Drums at Mission Studios, Warrington - Part 3

Welcome to the final part in the 3 part series in recording drums at Mission, and the results I can get for your recording.

In this part we're going to look at gear and a few techniques I employ. First of all, check out this short video of Dafydd laying the tracks down at Mission - you can see here the size of the room and where he's orientated.

Dafydd has set up in the corner of the dampened area of the studio, facing into the livelier part of the room. I set up panels behind him as there was no treatment in that corner of the room, helping to avoid unwanted reflections.

As you can see in the above image, there is a plethora of mics on the kit. Given the situation I wanted to record as much as possible in case any of the files were needed in the final album cut. However, I only used the following mics in my mix:

  • Kick In - AKG D202
  • Kick Out - Subkick (homemade)
  • Snare Top - Audio Technica ATM63
  • Snare Bottom - Sennheiser E606
  • Rack Tom - Audio Technica ATM63
  • Floor Tom - AKG D112
  • Overheads - AKG C451
  • Room Mics - Rode NT1

You can also see spot mics on the ride (AKG C414) and hi hats (Neumann TLM103) here, as well as a 'Junk' mic (Sennheiser e902), placed above the kick drum facing the side of the snare. Whilst I would use the junk mic in a mix, I rarely use spot mics on the ride and hi hats. A Sony ECM 979 mid/side mic was placed a good 8ft above the kick just to see how it sounded - but it was far too harsh to use.

For all you drummers out there - Daf is playing a Sonor S Classix kit in Birch, a Ddrum 14x7 snare, Sabian hi hats, Paiste Signature and Meinl Byzance Crashes, and a Meinl Byzance Ride.

The following image details placement:

Spot mics were placed to maximise tone and attack whilst also minimising overspill; snare mics were placed 2" away from the rim, pointing into the middle of the drum, and phase checked.

I employ a number of overhead recording techniques during my sessions, but this particular session called for spaced pair. I like to imagine a dividing line that cuts through the kick drum and snare, and place the overheads either side of this line - as illustrated above. This gives the most pleasing stereo image to my ears, and also helps with placing the tom mics in a realistic position in the stereo field, whilst maintaining phase coherence throughout.

I was particularly pleased with the room sound on this recording. It was achieved by placing two Rode NT1 about 6ft away from the kit, and about 6ft away from each other. These mics were facing the floor to pick up reflections in the room; and when mixed with the kit really add a nice body and reverb.

That concludes the posts on recording drum kit with me at Mission Studios. Here's a playlist of the examples again to jog your memory:

If you'd like to get in touch with me to book a session, just email me at chris@chriswmusic.com. Thanks!

Drums at Mission Studios, Warrington - Part 2

Welcome to part 2! In part 1, we listened to drums at Mission Studios without any processing. In this post, I've done a quick mix of the drums to illustrate what I can achieve. Unfortunately, I don't have the other instrumental stems, so we won't be able to hear them mixed in context. At least you can hear the great details of the live room at Mission!

My general approach to mixing is to be as simple as possible; respect the recordings you have and try to work with them; refine rather than improve. 85% of the mixing process is done in the live room; capturing the source correctly is imperative.

The next set of examples are the same patterns as heard in part 1, but now featuring some EQ, Compression and Tape Emulation. Playing is provided as ever by the talent Dafydd Cartwright.

This recording features an inner kick mic and a subkick - I high-pass the inner mic and low-pass the subkick so that each mic is doing its intended role. I bus the two together and then add a compressor - usually an 1176 style - to give the kick a bit of punch. Here I used Focusrite's RED compressor.

The snare is by far the most difficult thing to get right, in my opinion. I use Fabfilter's excellent G gate to try and cut out the hi hat spill. It does a great job of maintaining the natural sound of the snare whilst getting rid of anything else you don't want. After Fabfilter Pro Q2 is used to hi-pass and eliminate any unwanted frequencies, I'll apply another 1176 style compressor to fatten up the attack. In this case it was Logic's built in 1176 model. I then use Maag EQ4 to shape the tone a little further.

Overheads feature minimal processing in my mixes - they provide the signature sound that the close mics need to complement. Here, boxiness was cut around 500hz with Pro Q 2, and then light compression was applied using Klanghelm's MJUC.

The room mics were treated with some EQ and heavy compression from MJUC, mixed in with dry signal, roughly 60/40. I'm not a huge fan of crushing the room mics to death and then mixing in a small amount - it always creates more problems for me. Parallel compression is the way forward here.

Toms need controlling with gate to eradicate noise; sometimes I'll edit out the noise in between hits instead of using a gate. Pro Q2 is used once again to get rid of some boxiness and high-pass out the mud; and I usually bus compress the toms together, this time MJUC once again. I've flicked between using an optical LA-2A style comp and 1176 on toms; it tends to depend on the source material.

On the drum bus, I'll use Maag EQ4 to add flavour in the low and top end, whilst cutting the boxiness using the 650hz knob on the plugin. Goodhertz' Vulf Compressor is used to enhance the transients and add a gnarly edge, but is only mixed in parallel at about 10-15% - that thing is a total beast! Finally I put Waves' Kramer Master Tape at the end of the chain to soften out and glue the kit together.

I mix through an analogue 2-bus, which at the moment features a Presonus Bluetube Valve Preamp, and a Drawmer DL241 Stereo Compressor. It's not much, but it adds that warmth and glue on the way out.

Thats it for Part 2; in Part 3 I'll detail how the drums were recorded in the room and the equipment that was used. See you there!

If you'd like to get in touch with me to book a session, just email me at chris@chriswmusic.com. Thanks!

Drums at Mission Studios, Warrington - Part 1

In this post, we'll look at the drum sounds that can be achieved at Mission Studios, Warrington. In part 2, I'll provide examples of a quick mix of these drums provided by yours truly; and in part 3 I'll detail the equipment used during the recording.

Mission Studios is a great live room based on the Warrington campus at the University of Chester. It features two distinct areas, one end carpeted and low roofed, providing a deader sound, whilst the other end is open with a high ceiling and wooden floor, providing lively echoes and reverbs.

This room provides a versatile recording space, not least for the recording of drums.

Recorded on the 18th of November, 2015, the following samples are pre-production drums taken from a session for Double Experience. Plagued by travelling issues, drummer Dafydd Cartwright was forced to quickly record 14 scratch drum tracks at Mission with me. This allowed guitarist Brock Tinsley and vocalist/bassist Ian Nichols to record their parts at Warrior Sound in North Carolina, USA, for the new album 'Unsaved Progress'. The final drums used on 'Unsaved Progress' were recorded at Orange Sound Studios in Penmaenmawr by Russ Hayes.

'Tight beat' and 'Big Beat' are taken from 'The Glimmer Shot', whilst 'Tom Beat' is taken from their cover of Blue Oyster Cult's 'Godzilla'.

Examples

So, let's dive right in. Here's the first beat, a section from the verse of 'The Glimmer Shot'

No EQ was used on these samples; save for some high-pass filtering to get rid of excess mud we don't need. The following two samples have the room mixed in at subtle and not-so-subtle volumes:

As you can hear, the room at Mission really adds a nice reverb and body to the drum sound. Let's hear a looser feel from the chorus:

And finally, here's a solid pattern on the toms, taken from the verse in 'Godzilla':

That concludes this post. In Part 2, I'll be mixing these drums with a few plugins as well as an analogue 2-bus.

If you'd like to get in touch with me to book a session, just email me at chris@chriswmusic.com. Thanks!

Remixes and Covers

I've been working on a few tracks in my spare time lately; check these out!

This is a song I entered as part of a competition held by Snarky Puppy and Indaba Music. The brief was simply to use samples from Snarky's 'Tarova' to create a new composition; not necessarily a remix. This was my effort.

This was really a lot of fun to do; and it was great to have such pristine samples to work with. It was also good for me to have a deadline to complete to; I'm terrible at finishing work and there's nothing like a deadline to get it done!

This is a cover of Nobuo Uematsu's 'Under the Rotting Pizza' taken from the Original Soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII.

As for many people, FFVII is one of my favourite games, and in many ways the music inspired me to search for employment as a composer for video game companies.

In this version, I use live drums and some heavy tremolo, as well as a lot of saturation, to provide a dirty groove fitting to the slums of Midgar.

Enjoy these; and hopefully I'll have some more music up soon! 

Audition Vids

I recently auditioned for a lovely North West based function band; and whilst I played guitar at the audition, I wanted to submit for drums as well. Unfortunately we didn't have time to fit the drums into the audition, and so yesterday I recorded a couple of tracks with some video footage.

Given that they're first takes I think they came out okay. I'm also really chuffed with my new SE Electronics Voodoo VR1 mics; they feature here in the Recorderman configuration, with only a Sennheiser e902 to fill out the kick. Sounds pretty boss for just 3 mics I think!

Anyway; check out my ridiculous drum faces:

How to: Improve your rehearsal technique

Rehearsing seems like the simplest part of playing in a band. Its the means to an end; a way to get together, get better, and write tunes together.

However, in my experience as both a guitarist and drummer, musicians and bands make fundamental mistakes in how they rehearse (myself included!) and these mistakes can have an adverse effect on the productivity at your rehearsal, as well as how you sound at gigs.

So, at rehearsals: Can you hear yourself? Is anyone too loud? Can't hear the PA? Does it always sound really muddy, or really tinny?

Most of these issues can be solved by addressing the way a band organises itself in a room. Whilst some of these problems can be attributed to a badly treated room with a lot of reflections, let's put that aside for now and assume that the room doesn't sound bad. Let's also assume we're using loud speakers for everything, and no one has in-ear monitoring (I'll cover that in the future).

Nearly every band I've practiced with, or every band I've seen practice, sets up like this:

In this well drawn diagram, we have the PA in front of the drummer, and the guitarists have their amps behind them, firing at the back of their legs. In this scenario, a number of things happen:

  • The singer is overwhelmed by the guitar amps, and can't hear themselves. This causes them to turn up the PA (causing feedback) and/or shout and strain their voice to get over the noise
  • The guitarists can't hear themselves and thusly turn up, exacerbating the problem with the singer.
  • The guitarists alter their tone because it sounds too muddy to them; because they're not facing their amps they can't hear what the amp is doing. This usually results in a really bright and piercing sound, which can cause feedback, and at gigs, overwhelm the audience (assuming they use the same settings).
  • The guitar amps spill into the vocal mics, making them sound louder, making the room muddy, and potentially causing feedback.
  • The drummer can't hear the PA, and is overwhelmed by guitar amps that are too bright and too loud - and thusly plays harder and louder to compensate

What's the solution? Cue another exceptional diagram:

In this scenario, we have all of the amps at the back of the room, like in a gig situation. This is (probably) where the term 'backline' originated. However, unlike a gig, the PA is now part of the backline too, so there's a wall of clear amplified sound coming directly to all members. Lets have some bullet points!

  • The vocalists now have a clear picture of all of the amplified sound, and can balance the guitars and the PA so that everything is the right volume.
  • With the mics facing away from the speakers, there's no chance of feedback or overspill from the other instruments.
  • Likewise, with the guitarists facing their amps, there'll be no feedback between the guitars and the amps.
  • The guitarists now have their amps in front of them. They get a realistic picture as to what their amp actually sounds like; and thusly how the audience hears it. Ideally, guitar amps are taken off the ground (via a stand or chair) to prevent low end rumble through the floor, and so the amp is closer to the guitarist's listening level. Another result: the guitarist turns down, because they can actually hear themselves.
  • With all the speakers and amps behind the drums, the drummer now has close proximity to the sound source. But, as the sitting position is only just in front of the speakers, and perpendicular to the them, the mix might not be as clear and loud as for the rest of the band. The result? The drummer plays quieter in order to hear everyone else.

Everyone is facing each other, playing in a round. Everyone can hear not only the details in the music, but also the tone of their instruments and amplification. All that expensive equipment finally starts sounding worth the cash!

If you're having trouble at rehearsals, give this layout a try. It might well improve your productivity, save your hearing, and make rehearsal that much more enjoyable.

Tracking Drums with Martyn Peters

Yesterday I spent the morning tracking drums for Martyn Peters' new record. Here's a few kit pics and a nice demo of the room we cut drums in.

Recorded and Engineered by Russ Hayes at Orange Sound Studios - we had a chat after the session about his approach to recording drums:

"Think about the song first.. What drum sound is required / suits it? Don't bother touching any microphones until the kit sounds good / right in the room.. Tune the drums.. Think about dampening if necessary.. Listen to how the drummer plays.. Like you picked up on yourself.. "Do I need to lay off the open hats?" The 'real life' acoustic stuff comes first.. Lots of great mics and great preamps are only going to make a shit sounding kit and bad playing sound even worse!"

And what about plugins? There was some serious use of Waves' Kramer Master Tape!

"Depends on the style of music really.. I like to use tape simulation on drums since I'm tracking straight to digital.. Drum transients straight to digital tend to get pretty ugly.. I'll rarely use heavy compression on kit apart from things like room mics or on a submix of the whole kit blended in to drag up the air and create some vibe.. Different story if I'm working on something that's supposed to sound heavily processed, like metal for example.. Drums don't naturally sound like that, and drummers can rarely play with the dynamic consistency that they usually want to hear in the finished result.. So lots of compression, drastic eq, and hit replacement.. Again, all depends on the style of music.."

Thanks to Russ for top quality engineering and infinite cups of tea!

Mic List:

  • Kick in - AKG D202
  • Kick out - Yamaha Subkick
  • Snare top - Beyer M201 N(C)
  • Snare bottom - Beyer M201 N(C)
  • Rack tom - Shure SM57
  • Floor toms - 2 x AKG D112
  • Hats - Shure SM7B
  • Overheads - AKG 414 EB
  • Mono room - Neumann U87

All mics were fed by Focusrite ISA preamps, and aggressive room compression on the Neumann by an Universal Audio 1176 Compressor.

Drums:

  • Paiste Twenty 14" Hi Hats
  • Paiste Twenty 20" Ride
  • 17" and 19" Meinl Byzance Traditional Crashes
  • 13" x 5.75" Highwood Custom Beech Snare
  • 10", 14", 16", 22" Mapex M Birch Shells
  • Aquarian Super 2, Response 2 and Texture Coated Heads

Keep an eye on Martyn's Soundcloud and Facebook for the new track, as well as on the Listen page!

Kyle Parry on BBC's The Voice

Kyle Parry recently gave a sterling performance of Pink's 'Try' on The Voice on BBC One Saturday. Commiserations to him for not getting a turn. Make sure you check out Kyle's new EP, which features a number of rockier arrangements of the EP I produced for him a number of years back.

Check out Soundcloud for some acoustic rock versions of some of Kyle's tracks, recorded, mixed and mastered in Denbigh a couple of years ago.

Check out Kyle's performance on The Voice here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3ryZP8UuXw

Enjoy!

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