How do you deal with harsh cymbals

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by JoaoSpin, Apr 19, 2017.

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  1. JoaoSpin

    JoaoSpin Active Member

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    Hi guys,
    How's it hanging? I'm working on an EP for a friend of mine and I'm pushing myself to do a good job and I'm getting really happy with the results. I tracked everything right here in my living room just muffling the walls and windows with blankets, nothing fancy. Overall I think the quality of the recordings is good and everything sounds great except for one thing: the top end, the drum cymbals. I can't seem to get them to sound clean and shiny like I hear in pro mixes. I'm going with a very dynamic drum sound so I'm using very little compression overall, my snare is occupying mostly the 500-1k range so I don't have much of a problem with hi-hat bleed. So far what I've tried is doubling the OH channel (yes, there is only one) just leaving the highs and applying a mild reverb. But when I try to make them pop in the overall mix, they sound harsh. The drums were recorded with an AT2020 as a mono overhead, an MXL V67 as a room mic, a Shure SM57 rip-off on snare and a Samson Qkick on the kick drum. My room was not quite dead, the quality of the cymbals used was not ideal and the drummer has a lot to improve as far as controlling his dynamics. Even with these setbacks in the recording process, what can I do in the mix to get the best result? I'll send samples if requested.
    Thanks in advance,
    João
     
  2. JoaoSpin

    JoaoSpin Active Member

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    correction: it's not the cymbals that are harsh, it's the hi-hat. I'm trying to bring out the shimmer of the cymbals but the hi-hat is getting in the way.
     
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    You've just mentioned all the reasons why you will never get "pro" sounding recordings.
    There's a reason "those" pro rooms turn out the great mixes that you are referencing... they have great-sounding rooms, skilled drummers, awesome mics and preamps, great conversion.
    You're dealing with so many negatives to start with, that getting a "pro" sound out of this scenario is virtually impossible.
    Gear matters. Talent matters. Room acoustics matters. Knowledge and skill matters.


    There's a lot to those "pro mixes' that you are going to have to be reasonable about in your expectations. The room, the mics, the pres, the converters, all these things add up to make a difference between "home" recordings and "pro" recordings.

    For starters, you may want to try not mic'ing the HH directly. Many engineers rely on the OH array to grab the hat. The mics you use for this plays a gigantic part in the sound, as does the height of the ceiling. If you can't get the mics high enough off the kit, then you're going to be dealing with a lot of reflection(s) being picked up by the mics, this includes the hi hat as well.

    In addition to the room's potential acoustic issues, cheap condenser mics and preamps will never get you that "pro sound".

    Knowing the frequencies you are dealing with - problematically speaking - can help you to zone in on certain ranges that you could attenuate; and this may help to some degree... but you're only ever going to get results as good as the weakest link in your recording environment and your gain-chain allows.

    You may want to try an old trick that many engineers have resorted to when dealing with mixing less-than-good sounding tracks recorded at low budget studios... which is to put a de-esser on your overheads. This may - or may not - improve things, you'd have to try it and see.

    Bottom line? Poorly recorded tracks will always be poor-sounding, it doesn't matter what you do to them, there's no EQ, Compressor, or plug in in the world that will fix that part. Pay more attention to the tones you are getting while you are recording instead of thinking you can always "fix it in the mix".
     
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  4. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    That's really a playing/tracking issue. If you're stuck with mixing it as is, perhaps experiment with a de-esser to de-emphasize whatever frequencies are too prominent from the hi-hats.
     
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    Donny's right but here's what you can do with what you have.

    nix the doubled channel. there is no reason to do that. mono is mono. unless you are delaying one channel it's not any different. if you are delaying one side, DON'T!. i don't have enough time to tell you why it's a bad idea, it just is.

    if you want to "stereoize" the overhead or room mics, running them through a small room simulation reverb is a superior way to do that. always check your mix in mono for phase issues when you do this kind of thing.

    hi pass filter the overhead (AT 2020) at as high a frequency as you possibly can up to 7 or 8 khZ. allowing only the higher freqs through. (get rid of all the low and mids you can). do exactly the opposite on the "room mic" (MXL V67).

    get the snare and kick mics to sound as good as you can when they are soloed. now mix them all together to taste. you can pan the oh mic slightly to the right and the room mic slightly to the left to get a little more definition. but not too much. 10 or 11 / 1 or 2 o'clock is plenty.
     
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    Solid. ;)

    I would add the suggestion of avoiding the use of "stereo wideners". You will lose definition in the center, which is where the main drum sound "lives".
    You mentioned the snare occupying the 500Hz to 1k range - that's pretty narrow, and also where "boxiness" tends to reside.
    For "weight" and "beef" - look to 225hz to 260hz on the bottom end of the snare, with 3k to 6k adding presence and "crack". These aren't engraved in stone, it depends on the mic, the drummer and how he/she hits, etc. but these are basic starting points.

    In the end, you may be better off to just re-track the drums, using better mics ( and better mic technique... if I were in your position, I think I'd be looking at the Glyn Johns method - see vid below)), and working with the drummer and their style to fit the room you are in, as opposed to trying to "fix" what you've already recorded.

    While Mr. Johns has access to some very nice mics for his technique, ( along with having great sounding drums and cymbals to work with) I believe his method will still serve you better than how you are recording them now.


    Poorly recorded tracks will never sound good, no matter what you try to do to them in the mix.
    Conquer the basics of recording first: mics, placement, quality drums and cymbals, a good drummer.... and you will find that your mixing sessions go much smoother, and will sound much better with far less effort.

    FWIW
    -d.
     
  7. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

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    And on the eighth day.... sr16_thumbnail.jpg
     
  8. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    You may find my lack of faith disturbing.
     
  9. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

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    Sorry, twas a cruel joke. Point is, a decent drummer properly recorded is the ideal. Anything less than that is just a different degree of compromise. If I remember my 80's correctly, that used to be why there were professional drummers and recording studios around...but I could never buy my way into one
     
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    I think that drum machines and samples have their place. I'm certainly not gonna lie and say I've never used either. In fact, I still use samples; as my current situation doesn't really allow me to recorded real drums.
    But, if I'm in a position to record live drums - with a good drummer, a quality drum kit, in a nice sounding room and using good mics, then I'd much rather do that, if I had the option.

    It's really not all that difficult to get a good live drum sound; I don't think there's any great "mystery" to successfully mic'ing up a drum kit; you certainly don't need 10 different pricey mics to do it, and I think many people make it out to be tougher than it actually is...
    BUT - you do need the aforementioned things to be there for what we would consider to be "good"-sounding live drum tracks.
    It doesn't matter if you have industry-standard mics like 421's on the toms, a 57/58 on the snare, an RE-20 or a U87 on the kick, and two Neumann KM's in an XY for OH's... if the drummer sucks, or the kit and cymbals are cheap, or the room just sounds bad, using those nice mics won't really matter much.

    And I think that stands for all acoustic instrument recording, not just for drums alone.

    IMO
    -d.
     
  11. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    That's okay. I took the two biblical references (your username and the Genesis reference) and turned it into a Star Wars inspired response.

    u03lrws6f36y.jpg
     
  12. Mario-C.

    Mario-C. Active Member

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    In addition to the other good tips Pultec style eq's help a lot, use the shelves to boost and cut simultaneously, it really helps to smooth out the highs in overhead mics, with the hi hats use the high shelving filter to cut the super bright frequencies. I often use them on OH's that were recorded using bright condenser mics.

    A great pultec style eq is the Overtone DSP PTC-2A (coded by ex SSL guys), it's great for taming harsh cymbals.
    A great eq I often use for surgical cuts on hi hats is the TB equalizer by Toneboosters, it's very transparent for cuts and it's super CPU efficient.
     
  13. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

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    Great replies, all. Hopefully the OP is still lurking as this is directed at them....

    Poorly played and tracked drums are one of the main culprits of ugly music.

    Not to be harsh but the only way to get this pro sounding is to replace all the drum tracks. Slate Drums Trigger is as good a place as any to start. The first benefit is great samples that you can control all aspects of and make them sound as if they were tracked and played properly. Second benefit is the control of the mic bleed.

    It sounds like a less than ideal tracking situation and really, no matter how much EQ and compression you throw at this, there are still things you won't be able to fix.
    Next is learn to edit. Fix the time and tempo.

    I still get tracks recorded by 'professionals' that just don't do justice to otherwise decent songwriting. It is a dead-end street. It is turd-polishing at it's most basic.

    Anyone that thinks that any old drumbeat will do and recorded anywhere is going to cut it has some learning to do.

    Drum rooms that have great basic sound, begin with having height. Think about it.....Where does the sound of drums actually go when struck? Unless you are playing with a kit that the drums are mounted parallel to the floor, the answer is up and down......Up is the most important since there is no second head or a shell to control or focus the sound with. Sure, you say..."But Uncle Dogg, my kit radiates sound every direction..." True dat...But when you add mic's in close you shorten the TIME perceived...and then you add a ROOM mic which changes the time perception once again. Combine this with an OVERHEAD mic and still another set of time related responses becomes part of the mess.

    Combine this with less than stellar equipment and I say this not as an advocate of expensive gear, but rather as an advocate of choosing the RIGHT gear for the job, and you get the 'harsh' the 'spiky' the 'undisciplined' the 'unusable' sounds which drive a person to 18 year old scotch at mix down.
     
  14. Mario-C.

    Mario-C. Active Member

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    Totally agree the room greatly affects the final sound. A very important and often overlooked detail is if you're getting harsh spikes at specific frequencies on the cymbals there's a great chance it's comb filtering, it happens when your room and overhead mics are too close to the walls or ceiling, move your mics closer to the kit and the sound will improve, I remember this video where this guy made this effect happen on purpose while recording in his drum room, as he moved the room mic away from the walls it sounded much better, I mean, it wasn't a subtle difference.
     
  15. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

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    Absolutely! I have a small controlled room right now. One solution I have for live drums in my room is getting the mics as close to the kit as possible. I also choose mics that are not very sensitive or have very tight patterns. For while I was really into large D condensers around the kit with no close mics. This produced a certain ambience but the bleed wasn't good for certain types of projects. Now I'm all about dynamics and I actually close mic the cymbals with SD condensers and pad the crap out of em. Again, cutting down on what they hear. Some of the more traditional Americana or Traditional Blues arrangements will get the three mic technique with the only overhead being an LDC out in front of the kit just above the top of the kik drum hoop about 3' out, a snare mic ( I love the Beyer 201), and an 'area' mic sorta in between the ride and floor tom.

    Another absolute that works is to TUNE THE FRIKIN DRUMS......I use heads that have a pure tone and fast fast fast decay. A dry snare head...I damp the kik batter and have a ring on the semi open front head. You hear the drums....you don't hear all the crosstalk between them. Saves me a lot of time later on.

    It's also easier when I add a sample to blend with the original hits. more natural......
     
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    A low ceiling can really limit placement options. One thing I sometimes do when a wall or ceiling is unavoidably too close is to use a PZM (boundary) mic on the surface. That eliminates one source of close reflections. A pair of them 30" off the floor and 30-36" apart works great for an upright piano about 12" from the wall. I bet something similar on a low ceiling would work as overheads. Maybe use some heavy fabric hung between them to increase separation.
     
  17. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

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    Another trick I've learned to fix the harshness of cymbals in a small environment is to choose a set of cymbals that are light and short in their voice. I have a preferred set of brass that I almost insist on using in my room. There's older A Zildijians crash and crash rides, a K splash, very light top New Beat hats, and a Sabian Raw Bell Dry Ride which I highly recommend as a recording cymbal.....no build up!

    A lot of drummers have their kits setup to compete in a live situation with bass amps, Marshalls...etc.

    Not needed in the studio.
     
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  18. Mario-C.

    Mario-C. Active Member

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    Good point, after having to deal with super bright sounding cymbals on a couple of records I try to use dry and dark sounding cymbals whenever possible, Meinl cymbals sound great for the studio (expensive though), I try to stay away from the Custom Hybrid K series by Zildjian, they are super loud and extremely bright, the hi hats in particular are so damn loud they leak everywhere in the kit, very hard to control, if the drummer is a hard hitter you're screwed, they're great for live use but in the studio those are a no no for me.

    I also make a point to the drummer to avoid playing the hats too hard and control his right hand if we're recording rock drums which is what I usually record.
     
  19. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

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    I'm late to the party and excuse me if I say something already discussed.

    I sometime receive badly recorded drums tracks to mix and I always try to make it work as is first.
    If the Bass drum and snare mics sound ok, there might not be any reason to put the room mic so loud that it is disturbing.
    But I'd first try to lower the harshness with an eq and/or a Deeser and/or a dynamic EQ.

    If all that fail, I look into denaturing the sound (heavy room verb or hard compression or even distortion... Or re-Amp it in a guitar cab, you'd be surprised how the harshness could go away fast !!) Blend that reamped sound with the kit and decide if it helps.
    If something bothers you, you can try to remove/reduce it or cover it.
    Some drum sounds are far from clear and natural and it doesn't mean it can't fit the song...

    I would be interested to have the raw tracks and see if I can come up with something !
     

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