Mix Essentials: Relationships in the Mix Part 2

Last week we talked about big global relationships that exist within all of our mixes.  Whether in a studio, an arena, or a church auditorium, these relationships can bring our mix to a new level or drag them down to the mud. Those big ones were where the vocals sit (artist driven), how the kick drum and bass blend (room acoustics driven/artist driven), and acoustic vs. amplified (technician controlled). But now as we continue on I’m going to dive a bit deeper into that first relationship. If you have a drum set on stage or in your studio, the energy from those drums can drive the energy for the room/recording so it’s incredibly important to be cognisant of what the drums are doing and how they fit into the overall mix you are creating.

I spent a fair amount of time talking about the kick and bass relationship last week so I won’t go over all that again but please, click this link, and go back to read it if you missed it. The key was just to make sure that they are blending together the way the artist wants. This usually lands with a strong bass guitar sound and a kick drum that punches through. The big thing here is that you’ve left, or are creating, room for kick to punch through. Personally I accomplish that with side-chained compression.  When the kick hits, the bass guitar is compressed so that while the bass guitar is still there it’s attack is attenuated allowing room for the kick to break through. This is best accomplished with multi-band compression but works well if multi-band is not available, just takes longer to dial in. Try it out this week!

Next is the kick and snare relationship. The easy part is that they don’t compete in the frequency range. However, if this relationship is heavy on one side things just don’t sound right. Since I started mixing in college I have been a huge fan of double micing both the snare and kick. Today, I’m about the same. If I have only one mic on the kick I’ll at least double patch it so that I have individual control over the hit and the punch of the kick, and the hit (top) and rattle (bottom) of the snare separately. This allows the ability to really tailor this relationship per song without the need to adjust EQ or anything like that. I know a lot of mixers that prefer to stick with one kick sound for the whole service but I think that locks you into a specific kind of sound. Where I mix, we sing a wide variety of songs and mix them up each service. This necessitates the need for ultimate flexibility. For one song I can have a really strong punchy kick but when we switch to that faster song I need to be able to change that kick sound to be less punchy and more clappy sounding because having a deep punch with fast kicks can be overwhelming on the bottom end of your mix. The same goes for the snare. If the drummer is hitting the snare on 2s and 4s than you want a huge sound but if he is hitting the snare more often, controlling the rattle can be a godsend. All of this matters when you want to balance the kick and snare. I’ve learned that you want the attack of the drum-set to go together, all leading back to the kick drum. We will get to the toms later but in regards to the snare, be sure to adjust the attack and tone so that it matches what you did with the kick drum for that song. For me, I’ve found that if I want a punchy kick sound, I’ll also want a balanced amount of that rattle on the bottom of the sound. But inversely, if I want a more clappy kick, I’ll usually want less of that bottom snare mic. This all goes back to the style of music your band is going for, this is why it’s important to listen to what the artists are doing and ask questions about what they are looking for.

Getting the toms to sound right is still a skill that I am mastering. It’s hard enough to get the right mics chosen for the toms to start with but then I need to dial them in so that they punch through a mix but not so much that it’s jarring and overpowers the snare or kick. Getting enough low end so they sound cool when they are hit and ring a bit but no so much that if they are getting whaled on for a song it’s not overpowering is something I’m constantly fighting. I’m starting to pick up that basing their sound on the kick at least helps bring some continuity and glue to most mixes. For me, what I do is that I design the top end sound to blend in with my kick in mic (the one micing the beater head of the kick) and the bottom sound to blend in with my kick out mic (the mic in the hole, or the input I’m using to shape the sub sound of the kick). Doing this helps them to sit well, than I can focus on getting the tones and attack right with compression if needed. Sending the toms to the subs has always been a debate in my experience. However, we have three toms on our kit (~12”, 16”, and a big ‘ole 18”) and I’ve loved having them in there. The rack tom is just barely there, the first floor tom is definitely there but at about half power, and the last floor tom is at -5db send level (so almost full volume), which gives it some real power. You do need to be careful here and be ready to change this per song as with some songs that open with tom runs, it can be overpowering. I will admit that this relationship wasn’t really a thought in my mind until around 5 years ago when I began my mixing career at my current role here at CCC. I think if I had been more conscious about this I would probably have been more successful in my previous years. Just make sure they are balanced with the rest of the kit, namely the kick drum.

So much of our mix relies on how we treat the drums. Hopefully this entry has given you some new ideas and cleared the water a bit. Coming up in one of the series I will be going through how I establish these relationship through my gear but setting this idea up in your mix is something that you can do today, tonight, or whenever you mix next. Everything comes back to the drumset if it’s playing (really to any heavily mic’d percussive instrument whether that’s a cajon, djembe, etc). Have you noticed these relationships when you are listening to concerts or other mixes? What do you hear? Let me know in the comments below. As always, if you are reading this for the first time and would like to know when more content is published, click this link to subscribe!

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