Overheads are the perfect way to capture tons of energy and sizzle from your drum kit, but they’re not always as effective as we’d like them to be. When you’re just starting out, it might seem like you can throw any pair of microphones up to capture your drums, but overhead mic placement is actually a very intentional, methodical process.
Without taking into account spacing, height, and angle, you can end up with all sorts of inconsistencies and phase issues in your recordings. These problems reduce the effectiveness of your recordings and leave you with something dull and lifeless. You need life in your drums.
The easiest way to achieve this is by picking the right mics for your application and taking the time to test placement and position before you start recording. But if your dull overheads ended up making it through to the mix, there’s still plenty you can do to liven them up.
Using EQ On Overheads
EQ is one of the most powerful tools we have access to, and it’s one of the most underutilized on overheads. When you find yourself dealing with dull overheads that need a bit of life, this is the first plugin you should be reaching for. EQ has the ability to drastically reshape your drum sound.
Focus your efforts on the top end of the frequency spectrum – that’s where all the air and sizzle is. Your EQ should be able to “lift” your overheads and brighten them. Use a high shelf to boost some of that natural air and play around with the frequency to start from a point that’s high enough in the range to avoid any harsh or annoying overtones.
High shelf filters work best when the source is a good pair of microphones, because cheaper microphones tend to get brittle much easier. It’s a bit of a tough position to be in; the better the mic, the less likely you are to have issues, but the easier it is to apply EQ. Inversely, cheaper microphones need the EQ, but won’t take it as willingly and may require more notch EQing along the way to remove problem frequencies.
Overheads and Saturation
Another common mix technique for bringing life to a pair of overheads is saturation. When many people think of saturation, warmth and body usually come to mind. They think of smooth, silky vocals or guitars played through tube amps. Both seem a bit counterintuitive to our goal of livening up our overheads, don’t they?
With saturation, we get to have it both ways. Saturation doesn’t just have to come from tubes – it can come from things like tape machines (or emulations of tape machines) that have been saturating drum tones for years. Saturation is just another name for harmonic distortion.
Once you understand that, it opens a whole bunch of new opportunities around what saturation could be. In the case of overheads, you can use saturation to apply subtle distortion to your source – hiding the problems and bringing to life the good stuff that you want to hear.
For overheads that are really struggling to cut through the mix, you need an even more active approach than what EQ or saturation will give you. You need a powerhouse transient shaper to get the job done.
If you’re unfamiliar with transient shaping, it’s a technique that involves targeting the transients of your signal specifically. Rather than trying to change the dynamics of the entire source, you can dial a transient shaper in to raise or lower the attack or sustain of each hit. With some transient shapers, you can even treat the cymbal transients differently than the drum hits in your overheads, which provides a lot of flexibility and control.
Usually, in cases where you’re trying to liven up drums, you’ll want to focus on boosting the attack of each transient while reducing sustain. This accomplishes two things – it helps the initial hits cut through while letting the rest of the hit sink back in the mix to make room for the next one.
Different situations may require different settings, but this is a great starting point for anyone using transient shaping on their drums.
Drum Mixing Mastery
Drum mixing is an incredibly detailed and nuanced process. It requires an attention to detail far beyond what other parts of your mix need and it’s not something you can pick up overnight. Great drum mixing takes time to perfect.
Our eBook, Taking Control of Your Drum Mix, was written to help get you there faster by taking everything we know about drum recordings and the best ways to process their dynamics and consolidating it down to a single info-packed resource.