Music Production

Drum bleed in heavy metal: Isolation = Separation = Control

Controlling components when mixing heavy music with drumatom

This article is written by Dr Mark Mynett, who has recently published the "Metal Music Manual. Producing, Engineering, Mixing and Mastering Contemporary Heavy Music". More details and special discount for accusonus customers below.

 A high level of ‘control’ over the separate components of the multi-track is an essential concept when mixing heavy music. This allows each element to be sculpted for purpose with minimal unwanted consequences, so they most effectively fit together…almost likes a sonic jigsaw.

Recording techniques

To help highlight the requirement for control, it is useful to briefly consider the production aesthetics of other music genres. One of the principal classical recording techniques is to capture and reproduce the sound of the concert hall and its coloration of the collective sound. Similarly, most jazz recordings tend to provide a perception that the sounds involved are in a single natural and realistic performance location. In contrast, contemporary heavy music production is less concerned with true-to-life performance environment aesthetics, and more concerned with providing maximum sonic impact, with the kind of exaggerated detail that creates something ‘larger than life’. A central principle that provides this impact is the listener having the perception of ‘in your face’ proximity to all the instruments and sounds involved.

The influence of acoustic environment

Ambience/reverb captured from the performance environment is contrary to a sense of proximity. It softens the immediacy of the resulting sound - subconsciously pushing it away from the listener - meaning the source is perceived as emanating from a greater distance than otherwise. This is where ‘control’ comes in. By heavily minimizing the impact of the acoustic environment, in which the performances are recorded, this maximizes the capture of dense early energy, rather than late reverberant decay, providing more flexibility to how each sound is developed. With the exception of cymbal and room mics for the drums, this is firstly achieved by using a very close miked recording approach, preferably using directional/cardioid-based polar patterns. Greater mic-to-source distances increase the capture of ambience, and with all things equal, omni or figure-of-eight polar patterns generally capture more ambience than cardioid. However, even with cardioid close-miked instruments, the acoustic qualities of the recording environment have a far greater influence on the resulting sound than many realize.

For this style of production then, acoustically treated environments that heavily contain the room reflections tend to be preferable; though the capture of ambience can also be reduced by tactically enclosing the musical source(s) with sound-absorbing materials. Further control is enabled through drum mic placements that minimize spill. This is important, as mix processing applied to a signal with significant bleed-over often accentuates unwanted qualities that have an adverse effect on both the intended sound, as well as the bleed-over source.

Correlation between hats bleed and snare sound

This is especially the case with hats bleed. Human hearing is very sensitive to the 2 kHz – 5 kHz frequency regions where hats have particularly dominant content. Hats spill on a snare top signal can therefore be a serious blight at the mix stage, greatly restricting the way we develop the snare sound. Although gating can be of some benefit, spill still impacts a snare sound when these components are hit simultaneously, especially when sent to reverb along with the snare. Of particular relevance here is the levels of high-frequency amplification and compression required to enable the snare to consistently cut through a wall of dense rhythm guitars. Both of which typically accentuate hat spill in a way that damages the snare sound.

Unfortunately though, our snare top mic placement options for rejecting hat spill are restricted, so the snare-top-to-hat-spill ratio is largely determined by a drummer’s performance technique. From a studio perspective, this is a vastly underrated area where truly great metal drummers are separated from the merely good. Despite the requirement for the snare and toms to be struck with absolute authority, the hats and metalwork should be hit far lighter. Regardless of performance quality though, accurate non-destructive-to-the-sound-source gating is required. From this perspective - and thanks to Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, Soilwork, Behemoth) for recommending this software gem - the accusonus drumatom is incredible! Specifically designed as a drum spill suppression tool, the drumatom is highly accurate at retaining transient energy, and due to the software attenuating spill according to spectral content rather than amplitude, low-level signals such as grace notes on a snare track are more easily retained than with conventional gates. Hats-off to the Accusonus R+D boffins then!

About the book

Drum bleed in heavy metal: Isolation = Separation = Control

Metal Music Manual shows you the creative and technical processes involved in producing contemporary heavy music for maximum sonic impact. From preproduction to final mastered product, and fundamental concepts through to advanced production techniques, this book contains a world of invaluable practical information. Assisted by clear discussion of critical audio principles and theory, and a comprehensive array of illustrations, photos, and screen grabs, Metal Music Manual is the essential guide to achieving professional production standards.

Price: £38.39 (paperback), £104 (hardback) 

20% discount for accusonus customers with code: FLR40 at checkout*

*offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or discount, and only applies to books purchased directly via Routledge at current retail price

April 20, 2017