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Session Notes: Progressive Metal | Media

Audio files to accompany the article By Mike Senior
Published June 2016

The audio files available on this page accompany my Session Notes article in SOS June 2016 about recording drums for a progressive metal band. The filenames are fairly self-explanatory, but here are some additional notes to describe exactly what you’re hearing in each case.

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The first mics I set up were the overheads: three KSM-series small-diaphragm condensers in cardioid mode about two feet from the cymbals. The only processing used during recording was 200Hz high-pass filtering on the Audient ASP008 mic preamps. As you can hear, the balance is heavily weighted towards the cymbals, with the snare and toms duller and more distant-sounding by comparison.


Two mics were tried over the snare: a Shure SM57 dynamic and a Samson C02 small-diaphragm condenser. We preferred the chunky attack sound of the SM57 in this instance, as you can hear in this example (which features the mic’s raw output). The setup of the toms and cymbals severely restricted our options in terms of mic positioning, and the most practical setup involved miking through the gap between the top two rack toms. From this angle, however, the mic picked up a little too much of a pitched resonance around 460Hz. Although we could have damped the snare head with gaffer to tackle this, I chose not to — it would have cost us some high end, and a single resonance like this is very easy to dial out with mixdown EQ.


I experimented with a number of different mics and miking positions in an effort to supplement the sound of the over-snare mic. Positions at the side of the drum, which have often worked well for me in other instances, sounded bloated in this context, so I tried a couple of under-snare mics instead: a Shure SM57 and a Superlux PRA268A small-diaphragm condenser (part of a super-cheap drum-miking kit). In this instance, the condenser won out, and you can hear its raw output in this audio example.


Here are the two snare mics mixed together, with a super-narrow (Q=10) 6dB EQ notch at 457Hz inserted to tame the pitched resonance identified in the 02_SnareOver audio file.


This audio example demonstrates the raw sound from the two kick-drum close mics, both AKG D112s placed inside the drum, pointing at the beater contact point to capture maximum attack definition. Although the resonant heads of both drums were removed, we placed thick quilts over the front of each drum (and the mic stand), which is why the cymbal spill is still very low.


With hindsight, I think we settled on a kick sound that was too spiky for this particular tracking session — probably on account of ear fatigue towards the end of that day’s work! Listening to the files afterwards, I think the sound needs a bit of EQ to tilt the spectral balance towards a more suitable sound. Here’s a demonstration of this kind of EQ setting using Cockos Reaper’s ReaEQ plugin, boosting 6dB at 40Hz and shelving 4dB above 2kHz. Compare this to 05_KickMics to hear the impact of the EQ more clearly.


Here’s what the submix of the tom close mics sounded like at the outset. All the mics are Avantone CK1 small-diaphragm mics with their cardioid capsules fitted. Notice how the third tom rings on much more than the others. If we had left it sounding like this, we would have encountered problems with the evenness of fills across these five drums.


This is what the toms sounded like after we’d tweaked the tuning of the third tom and applied a bit of gaffer to counteract the excess sustain. The toms now sound much more consistent as a whole. (Note that you’re also hearing a little of the overheads mics here, whereas 07_Toms_Initial is the toms submix on its own.)


The final toms submix can be heard in this audio example. The mics are all still Avantone CK1 small-diaphragm condensers, as in the 07_Toms_Initial and 08_Toms_MoreEven audio files, but the top three toms now have their hypercardioid capsules fitted to reduce cymbal spill. Nevertheless, there’s still a good deal of spill from the cymbals and snare, because I didn’t want to compromise the tom sound by over-close mic positioning, so I knew I planned to gate these mics at mixdown.


Because the high frequencies from the two hi-hats in Peter’s drumkit were coming through pretty well on the overhead mics already (as you can hear in the 01_Overheads audio file), I decided to use dynamic mics to close-mike them: a pair of Superlux PRA228A mics (part of the same bargain-basement drum-miking set as I’d pillaged for the undersnare mic). Not only did these focus more on the midrange frequencies that I think really help to give the hat rhythmic definition in a mix, but they also rounded the stick transients, which I find can get a bit overbearing when using condenser mics close up. This audio example features both these mic signals panned to roughly match the instruments’ stereo images in the overheads, but otherwise the sound is free of any processing.


The room mics were a pair of Superlux R102 ribbons about six metres from the drum kit. They were about 2.5m in the air directly above the bass cab, with their rejection nulls angled to reject spill from this source. When you consider that the drums are more than twice as far from the mics as the bass cab was, the rejection of the ribbon-mics’ figure-eight polar patterns is extremely impressive!


Here’s a basic full-band mix to show how little processing you’d need to turn these raw tracks into something that sounds commercially competitive. Across the 12 drum tracks in this example, I’ve used a total of three high-pass filters, five bands of EQ, two limiters (one each for kick and snare busses), two sustain boosts (one each for the snare and toms busses), two gates (one each for the toms and the room mics), and a compressor on the drums buss. No sample-triggering or send effects have been used at all.