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Mixing Bass and Drums – tips from GRAMMY Museum’s sound engineer David Trau

Posted by Andrew Sorrill on

Audio engineer David Trau is the head engineer at the GRAMMY Museum’s Clive Davis Theatre. As head engineer, David is responsible for running sound for some of the most celebrated bands and artists in the world. On any given day, he might be working with Bryan Adams, Dion, Graham Nash, Weezer – the list goes on. Many of the performances at the theatre are acoustic, but it’s not uncommon for performances to feature a full rhythm section.
 
Due to the venue’s small size - it seats 200 people - it’s important for David to get a tight and controllable drum and bass sound to avoid overwhelming the other instruments onstage.
 
Acoustics in a venue is always a very important consideration when it comes to obtaining a controlled sound – especially loud sounds from a drum kit.
 
We sat down with David to learn about some of his favourite microphone choices for bass and drums as well as some of his favourite tips and tricks for mixing.
 
Bass Guitar
Bass is pretty straightforward - I prefer to use a DI, and I like a low, deep bass sound with some high -mid articulation. I always try and use a DI signal from the back of a great sounding amp but will grab the signal directly out of the pedal board if the amp is substandard. I use mild EQ to carve out a little bit of room in the lows for the kick drum. For compression, I use a 3:1 ratio, a mildly fast attack of 12-15 milliseconds and a 60-100 millisecond release, depending on how smooth I want it to sound. I don’t want to compress the initial attack - I just want to tighten the main part of the transient response (or the impact of the note) to create sustain.

Kick

Anytime there’s a hole in the kick drum, I like to place an AKG D12 VR, so half of the mic is just past the front head and angled toward the beater - with the mic pointed slightly toward the bottom corner of the shell. I compress the signal and try and find the transient to get a really good thump that you can feel in your chest.

Snare
I use a cardioid dynamic microphone on the top of the snare and a supercardioid dynamic on the bottom of the snare. It’s very much a studio technique - it allows me to get a lot of clarity from the bottom of the snares as well as the fat and punchy sound from the top. By blending them together, I can create a fuller sound than either mic alone. The bottom mic also gives the snare some isolation from the hi-hat. I can also use transient compression to lengthen or shorten the sound.

Hi-Hat
I really like the attack of the hi-hat, so I try and angle an AKG C451B small-diaphragm condenser to capture some of the stick sound. Then it’s just a matter of keeping the mic out of the way, while avoiding drum wedges.
 
Overheads
I place two AKG C414 XLS condenser mics about a foot and a half over the kit and close to the cymbals, since there’s so much bleed anyway. I try and use them to supplement the overall sound, so they stay pretty low in the mix.
 
Stereo Image
When I’m mic’ing drums, I always try to keep the stereo image in mind. Every microphone shifts the placement of the drums in the stereo field a little based on the type of microphone and its placement.
 
My main concern is to ensure the snare stays centred and focused when I bring up all of the drums in the mix. To help accomplish this, I make sure that when I place the mics, I do my best to draw an imaginary line from every drum mic to the snare. If the snare is centred in the placement, it will also be centred in the mix, creating an overall tighter, more-focused sound.
 
This article was originally published on the HARMAN Professional Insights Blog as part three of Inside the GRAMMY Museum blog series with David Trau, head engineer at the museum’s Clive Davis Theatre.


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