Your Guide To Home Studio Recording

Archive for February, 2013

Using Multiple Samples, Parallel Compression, And Other Tricks To Give Your Drum Mixes More Punch And Depth

There’s nothing like taking a great sounding room, putting a great sounding (and well-tuned) drum kit inside of it, showering it with perfectly spaced high-quality microphones running into expensive preamps, and finding a great drummer to beat the hell out of the skins. But for many of us, that’s just not feasible.

Fortunately, through the power of MIDI, more powerful computers (with bigger hard drives and more RAM), and some very dedicated designers and audio engineers, it’s possible to produce professional drum sounds without even buying a set of drum sticks. Drum samples are not necessarily new, but the availability of complex collections of them and cleverly designed software to trigger them is a newer luxury.

Another great advantage of this kind of software is that it expands your mixing capabilities substantially. With a real recorded kit and no samples at your disposal, if something doesn’t sound right and retracking is not possible, your only option is processing the tracks recorded by each microphone. Sometimes the result you tried to obtain from the processing ends up inflicting undesirable side-effects to the sound. However, using samples greatly expands your tonal options, especially if you think outside the box.

Does the snare sound flat and dull, but compression and EQ techniques are making it sound different rather than better? If your drums were created with purely samples, you can more effectively shape the sound how you want it, since you can achieve perfect isolation and completely circumvent bleed from other drums on your snare track. Additionally, you can also take another snare sample and blend it together with your first snare sample (this is possible with traditionally recorded drum tracks, but is trickier and sometimes doesn’t yield satisfactory results).

I like fairly natural drum sounds, and it may be ironic, but the ability to mix, match, and blend different samples together is a very valuable tool for shaping drum sounds without making them sound artificial. By doing this, you can take the different aspects you like of different drums and use them to complement each other. Of course, a bit of processing is usually necessary to make drums fit properly in a mix, even with samples, but this technique allows you to get away with a lot less of it, and I feel that the results are often better because of it. Another advantage of this technique is that even if you’re not looking for a completely natural sound, you can blend in samples that already have been processed, but with high-quality outboard gear. This can be a great way to add punch to a drum mix in a way that plugin processing might not be able to adequately achieve.

My favorite software for creating drum tracks is Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0. Also available for purchase are multiple expansion sets, featuring more drum samples. I highly recommend all of them, but the stock version still gives you plenty to work with. Superior Drummer is designed to be mixed as if you had really recorded the kit. All of the samples are completely dry (absolutely no EQ, reverb, compression, etc. has been applied to them) and you can adjust the amount of drum bleed present in each microphone. Bleed control is what makes Superior Drummer so flexible. if you’re using Superior Drummer as the basis of a precisely crafted metal mix where everything must occupy a very specific auditory space, you can set the microphones to have no bleed at all. You can even set the overhead microphones to pick up absolutely nothing but cymbals and get everything else from your close microphones and room microphones, if desired. For a clean, pristine mix, this is a godsend. But if you’re recording a more traditional rock song, microphone bleed is an integral part of the drum sound, and you can dial in as much as you need.

Superior Drummer 2.0

Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0

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