Recording drum covers is super fun and one of the best ways to get yourself out there on social media, showcasing your skills and abilities to potential session work clients. In order to look professional and make a great impression your drum covers need to both look and sound the part.
As someone who's worked with a lot of drum cover projects, I find one of the most common problems I face is not being able to find song instrumentals and drum-less versions of the song that you're working on.
This makes getting the drum cover to sound great unnecessarily more difficult.
The main problem is that the timing of your recorded drums will differ from the original drums on the song. So if you fail to isolate the drums on the original song, you will be hearing 2 lots of drums slightly out of time with each other which as you know, won't sound too pretty.
The goal of this short article is to teach you how to 'dampen' the drums down in an original song, that you use as the backing track for your drum cover. This means that you can use the full song as your backing track and not only won't need to scrounge the internet for drumless version, but will be able to get it to sound great too.
The thing is you want to isolate as much of the drums in the original as possible so your drums will stand out, however this can be difficult to do with a fully mixed and mastered song. Let's get into a couple of simple tips to help you with this.
The most simple way to isolate your drums from the drums in the song is to have the right balance of audio between them both, you don't want the cover song (backing track) to overpower your drums, but at the same time you want to be able to hear it enough for the cover to sound whole.
I find that if you have your drums peaking at around -3dB, having the song itself sitting between -10 to -12dB is just the right level for a happy medium and a great sounding cover.
Trying to dampen the drums in an already fully mixed and mastered song isn't an easy task and in all honesty, there's not a lot you can do to the original to change the appearance of one individual instrument. Whatever you do to the track, everything is affected.
The one tool at our fingertips we can use to dampen the drums down is EQ. The goal with this is to essentially cut the frequencies where the drums are coming through without making the backing track sound completely awful.
The first thing I do is dampen down the kick, to do this I find out the frequency range where the kick is most prominent and cut by about 10dB. You are never going to completely get rid of it, it's just about getting rid of as much of it as possible without ruining the backing track.
This is usually around the 100Hz mark, however the kick can take up a large amount of the LF area as you have the boom around 60Hz and the thud between 100 and 120Hz. If you try to remove to much of the LF area, the other bass instruments in the song with be compromised as a result.
It entirely depends on how the track is mixed and where the kick sits, I would cut by around 10dB with a Q of about 1.00 and move it around the LF area and see at which frequency the kick is dampened down the most. Watch the video below to hear the kick in this cover song before and after the EQ.
Next, I repeat the exact same process for the snare drum. The kick and snare are usually the most prominent and most often played parts of a kit so once these are treated you're most the way there.
The problem is the snare takes up a very large part of the frequency spectrum in a mix meaning that you're never going to be able to dampen this down as much as the kick. If you focus on where the bulk of the content is around 200Hz, you're going to take the bulk of the hit out.
This is the target zone that gives a snare it's 'body' and 'size'. Once again cut by about 10dB but use a narrower Q as this 'body' EQ range isn't very big. Also the more you cut around here, the more you're going to impact the guitars and vocals.
As you can tell in the video below, you can still hear the snare after EQing, however the bulk of it is taken out. When it comes to mixing your drums with this backing track now, your snare isn't going to get mashed in the with the original recording and therefore will stand out more.
Because of the nature of the toms and overheads, and how hard they are to target in a full mix I don't specifically target these directly. To finish off EQing the backing track I will add a high shelf cut of no more than 5dB around the 1kHz mark.
This is going to drastically reduce the presence of your overheads and toms, at the same time as further dampening the rest of the kick and snare frequencies. This might sound bizarre on it's own, however mixed in with your own drums everything sounds spot on.
You'll find that you can now tell apart your drums from the drums in the recording and the cover still sounds like it hasn't been tampered with, even though it has. This makes for a much more pleasant experience for the listener too!
Click below to listen to the before and after of adding in the high shelf cut to the song and how much of the cymbals are being dampened. Notice how the vocals still sound pretty good considering!
You are never going to perfectly remove drums with this, but so far I've found this the best strategy to mix a drum cover with the original song without any masking issues. If you have any tips or strategies that you use yourself, feel free to share them below in the comments section!
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