We can blame the drummer, engineer, mixer, or whoever else might have a hand in the final drum sound on a recording, but the fact of the matter is: we beat the crap out of our drum tone.
Sure, we think we’re helping with some of the most common band-aids to aid a suffering tom, but most of the time we’re just sucking up the life of the most common instrument in popular music.
Here are some of the worst offenders:
STOP Using MoongelMoongel is probably the most used tool by drummers to soak up excessive ring from toms, but in actuality, you’re sucking up your tone.
The concept behind the gel is simple: put a tacky substance on your drum head and it will absorb some of the vibration coming from your drum. Other variations of this practice include placing things like wallets, cloth, or even duct tape on the drums. The problem is that while these approaches all dampen the ring, they rob the drums of their natural sound, and suck the tone out of your kit.
The easiest solution for this one is a properly tuned drum kit and some well-placed processing in the mix. Don’t cheapen your sound at the source because you might end up trying to add some of that sustain back in later.
STOP Wrapping Your Tom Mics in FoamThere are some weird rituals that artists have, but as engineers this isn’t one we should be involved with. In another effort to overcompensate for a problem at the source, wrapping microphones in foam or other material in an effort to isolate toms happens way too often.
By doing this, you’re changing the way your microphone is picking up sound. This practice isn’t too different from a singer “cupping” a microphone. You’re creating a pocket of resonance around an already resonant instrument.
In the best-case scenario, you’re attenuating the cymbal bleed a bit, but rarely all of it. Worst-case scenario – you’re changing the sound of your tom, the pickup pattern of your microphone, and possibly creating unwanted resonant frequencies and early reflections. Just don’t do it.
STOP Sidechaining Your GatesGates have been one of the most common tools to remove cymbal bleed, but they’re rarely effective at catching softer tom hits. As a quick fix, a lot of engineers reach for a sidechain input on the gate and trigger each of the tom hits off of a separately programmed track.
While this makes your gate slightly smarter, it doesn’t make it sound any better – and that’s a huge problem. If your gate is missing a hit to begin with, it’s probably been washed out by cymbal bleed or another tom hit that’s resonating louder than the new hit. Either way, a sidechain trigger isn’t going to solve that problem.
While We’re At It… STOP Using Gates!Gates are 100% volume based when it comes to processing your toms. You really get an on/off option with a bit of transition time between. They can be effective if that’s what you’re looking for, but with toms that’s rarely the case.
Gates are robbing you of your natural tom tone by unnaturally cutting off the tail of your toms when they drop below the threshold. You might be able to set it in way that makes it subtle, but without heavy automation, you’re not going to get the full ring (or softer hits) at all without bringing all of that bleed along with it.
A more natural approach is using a low-pass filter and automating the cutoff frequency to allow all of your treble through with the attack. Then you can roll off the treble down to the resonant frequency of the tom; completely removing cymbal bleed. We’ve found a way to do this automatically with Tominator, though you can manually automate the cutoff as well (with enough patience).