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Recording Drums Part 3 - Gates

In part 3 of our drum recording series, we look at the advantages and process of applying gates to individual drums during the mix.
May, 06 2015 |
A mic for drums

Welcome to part 3. By this point in the game, you've finished recording your drums, and you're well on the way to creating a polished mix. In our last post, we looked at the basics of applying EQ to your kick and overheads with the help of musician and engineer Jay Stapley. This week, Jay will demonstrate the advantages and process of applying gates to individual drums during the mix. So without further ado, let's get cracking.

Why Gate Drums?

Applying gates to drums used to be a very fashionable way to change the sound of a drum kit. The process was used as an effect, which is much less fashionable today. In this instance, we're going to use gates in a more practical and subtle way, in an attempt to clean up some of the bleed from our snare into the kick drum mic.

What Is a Noise Gate?

In really simple terms a 'gate' is just that, a gate; it opens and closes. For this example, we're going to set our 'gate' so that it only opens when the kick drum is struck. The way this is achieved is relatively simple; we want to use the volume threshold to adjust the point at which the gate will open. The way to start is by setting the threshold to 0dB and slowly dialling back until you can just hear all of the kick drum. From here, you can begin to tweak how the gate behaves using the follow settings:

Range - This control adjusts how much the gate will close when it triggers at your threshold setting. With careful adjustment, you can cause the gate to partly close, or you can have the gate close completely. For the purpose of this example, we want it to close fully.

Attack and release - These settings allow you to control how long the gate is open. By balancing the attack (how quickly the gate opens), and the release (how quickly the gate closes), it is possible to arrive at the optimal timing for your particular drum.

Side-chain filters - If you find that the bleed is particularly difficult to cut out using threshold, attack and release, you can always try using the side-chain frequency filters. In our video example, Jay sets the side-chain to filter out high frequencies, which cuts out more of the hi-hat and snare bleed.

Finally, Jay applies small tweaks to ensure that we're filtering out an optimal amount of the snare drum, without losing the tone and character of our kick drum. There are no one-size-fits-all settings for the application of gates; you simply have to use your ears and make judgements based on your personal taste and the genre of music. Check out the video from Jay below demonstrating the process as applied in Pro Tools.

Join us for part 4, where we turn our attention to compression for drums.

Marc Henshall
Marc forms part of our Pro Audio team at Shure UK and specialises in Digital Marketing. He also holds a BSc First Class Hons Degree in Music Technology. When not at work he enjoys playing the guitar, producing music, and dabbling in DIY (preferably with a good craft beer or two).