Recording drums in a small space can be challenging – you don’t get the excitement, energy and air from a big room and distanced room mics. Luckily, we have the perfect hack with this FREE preset for a huge drum room sound.
By Dan Cooper, Waves Audio
Log in to download the FREE StudioRack chain preset for a fake drum room mic used in this article.
One of the most effective ways of getting huge drum sounds in live multitrack drum recording is to use extra microphones in the room at decent distances from the kit.
These additional sources are known as “room” or “ambient” mics and are indispensable channels for producers who need extra energy and attitude out of their drum takes. If processed with extreme compression, room channels can also be a great place to get an explosive sound and can make drums feel way bigger than they actually are.
The Problem with Home Studios
These days, many of us work in small domestic rooms, which rarely present any significant issues for recording vocal and instrument tracks. But what about recording live drums in small spaces? Well, it depends on the kinds of sounds you're chasing in your head. Small rooms should serve you well if you want an upfront, punchy and dry drum sound, but if your goal is to have a big and energetic-feeling room, adding a room mic somewhere within that small space may not suffice.
Generally speaking, small spaces don't usually have enough room to put any real or meaningful distance between room mics and drum kits. Room mics set up less than around two meters from the kit will tend to sound boxy, with little to no ambiance or spacious perspective. This is why many producers who want big-sounding drums prefer recording in large rooms, as there’s space for room mics to record real ambiance.
Wait! We Have a Workaround!
Having said all this, don't let it put you off trying to get a realistic large room sound in a mix from your small-room drum recordings.
We have put together a free plugin chain that mimics how real room mics sound in large live drum rooms using a super simple StudioRack preset that you can start mixing with as soon as you load it in a session.
Take a listen to how this fake drum room mic sounds on a drum kit:
Setting up the StudioRack Preset
Follow this section to learn how to download and get set up with this preset:
DAW and session setup
Please note: This preset is intended to be used within an effects/return setup. Follow either of the next two stages if you are unsure how to set one of these up.
Using This Preset with Drum Loops and Samples
For producers and artists who want to use this preset on beats and drum samples, you will need to send a bus from your drum beat track to the input of the stereo auxiliary that has StudioRack inserted. This is a basic effects/return setup that works the same as working with any parallel effect chain.
Using With Multitrack Drum Tracks
For producers who want to use this preset on multitrack drum tracks, simply create a drum sub-mix by routing all your drum channel outputs via the same stereo bus to a stereo auxiliary, then make a copy of this drum sub-mix and call it ROOM CHANNEL. What you want to see in your mixer are two stereo drum sub-mixes. One will be for your usual drum channel mix; the other is where you’ll put this StudioRack preset.
Let’s move on to the Fake Drum Room Mic preset tour:
1. Move the Mic Further into The Room
The first stage in this chain uses SuperTap delay for adding some virtual distance between your new fake room mic and the drum kit channels. The only controls you need to concern yourself with are the Delay sliders in the middle of the plugin, which are set to milliseconds. These both need to be set to identical values between 8 to 32 milliseconds, which in real distance equates to a range of roughly 3 to 11 meters. The amount of delay you choose here will push the start time of the fake room mic channel back in time, which virtually pushes your fake room microphone beyond the physical boundaries of your small tracking space.
Expect the results of this to sound a little phasey when blended with your original drum tracks. That’s ok, that’s what we want!
2. Model the "Mic"
Next in the chain, we can choose from a range of vintage mic models within The King's Microphones plugin. This is an easy way to give our fake mic some personality. Each mic model has its own distinctive vintage character; listen below to three examples:
For this guide, we’re going to continue with KING GEORGE VI’s mic 2 sound as it has a well-rounded tone that’s not too hyped compared to the other models.
3. Adjust the Faux Room Mic’s Frequency Response
This stage is all about dialing in tonal contrast. We want our virtual mic to sound different from the channels we’re using to feed it. Thanks to The Kings Microphones, we’ve already got the fake mic to sound like a mic, but we want to go further and make this virtual mic behave like a real mic would in a room. This is easily achieved with Waves F6 Dynamic EQ by boosting some mid-range focus and softening the highs.
4. Do You Want Stereo or Mono Room Mics?
Some engineers prefer only one room mic in drum recordings, as they find it more manageable in a mix. Others prefer super-wide stereo pairs. With this stage, you can take your pick. Remember the buses and auxiliary channel we set up earlier in this guide? These should all be in stereo, which means Waves S1 can let you sum our fake room sound down to mono, keep it in its default stereo image position, or go extreme with width.
If you decide to push the width out hard, don’t worry about phasing. In the context of what we’re trying to achieve, phasing can be our friend.
5. Add Space and Reflections
It’s time to reflect. Our fake room mic has some distance dialed in with SuperTap, a saturated personality thanks to The King's Microphones, contrasting tone with F6 and stereo imaging covered with S1. Next, our fake mic sound needs a sense of space around it.
This is where Abbey Road Chambers comes into play. We’ve got a relatively short tail already set in this preset to save any tails from cluttering up the feel of the overall drum mix, but this can be lengthened if needed. If you want to change the character of your room altogether, you can choose between three styles of the chamber and affect the overall reverb tone with the built-in high and low filters.
6. Light the Fuse with Compression
If you want to infuse some extra energy, then compressing the life out of the fake room mic with Abbey Road RS124 is the way to go. The RS124 extreme Superfuse mode is engaged with a high input level which drives the effect super hard. Take a listen:
7. Balance, Blend and Behold
Once you have the sound and feel of your new fake drum mic how you want it, all that's left to do is balance the effect level with your drums. You can either use StudioRack's main output level fader or the auxiliary’s fader in your mixer. Before you know it, you’ve got an instant large drum room sound that now feels much bigger than the space it was originally recorded in, and with extra flair and attitude.
Listen to the fake room mic being blended into the mix:
The Fake Room Mic Chain Summary
To get the most out of this preset, it's best to think like an engineer would when working with real mics in a room.
Want to learn more about mixing drums? Check out these 11 Steps to Mixing Drums like a Pro!
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