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June 3, 2021

Jacquire King using tom ringing to add to the overall tone of the kit




Bleeding is not always a bad thing—when it comes to drum recording, that is. There will inevitably be bleed (aka “leakage” or “spill”) between mics when capturing a kit. How you deal with it in the mix is more of an artistic choice than a technical one. In the excerpt from Start to Finish: Jacquire King - Episode 19 - Mixing Part 1, Jacquire is figuring out whether or not to mute the bleed recorded on the tom tracks of the Oak and Ash song “Keep the Light On.”

Ring Around the Toms

This video begins with Jacquire separating and muting the long spaces between hits on the tom tracks. Because toms are hit relatively rarely in this song (and most songs), there’s plenty of room for him to select and mute the spaces. Jacquire explains that this is an alternative method to using a gate for reducing bleed.

Jacquire initially planned to reduce the bleed on the tom tracks by selecting and muting it.

He listens to just the drums and the bass with the bleed from the tom tracks muted, and decides that the bleed on those tracks was actually helping the sound, particularly of the bass drum. With the tom bleed muted out, the kick sounds less punchy.

The reason that happened is that during the tracking session, the toms were resonating sympathetically whenever the kick drum hit, and that resonance was picked up in the tom mics. When Jacquire removed the kick bleed, and hence some of the resonance, it made the kick sound less punchy and less like it did in the room.

Now that he’s chosen to keep the bleed and resonance, Jacquire unmutes those sections in the tom tracks, and then adjusts the toms’ levels to where they sound balanced with the other drums. That turns out to be a 4dB boost from where they were. He then reduces the level in the bleed sections by 6dB. The net effect is that he’s lowered the bleed sound by 2dB, but there’s still enough of it to preserve the kick drum sound he liked.

He points out that not all drum sounds have apparent tonality. But toms in particular often resonate tonally (assuming the drummer hasn’t intentionally muffled them), and that’s why you may have to consider tuning them to match the key of the song before recording.

What’s the Problem?

Let’s look generically at the subject of bleed in drum recordings. It occurs on channels that feature close-mics, such as snare, kick, toms, and hi-hat. These mics are pointed directly at their intended source. However, the drums and cymbals are so loud and the mics relatively close to each other that they also capture a steady but lower-level of off-axis audio from the surrounding kit elements.

Bleed can cause phase issues such as comb-filtering because it arrives slightly later at the mic than the direct signal. That’s one of the reasons it’s crucial to check the phase relationships between drums before recording. Learn how Jacquire does that in this Puremix blog article.

Leaving in too much bleed can make a drum mix lose clarity and quality. In addition to possible comb-filtering, the sound that’s bleeding into the mic is off-axis. As a result, the mic isn’t capturing it with full fidelity.

Another problem with bleed, particularly when cymbals are spilling into snare or tom mics, is that it can make it tricky to get the kit balanced. For example, you might want to turn the snare mic higher, but when you do, the crash or hi-hat that’s leaking into the snare mic sounds way too loud.

A mic on a kick, snare, tom or hi-hat captures the direct sound of the source on axis, while the bleed from the rest of the kit mainly comes in off-axis.

Still, most engineers and producers like to have some bleed in the drum mix, because if you gate out all of it, you’re also getting rid of room ambience, sustain and resonance. You can compensate for room ambience by bringing up the room tracks, but if you cut the drums off too short with the gate, they can sound unnatural and sterile. It all depends on the sound you’re going for, the style of music and so forth.

The following example features a short multitrack drum passage consisting of kick, snare, stereo rack toms, floor tom, stereo OH and stereo room tracks. You’ll hear it play twice. The first time without any gating and the second time with the snare, kick and tom mics gated.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing with the bleed. Here’s a version of the same drum passage with the gates on everything but the tom mics. Just that little bit of bleed makes it feel more natural, but not as raw as it does with no gating.

Virtual Issues

Without question, a drummer playing a mic’ed drum kit will yield a much more realistic result for organic genres than a virtual drum instrument could. That said, virtual drums have certain advantages when it comes to the issues Jacquire discussed in this video, such as bleed, resonance and tuning. With virtual drums, you can use those advantages to your benefit.

For example, powerful drum instruments such as Toontrack Superior Drummer 3 and FXpansion BFD allow you to dial in as much or as little bleed as you want. You don’t have to worry about gating and controlling it. It functions more like an effect.

The bleed controls in the mixer in Toontrack Superior Drummer 3 are highlighted.

Then there’s the issue of tuning. With real drums, tuning to a specific pitch is time-consuming and painstaking and needs to be done by the drummer before tracking.

Trying to pitch shift specific drums from an already recorded multitrack kit is more often not as effective. That’s because the overhead and room mics in your drum mix are capturing the entire kit. Because of that, you can’t pitch-shift a particular drum on them. So, at best, you’ll get a mix of the pitch-shifted drum on the close-mic track and the original tuning of the drum on the overhead or room track. You might like the way that sounds or you might not, depending on the situation.

With virtual drums, tuning a drum is simply a matter of turning a knob, which will change its pitch throughout the sampled kit. You don’t have to worry about the unshifted sound mixing with the shifted. Nor do you have to commit to tuning in advance. You can wait until the mix and view drum pitch as just another creative variable under your control.

In the following example, you’ll first hear bass and MIDI drums. The latter (from Superior Drummer 3) playing a floor-tom-oriented part. The first time you hear it, the floor tom is at its original pitch. When it repeats, the floor tom is tuned down to a B note, which is the fifth in the key of E, which the song is in.

Ring Out

For both live-recorded and virtual drums, understanding the role of bleed and resonance is beneficial. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll have more control over the sound of the drums in your production.