Fixing levels in a drums record

My band is recording some rock songs with Ardour. We don’t have too many resources and we have recorded the drums with some voice mics (4 channels since my Lexicom Omega only have 4 input channels).

The result is what you can hear in (real hyperlink not allowed, sorry).

As you can hear, the song have different parts (I have cutted down the result so you can hear three or four different parts in only 45 seconds) and our drummer hits the drums louder or softer depending on which part he is playing. This result in an annoying difference of volumes that makes the song almost impossible to mix properly with the other instruments.

What is the best way to fix it? I’m a totally newbie in the recording universe.

I suppose that I can simply draw “gain automations” all along the song, but doesn’t seem to be the most “technical” solution (it’s some kind of handcraft) and there are 4 channels, so I have to draw the same “lines” 4 times.

On the other hand, I suppose I can use a filter. Maybe a compressor or something like that. In ardour homepage Barry’s Satan Maximizer and SC4 are both recommended, but I have no idea about how to use none of them. Any tip, recomendation or explanation about those filters or any other that can work for my problem?

Thanks a lot in advance.

I’ve been reading about compression in wikipedia and messing around with SC4 (by Steve Harris) and Calf Compressor (by Thor Harald Johansen) and it seems that any of them can make my day. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I’ll stll be glad to read any advice about this issue.

Hi,ancorgs try sending the drum tracks to a stereo buss,add some compression and eq to the buss as well as the indivual tracks then if you need to automate the levels you only need to do it once on the buss.

I had read about busses, but I had forgot. Thanks for such a great tip.

ancorg: retep has hit the nail on the head: route all drum tracks into a bus and add a compressor to that. A compressor works like so:

Threshold: this is the volume level at which compression is applied
Ratio: this is the amount of compression that will be applied. eg: 10:1 means that for every 10 decibels that the input signal goes up (above the threshold level), the output will only go up 1 decibel.
Attack time: this is how long it takes for compression to kick in. Sometimes a person may want the initial “thwap” of a kick drum, for instance, to not be compressed, even though they are trying to compress the kick track as a whole. On the other hand, setting this to 0 milliseconds causes the compression to happen instantaneously.
Release time: this is how long the compression will continue to be applied (regardless of whether the input signal is still above the threshold). You may want to set this a little longer for vocals, for instance, so that volume changes are not so abrupt.

On the other hand, there are no hard and fast rules, you may want to use volume automation on all the other tracks (or even better, have all the musicians play with more loud/soft dynamics), in order to make mixing easier.

Either way, unless you’re willing to add significant compression to ALL the tracks (which has become fairly common, although it is a matter of aesthetic and not everyone enjoys the sound of this), it will be rare that you can set up a mix that will remain consistent throughout a piece, unless your musicians are all extremely well attuned to the dynamic of the track.

Personally, I like to use all these techniques. When beginning to record a song, I’ll pick which parts will be loud/full, and which will be soft/sparse. From there, I’ll try to play the instruments during tracking with this in mind. After editing is done, I’ll apply a small amount of compression to most tracks, as well as some compression to the final mix during mastering. But like I said, it’s all about personal taste, and can be largely dependent not only on what type of music you’re trying to make, but also who/what the target market for said music is. Listen to the artists you’re modeling you’re music after, perhaps even analyze some in a visualization program (even just looking at the overall waveform shape can give you a pretty good idea of how compressed a recording is), and finally try to apply the techniques you hear and enjoy to what you’re doing.

Have fun!

I’ll second macinnisrr’s comments, and add this: Compression is a wonderfully useful tool, but I would not recommend using it to ‘fix’ a performance. Remember, compression is going to change the sound of the recording, so while it will narrow the dynamics to a more suitable range, it is going to change all sorts of other things in perhaps unpredictable and unwanted ways. It’s probably better to think of compression as a tool used for ‘tweaking’ dynamics, as opposed to causing any major changes in the performance (unless, of course, you are applying heavy levels of compression as a type of extreme effect). Also keep in mind that using compression to fix the initial performance may greatly hinder your ability to apply compression to the drums later in the ‘regular’ (as much as that exists) manner.

I would personally rank the solutions to your problem in this order. 1) Re-record the track and have the drummer play closer to the dynamic range you want. 2) Use automation to adjust the levels. This is the most pain in the ass, but it will allow you to change the dynamics without wildly changing other parts of the sound. 3) If the other options aren’t workable, use compression to even out the dynamics.

take beejunk’s advice: he is saying exactly what I was trying to (albeit far more consicely)

Thanks to retep, macinnisrr, beejunk for their kind recomendations. I’ve had no time yet to try the suggested solutions (real life TM), but it’s exactly the kind of help I was searching for.