Join Brian Lee White for an in-depth discussion in this video Introduction to drum sweetening: The why and how, part of Pro Tools Projects: Editing Drums Using Beat Detective and Sound Replacer.
There's no doubt drums are, by far, one of the hardest instruments to record and mix effectively. Decades of hyper processed and tweeze drum sounds on our favorite records coupled with the fact that drums and drummers are just downright fickle things to deal within the studio, making that perfect drum sound extremely elusive to the novice producer. Many times, when recording on a budget, the resources for obtaining the perfect room with the perfectly tuned kit and a locker of vintage mics just aren't available. And while there's nothing better sounding than a great drummer playing a great sounding kit in the million-dollar room, there are plenty of budget mining production tricks that can take any arrangement to the next level.
So, what's used quite often in drum mixing and drum production is sample triggering, sometimes you hear it called sound replacing, but essentially what we do is take the dry-mics from the drum kit. And as long as we have a clean signal portraying a clean transient, we can use special software, or there is even hardware for this, to triggering new sounds from the kit. So, essentially what happens is the plug- in would identify when the kick drum or the snare drum, or the tom drum strikes and either blend that with the new sound sample or recording, or completely replace it.
And so this gives us the ability to completely change or sweeten or alter the sound of the kit. Now generally what gets replaced is going to be the direct mics of kick, snare and toms. You can replace hi-hats and other symbols power because there's so many different articulations on the hi-hat and usually there's a lot of bleed on that mic. It is a bit difficult to replace those sounds, but definitely kick and snare and toms get replaced all the time, or at least added to the original to strengthen them.
So, in this specific example, what we started with was this. (Music playing.) And it's actually not a bad drum recording. We can probably work with it, if we wanted to spend the time doing a lot of EQ and dynamics treatment to the kick drum. We could also approach this from a sound replacer standpoint or sound triggering standpoint and swap out the kick and snare for something more appropriate for the arrangement.
(Music playing.) This is the sound replaced, and here is the original. (Music Playing) So, the kick is just a little bit boxy, and the snare really doesn't have that snap that's going to allow it to cut through the big, huge choruses with all the guitars and things like that.
So, there are a lot of different techniques for approaching sound replacing. There is plug-ins. We can do MIDI triggering. We can even use some sort of non-sample tricks to sweeten up our drums that we already have. Now before you go and doing any of this, it's important to understand why we would want to replace these sounds. Now I found a lot of people, when they hear sound replacing for their first time, they just go out and say, "Oh, I want to every kick drum sound like this song, and I want every snare drum to sound like this song and just use the same sample.
Now what you're trying to do with sound replacing or sample triggering on drums is trying to make that kit fit better in the context of the mix or the song as a whole. So, a lot of times, you don't have control over what drums you are recording or how they're being played. In an ideal scenario, you'd be able to pre-produce the whole song, figure out where the vocal is going to sit, how bigger the guitar is going to be, what's the bass tone going to sound like, and then you can pick and choose and tune specific drums for each songs.
So, you'll see, on huge budget recordings, they are bringing in a new snare drum for every song or maybe they have a different snare that they play during the chorus, and a drum tech comes in and re- tunes everything just for that particular song. Now most people who are recording at home or on a budget, don't have 10 snares or 10 different drum kits or a drum tech to come in. And so we can use Sample Triggering or Sound Replacing to go in and choose sounds that are more appropriate for the rest of the song, but that's the keyword there, more appropriate, right? I am not just going to make the drum kit sound huge just on its own for just the sake of making it sound huge, like an arena rock song, if it's suppose to be a delicate Indie rock song.
If the aesthetic is garage punk, I am not going to make the drums sound like Steely Dan. I always want to think about the context of the song and the other instruments when I am choosing samples. Now the difference between doing things like sample triggering, like I have done here on this session, and mixing the drums, sort of adding dynamics and EQ processing is kind of blurry, right? Sometimes the mix engineer thinks they can strengthen the sound of the drums in the mix using Sample Triggering and sometimes it is more of a production choice.
If you are going to radically change the sound of the drum kit, the drum kit is a big part of the rhythm section in the song. So, if the producer was going for one aesthetic and the mixer goes and changes that, you definitely want to kind of reconcile those ideas and make sure you're going in the right direction. Just making the kick drum sound deeper and the snare drum have more snap might not be where the producer wants to take the song. So, choosing new samples and changing the sound of the kit is really something that the producer and the mixer have to kind of reconcile and decide where they want to take this song as the whole.
Above all, be tasteful and subtle. I find that works best when replacing drum sounds with samples in a live mic kit scenario.
- Understanding Beat Detective
- Making selections and separating regions in Beat Detective
- Extracting and using groove templates
- Generating a tempo map with bar beat markers
- Quantizing multi-track drums
- Using SoundReplacer and other sample triggering plug-ins
- Creating and using MIDI triggers
- Replacing drum sounds within a stereo recording
- Drum sweetening tips and strategies