So if I want a stereo, if want a solo any of these tracks I'm gonna have to solo the end stereo bus. (rhythmic drumming) You know, I'm trying to get more attack out of these toms, and something that's really good to bring attack out of drums are those 160s. Okay. Can we put the 160s across-- Do you want them on... Insert, possible? Insert of the toms? Insert of the toms, which is 4 and 5. No problem. Great. So I'm gonna abandon my idea of using a plug in and let's just go for the 160 and see if that works. So you'll have to press the insert button on the bottom of the channel to monitor the insert return. Okay. What is that sound? That's a weird sound. So the insert button is down at the bottom there. I see. And then it will be the top two 160s that you're going through. Those right there. Yep. Okay. (rhythmic drumming) Alright, okay, what am I not doing here? Solo. (clicking) Ah, let me see, hang on. (rhythmic drumming) Okay. It's gonna work. Let me work on those a little bit more. (rhythmic drumming) Can you keep rolling that? (rhythmic drumming) Great, thank you. Alright, let's see what that sounds like in there now. (rhythmic drumming) Now the rumble of those toms is just, it might be a little to much, I might have to do some kind of gating. I hate to do gating though, I like the sound of open drums, you know? We'll do the gating as a last resort, we'll continue without them. Alright, 'cause we, yeah. We don't have any of the weird stuff in there yet, so... Alright, good. Listen to that. (laughing) That's kind of ridiculous though, I mean you've got to... It might be a little too much. (audience chuckling) Alright, gates. I'm just gonna look, I'm just gonna look. (audience chuckling) I'm just gonna look. Now, dynamics, gates, gates, you know what? I don't even know what kind of gates there are, do you know of gates? Just the regular gate layer? No? There you go. That should be a gate. Okay, alright. Okay. (rhythmic drumming) Alright, wait a second now, if we do that... Oh that's nice, I like it! I like it, okay. And... The miracle of plug ins. (laughing) Oh that ones bad, oh. Oh, then it, it's helping, it's helping. We're not gonna completely get rid of the rumble, we're just gonna reduce it enough to make it tolerable, I think, hopefully. Alright. (rhythmic drumming) Alright. (rhythmic drumming) Now our... Snare re-amp track is coming back-- Over on 53 there. Here? Yep. Alright, I'm gonna take a listen to that. So we printed this track a little while ago, it's actually a re-amp. So we sent the original signal of the snare out into the room out of a speaker that has a snare taped to it, and then we mic'ed up that snare, and we recorded it. So let's see if this is helping or making things not so good. (rhythmic drumming) So here's the snare amp. Ah-hah. (rhythmic drumming) That's without the re-amp. (laughter) It's weird. It sounds like a delay doesn't it. You know we can fix that delay thing. What? Yes, nudging, yes. We're going to look at it closely and see how far away we are and then we can nudge the whole thing back and it should match up pretty good. So I'm gonna zoom into, oh yeah, this is really late. So I'm gonna nudge it back, and I think our nudge is good, alright. We'll nudge it back here, let's see what this sounds like. (rhythmic drumming) So that's with the re-amp, this is without. Maybe a little bit. Okay. Alright. We're gonna keep the re-amp in there but we needed to nudge it back so it was in time with the original snare. Alright, uh-huh, it is way more interesting. (rhythmic drumming) That's pretty damn good, I mean already, right? Nice drumming. (audience member speaking indistinctly) (rhythmic drumming) Alright, I would like to have a little bit of artificial reverb added to this picture, and... What would you like? Well, the Bricasti is often really nice reverb. No problem-- So please hook that up and tell me where it's gonna come back, you also have a real plate too, don't you. We do, we have two plates actually, we have a large EMT 140 and a small EMT 240. The small ones hooked up right now on your mix 2, on your aux 2 ready to go. And it's actually patched in right there. Here? Yep, there's your plate, and then the Bricasti will be right next to it. Here? Yep, and then that will be on send 5 and 6. Okay, let me make that-- Which we might want to cancel all the sends to that because that was their headphone feed before. Got it, will you help with that? Yeah, I can kill all the sends to it If you want to label the return over there. Okay, so, Bricasti... On the right side of the... Yep. Is that how you say it? Bri-cas-tee or Bri-cos-ti? (in exaggerated accent) Bri-cos-ti. (laughter) Bricasti. When Colleen speaks Italian it sounds like that. Bri-cos-tee. Si. Cool, and the sends are down for that. Okay.... I am also going to turn down the sends for that. Send 2, so the Bricasti is send 1, did you say? No, no, no. Send 1 is the tape delay. Oh. Bricasti is 5 and 6. It's the stereo guy at the top. Oh, 5, 6. So the tape delay, is that still coming back? It is. Where is that coming back? Wherever we assign it. So that's the recording of the tape delay. Correct. So let's bring back the tape delay, and we're talking about the slap, is that right? Or are we talking about this guy? Either one, they're both fed from the dame thing still from tracking. Well let's just use the chorus echo, let's bring the chorus echo back... What send is it gonna be? Send 1? It's send 1. It's send 1. So the chorus echo, send 1, returning in 61. Okay. Alright, and bing bang. So, just so you all know what's going on here, we're gonna set up some reverbs. (in exaggerated accent) This is the Bricasti. (audience chuckling) Bricasti, right? (in nasal accent) Bricasti, Bricasti. It's a Bricasti. (audience laughing) This is the M7 and I've found this to be my favorite new reverb if you're gonna get a digital reverb here's a great one to get, it's rackmount Bricasti. Okay, the other thing we're gonna try today is the EMT 2, did you say Gold 240? Yep, Gold Foil 240. Gold Foil 240. Plate reverbs originally started being made in the 40s or 50s, EMT a German company made a whole bunch, you'll find the States and in Europe. This 240 if you want to take a look at it there's one sitting over here, it's behind the rack, and it's over here it's a big box. Sitting there. Check that out, right? It's a box sitting over there and we send a signal into it, it has some pieces of metal suspended and we pick up the vibrations of the metal and it makes a beautiful reverb. That's a 240. The 140... The 140 is, we have a 140 out in the room there, it's this big, giant... It's actually a big sheet of metal hanging suspended in a box. And we might try that. Yeah, I can patch it in. Yeah? It will be on send 4. Send 4, great. Send 4. Let's return it into 62 and 63. Cool, give me a second here. So this is the plate, this is the 2... I don't think 62 will work unless we go into the insert return. How about the 63 and 64? Yeah, you'll just have to press the insert return for that. Okay. 'Cause there's no EQ module up there, so... Oh I see, okay great, no problem. Thank you. Where is the 240... And what send are we using for that? That's gonna be send 4. Send 4, is there any send 3? Send 3 is the Time Cube. Okay, Time Cube. And the Time Cube is coming back here and that's send 3. Alright, we're getting our mix together now. Alright, while he's doing that I'm gonna listen to what's going on with the 240 plate and the Bricasti and see if it works with our drums. (rhythmic, echoing drumming) Now did you hear that? That's the EMT 240. That's that little box over there. (audience mumbling in agreement) It's pretty cool. It's kind of cavernous. Yeah, kind of. Let's see what the Bricasti's doing, and the Bricasti's actually on a shimmering sky setting, we'll see what that's like. (rhythmic drumming) 5 and 6 you say? (rhythmic drumming) I don't see anything getting into that Bricasti. (rhythmic drumming) Oh, there you go. That's the on for this, that's line, on is up there. Oh, sorry about that. (rhythmic, echoing drumming) That's also kind of cavernous, you know? I can adjust the time down on the plate too back there. Let's bring, can you bring the time down on the Bricasti? That... How about the plate? I can do that plate easier. Okay, let's do the plate. The plate has a button on the plate. Great, yeah bring it down quite a bit. So I'm sending... A little bit of the snare into the plate, and I'm gonna see if adding a little fake reverb to the snare will make the drums more exciting. Maybe we don't need it at all. Is that better, for the plate? (rhythmic drumming) Not really hearing it. Not hearing it. (rhythmic drumming) It was working. Yeah, where did it... That's odd. It is odd. You want to pull down the returns real quick? I will. Let me see something here. (buttons clicking) Alright, I'll bring you back up and let's see... I didn't change, it was going there before, right? Yeah it was, when it was long. (rhythmic drumming) There is it. We got one side. Hold on, bring down the returns for me. (rhythmic, echoing drumming) It could be because I got this thing going here too on this channel, this line button doesn't seem to be turning off. Oh. That might be what's going on, let me try this again. Yeah, that sounds like both. Is it? Yeah. Yeah, great. Awesome. Is that short enough or do I need to shorten it down more? I think that'll do, that'll be alright for us. Okay. (rhythmic, echoing drumming) So actually what I'm gonna do is just add a little bit of the plate right in the middle, I'm not gonna have it a big stereo plate, I'm just gonna have a little bit of reverb in the middle of the picture. Just to add a little more space and depth. Yeah, cool. Alright. (rhythmic drumming) Now this is our room, and yeah, wow. There's a lot of cymbals in it, let's take a listen to it. You can also hear the guitar bleeding, which I don't mind. But maybe there's something else we can do to this room to make it more interesting. (rhythmic drumming and hint of guitar) Wow, it has got a lot of cymbals, and that's why I like using the hose. (chuckling) So I'm gonna turn on the hose now and we're gonna compare that with this room. Here's the room, here comes the... Here comes the hose. (muffled drumming) Right? Isn't that nuts? That's good, alright. Let's try using the hose instead of the traditional room and see what we've got. I'm gonna add the hose into the drum picture. (rhythmic drumming) Ah-hah. Wow, I'm stoked. So good. I'm stoked, I think this is really turning out good. Love the hose. I think I'm gonna start working on the bass. Can I ask a quick question about-- Yes! Yeah. When you were attempting to put the gate on that floor tom, is there a reason why you didn't attempt to EQ out those higher frequencies instead? Well what I'm hearing that needed the gate was the whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo, the constant rumbling of the bottom skin while the drums are playing and the toms are not playing. Did you hear what that was? Yeah, yeah, I just thought maybe since what you're trying to get out of the drum is a different frequency, that you could EQ out the whoo-whoo-whoo. Oh, I suppose so. I'm gonna try that for a second, I'm gonna see if it kinda sucks the life out of it, I'm afraid that it would take some of the frequencies out that I'd want. But let me try that for a second before we move on. Good idea. (audience chatting indistinctly) (heavy rhythmic drumming) Yeah. Okay, so maybe I am adding some of the problem tone in there. I am gonna back that down and see if we still get the power from that floor tom, good idea. Power! (heavy rhythmic drumming) You know-- It sounds fantastic. It does? I think it is. I think I'm gonna split the difference because I want a little bit more of that, but it does help. So let me put a little bit back, and this should do it. (heavy rhythmic drumming) Alright, I'll go for that. Drew, are there any questions about drums or mixing or anything? There's one that we have so far, and it's whether or not you're mixing without aligning the drums. Aligning the drums? So yeah, it says, "Are you mixing the drums "without track alignment?" Track alignment, what does that mean? Panning? No, I think they're talking about actually sliding all the tracks in Pro Tools... Oh, so that they're aligned. So in Phase... Phase, well I record things in Phase, so if the question is track alignment and maybe there's, there's probably something that I don't know about, which I should. But the challenge is to have the drums sound better because they're aligned, Phase aligned, I try to do that in the recording. And I did spend a great deal of time listening to individual mics before we started recording to make sure that they were aligned and we got the best sound relationship between all the mics before we started recording. So yes, I think the alignment of the tracks is very important but I do it in the recording side and not in the mix side. Unless there's a problem and then I'll fix it then.

Class Description

Over the last 30+ years, Sylvia Massy has built a career as one of the gutsiest and most innovative recording engineers and producers. She has worked with legends like Prince and Johnny Cash, and won awards for her work with bands like Tool, System of a Down and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get a peek inside the recording process of one of rock’s legendary engineers. 

While she is a proficient master of vintage gear, Sylvia stresses that great records come not from having the right gear, but from capturing great performances. Join Sylvia as she records a song in the studio with Seattle alt-rock band Thunderpussy, and learn how to work with an artist to capture that magical take in your own work.

Pulling from her years of experience and sharing stories from her newly published book Recording UnHinged, Sylvia will show you:

  • How to get interesting and vibrant drum sounds, using the room and the drummer to your advantage
  • Capturing great sounding guitars at the source, without editing and reamping
  • Pushing vocalists to deliver their best vocal takes 
  • Mixing both in the box and through a console using outboard gear

Sylvia is also known as a prolific educator, speaking and teaching at some of the best recording schools around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s most celebrated A-list producers. 


Jimmy Foot

This Studio Pass episode with Sylvia Massey covers a lot of ground. From fundamentals like correct mic placement and phase to experimentation with amps, cell phone delay and a few extra parts, Sylvia makes it fun! I have been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of great engineers and producers. I haven't had the opportunity to work with her, but Sylvia is certainly in that category, and anyone who gets a chance to work with her would be a lucky person. This broadcast is the next best thing. Great job there at Avast Studio and fantastic camera work! And as for Thunderpussy; you guys rock!

Marc Felish

Wow, that was such a blast. Thanks so much Sylvia and everyone else for making this such a fun experience. I picked up so many new ideas that I can't wait to try out! Sylvia is such a creative producer, it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall watching everything. Loved it!!

Marcus Soares

Awesome! A great opportunity to pick into the creative mind of one of the greatest and get that kind of knowledge that you can't acquire otherwise. Highly recommended!