I’m mixing my band‘s record. Most of our songs are pretty upbeat pop, but we have one that’s more relaxed with almost a country feel to it. I thought it would be cool to have a kind of 50s feel for the drums on that one, while the other tracks had a more processed, butt-moving vibe.
Obviously the best way to achieve this would be to tune and mic the drums in the 50s style. But in reality, we have a tiny budget; we recorded all the drums basically in one day with no time to adjust things in between songs. So I challenged myself to come up with two ways to mix the same drums and get very different sounds.
The first thing I did was listen to some reference tracks. Like this one:
Now that song was actually recorded in 1969, and in fact all my reference tracks actually came from the late 60s. Which is fine; I’m after a sound, not a date. At any rate, I took note of a few things:
- The snare is thin and tight.
- The kick has almost no boom, but you can really hear the pedal.
- The hihats are nice and crisp. (In my head the sound was super warm, but that’s not really the case at all. It’s easy to overdo those things, so it was good to check.)
With that in mind I got to work.
I wasn’t alive then, but reading up a bit it seems like close-micing individual drums didn’t become common until the 70s. Basically you’d just throw one mic up in the middle of the room. With that in mind, I attempted to work entirely off the overheads. The first thing I noticed was the overheads were suuuper bright, probably because they were placed so close to the cymbals. Listen:
I thought a little multiband would help so I fired up Voxengo Drumformer. I set it in two-band mode with the cutoff at 3k. For the lows, I added a moderate amount of compression, but actually only a tiny bit on the highs. I set the cutoff just barely below where the hihat peaks. Mostly I just rolled the high band a lot lower. Even that wasn’t enough so I added a little bit of high shelf as well.
Now the balance sounds pretty good and I’m liking the way the crash tails fade away. I wanted to add a touch of saturation to give it that retro feel. My favorite tool for this is the Buzz plugin Zu Tube Head, but since I’ve switched to Mac I need to find a new one. I first tried Magnetic from Nomad Factory; it sounded good, but I didn’t really want to drop $129 at the moment. I auditioned a few more before finding Forex from ToneBoosters. The sound is nice and it’s a bargain at under $35 for the whole bundle of plugs.
For the last step, I reasoned that recording with a single mic placed farther away, you’d pick up a bit more room, so I added just a hint of reverb to the whole thing. Naturally I used the amazing freebie Ambience by Magnus of Smartelectronix.
That’s it! The only further processing is to cut a hole for the vocals at 2.8k.
That’s my attempt at a 50s (but really 60s) drum sound. I’m still fiddling with the pop sound, but if I feel inspired I’ll write that up as well.