Don’t Compromise On Your Drum Tracks
I need to specify that this article is intended for dealing with real drummers. If you are using a midi sequencer and a sampler, the rules are totally different.
Editing in a sequencer is as easy as moving a mouse because each individual drum is independent (unlike real drums, which be explained later). Moving a kick drum takes no thought, brain power, or even luck. Editing loops is fairly easy as well when on the grid in a program like Cubase.
For the majority of this article, I will be referring to using Vegas, which I always considered to be more like a tape machine.
I remember years ago I was doing a recording for a younger band. (I was still pretty new to recording too). They were into what Avenged Sevenfold was doing quite a bit. This was back before Avenged Sevenfold was nearly as mainstream as they are now in 2006.
The drummer of the band wasn’t the greatest and there were massive speedups and slowdowns all over the place. Well, when it came time to track guitars, we were in for a total nightmare.
While the drummer was finished with all his tracks in 2 or 3 takes, the story was different for the guitar player. It took hours to get some parts even close to right.
Because the drums were all over the place and it was nearly impossible to t tightly play over them. In fact, we had to adjust the guitar playing to speed up and slow down with the drums.
If we would have taken an extra 2 hours on drums, put the drummer on a double-timed click track (not all drummers require this, but most do) and really worked with him, he could have come out with tracks that grooved a lot better.
Most drummers who haven’t practiced with a click have a hard time with it. That’s okay. If you double time the click, the process is much easier. Let them practice with it for a while.
The entire band will be glad you did!! Most drummers give in to the click drum after less than an hour and actually embrace it. If your drummer grooves the way a drummer is supposed to groove, not only will your songs magically come to life, but you’ll save tons of time when overdubbing other instruments.
Don’t Rely On The Recording Software!
Some people will just assume that recording software can fix drum problems. Well, that depends on several factors.
Some programs are better for editing than others. I switched to Cubase from Vegas. Cubase has INFINITELY more power than Vegas does when you are editing drum parts.
Why? Because with the version of Vegas I’ve used all these years, the minimum editing is about 10ms. This makes shifting drums almost an impossibility. It takes a 2-minute job in Cubase and turns it into an hour job.
So just make sure the software you are using can even do drum editing anyway. The band I mixed last night wasn’t shy about editing the drums to improve the songs. I have no problem with that. However, if I had known we were going to do this much drum editing, I would have gotten Cubase a long time ago.
Even better, the hours it took me to make just a few edits could have been spent on getting better track performances, which would have sounded better, been easier, and probably would have been a lot cheaper. Just remember, another takes only takes 5 minutes or so. A really seamless drum edit can take 30 minutes in Vegas.
Why Is Drum Editing Difficult?
The idea of nudging drums to better fit a certain groove isn’t that difficult. You make a cut on each side of the kick you want to move and slide it over. That part is easy.
Of course, you may have 10 mics on the drums. All these need to be nudged too. You see every mic picks up everything in a drum kit. The sound of the kick drum is pretty dominating in a kick drum mic, but you’ll still hear cymbals, snare, and toms.
On the snare top, you’ll still hear hihats, kick drum, etc. Because of this, you can’t just move one particular drum. You are really moving the entire kit for a second.
Most programs allow you to group tracks to so that you only have to perform each edit once and the process is automatically done on the other tracks in that group. The biggest problem with drum editing is the simple fact that drums are usually constantly making noise.
Think about it for a second.
If you think of just a kick and snare beat with no cymbals or hihats, there is silence. It’s very easy to edit in between the silence. Moving a kick or snare drum, in this case, is easy.
Now, let’s add a closed hihat. It’s still possible to edit. However, if you move the kick, you also move that hihat. So maybe the hihat was just fine. Well, now it isn’t!! The hihat is ruined or is going to need some special treatment. This problem gets even worse when ride cymbals (that ring out for a long time) or open hihats are used.
Basically any stuff this is ringing out (but also decaying) will have to be cut and moved. This is VERY tough to do most of the time, but it really depends on the tracks that have been given to you.
Most big boys that edit drums extensively, will do 5 or 10 takes of the drums. Only the really good takes are kept. From there, if there is a problem with the second verse, you have 5-10 different verses to look at. If a click track was used, it’s no big deal at all slap in Verse #2 from take #4.
With this system, you not really adding or subtracting time from a part. You are pasting a different take in. In this method, you do not have to worry about shifting other parts of the drum kit. It still can be a big hassle getting the drums to fit properly just because the drummer has used a closed hihat on Take#1 but a slightly open hihat on Take#3.
Basically, drum editing can improve takes, but it’s not always THAT quick. You are much better just getting a great take from the beginning. It will just feel better!! When I was down at the Michael Wagener Workshop, the drummer (who was damn good!) played a take.
He liked it all except for just one thing. He asked Wagener if he could fix that one thing. Without even a moment’s hesitation, like a well-trained spy agent, Wagener insisted, “NO!! I can’t do anything to your drums. That’s your job!”. The drummer than said, “You mean with all this SHIT you have laying around here, you can’t even fix a drum part!!???”. (Wagener did have about as much gear as one could imagine).
The point is simple. Wagener knew that the drummer was more than capable of playing a great take and didn’t need to be edited. He knows the results of editing would not be satisfactory. He also knew it would waste a lot of time that could be used to improve other things.