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By Larry Crane |

Mixing Miracles in the Studio—with Tape Op's Larry Crane

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From starting my first band 30 years ago to running a professional studio since 1997, I’ve spent a lot of days in recording studios. And I’ve learned that artists in the studio need a lot of support.

A great engineer or producer is always anticipating clients’ needs and helping to keep them productive. Sometimes you even need to think like a detective or archaeologist to find answers to difficult problems.

That’s what I did for one rock group that “lost” an important drum track for the album they’d recorded. With the recording tricks I share in my video series Music Production Secrets, I was able to help them—and produce a great, usable mix.

It just took a little studio magic …

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A client contacted me to mix some material for a now defunct rock group. They had recorded an album, and somewhere along the way, thanks to the unpredictable world of digital recording, they’d lost the tracks for the drum overheads.

Drum overheads are the microphones over the drum kit. These tracks are there to record the cymbals and hi-hat. The kick drum, snare, and toms usually have close-up mics on them that pick up the direct sound of the individual drum—but without drum overhead tracks, you’re left with a very dry, uncompelling drum sound.

In our emails about this problem, the client mentioned that he had tried adding hi-hat and cymbal overdubs on the songs to fill them in—and that he was not the original drummer. Now there may be a way to perform a task like this and make it sound like a single drummer, but I’ve never seen or heard it done. The results of this experiment seemed to create more problems than it solved.

Looking back over our emails, I noticed an interesting pattern: My client continually brought up the fact that there was also a pair of room mics recorded, but that they were useless. I thought I’d better find out for myself how “useless” they really were.

Recorded from a distance across the room, room mic tracks can be blended into the mix of overhead and close mics to add natural ambience to the sound of the drums. My client’s “unusable” mics didn’t sound great, but I found I could hear the cymbals and drum set through them.

I listen to these mics combined with the close recordings of the drums. They made everything feel distant and roomy, but not in a very compelling way.

Why do room mics sound distant? Because they’re further away from the source. I digitally moved the room mics “forward” in time—visually to the left on my computer screen. Through trial and error I found a spot where the drums felt less distant and the room mics helped the close mics sound like a drum set.

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Then I began working on the tone of these overhead tracks. By splitting the high, bright frequencies [“Frequency splitting tracks to control lo-fi or mid-range material”] from the lower, boomy frequencies into their own tracks I was able to make the cymbals sound clearer and brighter.

By compressing these audio bands—evening out the volume levels with a compressor—I was able to make the drums appear to have more energy, and control the undesirable elements of these “former” room mic tracks.

I continued by mixing the guitars, bass guitar and vocal tracks in over the repaired drum tracks. When I got a great balance of the first song, I emailed the client an MP3 to reference.

“How did you do this? Did you use drum replacement software?,” he asked, assuming I’d had to rebuild the drums with samples.

“No,” I replied. “I simply went and listened to the tracks that you told me were worthless, and I found something I could work with in there.”

He was surprised and amazed. These recordings had been saved and made listenable—all by looking for clues, keeping assumptions at bay and employing a few studio tricks!

To learn more recording tricks, check out my brand new course Music Production Secrets on lynda.com.


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