Let’s talk about space

And by space I mean white space.

I’ve been mixing a band for my friend John. He did the recording in his studio, so there are a bunch of drum tracks, electric bass recorded direct (DI), guitar layers played through amps, and some vocal layers.

Mixing live drums is definitely a learning experience. Most of what I’ve done so far has been sampled drums played through sequencers (drum machines), with the ambience created through artificial reverb.

Live drums are messier. John gave me a stereo overhead pair, a mono room track, a mono close-mic kick track, and a mono close-mic snare track. This was actually a great first setup for me: a bunch of stuff to work with but not so complicated that it blew my mind. It’s certainly possible to record a bunch more drum tracks.

Things that make live drums interesting to work with are natural reverb and bleed. The sound of the room gets recorded along with the drums, so you don’t need to add as much (or sometimes any) artificial reverb. And the other drums bleed into the close-mics, so the kick track will also have the snare and hats. Which means it’s time to bust out the gate to focus on the kick.

But I actually want to talk about space.

This song is hard rock, and each of the players has chosen to be playing lots of fast stuff all the time. There’s no space. Which makes it a challenge to mix.

The band provided a Jack White track called “Lazaretto” as a reference. First of all, Jack White rocks hard. Plus his recordings sound amazing: you can hear the detail in each instrument. He’s just crazy good at making his music sound great.

He also leaves a lot of space. So it’s easier to mix. Each instrument has room to stretch its wings without competing with everything else.

My cousin Joe points out that ZZ Top does a great job of this. There are three of them playing, they rock hard, and they leave space for each other to be heard. I tend to discredit ZZ Top because they were on MTV when I was a kid, but it turns out they’re actually a terrific band. Who knew?


2 Comments to “Let’s talk about space”

  1. Tres says:

    Back in the day they would muffle your drums till they sounded like pillows…. It would drive me crazy !! I’d get in arguments cause these engineers didnt know how to record drums. You listen to old soul, jazz even Beatles and the drums ring… Which is fine with me!

  2. mike says:

    The drums are supposed to sound great! Not muffled. There’s enough room, you just have to arrange the other instruments out of the way. Everything playing all the time = mud.

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