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Project: sound design

Drums restoration

Cleaning up annoying undetected noise; restoring the stereo image with drum doubling and drum replacing; extracting drums from a stereo track.

Drums restoration
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Drums restoration & doubling

In 2017 I was playing bass and producing the debut single for a London-based singer-songwriter. All the recordings were handled externally at SAE in London, except for the bass which I recorded at my home studio in Cambridge.

After we received the audio tracks, we noticed two issues with the drums. First: a repeating squeaky sound coming from the hi-hat pedal was captured by all the microphones. This was a major problem.

iZotope RX spectral view showing the squeaky hi-hat noise
iZotope RX spectral view showing the squeaky hi-hat noise

Noise: before

In this sample the noise is clearly audible. Spread over the entire song, it was particularly problematic in the quiet sections.

After adding a gate to cut the noise from both snare and rack, I spent a few hours in iZotope RX 6 cleaning up the hi-hat and overhead tracks.

Noise: after

Now the squeaky hi-hat pedal is gone.

Second: we received a single mono track for the overhead mics, with no room recording. While I wasn’t particularly concerned with this, I thought it could be improved.

Mono drums overhead: before

I chose a gentle drum doubling technique: after a full MIDI capture of kick, snare, hi-hat and crash, I fired up my drums virtual instrument of choice: Addictive Drums 2 by XLN. With a clever use of pan and room verb in the plug-in, I managed to recreate the missing stereo image with a nicer studio vibe.

Mono drums overhead: after

The final result is the original drums with the MIDI doubling blended in to increase the effect and make the percussion more incisive.

Isolating drums from a mastered track

For the last twenty years, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of recovering my late cousin’s drum playing so that I could have him on my tracks. I did it with my song The Logic, however that was more of a drum replacement process. In fact, I mostly used short sections and drum fills that were already in isolation in their original form. When iZotope released Master Rebalance as part of Ozone and RX, I tried the full process of taking the drums out of songs.

  • In Reaper, I imported a full track from a CD he released with his band in the late 1990s.
  • Several passages of Ozone’s module later, I successfully removed vocals and bass.
  • I cleaned up piano and distorted guitars with RX.
  • After importing the bounced audio back in Reaper, I detected the tempo and used dynamic split to catch the transients I needed (kick and snare), assigning a virtual instrument to the resulting MIDI track. In this case I chose Steven Slate’s Drums.
  • Playing with velocity and adding a little hi-hat, I blended the sampled percussion with the original.
  • Created a room bus with a little bit of Valhalla Supermassive verb, fed by MIDI kick and snare to add an ambient vibe.
  • I also re-processed the original isolated drums: a gate to remove vague remnants of vocals, an EQ and Waves’ MV2 to enhance quieter sounds and glue the whole part.

Before and After

The first ten seconds of the original song, followed by the same section with the isolated drums plus drum doubling in Reaper.

Reviews

In the band I started, Simone was the most involved with regards to arrangement and dynamics. Using his fretless bass, he completely switched the mood of any given part. Simone and I have been working on my new releases, and it’s been an incredibly worthwhile experience. It’s great to have him with me to lead the production side and also to influence the arrangement. I’m really happy to have a producer that understands completely my process as a songwriter. — Callum Gardner, Singer-songwriter