In this study, I'm aligning Ryan Hewitt's drum mixing techniques with my own experience with "Boom!" A free drum machine that comes with Pro Tools.
Boom! Is functional, but not beautiful-sounding. Even though, it sounds nice with some plugins associated. In his LinkedIn class (found at the end of this post), Ryan Hewitt affirms that "Pro Tools provide better sends than the SSL". I wouldn't agree with that statement, but taking considerations in budget and versatility, Pro Tools delivers professional results for any DIY musician, either if he has a home-studio or doesn't. Boom! Can work well to send a demo to a drummer, or other musicians involved interested in a project. Depending on the approach, it can also work to an artist that started uploading his songs. Constant improvement is necessary for a musician and a songwriter to evolve in his recordings. That requires iteration, which leads to the possibility of success.
Below, I will present my own experience using "Boom!" as a rhythmic guideline for my demo: First step is to choose a preset.
In the bottom left of the plug-in display, the "Drum Kit" offer presets that match with some genres of music. In my case, I chose the "FAT-8". Then, next step is defining the stereo field for each drum element. "Kick", "Snare", "Rim", "Clap" and "Hi-Hat" will be adjusted in isolation.
For each one of them, there will be knobs that will set the tone, the volume, decay and panning. Those controls are important to define the stereo field. Each one of them must be clear to when they be summed together.
They can be toggled on/off with the white buttons at the bottom of the display.
Decay: Decay is a digital term picked from acoustics, and applied into the musician's life. It means the amount of volume that will drop at the end of the sound transient (a.k.a the waveform...), causing a "fade out". Lower values for the decay and the waveform end will be cut. Map The "Map" follows the rhythm of the song, according to the BPM, and time signature. Example: If the session is given 120BPM in 4/4, Boom will correspond to that - It can also follow different time signatures, like 6/4 - it just follow what's been previously defined in the session. The "Map" also determines the intensity of the drum hit. By levelling from dark red (soft) to bright (high intensity).
In either the Kick, snare, hi-hat or cymbals, the patterns will be the same. They all work in respect of volume, tone, pan and decay.
After adjusting the drum pieces, the next step is going to the "General volume" , which also includes a slight compression entitled "Dynamics".
*Hint: Let the compression be smooth as possible. Using another compressor in sequence to Boom, the "Dynamics" control will have a direct relation with how the compressor will function. Focus in the volume first. Then, come back later to set the Dynamics properly. Swing: Adds a "human touch" to the drum machine. Too much swing might overlap the song, a.k.a the "Drunk jazz drummer" effect. It won't serve as a guideline for real drums afterwards. Compressor (In next month's post, details on "how to choose a compressor?" will be explained and defined). With the drums volume and pan defined, a plug-in will be inserted in chain, meaning: In sequence to Boom's output.
For general use the Softube FET compressor, gives the intensity everyone wants in a beat.
Oh, this beauty.
As a second option, there's also the Kramer chain, three plug-ins that were inspired from the Eddie Kramer's sessions to record Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland. The Kramer chain integrates the "Helios console Preamp and EQ", the "PIE Compressor" (from the original Pye), and lastly, the pioneer of tape emulation, the Kramer Master Tape. I chose this option as an example for this post, since that's a good choice for alternative rock. The plugins will be connected after Boom!, following the sequence: Boom! > Helios > PIE > Tape. In the side of the image, I will explain the step-by-step of what I did.
Kramer Helios Preamp and EQ: Press "Trim" to reduce the output level. "Bass": Adjust if the kick must be emphasized. "Mid": Set desired level. Choose either to "Boost" or "Cut" (PK or TR). [To boost or cut ? The less EQ boost you use, more natural sounding will be achieved. The human ear is more tolerant to EQ cuts than boosts. Eq Boost increases the risk of encountering feedback at the boosted frequency.]
"High": Adjust in consideration to the "Mid" level. The amount that provides a good overall sound will come from the Mid/high relation. Preamp - Mic or line: Those are terms for recording types of scenarios . It simulates recordings, whether if the instrument was recorded in a studio with mikes, or just with a D.I (direct input), which operates in "Line level". Either one of the options, it's hypothetical to the case of Boom, beacuse it's a virtual instrument. The choice that sound better will be acceptable. Choose the preamp values between 20 and 70.
PIE compressor: It's a very rough compressor. It deliver the work, but it's not the best. It brings back to the 60's sound and that's the merit this plug-in carries. Choose the better Output, Threshold, Ratio and Decay time. Go back to the Boom! dynamics control and adjust if necessary. This plugins offers an analog hiss of either 50 or 60Hz... Vintage style.
*The meter can also be adjusted by dragging the mouse up or down in the corkscrew displayed in the middle of the plugin's, just like in the old times.
Please visit the post "Flux" to better understand how this value works.
Personally, "Kramer Master Tape" is my favourite Tape-Emulator and it can be applied to all instruments and vocals. In the case of the drums, too much "recorded level", "flux" or with the "7.5 ips" key triggered, it might flatten the drums frequency band. This would mess all the previous work, so pay special attention to those controls when mixing drums. In the Boom! case, the "Playback level", unlinked from the "Record level", sounds better. Apply less flux possible and only increase if wanted. Back to the record level knob, it must be increased at a certain point during the mix. Keep aware that these two parameters will have to be re-adjusted a few times. Only link them back when finished. "Wow and flutter", "delay" and "noise": These are effects that can add something or mess it up. It's valid to test each one of them, but always keeping in mind the musical genre, and what result is pretended.
For more details about "Wow and Flutter", what it means and how it was discovered, see the post:
Delay: The delay is fun! It can be useful, if not having any effect after the tape. Choose between "Feedback" or "Slap" (for slap echo), but the second option can duplicate the drum hits, causing problems. If preferred to keep these effects off, some plugins are also welcome to be inserted in the Kramer's chain output. As a suggestion, the H-Delay, the Fix Flanger or the H910 Harmonizer will do the job.
Ryan Hewitt "Drum Mixing Techniques", on LinkedIn learning:
Using HLS in drums: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhaE5EpT-1o
Waves Kramer Master Tape:
Three tricks with the FET compressor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDMBdR1OW38