Fig. 9 The McDSP 4020 Retro EQ provides more control and covers more sonic ground than a single EQ-emulation plugin.
See above about tape simulation. This time, only process the kit once (vs. the multibounce early Beatles). We’ll assume these recordings were mixed live to one track and that said track was no longer rebounced. In addition to tape, try to use era-appropriate plugins for the drum mix. The Pultec-style Tube EQ or the McDSP 4020 Retro EQ come to mind. (FIG. 9) Feel free to roll off high end and boost some mids to enhance the snare pop.
Depending on the material, some reverb might be in order. Start with a room-type simulation and start small. If you have a nice wood or drum room, that is a good place. If the room you recorded in was very dead, start by only feeding the overhead mike to the reverb send. If the direct snare and kick tracks sound like they are too prominent, feed all the mikes through the reverb. Don’t forget to insert an equalizer after the reverb to smooth out any harshness. If the room does not work well with the song, try a plate reverb on the snare only. The UAD EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator Plugin is killer for this application. (FIG. 10) If required, place a compressor across the drum bus. An opto-type can be smooth but unobtrusive. Have it only grab peaks, with the gain reduction rarely kicking in. We’re going for vibe as much as dynamic control.
Fig. 10 The UAD EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverb can give your tracks the same reverb that was used on countless hits of the ‘60s — and beyond.
Studio musicians were professionals. Many wore suits to the studio, especially early in the decade. In all seriousness, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask if your drummer would come to the session in a suit and tie. Why? Most people would have a hard time hitting too hard or getting sweaty in their Sunday best. Plus, it couldn’t hurt with mood setting. Another suggestion would be to have the player move down a stick weight, just to reinforce the difference in striking velocity.
Another trick to reduce player volume is to get rid of headphones. Make the band play in the room live. If that can’t be done the following trick could also work: Make sure the kick mike is facing the head directly. Behind the mike, facing the kit, put two monitor speakers aimed at the drummer. A cardioid-patterned kick mike should not pick up much from these speakers. Use a tape measure to make sure both speakers are equidistant from the overhead mike. When feeding the monitor mix for the drummer, turn the entire mix to mono (your console or DAW will have this feature) and reverse the polarity to one of the speakers. This can be done by using the phase-flip button on your console, a feature inside your DAW, or wiring an adapter cable that inverts the polarity of the feed signal to one of the speakers. If the speakers are equidistant from the overhead, their out-of-phase mono signal should cancel out when it gets to that mike. The drummer will still be able to hear the mix because his ears are not a single diaphragm. You can also lower the level of playback to keep the drummer from playing too loud.
It has been noted that Ringo Starr often redubbed snare tracks and Motown augmented snares with tambourines. If rerecording these is not an option, take advantage of today’s tools such as Slate Digital’s TRIGGER. This topic has been covered in the pages of this magazine so I won’t repeat it.
Many of these hit records were mono. However, today’s studios are stereo. Make sure you mix with your speakers set to mono, or with only one speaker powered (and all output routed to said speaker).
Another era-appropriate mix suggestion deals with panning. Try limiting yourself to one of three options: left, center, or right. For example, many Beatles songs had the drums in one channel and the vocals in another. The Mamas And The Pappas’ “California Dreaming” is perhaps the most famous of this hardpan technique.
Speaking of mixing, this would be a great time to get a very lo-fi single speaker or an old television for mix checking. Imagine being in the car on a road trip. You should hear the vocals, the snare/tambourine, and hints of the cymbals. You probably won’t hear the kick on this speaker other than a harmonic if the kick hits when the bass guitar plays. As a kid, I used to think drummers didn’t even have kick drums on records.
Finally, in addition to getting the performers in the mindset of the era, the engineer needs to do that, as well. The work style was very different. Songs were mixed on the spot. They didn’t have a lot of gear, they didn’t have a lot of tracks, and they didn’t have much time. This was an era of commitment in recording. From the artists to the producers to the engineers, decisions were made on the spot. In today’s digital world of unlimited tracks, unlimited undos, and, for those working in home studios, unlimited time, learning to work so decisively might be the best tip I can offer.
Any decade covers a wide array of styles. I’ve tried to cover some major areas to get you started on your quest for authentic sounds. As with any period, drum tones of the 1960s were a result of artistic preferences. But unlike later years, the role of gear was less about abundance of choice and more about limited resources. With the success of lo-fi and indie bands, perhaps some of these techniques will be just the thing to take your next project to the top of the (download) charts.