I’ve been mixing sound for about 14 years now. Obviously I’m experienced, but there are many, many people who have been doing it for much longer. I went to school for audio engineering and have been a paid Technical Director for the last 4 years, so I feel comfortable saying that I know what I’m doing when it comes to mixing live sound. I’ve had many people tell me they love my mixes, and I can talk the talk with even the top sound engineers and not get lost in the conversation. So I feel good about my skills. I’ve never been in a place where I’ve felt I can’t learn more, but I know that I’ve got a good foundation of knowledge and skill.
So, I feel good, I’ve stroked my ego a bit and people reading are probably getting sick of me. Now to the point of my blog post for today ;).
Over the last couple of times I’ve been the sound guy for Sunday Morning services, I’ve not been impressed with the sound from the Toms. I’m not a drummer, but a bad sound from the toms when a drummer does a fill can really kill a mix for me. If they’re too loud, it takes away from the rest of the kit, if they’re too quiet, then why did the drummer even do a fill since we can’t hear it? If they’re too boomy it just sounds awkward, if they’re too muddy then there is no definition to them and they might as well just have one tom thats not tuned instead of 3. So when I couldn’t get the toms to sound good, it frustrated me.
My first though was, they must not be in tune. So i went and asked the drummer if he tuned them, and he hit them for me and while they weren’t perfect, they sounded fine without the mics on them. I also know the mics I’ve got on them, Sennheiser e604’s, are good mics for Toms, and they are working fine. So it must be my EQ or comp settings.
For some reason I went straight to my gates. I gate the toms, as most sound people do. I don’t want to get rid of the boom of the toms, but I want to tighten them and not get the sound of the cymbals and/or snare in the tom mics as much as possible. So i tightened the gates, thinking that was the problem. Now they sounded like the drummer was hitting a tree stump. So that obviously wasn’t the issue.
I started working with the EQ. I’m going to give away what I had been doing wrong here but just let me get there ;). I look at Toms as one of the lower instruments in the EQ spectrum, i like to boost the floor tom around 120, the mid around 150 and the high around 180. Our room is also fairly hi-mid heavy, so I find I’m taking those hi mids out of most channels. So on the 4 band parametric EQ, I was cutting the low up to anywhere from 80-140 depending on the Tom. I was boosting the mid-low at the already mentioned spots. Then I was cutting at around 500-700 on the mid high EQ, then i was cutting anything from about 3khz and above on the high EQ. It made sense to me. But my toms sounded like garbage.
After a few attempts at changing the low frequency I was boosting, and even messing a bit with the mid high I was cutting, and continuously adjusting my gate settings, I knew I needed some “re-education” on EQing Toms. So I went to the internet. I googled “EQing Toms” and read a ton of articles. One thing that kept coming up that I wasn’t doing, stick attack. All of the articles mentioned boosting around 1-4Khz to pick up the stick attack. I knew this. But I not been thinking about it while trying to fix my issue.
So the next week I was on sound, I added around 2db of 1.5-2K on the Toms. Wow. They sound way better. A bit more touch ups were still needed (on the gates, and on where I was boosting the mid-lows) but i had a much more solid foundation to work with.
SO why go on the internet and admit my mess up that took me much longer than it should’ve taken to fix? Because we are all still in need of some “re-education” from time to time. I was not using my ears properly, and had missed a key part of EQing the Toms. It will be something else in a few months that I’m not able to fix right away, but the biggest thing is that we need to keep learning our craft. There are a lot of areas to keep in mind when mixing a full band, sometimes something we learned years ago and have been doing without thinking about it for the last 10-15 (or more) years will get forgotten and we need to relearn it. So keep reading posts about your craft, whether it be sound, EQing, or lighting, or basic camera operation, whatever it is that you do, keep learning and keep reminding yourself of the things that you don’t want to just become so natural that you actually forget you are doing them.