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Mix a pop song – 7b – Harmonic Dampening

The characteristic sound of a snare drum going “doink” is enough to make any engineer feel queasy and go green. It is probably the most often encountered problem when recording or mixing a real drum kit. The real solution of course, is to make sure that you have a drum kit that doesn’t go “doink!” – but it isn’t always that easy.

It is possible to spend considerable time sticking “gaffer tape” all over the surface of the drum heads, and yet still be left with unwanted resonance’s. Of course a snare drum in particular is an extremely resonant instrument by definition. You can not only change the sound of the snare drum by removing unwanted harmonics, but also – using a very narrow bandwidth EQ – generate harmonics that aren’t there in the first place (because you are really hearing the sound of the equaliser itself ringing).

Damping unwanted harmonics from all real sound sources by using EQ is just a fact of life we have to put up with. Sure it’s best to get it right at source – perhaps by changing the instrument in some cases – but there are only so many hours in the day. When time is restricted (and when isn’t it restricted when the studio costs $1500 a day? – or if you have only limited spare time to do your recording in?), under these conditions, then quick, practical solutions are they way forward. Save what precious time you have for the things that make a real difference – like getting a good performance from the artist when recording, or getting the delicate mix balance correct.

Another important aspect of sound recording that EQ “purists” fail to take into account, is that when you record a drum kit, not only is every drum usually “close miked” (i.e. recorded with the microphone only an inch or so from the sound source), but those microphones are usually set to a “Cardioid” response pattern – either in order to “concentrate” on the particular “drum” being recorded, or simply because it isn’t adjustable on that particular microphone. And what happens with Cardioid microphones?

That’s right! It’s our old friend (or should that be “enemy”), “Proximity effect”. Every drum (or indeed any other instrument) recorded close-miked using a cardioid pickup pattern will have an unnaturally high level of “bass” in its sound. That’s why – if you record and mix a real drum kit – you almost certainly will end up rolling off quite a lot of the bass; not to “create” a sound that wasn’t there originally, but to correct the sound of the microphone and therefore get the “real sound” back out of the microphone.

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