Simulating a live drum solo
by Bruce Bartlett, Copyright 2011
Suppose you just recorded a band in a club to create a live album. A few days after the gig, the drummer asks, “Can I play a drum solo in your studio, and have you add it to the album? I want it to sound ‘live’, as if I played it at the gig.”
That happened to me. We recorded a drum solo in the studio, then edited it onto the beginning of one of the live-recorded songs. People listening to the final CD thought that the solo was part of the set.
I'll offer some suggestions on how to simulate a live, in-the-venue drum solo after the fact. The techniques described here also apply to overdubbing other musical parts in the studio to replace flawed live performances.
Here's the basic procedure:
- In the studio, try to duplicate the miking setup that you used live. Match the microphone models and placement.
- Record the instrument in a dry, neutral studio if possible.
- Then add some artificial reverb that sounds like the live venue's reverb. Set the reverb parameters to re-create your memory of the venue's reverb time, degree of warmth, and so on.
- Enhance the tracks with EQ, gating and compression as needed.
- Add crowd noise and applause.
I put some mp3 samples of the recorded drum solo in this article so you can click on them and hear the results. If your playback stutters, right-click the samples to download them first, then play them. For the best sound, play the samples through your studio monitor speakers.
The finished mix
Let's listen to the studio-recorded drum solo after it has been enhanced to sound “live”:
As you can hear, we added some crowd reaction and reverb to the dry studio tracks in order to simulate a live recording.
Below is a screen shot of the drum-solo tracks. From top to bottom, the tracks are:
- Overhead left
- Overhead right
- Rack tom
- Floor tom
- Audience reaction, left and right mic signals
- A different audience reaction, left and right mic signals
There's also a reverb plug-in inserted into a stereo bus. The snare and toms have sends to that reverb bus.
The studio mix without processing
Now let's break down the mix so you can hear how it was put together. First, here's a mix of the studio drum solo without any EQ or effects:
The sound is not too exciting, is it? Let's work on one track at a time.
This is the raw sound of the kick-drum track – with no EQ and no gating:
You can hear some leakage into the kick-drum mic, and the kick lacks punch. I added some EQ and gating as shown below. Here's the result:
The EQ and gate settings are shown below:
It's common to cut around 400 Hz on a kick-drum signal to remove the “papery” sound and to tighten the beat. I also added some beater click at 4 kHz, and brought up the low end slightly. The gate threshold was set to pass the kick drum but remove most of the leakage.
Let's move on to the snare drum. It lacked clarity and sounded kind of puffy:
The EQ shown below really helped to define the snare sound.
Some cut around 600 Hz, a shelving boost above 4 kHz, and a little peaking EQ boost at 195Hz made the snare drum sound more “expensive”. Of course, that EQ might not work with a different snare drum.
As you can hear in the sample below, the rack tom and floor tom mics picked up a lot of leakage, and the toms lacked punch:
Again, some gating and EQ helped those problems:
Shown below are the gate and EQ settings for the rack tom.
A cut around 600 Hz is fairly typical for toms. A low-end boost brought out the tone of the drum. I set the gate release time long enough to hear the tom-tom ringing.
With the overhead mics, I wanted to pick up mostly just the cymbals, so I rolled off everything below 500 Hz.
The mix with reverb and effects
Now that the sound of the drums was improved, we needed some reverb to simulate the original venue. I set up a reverb plug-in with 0.4 second reverb time, and inserted a reverb send in the snare and toms tracks. Here is the result:
Reprise: The finished mix
Those drums are really starting to sound live, but one vital ingredient is missing: the audience reaction. I had recorded some applause and yelling at the end of each song. As shown below, I copied and pasted some of that under the drum solo in the bottom four tracks:
And this was the final result:
Adding some crowd reaction works amazingly well to simulate a live event. I hope you enjoyed hearing and seeing how this “simulated live” recording came together.