Category Archives: recording 101

feeling the mix

Feeling the mix. Oh, it could mean feeling its pain, or kind of a shady rain coat vibe but what I’m talking about is when you know a mix is right, powerful.

Monitoring volume always goes up when mixing. Fight the impulse to turn it up as you go along  by starting with a moderate level (you could have a conversation with someone in the room without yelling), take note of where the dial is set and then treat the volume knob like it has a taze setting if you turn it up. Go as long as you can building your mix at a consistent moderate volume. You will eventually need to turn it up, and also turn it way down, but during the majority of the process try to stay moderate in monitoring volume. Do this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s no amazing feat to have tunes sound good when they are cranked. Almost everything sounds powerful when it’s loud and blowing your hair back like you’re out for a spin with the top down. Second, live to mix another day. Stay loud long enough and one day, maybe not for awhile but one day, you won’t have the ears to really EQ or mix in a way that’s any use in the real world. I know the last one sounds like me being your Mom as you sit inches from the TV screen or Debbie Downer but think of it more like pros mix at moderate levels, beginners crank it up – which do you wanna be?

I do and must turn the volume up, especially when I put the mix on bigger speakers (if you have the luxury of switching between near field speakers, usually 6 or 8 inch speakers placed near you, and larger speaker,12 inch woofers on up to jumbo size. Warning: once a clients hears their tune on big loud speakers they generally only want to hear it that way from then on. You can do that for them at the end of the session so they feel enormous before they head out the door but you are doing them no service when it comes to precision, which is what’s needed. So I do turn it up on bigger speakers at various stages – I check bass and kick phase and EQ mostly on the big speakers, and then again for mix placements (vocals or guitars) and then at the end to see how the mix feels. I also use the near field and turn them way down, almost to a whisper. This helps again judging vocal placement (harmony and lead vocals) and if I still can hear a little bass at low volume on small speakers, it’s a getting about right.  I also take very frequent “ear breaks” when I just turn everything off for 5 or 10 minutes and let my ears cool down. It’s also amazing what perspective this will give you when you hit play again and hear where you last left off. Many times I find that that thing I was microscopic on was not bold enough and I’d missed the big picture or that I was making something blisteringly loud in the mix because I was over focused.

Okay, so you’ve stayed moderate in your volume with the exception of a few twists up and down to check things and you’ve taken a bunch of ear breaks to keep you moving forward, you’ve done a good mix, now you take a listen. Nice but it’s missing something. Something almost indefinable, something that transcends genre. You’re missing a girth, a power, a coming at you, popping out of the speakers-ness.  The answer is be bold. Get out of the oh so subtle and into the up front in yo face – be bolder on your drum compression, a bit more aggressive on the master buss, increase the guitars by a half db. Lean in, childrens, lean in. You have one chance with a listener, the first time they hear it. They will not be overwhelmed with the subtle of you mix. You must grab them. When you start heading down this path you’ll notice you don’t need to turn it up, the speakers start to ring in the right way, the mix gets broader. No, I’m not talking about Metallica mastering levels or putting a maximizer on everything. I’m taking about feeling the mix, the power of the song, that moment you cross over from just getting it right to getting an audience to feel it – even you yourself start tapping your foot, bobbin’ your head. You are now starting to feel the mix. You don’t feel the need for volume because it sounds loud and moving and phat as is. Don’t be afraid to go over – it’ll let you know when you’ve broken it. Take a step back and it will reemerge. All the subtle textures will still be there, all your nuanced verbs will still be there, but now a person who hasn’t heard the song 874 times will also hear these things and in later listens marvel at your intricate attention to detail. But they never would have noticed if you didn’t “feel the mix”.  So, be bold while all the while keeping it cool on the volume.


Most percussion instruments need some room. Skinned instruments need less room unless you want that tone. Shakers and Tambourines need some distance from the mic and better that the hits (the most forward motion of a shaker, for example) are not aimed at the mic. Often with these two instruments I’ll have the player stand 2 to 3 feet off the mix and play them sideways to the mic. Never have a shaker played into a mic like a knife in a bad 3D movie – no forward hit straight into the mic! With skinned percussion I prefer a large diaphragm condenser mic set off the head 5 or 6 inches, but lots of times I find 1 foot away with the mic looking over the front edge of the head.  With big low end percussion drums, get further off them with the mic.

When I mix percussion instruments generally I compress and then roll off everything under 75 Hz up to 250 Hz depending. I also boost the whole spectrum starting anywhere between 2 to 6K.  You’ll want a nice top without it being like a random punch thrown at your mix and not a lot of low end to clutter.


Whether solo or in a section, I prefer one mic on brass. I use a ribbon mic set about  2 to 3 feet from the bells of the horns with the players standing pretty much in a line. If it’s a solo horn I usually walk around the instrument as the player plays to find the best spot. Most times it involves the mic being a little off axis – meaning to the left or the right of the horns bell – never directly in front. If you really want individual control when recording a section, almost any mic will do – especially a dynamic or condenser mic placed close to the individual horn.

When I mix horns I roll off some lows, add a little punch between 700Hz and 2K and maybe roll off a little top at 10K. You don’t want them shrill or muddy and given your particular track you’ll adjust the EQ to fit.


It’s always nice to have a few mics to choose from when micing vocals but generally three kinds are used: small diaphragm dynamic, large diaphragm dynamic or large diaphragm condenser. Each are great for a different need. But most times I’m using a large diaphragm condenser and then selecting which one of this kind I use. But I fortunately have choices while your mic cabinet may be more limited. If you have a large diaphragm condenser, start with it.  I highly recommend a pop screen – even if you have to build one (panty hose stretched over a sewing loop works great, and you can say that you do, in fact, rock the mic with the panty hose – homage to the Beastie Boys).  Place the pop screen about an inch to 3 in front of the mic capsule.  I like to have the mic pointed slightly down towards the floor (about 20 degrees) rather than straight on. I also make sure the mic height is aligned to how the vocalist sings – some have their heads down, some up, and others straight on to the mic. Depending on the mic and how well it does with proximity (some get thin even a few inches away from them) I like to have the vocalist at least 3 to 6 inches from the pop screen.

And now a word on mic technique.  If a singer doesn’t know how to work a mic or it’s their first time on a studio mic, take some time to give them some hints.  They need to think of the mic as an ear. You wouldn’t scream full throttle into a friends ear – well, not a friend for long if you did, so no doing that on a mic. If the singer gets loud they need to pull back from the mic or at least turn a little to the side. Same goes for explosives, not that kind, P’s or anything thing that can “pop” a mic – just singing off axis to a mic, turning the head slightly to left or right can make a huge difference in the final product. So let them know how to work a mic.

As we set up I always let the vocalist know how it’s going to work. It helps to chill the nerves and starts to get them use to the idea that it’s not about capturing one performance; it’s almost always about a process. I lay out the process ahead and that we don’t record until they feel good about what they hear in the headset, that we will take our time on this and then they can bring the magic, or sometimes parlor trick. Start with a light send of the mix to their phones and only a little of them in that mix. You should have a ballpark setting for level on your mic pre for recording vocals and same for a headphone send. Let the vocalist warm up on the track and get your gain and compression settings and then give them the amount of themselves they need in their headset and the proper over all level they need. Too little or too much send and it will affect pitch – too little and they’ll scream and after two takes they’re fried, too much and their pitch will probably leave the building. You are a partner in all recording, do your best to make it happen! You can often tell when a singer just isn’t getting it that it could very well be their headset mix – sometimes over their objection you’ll need to change things to get the job done.

Just like a drummer, a vocalist is a sprint runner you’re trying to stretch into a marathoner. You are the coach, know how to pace them. Make sure they know you think this is going to be not just good but important. In effect it will be, even if it’s only to them, and by that it will be to you. That you are looking forward to the process and doing this with them.  Give the vocalist breaks, not too long but enough to clear the head and let the vocal chords de-steam. Make sure they have water. If a vocalist is doing it right, they are in a very vulnerable place. No matter how you feel about the music or the vocalist, respect the art and the process – even if they don’t. You will be coach, psychiatrist, fan, mommy, or even enemy. Do what it takes to get them there and be right about the approach you use to do it – use your intuition.

So you’ve cut some vocals. If I’m making a record I almost always will “comp” for the final track. I’ll take 5 or 6 passes and keep the best 3 or 4 takes, then punch in on any lines that I think needed extra focus or varied approach, and then go thought each and select the best lines. Then I’ll splice those together into one track. If it’s a limited budget I’ll punch in lines on a take I think was pretty good on the whole. This saves a bunch of time but generally doesn’t give the precision and vibe of a comp’d vocal.  Trick: Usually a vocalist will be closer to a double by not singing to their comp’d vocal. Almost all the time I can get a double out of the parts I didn’t use in making the comp’d track. Just play what was left over against the comp’d track and find the lines that most closely double the lead vocal – you might need to edit it to be right on but in the end I’ve found this to be the most efficient and also most precise way to get a double.

When mixing a vocal I like compression, I like a lot of it. Others, not as much. Let’s just get that out right now. My vocal chain is a compressor slammed, followed with EQ, then another compressor, and finally a de-esser. Oh yes, take that. That’s right, you heard me. I like vocals to feel immediate and urgent – even on a ballade. But that’s me. The first compressor is there to get control of the vocal but also to give it oomph. The EQ I’ll generally roll off bellow 75 Hz, add some between 200 and 300 Hz, maybe cut with a tight Q at 1 or 3K , or add between 3 and 6K with a nice boost at 11K or above.  EQ depends so much on the mic that was used and its characteristics, good and bad, the individual vocalists sound, and the sound you want to achieve in the mix. The next compressor should only go into compression on really big hits and when it does, only dip into compression no more than 3db. The de-esser is to make the mastering guy not want to come and hunt you down.

Effects, reverb, delay, etc are really a matter of taste and the needs of that tune. But even if you like ‘em high and dry put a delay on it – about 100 ms with very little regeneration and mixed down so that you can barely hear it. This will thicken your vocal in all the right ways and the vocals will still sound dry in the mix. Now feel free to slather on the verb, if you must.

stringed instruments

The most important thing is to walk around the instrument as it’s being played. Get your ass out of the chair! Walk fully around it. Use one ear up close and in various positions around the instrument. Every acoustic instrument is different and has its own “sweet spot” – it’s your gig to find it! I’m going to give you the boiler plate of micing these very finicky and subtle things. You will no doubt find different places and positions to mic but this will give you a nice starting point.

I prefer a pencil condenser mic. A large diaphragm condenser will also get it done. A dynamic mic is gonna give you a rough time for recording the important subtlety’s but it can also be a “vibey” sound. A ribbon is cool but generally is used as a supplemental mic, not primary but then again it can be an interesting sound.  You can also use a room or ambient mic(s) along with close mics and blend it in to taste when you’re mixing.

Acoustic or Classical guitar:
A mic positioned at the 12th fret 6 inches from the neck and looking down the fret board towards the sound hole is the most standard way of micing. Or try the mic looking directly at the neck at the 12th fret, out about 4 inches from the neck. I also use an additional mic about a foot out directly in front of the sound hole and then flip the phase on this mic. You can also position a ribbon mic at this position or even have it looking down over the shoulder of the player. You could also place a second mic 2 feet in front from the back edge the guitar looking (pointed) at the bridge of the guitar. I’ve also used two pencil condenser mics, one on either side of the sound hole, about a foot off the sound hole and a foot apart.  They should be parallel to the instrument and looking in at each other. Now turn each mic towards the guitar about 20 degrees. In this method you’re using phasing as your friend. Small movements of the mic in all these methods make a big difference and can take a sound from awful to bliss and vice versa. If you must, then record the DI if the instrument has it. Sometimes, especially live or in a room with other instruments it’s necessary but usually there’s as much soul and vibe to them as a piece of particle board, sometimes less. If perfect isn’t an option then getting the job done is.

When I mix I usually have the F hole mic down -10 to -15 db from the mic over the finger board. I’ll bus both mics to a mono Bus/Group and compress and EQ from there. I like a moderate to slow attack, a fairly quick release, and at a 4:1 ratio. EQ is generally added around 3K and also at 11K and take away at 100Hz or 200Hz – sometimes I’ll put a low pass filter starting at 50Hz or even at 100Hz and then EQ more out between 100 and 250 Hz with a fairly tight Q.

You can use these ideas for similar instruments such as a Lafta, Lute and other more exotic instruments.

National/dobro guitar:
The doughnut is key. Lots of the instruments tone comes from the resonating doughnut and also the F holes. I’ve used dynamic and condenser mic and combinations of the two. Start with a neck mic, as described above. Now take a dynamic mic and place it straight on and 6 inches to a foot away from the bottom F hole. You might find moving this mic directly center to the doughnut is also cool sounding. Rooty and vibey are what you’re going for – it’s not an acoustic guitar, it’s its very own unique vibe and kinda small and nasally is a goal.

Same thing for EQ and Compression as outlined above for Acoustic Guitar but I might focus and boost more at 1K instead of 3K

Upright Bass:
If I can, I prefer two mics on upright. I listen for a sweet spot around the bridge and F Hole. Once I’ve found a well balanced spot I’ll use a large condenser at that spot – generally at a 45 degree angle from the instrument, a foot out looking towards the spot between the top of the F Hole and bridge. Maximum low end is not the issue – you’ll usually have more than you’ll want.  Look more for full and rich rather than boom. I’ll also use a pencil condenser mic on the neck, a half to 3/4 of the way up the neck, a foot off and looking toward the end of the fret board. This will give you definition and attack. You’ll need to flip the phase on one of the two mics. You can also just use one mic. If I’m only using one mic I’d move the bottom mic a little further up to where the instrument is plucked. In live situations I’ve also taken a dynamic mic and wrapped it in foam with only the capsule uncovered. I’ll stick that under the strings past the bridge looking up towards the bridge. This eliminates a ton of bleed from other instruments and will at least get you something usable. Cool if the instrument doesn’t have a DI or the DI sounds like crap, which most do on an upright.

When I mix, I’ll send the two mics (generally with the top mic being louder than the bottom mic) to a mono Bus/Group and Compress and EQ that channel. Compression is just like an electric bass – slow attack, fast release, and 4:1 or 8:1 ration. For EQ I often put on a low pass filter and take away sub low stuff 45Hz and below. I’ll also make sure the two mics balance so that there’s not too much string slap or fret noise. Unless you have huge speakers or a sub you won’t hear just how much of the very low end you have – just presume you have a ton and treat accordingly – it can mess a mix up quick.

Upright bass and cello are not that different when it comes to micing. Sometimes I use two mics but usually I just use on large diaphragm condenser mic and try to really be specific where it’s placed according to how that individual instrument sounds. Usually the mic is place 2 to 3 feet away from the instrument at a 45 degree axis from straight on, looking more at the bridge than F Hole and sometimes slightly above the bridge – which will get more of the bow’s sound.

When mixing a cello, I compress slightly to even it out and EQ to give it air and a little more attack – 11K and 2 to 6 K range respectfully. Be careful on the low end – too much take away in the 200 Hz range and you can kill the body of the sound, so try a tighter Q when EQing in this range.

Air! Give it some room. No such thing as close micing on a violin or viola, unless you’re going more for a fiddle sound.  Violins are delicate things – the sound is generally small and can get abrasive quickly, especially with a less than proficient player.  Viola’s are more robust but can have some trouble in certain frequencies. I usually only go with one mic. You can add a room mic but the primary mic is going to pick up a lot of room anyway. Go high. I use a pencil condenser at least 3 feet above and 4 feet in front, pointed towards the center of the violin/viola. If it’s too ambient for your taste, just move in a foot each way until you like what you hear.

Lots of times I use a violinist/viola to cut multiple parts and quadruple each line played – kind of building up to the equivalent of a chamber orchestra. Important: You must playback the parts the player has just played in their headset when they start to double . It’s important they hear the line before that they have just cut in order to match vibrato and expression. Also if you’re doubling/tripling/quadrupling a line make sure that with each new pass the player moves from the spot they just recorded from, just a foot or so either way. This will make a huge difference and a much fuller richer sound. Think of it like a violin section of the orchestra – they sit in chairs next to each other, not on top of each other – although that would be fun to see. You won’t have a different violin or different player’s hands for each pass but you’ll at least have a slightly different timbre on each pass. It makes a difference.

When I mix a violin/viola part it starts with the compressor at a slow attack and slow release, and moderate ratio – 4:1. But let’s say I have an arrangement that consist of 3 violin lines and 2 viola lines, and with each line being quadrupled. I’ll pan all 20 channels at their individual faders according to where I want them in the stereo image.  I usually pan just as if I’m looking at an orchestra: Violin 1’s quadrupled parts are paned in various degrees of fairly hard right, violin 2 less so hard right but still each quadrupled part with a different pan, violin 3 the same but more towards center, and viola’s occupying soft right, center and soft left. No right or wrong to this – it’s according to your taste. After I’ve got my panning together I’ll bus all to a stereo Bus/Group and compress using the same setting as I would with one instrument. Sometimes I’ll bus each line (ex only violins that make up Violin 1, 2, etc) to a and individual stereo Bus/Group and then send all the individual lines to a master string stereo Bus Group. I generally won’t eq or compress the individual Bus/Groups but this will allow you to control levels of a part using only one fader instead of 3 or 4. Instead I’ll compress and EQ on the Master String Bus/Group. Only trouble with this method is that if you’re really increasing a line at a certain time then you are sending more into the master compressor, which means you’re hitting it harder and thus fighting it a little – but most times it’s a cool thing. If this is a problem then just compress and EQ on each parts individual Bus/Group and then send to a master Bus/Group which will be used only for overall level of the entire string section.

A word on EQ. Be careful of taking out too much low end. A lot of body is in the 100 to 300Hz range. I will roll off everything below 75 Hz and then dip a little out between 700Hz and 900 Hz and again cut at between 1K and 3K – all depending on the tone of the instrument you’ve recorded and then I’ll lift, very subtly, above 6K. You don’t want woofy, you don’t want slicing abrasiveness, and you definitely don’t want whinny.

If I can I’ll set up two reverbs – one a large room/Hall/plate with a long decay and another reverb that is smaller with a short decay and then add both to taste to my master string Bus/Group. Lush but not smeared is the goal. As a quick reference I use 3 different recordings as touchstone, The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” – a quartet in a close space, almost tight and dry, Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” – a moderate room with a small chamber orchestra, and then anything by the Philadelphia Orchestra pre 1990’s for big and lush. But you’ll find your own references. I recommend listening to them in order to keep them fresh in your head as you begin to mix your own strings.

Each of these instruments are so dependent on the particular instruments tone that there is no hard and fast rule. You must listen to the instrument, know what you want from it, and mic accordingly. With Mando and Uke if you want a starting place it would be a mic at the neck looking back towards the body. Also try the mic looking directly at the neck a few frets from where the neck meets the body. Mando you might find straight on to the top of the F Hold is best.  Banjo can be the same neck position but you also might find straight on where the hand picks is the place. My compression setting is very similar to a acoustic guitar but I’ve also really leaned in and smashed them too – depends on what you want. For EQ, get rid of stuff below 75Hz and add some air (above 10K) and attack (1 to 6K). You might also need a little cut around 300Hz.

There are endless ways to mic pianos and endless ways a piano can sound. Grand, baby grand, Upright, Spinet. Know what you want for an end result before micing! I’ve mic’d a baby grand but mic’d and processed to get a more honky tonk sound – depends on what you have and what you need. But here are a few ballpark ways of micing. The first would be an X/Y micing (refer to X/Y micing under Drum Overheads which describes what and how) with the mic’s placed center and over the hammers. Another method is larger diaphragm condensers placed on the side and looking over the edge of the piano, one at the top of the bend looking towards the hammers and the other at the bottom of the bend of the piano. You can also take large diaphragm condensers and have each looking straight down and about a foot off the strings, one placed towards the hammers focusing on the higher strings and then the other mic place midway down the piano and focusing on the lower strings. You can add in room mics (X/Y or wide placement) placed in the preferred position for maximum room but still having clarity. I’ve also used one ribbon mic on a baby grand sitting on top and to the front of the piano and looking down towards the hammers. This is a cool rock sound especially when you’ve compressed the living crap out of it. Piano’s have a large dynamic range so be careful to not give the mic pre too much gain or you’ll peg it on the heavy hits.

To mix it you can either pan hard Left/Right or less so. I’ll send the two mic’s to a stereo Bus/Group and compress and EQ from there. A light touch to maximum warp just depends on what you want. Try a fairly slow attack and fairly quick release with a moderate ratio as a compression starting point. When you EQ try to reduce sub low rumble and give it some air on top.  The 2 to 3k range is important – you want attack but you don’t want the audience to feel assaulted – most of the time.


Bone crushing to pure, to a sound akin to a washing machine filled with hub caps. The glory that is the electric guitar

Nothing good can follow if the guitar isn’t “set up” properly – it relates to string height and implies string noise – “fretting out”. It also refers to intonation, which means that the guitar is in tune regardless of string or position on the fret board.

New strings! Change them the day before or even a couple. They’ll be stretched and ready to stay rock steady for the session. Tip for stretching your strings: Put the new strings on, wind them up to pitch and then pull up on the string by the pickups, one string at a time, and with your fretting had push down on the string starting at the bottom of the neck and move up. Tune and repeat until after a stretch the tuning stays in. So many guitars do not know how to properly stretch a string – and that slows creativity.

So now you’re ready to track. First, get in the room with the amp and take a listen. Make settings changes from what you hear.

If you’re doing a live band tracking and the guitarist goes back and forth from clean to distorted, make sure the volumes are even between a distorted and cleaner sound. You won’t need the boost for recording (because you can turn it up or down in the mix later) that the players generally wants live. It’s also better to try backing off on the amount of distortion. Again, what sounds good during a live show is generally not the best setting when recording. Back down or turn off the reverb on the amp, unless it’s intricle to the sound. Some choices later are a good thing to have – reverb would be one of those things. Not too much low end. You want frequencies that can be boosted or cut but you don’t wanna have a monstrous spongy low end nor the lack of low end to deal with later in the mix. When in life is monstrous spongy low end ever a good thing? Same goes for shrill. Top end yes, ear slicing lazar is a no. Clarity, sparkle, and impact is the goal. Lots of people say not to track with any effects.  It just depends on what you want. I don’t mind tracking with pedals on – delay, chorus, etc. You are committed to that sound once you track it so just make sure it’s cool.  I want the player to have the feel they need – without a performance and soul what’s the point of even tracking. Balance the needs and vibe of the player against what’s best for the engineer. When push comes to shove, the players needs should win most of those battles.

Try not to turn the amp up to 11. A moderate volume can do wonders when recording – you’d be amazed how good things can sound with moderate amp volume and good mic placement. It’s well know that many of the rawest, biggest amp sounds on your favorite records were done with smaller rigs. Stacks look cool onstage – same in the studio but that’s why recording is not a visual medium. Scale it down to its essentials.

Stick a mic in front of it. There are loads of mics to choose from and endless ways to mic. The old standard of a Shure 57 (a dynamic mic) off center (right or left ,  the mic 3 to 6 inches from the center of the cone) and an inch or so off the grill cloth or the mic placed off axis (the mic tuned 20 to 45 degrees away from the speaker).  Some people like Senhieser 421’s in the dynamic mic category. Others use large diaphragm condenser mic’s, like the a Neumann U87, and others prefer a ribbon mic.  Condensers are used in a similar way to dynamic mics but ribbon I place a little differently. I’ll place a ribbon mic a foot or or even two off the grill and centered with the speaker. I prefer ribbon mic’s for guitar but that’s my taste and maybe not your cup of tea. Generally I try to baffle off around the speaker and mic when using a ribbon because it can get very roomy sounding in a hurry – and sometimes roomy is a great thing. Just depends and what you’re going for. Ribbons are a figure 8 patter which means they’ll pick sound up from the front and back – thus the baffling around the back of the mic.

More mics don’t always make it merrier. If using two mics make sure your phasing is correct. With both channels at equal levels and panned center, hit the phase button above one of the track. If it’s small it’s wrong, if it’s big it’s right. If things still don’t feel right you can enlarge your view of the two tracks and ever so slightly adjust the wave of one track to align perfectly with the other.

Some people don’t have the luxury of recording a guitar amp or a good enough sounding rig. This is where a D.I. box (direct injection box) is your BFF.  A cable from the guitar to the “in” of a DI box – the mic line out of the DI to a channel on your mixing consol or audio interface.  Many of you will have a ¼ inch input on your audio interface/mic pre – if you do, just take the cable from the guitar directly to that input.

If you’re recording a DI track you can throw one of the zillion amp simulators on it. Don’t record the simulators when tracking – just the DI signal itself.  Just use the simulator to monitor as you’re tracking. Some of you might have Guitar Pods, or the like, and once the track is recorded with a simulator there is no way to change or redefine. You have my blessing to go on ahead and track it with amp simulation on if you don’t have a plug in amp simulator that can be used on the DI signal later.  If you do, start flipping through amps and pick the one that sounds right for the track.

Some like micing the tubes on the back of a combo amp, some like room mics, some use multiple amps simultaneously with a mic, or even two, on each and then blend them together later in the mix, some like amp and DI.  Cool. Go for it. Get what you want to hear but this will not necessarily mean “bigger”.

If you have the luxury of different mic pres, match the pre to the tone you want. If you have a compressor in the chain I suggest a lighter dip into compression – you can always smash the crap out of it later in the mix. Just enough compression to get a good hot level in but not enough to squeeze it to death.

Some use EQ  as they are tracking. Unless there is something horrible happening that you know you’ll have to deal with later and moving a mics placement or a different kind of mic is not an option, I generally do not track with EQ – unless there is an incredibly musical sounding analogue EQ available. If it doesn’t sound good then move the mic before you move your finger to the EQ.

Track away!


What’s the best way to paint a picture? Ah….depends on the picture. Crap, it depends on a thousand things. And once I’ve said to paint it this way you are bound by honor to try it another. It’s not a disclaimer; it’s a starting point so you and I are on the same page. You are meant to break every rule I tell you. Got it?! But we can agree on some starting points and some basics.

Level. When everything was recorded with analogue, making the input needle say “Uncle” was a very musical thing and peaking the meter or needle wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Peaking in the digital world does not go the same way. In digital recording getting the level to max and staying right there without peaking is the grail. It’s called “packing the bits”. Awesome in theory and impossible in reality.  Achieving a constant high level of input often means you will have a squashed unemotional wreck of a track. Think of it as perfection, and the truth is we never want to achieve that. What does the dog do once he’s caught the car?  Reaching for perfection is the drug, achieving it is the O.D.

Don’t overload the mic with amp gain or a vocal yell, don’t overload the mic pre (although I go a little over in the red on Kick and Snare) and don’t overload the recording software’s input, unless you dig the sound of broken, and I sometimes do. Compression really, really helps achieve consistent level. You don’t want to take too much dynamics out of the track but used with moderation it can help boost level and keep it in check.

So don’t peak it out and don’t be shy. Get as much input level as you can without over squashing the track or peaking the input meter. And don’t stress if the level is low – it’ll be fine.


Thunder. Ah yes. So you’ve spent hours trying to get the perfect bass sound in your mix. You’ve twisted every dial and EQ has to offer and punished a compressor. Whether you’re looking for pristine, click, distorted, or plane ol’ booty-lishious the method to achieve your desires starts in the same place, tracking it properly.

If you can chat with the player before the session make sure they have their bass “set up”. If they don’t know what that means then they need to look online or at the local music store. It relates to string height and implies string noise (when string makes a clicking sound or rattle against the frets). Sometimes the strings are too low and others times the player is just beating it too hard like their fingers are ball peen hammers. It also refers to intonation, which means that the bass is in tune regardless of string or position on the fret board. The countless hours I’ve wasted ducking around a badly set up bass – always with less than desired results.

Put a new battery in it! If it has “active” pickups, it means they need a battery to work. Don’t waste time or make everyone wait to find a screw driver or drive to the local store. New battery, in before the session.

If you’re not going for a James Jamerson sound (see: every classic Motown and soul tune, just about, and a nod to Bootsy) then be the Samuel L. Jackson of bass and change your motherf$%^in’ strings. The day before or even a couple. They’ll be stretched and ready to stay rock steady for the session.

Now you’re ready to record. The instrument and the rig are first, mic choice and placement are second. Have the bass player get in front of the bass rig and play their instrument through the rig. If they like the sound, you’re more than half way there. If you don’t, at least you’ll understand what the player is going for in a general way. But what if you know that sound won’t translate? Depends on your relationship with the player. Can you suggest things without them getting their panties in a bunch? If you can, then go for it. If not, you might try to tell them that this sound is awesome live and that you want it to come across just the way, but recording is a different medium and with a few tweaks they will be a godhead.

Try not to turn the amp up to 11. A moderate volume can do wonders when recording – you’d be amazed how good things can sound with moderate amp volume and good mic placement. On amp volume, think you standing in front of a fire hose. If you can’t brave it then the mic will probably feel the same way and what you’ll really be hearing is the sound of surrender, with the mic soon to bring you up on assault charges. Turning it up doesn’t always translate that way on playback.

I try not to have too much low end from the amp – I’m looking for a crisp top but not harsh and lots of punch on the high mids 1K to 3K range. This is part of the bass that will really come through on your mix and give the bass definition rather than a low end sloppy roar. Don’t get carried away with how low it can go – just enough but make sure the top end is there and right.

Okay, you both listen, you both dig. Time to put a mic in front of it.  If I can, I will use a U47 fet  (or a large diaphragm condenser) and if not a RE20 or D112 (or a large diaphragm dynamic mic) can get the job done. I generally go about a foot back and the mic just off center from the middle of the speaker. I listen again and start adjusting – either the amps eq, change the placement of the mic, or both depending on what I’m going for. Some people like the mic up against the grill and other 2 to 3 feet back. It’s a taste thing and no wrong or right. Each give a different sound so pick the one you dig or the one that’s right for that particular track.

If you have the luxury of different mic pres, match the pre to the tone you want. If you have a compressor in the chain I suggest a lighter dip into compression – you can always smash the crap out of it later in the mix. Just enough compression to get a good hot level in to your recording program but not enough to squeeze it to death.

Some people don’t have the luxury of recording a bass amp or a good enough sounding rig. This is where a D.I. box (direct injection box) is your BFF.  A cable from the bass to the “in” of a DI box – the mic line out of the DI to a channel  on your mixing console or audio interface. And even if you are recording an amp I’d suggest to also simultaneously record the bass with a DI box. Some amps even have a DI out on them – some with the signal as it comes from the bass itself and other after the  settings on the amp (try not to use this way – it limits what you can do later). Every DI has a “Thru” or “Out”. Take a cable from the “Out” and plug that into the “in” of the bass amp. You can now blend the two or just use one. You’ll have to double check the phase is right between them. Click the phase button above one of these channels in your recording software on playback (if you don’t have that choice on your mixing console/audio card or mic pre). You notice the bass getting bigger and more low end or small and thin – depending. Bigger’s better. If you’re using two channels to record the bass and have a stereo compressor – make sure the compressor is on “stereo”. Feed enough signal in that hits both sides of compressor equally. If you only have a mono compressor – then don’t use compression! Things will get funky in a bad way if one channel is compressed and the other isn’t or isn’t at the exact same settings.

Now hit record and lay down the bottom.


I can’t tell you how to love the one you’re with. You know that a hell of a lot better than someone that’s never met them so what I say here is starting point, like don’t beat them and do give flowers, the intricacies I leave to you. Beyond that, you’ll make it what you want it to be or they’ll let you. Onward.

Hopefully you have a good sound to begin with (see above). You have either an amp track or a DI track or both. If I have a descent amp sound I generally blend some DI into that (about -10db down from where the amp fader is). First, make sure the phase between the two is cool. With both channels at equal levels and panned center, hit the phase button above one of the track. If it’s small it’s wrong, if it’s big it’s right. If things still don’t feel right you can enlarge your view of the two tracks and ever so slightly adjust the wave of one track to align perfectly with the other. If you just have a DI track you can throw one of the zillion amp simulators on it as a plug in on that channel or leave it “untreated”. Don’t use simulators when tracking if you can, it limits your choices later when you’re trying to get it into the mix. Some of you might have Bass Pods, or the like, and once the track is recorded there is no way to run the pure Di signal back through it. In this case, you have my blessing to go on ahead and track it with amp simulation on. Pick the one that sounds right for the track and start twisting knobs. I use a Line 6 plug in and I use the flip top model with the cab and a 47 mic a little off the cab. You can also get some dirt on the DI signal this way and then blend it into the channel you recorded from the amp. If I have and amp track and a DI track most of the time I leave the DI track alone and just blend the two together.

If I have two channels, I’ll “bus” them to a mono bus channel and then add compression and eq. The compressor is first in the chain. I generally like the to get the needle to hit in the -3 to -5db range, and set my attack to moderate to a little slow and my release pretty damn fast. The numbers and increments change according to the plug in you’re using but the rule for bass is slower attack and fast release. I almost also set these setting exactly the same as the kick drums settings. This will tighten up their relationship into a harmonious blissful thing that their friends will be jealous of. Ratio is generally 4:1 but sometimes I’ll go to 8:1. Depends on how it’s fitting in the track.  The goal most of the time is to get the bass punchy but not dominating the entire mix. I’ll add eq if needed and generally I add at 1.2K with a fairly narrow Q and take away at 250hz with a narrow Q. Start there. I’ll even commit the sin of taking a little out at 35hz if the bass is just too boomy and it’s messing with the relation between it and the kick drum. Sometimes I even add a bunch at 50hz with a roll off at 35hz. I want to hear both kick and bass, both big and punchy, not a unified indistinguishable thump. Sonic maximizers can be a great thing to use – they can also turn your mix into a something that peaks your main meters before you even really hear it. It’s salt and pepper, baby. More is not always better and too much low end is just as bad as not enough. Pick the middle porridge, Goldie.

You’d be surprised how much the upper mid’s matters on bass. You’d also be surprised to really listen to the bass placement on some of your favorite record, especially on what you might have thought as guitar hot mixes. When you listen to the proportional placement in the tune you dig, I bet you find the bass is louder than you imagined. In rock the bass should connect and give the guitars more aggression and also connect and punch with the kick drum – so it covers a pretty vast area. It’s got to hold steady and not overtake or wimp out – it’s a foundation of a house.  Go build something that can carry the weight.


There’s a time for loops and samples and a time not to. The mind boggles at the number of ways to mic a drum kit. It’s as important to know the room sound you’re recording in as it is to know the kit and the player’s vibe playing it. It’s also helpful to know what you want the drums to sound like in the final mix (ambient, lo-fi, trashy, clean, etc.).

If you can, before you start recording (in your own free time before the sessions start) walk around the room, clap your hands, snap your finger and listen for what is the most pleasing position – dead or live, mid reflections or lots of lows. In most rooms this can be incredibly subtle stuff. Now take a selection of mics (a condenser, ribbon, dynamic) and line them up together in the room as a drummer plays a simple groove. Record the mics and compare, make some notes on the positioning and then move the mics to another position in the room. Repeat. Especially try the mics close to the kit and at different heights. At the end of this process you will have a very good general idea how your room responds to a drum kit and a very good starting point for micing.

How many mic’s depends on how many you have, what kind of mics and what sound you’re going for. If you only have a couple of mics then you’ll be looking for an overall vibe of the kit as opposed to close micing. If you have more, then you can do more and have more options later.

Of the limited mic options there are three that stand out. The first is one mic well placed in the room. This will give you a low-fi, early rock n roll sound – because that’s how they did it. If you have four mics there is the Glyn Johns method. A ton of classic rock records were recorded this way. It involves 4 condenser mics  in very regimented positions. A quick search on YouTube will give you lots of people’s ideas of what the method is and also new variations on it. The general idea is forming a triangle around the kit with the kick drum mic about 2 to 3 feet in front of the kick drum with it “looking” at the top rim of the kick drum. Another mic is placed looking across the floor tom pointed at the hat, the third mic high over the snare and kick pedal , and a fourth mic close on the snare. Phasing is very important. Being “out of phase” means that mic’s are canceling each other out and leads to a small, toppy sound. When they are “in phase” you’ll have a full warm sound. Lot of engineers actually get out the tape measure and check angles of not only relationship of mic’s to the drums but the mic’s to each other. It can get very pocket protector-y but there’s also reward in it.  In this method you will need the tape measure and you’ll also have to pan each mic the proper way to mix it. Another method is the Ringo sound. The original was done with 2 dynamic and one ribbon mic. A ribbon mic was set 1 to 2 feet in front of the kick looking dead center to the kick drum. A dynamic mic was placed above the snare’s front rim and looking slightly down to the snare. The other dynamic was placed shoulder height just over the rack toms and looking 45 degrees down – which captured the rack, floor and cymbals. You can also place this mic just over the head or shoulder of the drummer looking at the kit but be careful of phase.

Remember there’s a lot of lore involved in these techniques – lines get blurry about how it was actually done and also remember you probably won’t have the same gear as the classic recordings which will affect the outcome – for better or for worse becomes a matter of taste. And matter of taste is the constant over riding point of recording.

For modern recording the idea is to get every drum with a “close” mic and also to get room mics. This gives you options later to increase a certain drum or treatment of an individual drum without affecting the other mics too much. You can blend in room mics or “dry up” (i.e. very little ambience) the sound. I’m going to give you a starting point, the basic set up that you will no doubt augment or change according to your needs, your room, your mic cabinet and your own tastes.

It starts with your overheads. Two mics are placed over the kit and are there to capture the cymbals but also can get an overall close kit sound too. Lots of people use what is called X/Y micing, although it’s easier to think of it as V shaped. X/Y is placing two mics next to each other with their capsules at a 90 degree angle to each other. Imagine two mics each with their capsules at the end, like a tube with one end being the capsule.  Imagine the tube placed standing up with it’s capsule on the table, like the bottom of a salt shaker. Now take the other tube and lay it on its side and move it in front or behind the standing tube and then make sure the ends of the tubes line up to each other with the end of the laying tube overlapping and going to the outer edge of the standing tube. If you held them together, picked them up and turn them from L shaped to V shaped you will have the X/Y position.  Both mics looking down.  This is an X/Y stereo overhead. Another way to get good overheads is a mic on either side of the kit looking straight down, one between the hi hat and rack tom (typically over a crash cymbal), and the other mic over the ride cymbals. How high above the kit depends on the kind of music – for jazz you’ll want the overheads closer to the kit because most of your mix will come from these two mics, for rock try 5 to 6 feet above the floor. If you have a stereo condenser mic or stereo ribbon mic,  just place it center above the kit, either looking straight down or looking a little to the front of the kit. The overheads should not be above the front side of the cymbals – they should be off the back side (drummer side) of the cymbals. The mics should be in a straight line dissecting the kit. I generally use large diaphragm condenser mics on either side of the kit as my standard overhead set up. When you track, either use a stereo compressor or none at all on these mics.

Kick Drum:
There’s always the “hey, have you tried this” in micing – lots of gimmicks and strange techniques. Some work and some are just trying to be different or back flips for nothing usable. But there is one of these kind of things I do love and recommend. I have a worn out 6 inch speaker I wired it to a mic cable (positive to positive and negative and ground of the XLR cable are tied together at the speaker). I place the speaker almost touching the front kick drum head and almost dead center. It sounds like ass by itself but it’s really only there to capture the sub lows of the kick and when blended with the other kick mic(s) it gives a low that EQ just won’t get. Watch phasing – out of phase will make the kick tiny! I use a dynamic mic inside the kick. I cut a small hole in the front head and put the mic just inside the head, sometimes a little off center.  If you have the luxury you can try placing a large diaphragm mic right at the front of the cut out or move the mic to sit about 2 to 3 feet in front of the kick, a little above dead center. Again, watch phasing! The other thing I prefer is to make a tunnel around the kick drum. I use blankets that lay over the kick drum that extends to the floor and out about 3 feet. This tunnel will give you less “bleed” from other drums getting into your kick mics which will give you more control and flexibility without taking away too much of the kicks level into the room. I don’t use blankets inside the drum – I generally use heads with their own dampening systems. If you’re not using a dampening system then definitely a blanket that touches either the front of back head or both is needed.  I also like a click pad (a round rubber dot that sticks to the head where the beater makes contact), but that’s me. I generally have both heads lightly clamped down – almost on the edge of a little plastic sounding.

I use a dynamic mic on the top of the drum placed from the front side of the snare drum, the capsule about an inch past the rim, 3 inches above, and looking down to the center of the drum. Depending on how a drummer sets up you might have to tuck it under the hi hat or change the position slightly so the drummer doesn’t keep smacking it. On the bottom of the snare drum I use a condenser mic looking straight up and about 3 to 5 inches off the bottom head. This really picks up the snares and high end. These two mics will be out of phase so reverse the phase on the bottom mic.

I use a condenser mic  about a foot away from the hat and 6 inches to a foot above with the mic pointed towards the edge of the hat.

Rack and Floor Toms:
I use a dynamic mic on rack toms and a large condenser (sometimes a large dynamic) on floor tom. For the rack tom I like to place the mic above the rack tom head and looking back. So, the stand is in front of the drum, the arm extends over and past the drum and the mic looks back to the head. This eliminates a lot of bleed from the hat and snare but you have to get it just right so the drummer won’t hit it. If this way isn’t possible then the mic should just be looking down at the head from over the front rim and about 3 inches above.  For the floor tom I place the mic on the side of the drum looking towards the snare and then move the mic to look down and to the center of the drum, about 4 inches above the rim. Chances are this mic will be out of phase with the rest of the kit mics, so reverse it!

The X/Y micing works well for a stereo room. You can also use mics on either side of the room, looking towards the kit – I use the top of the kick drum as the bull’s-eye to aim them. I prefer condenser mic’s for rooms. You can also just go with a mono room mic. I generally only use a mono ribbon mic for room. Placement is everything. Too close and when combined with the other mic’s it’ll get messy, in the wrong place or dead position you’ll miss the point of having them at all. The tone should be ambient and even. If the cymbals jump out too much you might want to use a little tape to dampen them without crushing their soul. Placement depends on the room. I’ve placed room mics high in corners of rooms, low to the floor, even behind the kit, and also in an adjoining room. You’ll need to experiment to find what you think is right for that room, that player and the result you want.

Other stuff:
Make sure things don’t move around – mic stands swaying, drummer pushing the kit forward, or mics hitting rims when the drummer hits the drum. Make sure the kick pedal doesn’t squeak – oil it if it’s a chain driven pedal. Get rid of all rattles. Make sure there’s nothing inside the drum and all lugs and bolts are tightened. Heads don’t have to be new but only slightly played on is best. Tuning a drum is very, very important. If a drum is making a ringing sound try retuning both heads or detuning one lug on top or bottom and as a last resort some well placed gaffers tape. If you have to use tape (and everyone does) try placing the tape towards the edge of the drum where the mic is. I prefer batter heads but I’m old school and like a more open ringing tone.

If the drummer is smashing the crap out of their hi hats, feed more into the headphones or dampen them. A lot of drummers will do this in order to keep time, especially when playing to a click. As a matter of fact, if a drummer his over hitting anything the end effect will be to choke the sound. Bonham hit hard but he never hit so hard as to choke the life out of the drum or cymbals. Another hint is to draw a silver dollar sized circle at the center of the snare – if the drummer isn’t hitting inside that circle on the heavy hits then good luck trying to get a consistent snare sound when mixing.


So you’ve recorded drums with multiple mic’s (close and ambient) and it’s time to mix them. There are too many variables to give you exactly what you should be doing or going for on what you’ve tracked so I’ll go with the big generalizations to get you in the ballpark and then you can add, subtract, pummel or lightly touch according to you own tastes.  Here’s the down and dirty on what comes next:

Phasing! If you recorded the kick with more than one mic, solo all kick mics. Most recording programs have a phase button on each channel so double check the phasing between mics by hitting the phase button, one channel at a time, for each mic. The sound will get bigger and lots more low end if all mics are in phase with each other – which could mean one mic might need to have its phase reversed. If you have recorded the snare with two mics, solo only those two mics and repeat the procedure you just did with the kick. Now mute every mic other than the Kick and Snare mics. Make sure they are in phase together. Next go through the rest of the mics on the kit by unmuting one mic at a time. If the phase isn’t cool, no amount of EQ can make up the difference.

Everything is in phase. Excellent. So if you have recorded the Kick with multiple mics you want to bus (send/route) those mics to a “Bus” or “Group”. This sends those mics to one channel. You can control how much of each mic is sent to the “Bus/Group” by each mics individual fader. Now you can EQ and compress the “summed” mics by that “Bus/Group” channel. Bus/Group should be a mono channel which means you can use mono EQ/compressor rather than the stereo versions of plug ins. Saves some CPU.  If your program doesn’t have mono “Bus/Group”, just make sure the individual kick mics are all panned center. So I’ve bused all kick mics to a mono bus. Slap (insert) a mono compressor on the Bus/Group channel and set the compressor to a slow attack, fast release, 4:1 ratio and only dip into compression  by -3 db, which means controlling the individual kick channels fader levels so that it doesn’t hit the compressor beyond a -3 db dip – which you’ll see by the meters (needle or digital meter) on the compressor. So hits might not move the needle, others big hits might dip in -5 db but on the whole you just want to tame and give consistency to the overall track.

Before we go further, first a word about EQ. With a parametric EQ I’ll set a very mild to tight Q and decrease by 5 db and then scan the frequency range to see if a frequency range being “cut” (diminished/reduced) makes that instrument sound better. This is called “negative EQ”. If I find something I like, then I’ll widen or tighten and decrease the amount or add once I’ve found a range that needs to be fought off like a mongrel horde. Instead of adding more of a certain frequency, by doing this you take away. Spend a little time doing this! Don’t just add, try taking some away! Remember that what sounds good in solo mode may make little difference when the rest of the mics are in or actually might sound like crap in solo mode but really sounds great when the other mics are in. Think of it as sugar. A big spoon full of it isn’t gonna be that pleasant (you might have a sugar problem if it is) but add some to you batter and your cake will taste better. Each mic is an element of the whole – keep this in mind.

Now add EQ to the kick. Start by increasing the 3 to 6K range. You should have more tape than sounds good in solo mode – it should sound almost too “tappy”. Take away a little bit at 300hz and add some bellow 100hz – but not too much.

If you have multiple mic’s on the snare, do the same thing you just did to the kick mics. In the EQ range you’ll want to add some at 6 to 10K and more at 2K. Be delicate on where and how much of the lows you take away. You might also find a gate useful. A gate is just that, a door that opens or closes. At what level the gate opens and for how long is what you’ll control.  Sometimes you’ll just let the attack of the snare through the gate and for it to close rapidly – can be very useful to keep other instruments out that were bleeding into your snare mic(s) and allows you to really increase the snare level without also turning up all the bleed and ring for the other drum/cymbals. You can insert the gate after EQ or before compression; it’s a matter of what gets the gate opening and closing more efficiently.

Hi Hat I add a little compression and then EQ. I take away a lot of frequency below 300Hz and add between 2 and 12K.

Toms I generally do not compress but add a little EQ at 4K and 100Hz. I pan them according to how I want the listener to experience it – either from the drummer’s perspective or from the audience’s perspective. Most are drummer perspective, I prefer the audience perspective which means with a right handed drummer the floor tom is panned Left, just as it would be looking at a kit from the front of it. Not hard left but middle left. Rack tom, panned right but more towards center than the floor tom is. You checked phase right??

Overheads. If I’m doing a jazz record then I only compress the overheads a little and try to have a really good overall sound from them – they will be 75 percent of your whole kit sound. On rock records you’ll want to be more aggressive with them. Bus the two overhead mics to a stereo Bus/Group. Pan the individual mic channels depending on the perspective you want – hard left and hard right or less sever. Compress (I mean, hit it hard) and then EQ. I like to take away almost everything below 250Hz and accentuate the 6 to 10K range. This makes the cymbals jump out, which is what you’re trying to capture by these mics. You can pan these mics, just as you did with the toms, depending on if you want to hear the drums from an audiences perspective or a drummers behind the kit.

Finally the ambient/room mic(s). I squash the living crap out of rooms. I beat them down, I put a hurtin’ on ‘em. It’s violent and ugly and so amazingly wonderful. Take a compressor, set the ratio between 10:1 and 20:1 with a very slow attack and a very fast release. I make the input needle say Uncle, peg it and then adjust the output to add more volume that I just took away with all that compression. I look for a pumping sound and to make sure the snare really pops and sounds like a cannon. You’ll have to be careful because cymbals will also boost so it’s a balancing act.  I either don’t EQ or I’ll take away everything below 100Hz – depends how it’s fitting in with the other mics and not clouding things too much. Blend to taste!

Each element has now been treated. What’s next? Get the proper levels of the individual elements, Start with kick, then add snare and then toms or overheads, and then hat and room. For rock it’s all about the kick and snare – make sure they aren’t shy. Lots of people set up another stereo bus channel and send all or some of the elements to this channel in addition to sending out as it was (like a copy or mirror image). In this method you’ll really compress that Bus/Group channel and then blend it back into the overall drum mix. I don’t do this. I send all elements, except kick, to a stereo bus channel and compress a little less than the other method or use a tape saturation plug in. I might also add some overall EQ on this “Drum Bus/Group”.  One final thing is reverb. I generally only add a bit of verb to the kick and snare channels. Enough depends on taste as well as what kind of verb, but start light and then go bigger depending on the kind of sound you want. You should now have a stereo mix of the drums. Tah dah!

Trick: I often will trigger the kick and snare. Which means I turn each hit into a midi note and then have that control a sampled drum sound.  Lots of programs can do this conversion automatically. I don’t replace drums I just add in the sampled sounds. Warning – there will be latency (lag time) between the midi sound and the real drum sound. You will need to move the midi track ahead. Solo the midi kick sound along with the real kick and move the midi track until it doesn’t flam or sound phased out. You’ll need to do the same for the snare. This can really be helpful in getting the drums to stay big in an aggressive full track.  I will often have a drummer give me a few single hits on the kick and then snare after we have a take of the track we’re recording.  I’ll mix a snare hit with lots and lots of room. So essentially it’s a room mic without cymbals or other elements of the kit firing at the same time – just snare. I’ll turn that hit into a sample and then fire it off via midi. This gives me a ton of room sound and a big snare sound without cluttering up the mix or making it a cymbal fest.


Most producers working today are also required to be engineers and vice versa. It’s rare and a luxury when those worlds are still separate. And it’s kind of a drag. But that’s the economics of music. In the end it just means you have to know and do more.

In the pre-mp3 days there were iron clad definitions and distinctions of these two roles: producer and engineer. In movie terms a producer is the director, the engineer the cinematographer or editor. Simply said the producer is in charge and control of the artistic direction and decisions. From artist relations, to outside business forces, to creating a vibe, pace and direction. The producer is the only one that can say “that’s a take”. The engineer follows the producers instructions and works the technical side to achieve a sound. The producer wants to capture a performance the best that it can be, and engineer is responsible for how it is captured. The lines would occasionally blur but for the most part this was the hard rule.

There’s one thing that makes me feel like the old days – when something is ready or done before I ask for it. I divide my time in the producer’s chair with also being the engineer. I’m always thinking about what’s coming next in the session. The flow of creativity should not be slowed by the technical; the technical should be transparent, which means thinking ahead. The band may be in the control room talking about a take or aspect and I try to run out and set up piano mic’s or a vocal mic and run back in to set up a basic headphone mix so when the conversation ends and we are ready to go to the next thing it’s ready without fuss or break in flow. All the while keeping an ear out for the conversation and adding my two cents. Anticipate the needs. That’s the definition of pro for me. Multi task or lose the flow.

There are two situations that will tax both of my simultaneous jobs. Full band tracks and string sessions. With bands, I like to cut the whole band playing in the same room with amps in isolation booths and everyone under headphones. I’m trying to get the performance that’s needed, cheering or riling up, but I’m also thinking about headphone mixes and did the drummer just smack a mic during that take – is the technical cool and is the vibe cool. On string dates I’m also adding in looking at the charts while managing the technical and also the performance and expression, all the while not coming off like my head is exploding or in any way putting out a vibe that everything isn’t absolutely under control. If the artist doesn’t feel like you are in command of what’s happening, you are screwed. More so just not doing your job. When it’s too much, I just take a breath and make sure a situation is handled without fuss and with lots of calm.

The reality is a producer has to now be in command of the technical side of recording as well and getting performances.  Engineers get asked more for their input on artistic decisions. Know what you are good and not good at and contribute accordingly. Producers have to stay current on the latest gear and knowing how and when to use it, engineers have to stay current on various genres of music. Producers have to know how to patch around, fix and get a sound – from micing to mixing. Engineers have to know how to help and communicate with the artist to achieve what they want to hear coming out the speakers.

So pick your hat, but you’ll need two of them.