An Open Letter from your Kick Drum
Drum Mixing Part II
by Frank Gryner (as published in Recording Magazine)
Dear Mix Engineer,
I have a bone to pick with you. After having undergone a great deal of tuning, strategic damping, and having microphones moved in and out of me, I felt as though my true tone was captured on tracking day. Notwithstanding the makeshift piss blanket tent I endured for isolation, my full tone and in-your-face cttock was pretty much recorded the way I sound from down here. So you can imagine my disappointment when I heard the final mix!
I realize that I can never be placed quite as loud and predominant as I'd like to be, but I guess I've never viewed myself as that controlled and contained ... and edited. I mean, forget about Beat Detective- it sounds like you deployed the whole Beat Precinct on this one. I know that it's standard practice to trigger samples to help support drums like me in the mix, but it sounds like you forgot about me entirely.
Furthermore, it struck me as odd that you didn't go through to check that every sample was phase-locked with me. Yeah, if you zoom into the waveform far enough, you' ll notice that plug-ins like Sound Replacer and Drumagog aren't infallible, and as you should know, phase is more crucial with me as a lot of my low end will get phase cancelled if each of my hits isn 't placed perfectly.
Okay, I know what you're thinking-why should you take mix criticism from a lowly kick drum? Perspective, that's why. I'm a direct descendent of the marching-band bass drum and my relatives have lived through the drum-machine scare of the '80s, death metal, and Tommy Lee. Look, I'm no stronger to the heavy sonic palette that modern music demands, but I feel like much of my original dynamics and emotion gets left behind when I'm not treated right and you slap a loud, one-size-fits-oll sample overthe top of me to compensate.
If I can make a humble suggestion-layer me with sounds that don't conflict so much with my natural timbre, so that my tone will blend well with what you're using to bolster me, that would be much appreciated. A lot of times an 808 sample or something
subsonic may be all you need. Samples with more high frequency information have the tendency to be harder to place into the mix in a believable way-or so I've been told. Unlike the other drums in my kit, it's usually cool to be way more aggressive in carving out my sound to work in the mix. If you feel that my sound needs more definition, please don't hesitate to gate me, which could allow you to boost some higher frequencies without exaggerating the cymbal bleed. The 3-5 kHz range is usually where you can grab some good snap from the inside kit mic and emphasize my attock. I know more than anyone at a big, open bass-drum sound seldom functions effectively and ultimately doesn't sound that way when put in context. In the past, mixers have sacrificed a little of my lower midrange (around 300 Hz) in favor of cranking some of that 80-100 Hz.
A lot of my friends have an allergic reaction to compression. So did I, but en it hit me: it's not the compressor's fault, it's you, the mix engineer, who is to blame. With the correct attack and release settings, you can put a liberal amount of 4: 1 or 6: 1 compression without killing my performance. A slower attack setting won't clip my aggression, and a moderate release time won't pump between hits but will fully recover before the next kick occurs.
I definitely don't want to come off as being one of those drums who has all the answers, but as much as I've been kicked around, I've gotten to know a thing or two about good music. When I feel the personality and character of any element in a song go from unique to faceless during the course of a mix, I just have to speak up.
Look, it's not just about me. It's merely an indication of who you engineers are mixing out of the songs to achieve some sort of misguided idea of sonic perfection. I'm urging you to manipulate less and listen more. I don't want to beat a dead horse here, or my own drum for that matter, but like everyone, I just want to be heard for who I am. That's all.
All the Best,
Your Kick Drum