The Sounding of the Drums

This past weekend I delved into an area that has eluded me in the past… drum mixing.

A bit of background first…

As far as drums go, I’ve always pretty much relied on others. Even when I played every other instrument on a track myself, I always let someone else handle the drum performance and recording. When no drummer was available I would use prerecorded loops and/or drum machines. This time, on this new project, I’m actually playing all of the drum tracks. To be fair, I’m not playing an actual acoustic kit. I’m using MIDI drum pads to trigger prerecorded drums. So, I’m still letting someone else record the initial sounds but I am performing each drum hit and mixing multiple drum tracks just like a real drum set.

I’ll explain… this is my drum kit:

The Sounding of the Drums 1

The Alesis Compact Kit 7

And this is where it gets its sounds:

The Sounding of the Drums 2

DrumGizmo Is a fantastic open source plugin I found which allows me to trigger drum sounds from a real kit.

Specifically this kit:

The Sounding of the Drums 3

The idea is not revolutionary by any means. But the great thing about DrumGizmo is that its output is not simply a two track mix of triggered drum sounds, but instead the individual mic feeds from the entire kit. So, what I end up with when I am mixing is 13 channels of a fully miked real analog kit… complete with bleed!

Here is a great resource for setting up and using DrumGizmo in Ardour. My tracks look like this:

The Sounding of the Drums 4

So that’s the background.

I’ve been using DrumGizmo for a few months now. What I did this weekend was finally take the process of mixing drums seriously. All of my mixes up to this point have been okay, but I’ve been struggling with the kick drum in particular. No matter how I mixed it I ended up with a big pillow-like thump or a thin ugly boxy sound.

So I did some googling.

It turns out that all I really needed was a little tweaking on the EQ. Specifically, to fix the low end I rolled off levels below 50Hz and gave a slight boost between 80Hz and 100Hz. To get rid of the boxy sound I used a sharp cut at 130Hz and a slight shelf cut between 250Hz and 600Hz. Finally to bring out the beater a little I gave a slight shelf boost at around 4kHz.

I did not come up with this formula on my own. I looked at a number of sites. Here is a good blog with more technical explanation than I am providing.

To top it off I added a gate and a little compression. I use Calf plugins. For these. I don’t have any magic bullet for those settings. I just messed with it till I was happy. And of course, everything changes a little when you bring in the bass guitar and then the rest of the instruments. All rules of thumb aside, the sound has to match the tune.

Here is what the kit sounds like on its own:

And here is the final product: (until I change it again)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. And maybe this blog post even helped? Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.