I’m giving away the whole article in this next sentence. Just because you always do something the same way doesn’t mean there’s a better way. If you want to learn how I’ve done this with drums, continue on.
I THOUGHT IT WAS PERFECT
I’d tested a variety of methods for miking and mixing the drums and one day I found a combination I liked for our sanctuary. I was happy with the results and used this combination for quite a while. For me, it was largely focused on the overheads. But, there would be a problem. One day, I found the drum mix didn’t sound as good and I couldn’t figure out why.
Nothing had changed OR HAD IT!?! [Read with dramatic effect – HAHA]
I considered all aspects of the mix but nothing came to mind as the cause of the change. That’s when my daughter sent me a text and after replying to her, I had my AH HA moment. Her text is important and I’ll explain that in a minute.
Drum Mix Components
Consider the different aspects that can affect the sound of mixed drums:
- The MIKING METHOD. Maybe you only have three mics, maybe you have eight, or maybe you only WANT to use four. Each method plays into what’s sent to the mixing board and how it sounds.
- The MICROPHONE SELECTION. There are standard types of mics to use, such as dynamics for the kick and condensers for the overheads. But what mic is on the snare? Do you have another mic that could be used – one with a different frequency response or polar pattern?
- The DRUMMER. There is only so much you can do about that but you have to recognize each one plays differently so what mix work works for one might not work for another.
- The STICKS. Do they use sticks or rods? It matters as the sound is different.
- SHIELD or CAGE usage. Use either of these and you’ll want to use close miking but you’ll also want to make sure there is sound absorption material inside to stop the sound waves from bouncing around for a long time.
- Recognizing the EXPECTED RESULTS. We know how we want the drums to fit in the arrangement.
- The MIX work. This is anything that’s done on the mixer, from EQ to gating to effects.
We used to use a drum shield and that’s when I found my favorite method for miking and mixing the drums. When we got rid of our shield, I made a few MINOR mix changes but what I should have done was started from scratch.
The removal of the shield resulted in a significantly different sound space. My assumption was subtle changes were the only thing that was needed. The worst part…I knew better.
By starting from scratch, I examined all components of my drum mix and found that what was needed was a focus on individual mics and not so much the overheads. This meant both volume and EQ adjustments. I also found that my new method gave me a better result whenever I added reverb to my drums.
Here’s a tip on mixing in overheads and individual kit piece miking from Dave Stagl, “With the overheads kind of dialed in, I’ll feather them up into the kit mix until I get the cymbals where I want them relative to the drums in the room. One thing that’s important in this stage is to watch the phase relationship between the close mics and the overheads. If I’m not high passing the overheads up into the mid-range, I’ll often flip the polarity on the overheads to make sure I’m not losing the meat of the snare when the overheads are up.”
My Daughter’s Text Message
Great mixes can come from proper mic selection, correct mic setup, proper EQ modification, and correct effects usage. More likely, they come when one or more of these is accomplished using creative measures. They come when you have an "AH HA" moment." But where do these moments come from?
Let's say you get stuck on a mix. Something about it doesn't sound right. Suddenly, the solution comes to you. Here's what happened in your brain:
- I'm stuck and have no idea what the answer is.
- I must be thinking about this wrong.
- The brain gets distracted. For me, I received a text message on my iPhone.
- An answer, now seemingly obvious, appears.
There's no way to guarantee AH HA moments but you can jump-start your brain into producing a possible AH HA moment:
Relax your brain - stop trying to solve the problem and let your thoughts wonder. As you're thinking about how good that cup of coffee tasted this morning, your brain is taking puzzle pieces of knowledge and experience and moving them around. And that's when the pieces fit together and you have that AH HA moment.
The Take Away
We should always strive to create our best mix for every service and that’s where it’s helpful to have a step-by-step guide, like Audio Essentials for Church Sound. However, we can never assume that our newly perfected drum mix or bass or acoustic guitar mix is the same mix we should use for the rest of our mixing career.
It’s OK to use last week’s EQ settings but only as a baseline for this week. Maybe it will still sound great. Maybe something has changed and an EQ or mic adjustment is necessary. Maybe it’s time to start from scratch.
The Next Step
If you want to dig more into instrument mixing, check out: