Two Underrated Techniques for Better Mixes That Have NOTHING To Do With Mixing
I went to the studio on Friday to celebrate ten months of being alcohol-free.
It’s amazing how much clarity, control, and confidence you get when you’re not poisoning your brain every day.
Here are the two biggest lessons I learned from my recent recording session and how they will help you not only record better drums but also make better mixes.
The Goal of the Recording
My goal for the session was to track the foundation of drums and bass.
Recording the bass and drums together can lead to a tighter, more cohesive sound. It’s all about teamwork, and making the foundational rhythm and foundational harmonic structure feel like a whole will make the entire production groove better.
Recording in a Real Studio is Worth It
Although I have a sweet home studio setup, I can’t record drums at home. I don’t have enough input, and it would be very cramped.
Not to mention that it simply wouldn’t sound very good. And as you know, if you get it sounding great at the source, mixing is easy.
So I went to Saint Cecilia Studios down the street from my house. My buddy Steven has run Saint Cecilia for years, and it’s always an awesome place to hang out.
If you have a small home studio setup, don’t ignore the recording studios around you with sonic opportunities you can’t create in your home studio.
Pre-Production Saves Time
Before we even went into the studio, I recorded a quick acoustic guitar and vocal demo and charted out the song for the drummer and the bass player.
Then, I set up a rehearsal so that we could go over the parts and get a feel for playing the song in the same room together.
Just like a good recording will make mixing easier, a good pre-production session and a well-rehearsed band will make the recording session go smoothly.
Recording the Right Sources
The drummer and bass player set up in the live room, and I took my place in the iso-booth off to the side with my acoustic guitar and vocal mic.
The setup went smoothly because everyone in the room was a professional. Relying on amateurs and half-assing things because you’re not skilled enough will quickly erase your willingness to spend another minute in the studio. Having high-quality people help you every step of the way makes the music production process so much more fun.
The only snags we ran into were the kick and snare, but we ignored those because they aren’t that important to the overall drum sound.
During line-check, the snare sounded a little dark.
It was still a cool sound, but we ultimately swapped it out for a brighter snare.
And as soon as the drummer hit the new snare, we knew it was the right decision. It just transformed the whole drum sound.
If I want a dark snare, I can always remove some of the higher frequencies in the mix. But if I start with a dark snare, there are not many things I can do to add something that isn’t there. An exciter, maybe, but I’d rather start with a recording that sounds as close to the finished record as possible.
The kick drum also gave us some problems, so we swapped it out. We thought the vintage Ludwig was the logical choice for the style we were going for. It sounded good in the room, but for some reason, it just felt like a fart through the microphones.
So we swapped it out for a different kick, and the kick sound came alive in the control room.
Tune Everything, Including the Drums
The secret sauce to a killer drum sound?
Yes, it’s not just for guitars. Tuning your drums can make a world of difference, saving you a headache when it comes to mixing. It’s a bit trickier than tuning a guitar, though. For those not blessed with the drummer’s ear, a drum dial is your best friend.
We started with a great kit that was already in tune, but it’s amazing how often this can get overlooked in the home studio.
A well-tuned drum kit will sound better and need less mixing.
However, it’s more challenging to tune drums than a guitar. Unless you’re a really good drummer, then you will need a tool like a drum dial to get an accurate tuning.
Here’s a quick guide if you’re starting from scratch:
- Stretch those heads out after placing them on the drums.
- Use a drum key and follow a star pattern to tighten the lugs just enough to stop the rattling.
- Measure the pressure around each lug with your drum dial, aiming for around 80 for toms and slightly lower for floor toms.
- Adjust until you get an even tone across the drum.
Pro Tip: If the drums are too ringy, dampen them with Moongels or tissue paper and tape. For the kick drum, a bit of blanket stuffing works wonders for a tighter, punchier sound.
The Room Makes the Drum Sound
From concert halls to your bedroom, the environment plays a massive role in the drum sound. High ceilings, larger spaces, and hard floors can make your drum kit sing. On the flip side, small, carpeted rooms might not do your drums justice. If you have the luxury of choice, experiment with different spaces to find what works for your sound.
I went to a studio with a live room to record drums because I wanted a studio room sound.
It’s a little live, but not too spacious like a concert hall. It’s punchy but not too dry. When I listened to the drum recording, it was exactly the sound I was looking for and I can’t wait to let those overheads shine in the mix.
Two Things to Take Away
Two things for you to take from my experience:
- Come prepared: If you spend enough time making sure everybody knows the song, is comfortable with the arrangement, and can perform their parts without trouble, your recording session will feel more fun.
- Use the right source: To get it right at the source, you need to use the right source. If your instrument doesn’t sound the way you want, swap it out. Use a different snare, find another acoustic guitar, or try a new preset. Starting with great sounds means less work in the mix.
Listening to the tracks after importing them into my DAW once I returned to the home studio was a joy.
It was exactly what I needed to get excited about continuing with the song.
Excitement creates momentum. Momentum increases productivity. Productivity leads to finished work.
How are you getting excited about your work these days?