Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with your gate plugin – you’re just doing yourself, your mixes, and your clients a disservice by using it.
Why? Because one of the most common uses for gates is the removal of cymbal bleed from your live drum tracks (specifically toms). Does it work? Sometimes - but chances are it’s not the most effective way to treat the problem, especially when it’s affecting one of the most dynamic elements of your mix.
What Your Gates Are Doing vs. What You Want Them To Do
Unfortunately, you know what your gate is doing, and you’re “settling” for the results. Just like a noise gate pedal keeps out unwanted buzz/hum, your gate plugins should be keeping out sounds that you don’t want (in this case, anything but toms). The problem is, gating isn’t as dynamic as your toms. The ring and body coming from any given tom hit varies significantly, but your gate is stuck at a fixed rate (unless you dive into hours of automation).
What you should be looking for when treating toms is a way to preserve the attack, sustain and decay of a tom hit without chopping of the tail like a gate usually will at some point in a song.
So Why Are We Still Using Gates?
Honestly, because it’s easy. You grab a plugin, set it, and settle for a mediocre result. We do this because there really hasn’t been a better option presented.
For those of us that really couldn’t stand the way our toms were being abused by gates, manual automation was the only way to get the tone we wanted, and even then gating seemed to be more destructive than I wanted.
What I Started Doing Instead
I started experimenting with new approaches to get what I wanted out of my toms, and I found out pretty quickly that moving a low-pass filter was one of the most awesomely effective ways to get there.
Let me explain: Moving a low pass filter is much less destructive than the “on/off” effect of a gate. By automating the cutoff of a low-pass filter, I was able to preserve the treble of the initial attack, and then roll it off (along with the cymbal bleed), leaving behind the full body tone of the tom.
I’d never roll everything off, just down to the resonant frequency of the tom, or enough to clean up the cymbal bleed.
The Easy Solution
As you can imagine, automating a low-pass filter can be pretty time consuming, especially if you’ve got other elements of your mix that might need more attention. I certainly didn’t have the time to go through every mix doing this manually, which is where the concept for Tominator came from.
Tominator includes all of the controls I found myself adjusting in a simple-to-use plugin that could be triggered just like a gate. It’s taken the manual automation out of the equation, and has replaced the harshness of gating with something more natural and effective at preserving toms while killing bleed.
If you have some time on your next mix, try automating a low-pass filter yourself to see how it changes the way you treat your toms. If the approach seems like something you can make use of in the future, Tominator is available in the JST Store now.