One of the main benefits of cymbals—beyond keeping time—isthat they can instantly spike excitementlevels. A fabulous crash into achorus or bridge can really ramp up the intensity, help separate song sections,and assist in charting the emotional journey of a song. But biggestures should be used sparinglyto ensure crashes, ride cymbals, andhi-hats don’t overwhelm other critical aspects of a song’s dynamic rangeand frequency spectrum. You alsodon’t want to cause listeners to wincewhen the hammer comes down.
The simple trick is to arrange thedrums so that they blast and drivewhen they need to, and take a backseat when other elements of thesong need to slip into the foreground. In a sensitive orchestration,each drum part will enhance thesong narrative, rather than act like apetulant bully who plows over hisplaymates. Unfortunately, somedrummers may take affront at beingasked to, say, run closed hi-hitsthrough a verse, instead of leaning onthe ride and smacking the crashevery other downbeat. Now if youcan’t get the drummer to cool it onthe cymbals, you’re kind of hosed,but there are a few tech tactics youcan employ to clear the air of abusivehigh-frequency blitzkriegs.
• Mute the overheads. This is arelatively organic approach. You simply remove the overhead drum micsfrom the drum mix and depend uponthe snare, hi-hat, tom, and kick micsto document the cymbal work. Asthose mics are not pointed directly at the cymbals (with the exception ofthe hi-hat mic), and tend to bedynamics rather than condensers(which can be more sensitive to high frequencies), the overall sizzle should diminish somewhat.
• De-ess. An old trick from theanalog-tape era is to route the over headand hi-hat tracks to a de-esser.As de-essers were developed todiminish vocal sibilance, they can sometimes calm the more searingfrequencies and bright stick-to-cymbalattacks from your drum track.
• Compress. I don’t recommendthis strategy wholeheartedly, butWho producers/managers Kit Lambertand Chris Stamp often compressedthe crap out of Keith Moon’s drumsuntil lows and highs were pulverizedinto a raging fireball of percussiveenergy. Now, Lambert and Stamp didn’treally know what they were doing—asmall problem—but the massive compressiondid keep the cymbals fromswallowing up Pete’s guitars, John’smidrange-heavy bass, and Roger’svocals. If you’re brave enough to trythis hostile takeover, dial in a 10:1ratio at a threshold of –10dB.
• Tone it down. This is a lastresort, as messing too much with EQcan compromise other aspects of thedrum sound, such as the snare crack,tom impacts, and kick-drum smacks.Sometimes, you can even “threaten”a drummer with treble-reducing EQtweaks. Just say something like, “Hey,your cymbal crashes and hi-hats arereally throwing the high-frequenciesover the top, so here’s how I’ll needto deal with the EQ to ensure thetrack is balanced.” Then, activate theEQ, and when the drummer hearshow neutered his or her drum soundis,...