MY THOUGHTS ON DRUM REPLACEMENT

MY THOUGHTS ON DRUM REPLACEMENTScreenshot 2015-06-17 15.10.32

I know it’s been awhile since my last blog so I’m doing a quick one here.

When bands come into the studio to record drums on of the big topics of debate is that of drum replacement. For those of you that don’t know drum replacement is a technique where the recorded drum track ( either microphone or trigger) is few into a software that senses each hit and plays a prerecorded sample instead of the recorded audio.

I have mixed feelings on this, and I’ll tell you why.

I think it has a time and a place.

Modern metal music has gotten increasingly precise, intricate, and FAST! So much so is the need for precision that some bands don’t even record real drums at all for their records. They program their drum parts into software instruments like Toontrack’s EZ Drummer, or Superior Drummer.

With that said drum replacement has been happening for years. Way before the computer studio. Electronic drums were used a ton in the ’80’s and those hardware units got used for drum replacement in the ’90’s. Even Nivana’s “Nevermind” album featured a sample replaced kick drum.

The reason to use drum samples is a matter of control, and consistency. At 290bpm a drummer playing 16th note double kick parts is not going to have the power and consistency of hits as he does in sections where he is only using single kick. It’s just physics.

So in order to make the drum part sound like he is hitting fairly consistently, and each hit with power, we can use samples to make this possible.

The other main reason is sound isolation. Now we are used to hearing such produced, clean, recordings it’s tougher than ever to get a “pro sound”. When miking up a drum kit it’s common practice to put a mic on basically every piece of kit, totaling 8-16 or more mics!CREEZ DRUMSET

While this creates many issues than can be discussed in other articles for us here this means one thing….

BLEED!

As in parts of a kit “bleeding in” to other microphones on the kit. The biggest offender by far is the hi-hat bleeding into the snare mic. The snare drum itself is probably the loudest and bleeds into every single other mic, however this isn’t as problematic as the hats bleeding into the snare track.

A snare drum is one of the most prominent parts of just about any mix. It provides the punch and groove of a song and needs to be consistently featured. This means pretty heavy compression and eq for modern styles of music. This also means that anything else in that mic is going to get louder and more prominent as well. This is also true to a lesser extent to cymbal bleed in to the tom tom tracks.

the cymbal bleed on these tracks has a tendency to wash out the mix and destroy stereo imaging of cymbals.

One of the solutions is to replace the hits with samples. It’s an easy solution. You get nice clean snare and tom tracks with no bleed and the imaging of the whole kit is superb and you can also remedy the hit consistency mentioned earlier.

These are the most common types of replacement and I do use them.

However…..

I don’t like to.

One of my favorite things to do in the studio is to get a great drum sound.

You work so hard picking the right drums, tuning them, and picking just the right mics, placement, and signal chain.SM7 snare placement

All just to use the tracks as fancy triggers?

I try to work with the idea that I won’t ever be replacing the sounds. I use the pickup patterns on the mics and their placement to control bleed. I also work with the drummer to see if I can get a bit more distance between problem spots like the hat and snare.

But here is the most important drum mixing device ever created!

The drummer.

The best drums sounds come from a drummer who hits consistently with confidence and knows how hard to hit each element, in effect “mixing” himself. So if I have a good drummer and a good kit, I’d rather do a few extra takes and get things so sound great right then and there than just go around sample replacing everything after the fact.

But if I do.

I try to record samples of the actual kit we are using.

You can just use “boxed” or “canned” samples that you purchase or come with the software, but I prefer to use sounds that we worked to create.

I like to blend in samples.

I will mix the kit the best I can and then add the samples in as another track and just blend them in enough to do the job.

So in the end, as with anything else, I see a technology that has something good to offer and I see it’s overuse. This is however art and is therefore subjective, so do whatever gets you the sound YOU want.

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10 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Studio Time

Ten Tips for Getting Ready to Hit the Studio
by: Julia Reimers

So, you’ve spent months or years of your life preparing your material and now it’s time – you’re bringing it to the studio! Maybe you’ve done this before, or maybe this is your first time, but here’s a handy list of tips you should go over before you get there to make sure you’re really ready and the process goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Have a Plan

hannibal planKnow your goal for the project. Get together as a band beforehand and discuss what you want to achieve in the studio. Do you want a dirty, raw, live feeling EP? Or are you looking for a polished, highly produced full-length album? These questions greatly affect budget, scheduling, and recording techniques. Once you’ve figured all of that out, get together with the engineer to go over what you want and a schedule for getting things done. That way everyone knows that to expect when they show up each day.

2. Know Your Material.

It may seen obvious, but it’s actually pretty common for bands to show up at the studio and start questioning the parts they thought they already knew.

“Do we play that part three or four times?”

“Wait, are we hanging on the A going into the transition?”

And, the most common one, “I didn’t know that’s what you played there.”

It’s easy for this stuff to get overlooked during live performances and rehearsals, so it’s important to keep that in mind when preparing to go into the studio. Knowing “your material” doesn’t just mean knowing your parts – it means knowing what everyone else is doing too.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice.

Not only is knowing your part important, but so it knowing how to play it. Many bands go into the studio saying, “We’re a super tight band, we won’t need much time at all”, but under the scrutiny of a microphone things can be very different. Minor mistakes and sloppy playing that were never noticeable before become glaring.

4. And When You Practice, Do It to A Metronome.

You should be doing this anyway (for the love of God, especially if you’re the drummer). Over time it helps you become more solid player with better timing.

Recording to a click in the studio isn’t 100% necessary but it is the standard for 90% of recordings. That’s because the advantages are enormous – it allows for the ability to copy and paste sections, precision editing, and being able to punch in over mistakes with ease. Keeping the timing uniform sounds professional and tight.

5 Best Metronome Apps For Smartphones

5. Be Consistent.

Play the same fills in the same places. Do the same vocal melodies every time. Pluck the strings/hit the drums the same way. This will make it easier to know where you are in the song, and make punching-in much easier.

It may seem obvious, but also have all of your parts prepared – 100%. You may chose to write little harmonies and lead lines in the studio for layering purposes, but unless you have a major label budget, the studio is not the place to be writing parts. Have those written ahead of time and play them the same way each time.

6. Communicate With Each Other.

Is your band a democracy or is their a band leader? How does your band go about handling disputes over sounds or performance? Are you going to hire a producer? Is the engineer going to produce? Knowing all of this ahead of time is integral. Remember, if your band erupts into an argument and you don’t know how to communicate with one another to fix the situation, you still have to pay for that time.

7. Maintain Your Instrument.

A good recording starts at the source. All the expensive microphones and outboard gear in the world can’t make a $100 Epiphone sound like an American Les Paul Custom. Use quality gear. If you need to, see what the studio you are using has that you can borrow or look into renting gear for the session.             

Get the instruments into tip-top shape before you go in. Drummers: put new heads for your drums and make sure they are tuned.

Guitarists and bass players: put new strings on a couple days beforehand so that they have time to stretch but the tone is still fresh. (And yes, bass players, even though you never break strings, you do have to swap out those old, dead ones if you are going to be in the studio). Check your intonation! Nothing ruins a session like listening back to a take you just did and realizing that the reason it doesn’t sound right is that your intonation is off.

Singers: warm up before you get to the studio. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, starting at least a half hour before you sing, and avoid caffeine and dairy.

8. Scheduling is Important.

Make sure that you leave yourself enough time to accomplish what you need without feeling stressed. Even if you book your session for earlier in the day, don’t schedule a gig that same night.

Schedule sessions at a time you know you can make. Take into consideration the possibility that you might hit traffic or get stuck at work, and plan plenty of time in between the two. If you’re late, it’s likely that you will be charged for the time anyway, regardless of what time you actually got there. Also consider set-up and break-down time.

9. Take Care of Yourself.

You really are the most important thing. You play the instruments (or, in the case of singers, you are the instrument). Make sure you eat well, drink plenty of water, and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the studio.

10. Get Everyone on the Same Page.

It’s great if one dutiful band member goes through the effort of researching this stuff in preparation. It’s much, much better if everyone else does too. Send this to your bandmates – and make sure they actually read it!

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