I had a production session today with Brian Kroll of My Son The Bum (www.MySonTheBum.com). He's got some very interesting music and an even more interesting project. Spend an afternoon with Brian Kroll and you'll enter the world of creativity going on inside his mind. He's constantly jotting down voice notes and memos of song ideas that he, unlike many of us, will actually come back to and finish. His catalog is enormous. We're in the process of revamping 3 hard drives worth of music, originally recorded in various studios over the last 10+ years. He's had different drummers, bass players, vocalists, guest guitar players, producers, recording formats... You can see how song to song we had some obstacles to overcome. In this post I'm going to discuss how we dealt with the drums, but there will most likely be a part 2 and 3 diving into the bass and vocals.
On a few My Son The Bum songs the bottom snare microphone was a bit overcooked. It was printed to tape a little too hard and the punch was lost and became smeared. The top mic luckily sounded great. I was happy to not have to fully replace the snare because the drummer played with a lot of ghost notes and nuances that replacing would have taken a lot more time and detail to get just right. More on that later. I made a copy of the top snare mic track to use to sample a new bottom. It provided a nice transient that was lost in the bottom snare mic when the tape distorted it. The key here is to have a library of nice multi-velocity samples, and then to pick the right one. I auditioned a few using Slate Trigger 2 comparing the tuning of the top mic. When I found one that matched close enough I flew in both the top and bottom mic samples and turned the blend back to 100% dry, listening only to the original top snare track. Im listening for the pitch here and trying to get my ear used to it. Then, I quickly switched back to 100% wet listening only to the top snare sample (Trigger has a mixer that lets you mute, solo, mix, pan etc. making this easy). I tuned the snare top sample until it matched even though we won't be using the top sample, it will be much easier to compare tunings with. Then, I matched the tuning increments to the bottom snare sample and muted the top. Now I have a snare bottom sample that will blend right into the rest of the kit. This is important to get right if you plan on using the overheads and room mics as a part of the drum kit sound. Sampling any old bottom snare mic can leave with you a disconnected snare sound, which is never what we want when trying to supplement a sound that was missing.
p.s. You can plan to do this a head of time if you're trying to record drums and are tight on mics or channels. Forget the bottom snare, outside kick, or anything else you know you can supplement later. And if you don't have the library to supplement, make your own! Track the essentials then move your mics around the room and sample the whole kit with 8 room mics to play with later.
Replacing a drum to sound natural can be a delicate process. I start pretty much the same way I would if supplementing - matching the tone and tuning to the original. After that it's about being creative and doing whatever it takes to get every hit sampled accurately. Kick drums are usually pretty easy to set and forget since they're no where near as detailed as a snare with rolls and ghost notes. But what do you do when have to fully replace a nuanced snare drum?
The triggering plug in does not need to be the first plug in in your chain!! I can't stress this enough. Sure, Most have a filter section to roll off the highs and lows but you can have much more control over what the trigger sees by putting a nice graphic EQ before it in the signal chain! EQ out anything thats not the snare and don't worry about what it sounds like! We aren't trying to make it sound better, we're just trying to feed the trigger something more isolated.
That should take care of 90% of the snare hits, but if you lower the threshold low enough that it starts trigger the ghost notes you might start to get flams and double triggers on the hard hits. Who says you need to do this all on one track? You don't! Duplicate the track and drag only the ghost notes to it so that you're left with a trigger track of only hard hits and a trigger track of only the lighter hits. Do this as many times as you need as different sections come up. Or, you can automate the trigger threshold throughout to song until its just right.
I needed to create an ending to a song that went on for too long. There was a nice drum hit with a cymbal crash that I could use and fly in at the last hit, but it needed a something to que the ending. I had no usable samples or fills in the original recording that I could fly in, so we were left with sampling.
I went through my library in search of the most natural and unprocessed rack and floor tom samples. I found some that were big and punchy but had some ambience in them as well. This was important because I would be adding samples that weren't originally played, meaning they wouldn't be in the overheads and room mics. Having that bit of room tone made them slide right into place and feel like a part of the kit. A touch of EQ and finding the right level and the song now had an ending.
A common theme across all three types of sampling is tone matching and blending. We aren't trying to fool anyone, modern recordings and mixes are larger then life and completely unrealistic! Sampling is a great tool to make our drums really bang, but they should work in a way that moves the song without making the listener think about the drums. How are you using drum samples?