Mixing live multitrack drum recordings has its challenges. One problem that can crop up from time to time in a drum mix is harsh sounding cymbals from the overhead microphones. It isn't always a pleasant sound, think fingernails down a chalkboard.
What can we do when drums come across sounding too harsh in a mix? Do we notch out a specific frequency range in an EQ plug-in? That might sound sensible, but this approach will affect the overall timbre of the drum mix. What else can we do instead? Are there plug-ins are out there that can reduce harsh-sounding cymbals without dulling the top-end of our drum mixes in the process?
We think there are three good tools from Oeksound, FabFilter and Waves. In this article, we cover several recommended suggestions that we know from experience can quickly and easily tackle harshness in drum overheads. When treating any form of sibilance in a recording, always remember a little often goes a long way. If you apply too much with any of the following plug-ins, you may as well use heavy-handed EQ and kill the natural airy qualities of your drum mixes.
The drum example we used to demonstrate these plug-ins has a noticeable harshness in the crash cymbal that you will hear mainly on the left-hand side of the stereo image. In each case, you will be able to compare the before and after for each plugin, we know performs well for this particular application.
Soothe - Oeksound
Soothe is described as a dynamic resonance suppressor for mid and high frequencies. Does that mean it is a dynamic EQ, compressor or de-esser? Sort of, It is, and it isn't any of those in the traditional sense. There are elements of each of them, making soothe an excellent tool for addressing sibilance in drum tracks.
soothe is a dynamic equaliser with clever self-adjusting frequency bands which analyse the signal on the fly altering the frequency of the EQ based on the input. This process, in essence, saves you from manually notching out problematic frequencies such as sibilance. The reduction in Soothe only kicks in when and where it’s needed. The process works well so as not to affect nearby frequency areas resulting in tracks that maintain detail in the top end.
To use Soothe you simply adjust the nodes and filters within the display around the harsh area using the depth control for dialling back sibilant sound. The delta button is particularly useful as it monitors what you are reducing. Soothe is one of those plug-ins that sounds complicated but in reality, couldn't be simpler to use. Out of the box, the default positions of the nodes and filters are set to perform exceptionally well for just about anything you through at it. Leaving you with the choice of how much depth (de-harshness) you want.
Read our review of Oeksound soothe.
Visit Oeksound for more information and to download the 20 day free trial of soothe.
Even though FabFilter Pro-DS provides a comprehensive set of controls, it is straightforward to use and sounds fantastic.
The scrolling waveform graphic at the top displays sibilance reduction in yellow, which can be used to help users to home in on the problem areas quickly. The threshold and range controls operate like general-purpose compressor controls, but these need to be used in conjunction with the frequency range sliders in the bottom left to get good results. Pro-DS boasts two modes, single vocal and allround, the latter is better for instrument applications such as drum overhead tracks. When allround mode and split band processing are both enabled, you can use Pro-DS as a high-frequency limiter, perfect for taking the harshness off the sound of your cymbals in drum mixes. You can then use an EQ inserted after Pro-DS if you wish to add a touch more air to your drums without needing to worry about adding harshness.
Visit FabFilter for more information and to download the free trial of FabFilter Pro-DS.
Waves F6 is a dynamic EQ that provides six parametric filter bands with compression and expansion controls per band. For this example, we first established the harshness was in the 8kHz range by boosting a sweeping a tight bell curve. We then flattened the curve and set the threshold of band 6 to a point just below where the loudest level was hitting, being the problematic crash cymbal, and dialled in a suitable amount of negative range to attenuate the harsh sounding frequency range when it got too loud.
How Do You Do It?
How do you approach de-harshing drum overhead channels? Do you use any of the plug-ins we suggested in this article or do you use something else that you can recommend to The Production Expert Community?