The Music Espionage

Hi-Hat & Over Heads


These elements of the drums embrace the majority of the high-end frequencies, the bright metallic colour that will cut through everything else if not careful. But with careful EQ and a few other tricks you will soon have them sounding great!

Hi-Hats:
If a separate hi-hat microphone was used, the chances are that the hi-hat will be much louder than any spill on that track, so you shouldn’t need to use a gate. Nevertheless, the average drummer will play the hi-hat all the way through, so gating really would not achieve anything. It is still good practice to clean the track, and best way to do this is by filtering off the low end; it will reduce low-frequency spillage, and can also make the cymbals sound crisper. To set up the high-pass filter, move the cut-off point up the spectrum as far as you can without affecting the hi-hat sound, should not really be anything below 500Hz. Moreover, you can open-up the sound to give it a little ‘air’ from the high end. Set a low Q (wide bandwidth) and centre it at around 15 to 16kHz to boost this area. You need to be careful here as a common mistake is to over magnify this region and create a real ‘brittle’ quality. This is basically an excess of the high-end, a metallic-sound, usually around 8-16kHz.

Overheads and Cymbals:
These are a hugely significant element of the kit. They bring together the balance between the extreme lows with the kick and tom drums, through the mid range of the snare and higher toms and into the high-end where most of the cymbals will dwell. The stereo overheads are one of the main components of the kit that are not recorded using close/spot microphone techniques; because of this they record the kit in the ‘space’. They are the balance between the room acoustics of your recording area, and act as a frame for the full picture of the drums.

Reverb:
If the drums were recorded in a good-sounding live room (or at a live gig), then the overheads should not really need much, if any, artificial reverb, but if they were recorded in a small, dry studio, you will need to simulate the environment of your choice. Plate-reverb settings are commonly used on drums, but short ambience settings will serve better if you are after a tighter sound. For Rock drums, you would probably start by getting a good close-mic. balance, and then bring in the overheads to develop clarity. Alternatively, for jazz or indie material, using more overhead and less of the close mic.s is the norm.

In Practice:
Here is an example of just the overheads tracks from a drum-kit recording. The microphones where placed across the middle of the kit using an ‘XY’ stereo recording technique. Alone they already provide a full sounding mix of the kit and really underline the important of getting the overheads sounding good at the recording stage.
Just the Overheads:

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– With a nippy, quick reverb, similar to a ‘slap-back’ echo you can develop a tight well rounded sound that will not sound to ‘80’s Rock’ played in a massive stadium.
With short Reverb:

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– On the other hand, if you want a larger to massive stage to place your drum sound, Plate reverbs are the most common. These will bathe the kit in an immersion of longer reverberation and really develop that sense of performance.
With Long Reverb:

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EQ:
Depending on how you wish to use the overheads will naturally affect how you wish to EQ this element of the kit. If they are the main focus and provide the finished picture really need to do very little. You may wish to reduce the deep-lows from about 60-70Hz down, also the airy metallic sounds around 13-14KHz. If you are striding for a more traditional rock mix, where the close mic.s and individual tracks build the drum sound and the overheads are the icing on your sponge rock cake, you may need to spend a little more time to remove and boost different areas, this will decrease masking effects and allow you to focus the listener to different areas of your choosing.
Overheads with the very low end and highs cut:

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Overheads with reduced areas, for a specific mix:

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Don’t fall down the Stereo Pan:
Firstly, let me put it like this…you do NOT need to go Pan crazy when mixing the overheads. When placing these overheads within the stereo-field, panning them far left and right will do nothing but create a an unrealistic space. If you were stood at a gig facing the band, with the drummer in front of you, you do not hear the crash and other cymbals from the far left or right. From the very start of mixing drums, think about how the listener will picture the kit, from the audience or from the drummer’s point of view? When you have decided keep it that way for the rest of the mix, even the rest of the EP or album! Imagine a straight-line down the middle of the kick-drum; this is the centre, from this pan slightly left or right for each different part.