In the previous article in the series How To Produce A Song In Pro Tools I shared my arrangement and pre-production processes for the production of a song called "Photograph". In this article I will explain how I incorporated drums and bass guitar into the Pro Tools session.
In all the songs I have produced so far in the short-list of songs that Georgie has written I have used drum VIs as I like the flexibility of the workflow. For the production of Photograph I chose to come at the drums from a different angle. I decided to use an online session drummer. A client of mine asked me to mix a few new songs of his. These songs featured some amazing sounding drums. I asked where the drum stems came from and he said Fiverr. Fiverr is a massive online community of merchants offering all manner of services starting as low as $5.
I figured this was worth a punt so I specified my service totalling £40. I found the drummer on Fiverr that my client used, ordered the service and forwarded the demo production stems (with bpm) to the online session drummer.
Brief To Online Session Drummer
- Perform to the 125 bpm click track using the acoustic guitar & vocal tracks as a guide. Separate stems provided so you can set preferred monitoring levels.
- Listen to the rough MIDI drum stem to reference stops, dynamics and drum fill locations.
- Use your drummer's instincts.
- Do not edit stems.
- I am happy for you to mix drums.
The service was completed in 4 days with multi-track stems and rough mp3 mix forwarded via Google Drive.
Online Session Drums Returned
My first impressions were that the drums sounded amazing. On closer inspection though I noticed two areas of the brief that have been missed:
- You'll hear in the rough mix example that the drums are fairly tight but it does sound as though the drums have been performed to the entire mix rather than just the click, acoustic guitar and vocal tracks.
- Dynamics in the pre-chorus sections and bridge seem to be as powerful as the chorus, which is a shame as that is a music arrangement aspect I want to retain throughout the production.
Importing Drums Into Pro Tools Session
Once the drums were imported into the Pro Tools Session I had a chance to hone in on areas that I liked and sections that I didn't think worked.
I really liked the grooves and the energy of the playing but I was not so keen on the tightness of the timing. It felt a little lazy. I tested this by plugging in a bass guitar to Pro Tools so I could jam along with the drums to find out if the lazy feel would be a problem, sadly it was. I went through the entire drum performance and tightened up the hits to the session bpm using tab to transients and quantizing (Alt+0) with audio crossfades covering my edits. Beat Detective can be a bit hit and miss in these types of applications - I prefer spending the time fixing drum performances bar by bar.
The drums in the pre-chorus sections and bridge feel a bit overplayed so I decided to strip out the drums in those sections leaving only the drum fills into the chorus sections. The first problem I came across was the first beat hits of the pre-chorus section. The overheads had the high hat pattern playing under the sustain of the cymbal crash/kick hit. I got around this by taking the very last kick hit with cymbal crash at the end of the song as this hit didn't have any bleed from other parts of the kit. I moved copied this selection to the beginning of the pre-chorus and bridge sections.
Now that the drums were edited to sound tight and that the drum arrangement had been fixed I needed to address the sound of the kick. The whole kit sounds really nice, the only area where the kit sounded weak was in the kick. It was too boomy and lacked clarity. To fix this I chose to do some subtle drum replacement. There is no better tool for the job than Trigger 2 by Slate Digital. This did the trick nicely. The kick drum now sounded focused and much more bouncier in the mix.
Bass Guitar Recording
Once the drums were fitted into the production I moved on to bass guitar tracking. At this point, I had developed the bass lines to marry with the groove of the new drums and the overall arrangement of the song. The only thing I had to do was hit record.
The problem I faced now was the sound of the bass - it didn't work very well with the sound of the drums. This frustrated me - as a result, I couldn't perform the bass parts very well. I needed a get the bass guitar tone right so that I could connect with the music better. I used Blue Cat's Destructor plug-in. to help me get the bass tone right. Blue Cat Destructor is a very powerful distortion and guitar amp simulator plug-in. I didn't need an overdriven bass sound so I found a clean bass presets that seemed to fit the drums. This worked really well and the bass went down in a handful of takes.
Next In The Series
Watch this space as in the next article I will talk about recording re-recording the acoustic guitar and fitting in the piano arrangement. This is the stage where demo backing vocals start to take shape.