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Sound Advice

Drums Compression Part II by Tim Crich

Professional Sound continues tips on drum compression that was started last issue…
Compressing the room. Run the room microphones through a compressor on high compression and fast release. When the player is playing, the ambient microphone level is lower, removing any unneeded cloudiness. When the player stops, the ambient microphones open, making it sound as if the player is in a large ambient room. As with many things in the studio, compressing room tracks is your personal preference. Do what you feel works with the song.

Level the drums. If the drummer is playing with both sticks on the snare drum, some of the hits may be louder than the rest. To raise the level of the lower ones, split the signal into two. Affect one of them how you normally might, gating out all but the main or loudest hits.
Send the second signal to a limiter, and compress the loudest part. Send a buss output from the first snare channel into the side chain of the limiter. When the snare on the first track hits, that controls the compression of the limiter. Blend the two tracks until both the crispness of the loudest snares, and the subtle in-between parts are properly audible.

Drum gates. With proper microphone choice and placement, leakage from one drum microphone to an adjacent microphone can be minimized. Before you reach for the noise gate to eliminate leakage, choose the right microphone and place it properly. Messing with gates during recording can result in painting yourself into a corner. Sometimes it’s better to wait and gate during the mix, especially when recording a dynamic drummer. Sometimes noise gates are not even needed.
Gate the drum. It is not uncommon to add some degree of gating on the kick, snare and tom-toms, but the cymbal microphones are not normally gated during recording. If the internal trigger on a drum gate isn’t fast enough:
(1) Mount a small contact (pickup or lavalier) microphone to the rim. This tight microphone will open the noise gate faster.
(2) Listen to the contact microphone, sweep the equalization to find the drum’s most prominent frequency, and accentuate it.
(3) Run the signal through a tight noise gate to make it sound like a click.
(4) Plug this into the side chain input of the noise gate on the drum.
This really only works when the player hits solid drum hits. A drummer lightly tapping the drums may not trigger the gates as planned. If the drummer uses brushes, forget about using a noise gate.

Gate the tom-toms. Eliminate leakage in the tom-tom tracks without using a separate microphone as a trigger.
For each tom-tom:
(1) Split the signal coming from a tom-tom microphone into a second channel
on the console. Insert a noise gate on the first tom-tom channel.
(2) On the second channel, determine the fundamental frequency of the tom-tom. Accentuate it by setting a thin Q, then pulling the other frequencies.
(3) Gate and equalize the signal so all that comes through is a solid click when the drummer hits the tom-tom. Leakage from any other instrument, even other tom-toms, should be dialed out.
(4) Run this output into the input of the sidechain of the noise gate that was inserted on the first tom-tom channel. Any time the drummer hits the tom-tom, the trigger opens the noise gate, allowing the signal through. Due to the slow build of a tom-tom sound, try using a contact microphone.

Tim Crich wrote the bestseller Assistant Engineers Handbook. He has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio, and has worked on records by Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Cher, Bon Jovi and many more. This article is excerpted with permission from his new book Recording Tips For Engineers, available through www.musicbooksplus.com. For more information, see www.aehandbook.com.

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