Welcome back, and also, welcome to the closing topic for this month's focus on Engineering Drums. Today, I want to explore the post recording stages and how, with the right processing, you can really enhance and level up your drum recordings by simple and effective ways providing you’ve recorded them well.
These tips are the last steps in the overarching process of engineering drums, so hopefully, if you’ve not employed these techniques before reading today's blog, then they will definitely have an impact for you going forwards.
Let’s dive in!
A Sense Of Space
I’ve said a few times before how important your room mics are. The room and the sound of your room are arguably 50% of your overall sound when recording drums, and without the proper room, you’re always going to be left wanting when listening back to what you’ve recorded. Now, admittedly it is difficult to find the right room for you, and harder still to either build one yourself or rent one out every time you need to; which leaves most home studios in a rather difficult position.
Thankfully, we live in an age where technology already has several solutions for us! The main one being samples and reverb sends. Samples are a great way of not just enhancing the individual parts of the kit, but they can be used to also build a room sound totally out of the room samples that come readily available with most drum sample libraries. My personal favorite is the original Getgood Drums drum samples from the first Halpern kit, which were recorded at Middle Farm studios in the UK which I've used time and time again to build an entire room for drum shells I've recorded in a small room. All you need to get started is a software to trigger samples from, such as Slate Digital’s Trigger 2, and the drum library of your choice.
There’s another great way, however, to go about solving the same issue without using samples which is by using reverb sends to build a room sound. There’s a plethora of various reverb plugins out there so nailing down a great sounding room within one plugin is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, so instead I’d rather let you in on my preferred choices. Waves Audio has one of the best sounding drum rooms I’ve heard within their plugin Trueverb. Simply load it up on its own channel, select the preset ‘Drum Room’, and send the kick, snare, toms, and whatever else you like into it and dial in the volume appropriately for your mix. My second main reverb plugin of choice is Valhalla Vintage Verb, purely for the simple reason that it sounds great and there’s no end to the various ways to dial in the sound you’re looking for in basically no time at all.
Smash The Hell Out Of It
Once you’ve got your room sound created, or if you were able to record room mics in the first place, once you’ve adjusted the level of them appropriately to balance them in the mix, if they’re still not bringing as much life to the party as you’d like, there’s another way you can make that happen. Smash the life out of them with parallel compression.
Compression has a remarkable way of adding movement into the sound you’re creating thanks to the way it ducks the audio down and releases it, almost making the sound breath in a way. The best way to get that movement is with a high ratio compression using VCA or FET styles, mixed with a medium attack (around 10ms attack is where I like to start), and fast release speed (usually as fast as I can get the compressor to work). Bring the threshold down so you start to really hear the compression working and usually the distortion that happens when you push these types of compressors.
Once you have the audio far too over processed, start to use the mix dial to add some of the dry unprocessed signal back into the sound. I often find that if I’m compressing anywhere around -10 to -20db, I roll the mix dial back to somewhere between 30 or 40%. By blending the compressed and unaffected signals together, you create enough movement in the sound without it feeling like it’s too much. One of my favorite compressors to employ with this technique is the Talkback Compressor from Korneff Audio which emulates the old limiting compressor built into the talkback circuit of SSL desks.
Engineers would purposely leave this on and record the signal going through it to get an outrageous sound back in the 80’s and you can hear it on many of the synthwave styles back in that time. Thankfully, because it's a talkback microphone circuit, there’s little to no controls to get too confused with if this technique is new to you, and the main 3 dials to create the sound you’re after are simply the Listen 1 dial which acts as the input gain, Blend which is your wet to dry mix, and finally Make-Up Gain which does what you’d expect. I use this all the time to help bring a larger than life sound to my room mics, but you can also use it in general as a parallel bus compressor to add more impact to the transients of the drums and enhance the drums that way.
Whatever compression you try, or the samples you use, or the reverb style you employ; remember that the main thing that will really give you the drum sound you’re after is the way you’ve recorded them in the first place. So, if you’re reading the blog for the first time, and you’ve not seen the previous posts in this month's focus, I highly recommend going and reading them after this one - until next week though, stay creative.