Join Larry Crane for an in-depth discussion in this video Clean tom tracks, part of Music Production Secrets.
- [Voiceover] If you're working on cleaning up the sound of your drums, one of the simplest things to do is to clean up the tom tracks. That's assuming you've recorded the toms on their own tracks. One of the problems that happens is there's a lot of bleed, there's this, rest of the kit comes through when the toms aren't being played, like this: (drumming) And that's not a really bad example of the sound bleeding through. I've heard much worse than that in other cases. But it always helps to take this extra information out of the picture and plus it allows you to compress or EQ the toms without affecting other instruments like high-hat and symbols and things like that and bringing them into the mix too much.
So, I'm gonna show you how to quickly go through and manually clean up your tracks. This is like a pretty old school, as far as digital recording. You can tell very visually that this is just the extra (drumming) stuff on the floor tom track. Usually what I'll do is kind of a quick rough out. You know, clean something like that and then zoom in. These tom hits are here that we just heard. (drumming) And always make sure not to leave too much at the beginning. I've had a lot of times people said, "I cleaned 'em up for ya." And I'm mixing a track they recorded, and there's a, you know, like a symbol crash or something coming through at the beginning.
Clean that top up, get right before that first transient hits of the first attack and put a little fade in, just so it doesn't click or pop or anything. And then check the end. How does the tom come out of the picture here? (drumming) (cymbals) A lot of times there's information past that first like you know, here's this next snare hit: (snare drum) I'll cut right here and then I'll put a long fade here. And just gonna keep a little bit of low end in the picture of the tom sitting when it's been sitting in the mix, you know. (drumming) (cymbals) And sometimes, I'll cut like this.
I'll just take that little like last snare hit out. (drumming) So that really cleans it up. It just depends how much low end is in that mic and how it's working. Sometimes you want to be careful not to cut it too fast. Looks really clean here. Sometimes I'll look at little spots, I'll go, oh, is that (cymbals) (drumming). You can hear the tom resonating in the background. And by the way, that's another thing that you want to get out of the mix. You don't want this resonant tom head with a close mic, you know, rumbling all through your drum mix, that's one of the things that is great to eliminate.
So let's go to this build here. You want to see where it really starts with a soft start on the build and then coming up in volume. You want to really listen and tell where to cut at. (drumming) And it's right there. Sometimes you can tell because these are different wave forms. The length of the wave form of the floor tom is longer, so it's a lower note. So it's gonna appear as a longer sine wave. Let's zoom in a little. (drumming) I'd say right there. So you got a little bit of other information there, which I'd say it might be there.
Let's cut that and hear how it sounds. (drumming) I'll take that. With the beginning of that kind of drumming, it can be very deceptive to visually try to ID it. (drumming) That feels good. (drumming) (brief shout) There's a little bit of a shout there, he's a happy drummer. Once again: (drumming) (brief shout) I'd say cut right about that snare, do a long fade. And that's clean. Now, one of the things that'll happen, you might miss some of this stuff.
Let's move over to the rack tom. I'm gonna put it up top here so it's easy to see. Expand it a little. One thing that happens frequently, of course, as far as drumming is that there's maybe a tom and a rack part at the same time. Even if I don't think it's gonna be played or has been played, I'll check that section. (drumming) (cymbals) And it doesn't do anything there. But, you see there's a little more activity, there's a little more (drumming) wave form going on when I'm scrunched in, zoomed out.
So, we're looking pretty good. Sometimes things are hidden in there though. (drumming) There's one. It's possible you might have missed that one, you know. It does stick up a bit, but as you zoom in, you see that it's more of a solid wave form as opposed to the snare heads, which are more distant and tiny looking. (drumming) (cymbals) And also, don't be fooled by (snare drum) snare fills that look like they could be part of like a longer tom build like we saw on the floor tom. So go in, cut these tight, maybe a little fade in, do a little fade there.
(brief drumming) Perfect. And that's gonna to give you a lot more control over your toms. If there's a long section like there is at the end of this song, turn both of these on, (drumming) (cymbals) Obviously you don't go in and try to clean every hit on a section like that, you don't need to. (drumming) (cymbals) Solo these real quick. Let's do the rack tom. So the first hit of the rack tom's there. The first hit of the floor tom, I think, is right preceding it.
(drumming) Right. All right, let's zoom in a little, clean those tighter. Put those cross fades on, don't forget. And it's this way: (drumming) Great, that's section's gonna be perfect. Don't forget to check the end of it. You might want to take some of this out. (drumming) I'll typically cut these tracks sooner than I would the overheads, let the overheads carry the ambience and let these fade out nice and tight.
And there you go, that's cleaning up your floor tom, your rack tom, any of the toms on the kit. It's gonna make the whole kit work a lot better in the mix, and you're gonna get more impact out of the drums, and it's gonna sound great.
These tutorials work with any DAW, in almost every recording scenario, and are based on Larry's 20+ years of experience recording, producing, and mixing some of the world's best musicians, including Sleater-Kinney, The Decemberists, Elliott Smith, She & Him, Jolie Holland, and Stephen Malkmus. Tune in every week for another tip.
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