Make Mine A Re-Mic

After nearly 15 years of never being completely happy with the room sounds that I captured for drum tones, and not being able to properly compensate with external reverbs, I came to a point where I thought, “Why even bother?” Perhaps for a jazz recording, or something similar where you’re after a pure, unproduced sound, leaving the drum tone as it stood post-tracking could be the best course of action, but for much of today’s music there’s little sense in working that way, and sometimes your rackmount just doesn’t cut it. So I started experimenting with re-recording the room tones during the mixing process, and I soon noticed a great difference, a definite positive change, in the finished product(s).

At Sound Logic, a studio I own in Indiana, I have a speaker system mounted on the wall of the live room. The original intention in setting this up was to use it for giving a playback to the artist, which I do occasionally to avoid the hassle of headphones, but I’ve since learned to use it for a greater gain: pushing the drum tracks through the monitors and re-miking to get a different room tone. Even though I’m fortunate enough to have a great sounding 36-foot wide live room with 15-foot ceilings, I still find myself using this re-miking trick on nearly every mix — so it’s something you might want to consider.

The first, and easily most painful, step of the process is to empty the entire live room. I start by moving everything out of the room, except for a few movable acoustic isolation panels to manipulate the sound later on. Afterward, I set up two mics — usually large diaphragm Neumanns, or some condenser that I can set to omni. The beauty of it all is that I can then go into the control room, make a sub mix of the drums, push it back out to the room, and grab a different room tone. Each session calls for a different tactic, but the drum sub mix feeding the speakers usually has the kick at around 40 percent volume, the snare at 100 percent, toms (which I manually gate, or edit, in Pro Tools) at 80 percent, hi-hat at 40 percent, and overheads at 20 percent. This is the key technique: controlling the mix of the room sounds. I pump my sub mix into the studio at a decent volume, usually around 105dB, and then physically move the two mics around until they are placed in a manner that I think will give a good sound. Afterward, it’s back to the control room to listen to the output of the two mics, and ultimately decide whether or not I’m getting the room sound that I’m going for. Nearly every time the mics end up at two opposite corners of the room — around 15 feet off of the speakers and pointed directly at them in omni mode.

You’ll notice from the above that the snare is the loudest drum in the sub mix; and I do this for two reasons: I use the newly recorded drum tones as the reverb for the snare in the final mix, and I always make a sub mix of the drums, and then smash the hell out of it with a good compressor (like an Altec 1712A) for the final mix. By setting the snare that loud, it’s able to withstand the compression that I put on all of the drum tones that I use in the final mix.

Every different room has its own sound and, of course, not everyone has the luxury of having their own thousand foot room to play around with, but you can use others’ space to your advantage. Record your best guess of a two-track mix of your drums in your room, and then take it to your local church. If the band you’re recording is playing at a large venue that is acoustically superior, try to run it through their system while the band is setting up for a soundcheck. The only notable disadvantage of doing it this way (unless you are working with a portable system, such as an Mbox and a laptop) is that you will not be able to manipulate your drum sub mix; but nonetheless, with a little time and effort you will be amazed with the sounds you can get from trying this tactic in different rooms in your area.