Recording and mixing drums - question


I have recorded drums for a band and I am starting mixing them and one particular thing is bugging me.

There are a lot of snare ghost notes. The problem is that each snare hit sound good, centered and sharp, but the ghost notes seem to come from the right.

I have a top mic (SM57) and a bottom mic (condenser) on the snare. I use a gate on both. The gate settings on the top mic are quite drastic and the ghost notes are left out, while the settings on the bottom mic track are much more gentle and every single subtlety goes through.

Obviously the issue comes from he fact that the top mic track is loud and the focus is on this track, so when the snare is hit lightly it can only be heard from a mix of the bottom mic and the overheads (toms and bass drums are gated too). But since the OH isn’t crazy loud in the mix and the bottom mic is not so soft either, I don’t understand how it is possible that the sound seems to wobble from center to right in such an obvious way.

Part of the issue will be solved in the full mix (I just have the drums for now). But I would like to iron out some of this wobbling, while keeping my top mic track loud and clear. Any suggestion?

First thing that comes to mind is to trigger the top mics’ gate from the bottom mic using the sidechain.

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The goal being to keep the gate open for the ghost notes on the top mic too? If this is it, then it’s not gonna work because the bottom mic picks up quite a lot of the kick too, which actually is ok for me because I only have the bass drum miced on the outside, and it lacks the beater noise, so the snare bottom mic makes up for that. I know it’s unconventional but it actually works. But I don’t want the snare top gate to be triggered open on every kick hit.

I could do it manually I guess, the song is short and there are not that many ghost notes after all. But I’d like to know what the proper, academic way to deal with that particular issue is.

Maybe take out the snare gate or have it clamp down less, close down to -20db instead of full mute and tune the amount as to where it isn’t annoying, sometimes you need to approach a drum mix as a whole so if snare is fine without gate, keep it that way.

You can trigger the snare from the snare track by creating second snare track and setting it few ms easiler and then trigger the original track gate from the hits of the one that is moved a little earlier in time.

You can take down bottom snare and use drum trigger replacement like Drumagog and just trigger a sample/samples over the top snare.

Some engineers…or actually the engineer’s assistant (poor little kid from ME college) even do fade automation instead of gating manually.

Maybe post a quick example?

You can trigger the snare from the snare track by creating second snare track and setting it few ms easiler and then trigger the original track gate from the hits of the one that is moved a little earlier in time.

Doesn’t the “look ahead” feature do that automatically though?

I’ll experiment with your ideas. In the meantime here’s a sample:

I guess the unhelpful answer, but maybe one to take heed of going forward, is that you spend more time on the overhead mic’s positioning to get a coherent, focused stereo picture into which the close mics can be placed that’s not going to subsequently give you issues.

I’m only listening on little dell desktop speakers here, but it sounds like the ghost note at 0:12 is coming from the right and the one in the next bar is coming from the left. That’s probably a phase issue - those ghost notes might have been hit on different parts of the snare, which has caused different patterns of cancellation to hit each mic and vastly change the resulting stereo image. And when the hi-hat opens, that washes across the stereo image too. The solution to that kind of lack of focus is to move the overheads - though I admit that Hi-Hats are very hard to properly pin down, and an easier solution is to take them away. :sweat_smile:

It’s definitely something that involves a bit of fishing around blind - you can get big changes with quite small movements - say, moving one side 5cm in one direction or another, or keeping the relative position of the 2 mics to each other but lowering their stands a little… but you’ll find a point when the kit seems to come into focus, and feel a bit more solid. As it stands, it feels like the overheads aren’t quite working together, like they’re presenting two different versions of the same drum kit.

Funnily enough, that can work well, if you really want to emphasise a wide and energetic, un-natural stereo spread. But you end up really needing to lean on the close mics to give the drums enough punch, with that method, and quite often there’ll be a room mic or two as well to help keep things focused.

I quite like the sound of the room in your recording, though! It’s got some life to it.

With this track, I’d probably start by narrowing the overheads. The narrower they are, the more cohesive that kit’s going to sound. I’d manually defeat the gate on the snare top on those snare ghost hits by automating it into bypass, and probably clip gain their volume up a little - not knowing the musical context the drum beat’s sitting in, ghost notes like that quite often need a little help getting through if there’s much going on in the arrangement. But that’s going to help centre them, because unless you’ve time-aligned the multitrack drums, that centre signal’s going to hit your ear before the wider wash of the less focused overheads, which’ll give you a perception of where the sound is located.

You could also look for some target frequencies in the overheads, a couple of notches to de-emphasise the snap of the snare wires, probably somewhere between 6-10k, but obviously if you do that you might lose life from the snare sound.

I guess my last idea would be, make sure you’re judging it in context. Does the ghost note drift problem matter much, once the rest of the arrangement’s in place?

I’ve had good fun with a “snick” mic before. You put it down under the hi-hat side of the kit, somewhere it can see the bottom of the snare and the beater head of the kick. You end up with an overall presentation of the drums that is quite papery and upper-middy with an emphasis on the transient snaps and quite a lot of hi-hat (to reduce hi-hat horror, I use an SM7b) then in the mix, you just slide up the fader until you hear it adding some top end excitement to the kit. Usually I found I needed to cut out some chesty resonances (all the horrible kick basketball bounce 500-800Hz, for example), but that it was a nice was of getting the impression of high end without having to pull it up in the overheads.

To bring out ghost notes, I’ve done this before in the past and its worked:

Try duplicating the track, then placing a transient designer with a very low threshold on the duplicate track. This will bring out the attack of those ghost notes. Then mash the thing to smithereens, then blend with the normal track.

So its basically parallel compression, but with the ghost notes accented in the parallel chain via a transient designer. If you need help controlling the hits, then you can side chain as Andrew recommended, and if you need them to stick out even more, you can put an exciter further down the chain.

Are we bothered with this though? I think once you add the band it probably won’t matter. I am not weirded out or feel like saying “this is not drums”, in a mix I’d probably wouldn’t even care as long as there are some of these ghost notes for flavor.

The “look ahead” feature - ehhh, it does what it feels like :slight_smile: It is an automated process, which you can’t tell what it sees, and by doing the other you’re forcing it to behave.
Post a compressed top snare without gate, I’d be curious to hear how that sound in full mix.

Weird how the snares show up only on left channel but honestly I am not bothered with it.
In some instances we used to put a mid snare mic then manually match the phases on the 3 together.
So you’re miking top, mid say SM57 away from HH pointing to snare and traditional bottom mic setup.

There is an edit trick that I’ve done sometimes - take the whole drum performance and align phases manually by moving the wav forms so all the peaks and valleys match. It’ll be a bit of work but it might help in this instance. I’ll use the OHs for the anchor wavs but it depends if you placed overheads wrong…or maybe just check phase on top/bottom snare mic (manually not with phase reversal tool) and match to top mic by moving the wav file.

How about the snare without gate or less gating?

All good retro fixes above BUT…

  1. If you could actually set your overheads an even distance from the snare drum center point, the ghost notes would appear in the middle of the speakers.

  2. If you set your undersnare mic to the OTHER side of the kick drum, (the floor tom side), it wouldnt suck as badly, or be as right side heavy AND would still pickup equally good beater click and plenty of (uugh) undersnare…

  3. There is no need to have a hi- hat mic if your snare overhead is close enough / LEVEL with the cymbal on that side of the kit, and the floor tom side O/H is STILL equidistant to the snare side O/H.

Obviously, you could have asked all this BEFORE you recorded the drums and saved yourself some problems :wink:

and 4… When the drummer plays a lot of ghost notes, put an SD condenser on top instead of an SM57.

@Cirrus your answer is far from being unhelpful, quite the contrary. I don’t have a ton of experience in drums recording and I think you pinned down the issue, now that I’m listening in hindsight I’m pretty sure the OH placement is what needs to be adjusted. I just don’t spend enough time setting up the mics and listening to the trial takes. I do like our room too, which is fortunate because when I first saw it I was bummed and think it was going to sound like crap. It is L shaped, relatively small for a drum room (each branch of the L is approx. 15 ft long), but has a high ceiling around 11 feet.

@Jonathan I might have to try this because I suspect the ghost notes are going to vanish when the full band is on. Thanks!

@Descent You’re probably right , and I also said it in my first post: the issue will probably be self-solved to a large extent in the full mix. Anyway I’ve tried removing the gates altogether on both snare tracks and I think it actually sounds a lot better! I’m actually quite surprised there is such an improvement, I don’t understand how a gate can mess up the stereo that much (it is a mono gate by the way).

@vtr Yes item 1 definitely seems to be the solution here. I don’t have a hihat mic by the way. I don’t know if our hihat is particularly loud or something, but I always find it’s really loud without even micing it. And well I could have asked before if I knew I was going to face this problem. But it doesn’t bother me that much, and the customer didn’t even noticed it. It’s more about personal curiosity and self-improvement.

Anyway thanks to you all, very helpful feedback as usual. :+1:

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Sorry, I haven’t read the thread, so just in case nobody has said it yet:

The solution is to pan your overheads so that the snare is in the middle of the stereo image.

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Sounds good without gate.

I think you will have to think of drums in regard to the genre as well, to me what I am hearing here will be some kind of funky/jazzy thing which is usually better server with room mics and overheads being more prominent with close miking only providing little pizazz to pinpoint the tom work and maybe bring up kick and snare better in overall mix.

In other words, this track I think can benefit from open ambience, like I mentioned release the (flood)gates :slight_smile:

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Similar to Jonathans technique, duplicate the track and DUCK the big snare hits on ONE of them, then combine the tracks, this should increase the ghost notes by 6dB (if both tracks are at equal level).

Ducking is a reverse version of a gate and can be triggered by a slightly advanced ‘gated’ version of the snare track.

There… clear as mud :wink: