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Author Topic: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)  (Read 5192 times)

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Offline mattmiller

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Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« on: September 21, 2019, 11:08:02 PM »
I recently came into possession of an unmixed 29-track recording of a show I attended in 2008.  The band had it professionally recorded, and because of that the venue refused to allow me to record (even though the tour manager argued on my behalf).  They never did anything with the recording, and it's one of a bunch of recordings sitting on hard drives that they recently re-discovered, and this one got passed to me to mix for the purpose of sharing on the Archive.

Having never mixed more than 4 or 5 tracks before, I'm looking for general advice on how to approach this job.  It's a three-piece band, so is it appropriate to pan all of the drums (stage right) hard to the left, the keys/bass (stage left) hard to the right, and lead guitar/vocals right down the middle?  What issues do I need to watch out for?  There are 10 tracks just devoted to percussion, obviously not isolated from one another in such close proximity.  Is it customary to not even use every track?  Basically, I'm looking for any advice or cautionary tales.

It's a three-piece band, but they're all multi-instrumentalists, so the keyboard player also plays bass and accordion on some songs, and the drummer plays mandolin and banjo, so before I do anything else I've started mapping all the tracks in Excel, plotting who is where on every song.  I'm hoping this organization will pay off when it comes time to mix everything.

If it helps, here are the tracks I'm working with:

01. Kick - Beta 91
02. Kick - Beta 52
03. Snare Top - sm57
04. Snare Bottom - e604
05. Hat - MKH8040
06. Rack - e604
07. Floor - e604
08. Ride - VX5
09. OH SR - M160
10. OH SL - M160
11. Bass DI
12. Bass Mic - PL20
13. El. Gtr - MD441
14. Ac. Gtr - BSS DI
15. Mandolin - BSS DI
16. Banjo - M160
17. Key 1 (Triton) - Radial DI
18. Key 2 (Wurlitzer) - BSS DI
19. Key 3 (M-Audio)- BSS DI
20. Key 4 (Keytar) - Radial DI
21. Accordion - MKH8040
24. SR Vox - OM5
25. Lead Vox - OM5
26. SL Vox - OM5
27. Drum Vox - OM7
28. Keys Vox - OM5
30. Audience House Left - MKH416
31. Audience House Center - MKH416
32. Audience House Right - MKH416
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Offline beatkilla

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2019, 12:18:16 AM »
I am interested to look at this and have a go at it.

Other than that my suggestion is to route all the percussion to a master bus.

Offline EmRR

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2019, 08:36:22 AM »
Whew, this is hard to give concise advice about....from my phone.....  This is what i do mainly, multitrack recording and I started out as a remote guy doing club recordings. 

Usually I’d start with the audience mics, but since they are shotguns it may not make a great picture.  You may find there’s too much audible delay in the audience mics, and need to time align them to a different point.  Or the may be onstage pointed out, being shotguns.

You don’t have to use every mic, but I’d try to make sense of all of them as a group rather than working on subsections too much, at least at first.  Things like the kick, snare and bass that have multiple inputs can be good to group and lock their relative levels together, same with pairing the OH's.  You’ll probably find you have to work with and around bleed that will constrain your options.  In those cases very tiny level adjustments can sometimes be the biggest perceived differences. 

Panning does not have to follow stage plot.  Sure, try it, but also try any other placement that yields good clarity between similar registered instruments/voices, and good L/R balance.

I'd try to get basic levels without any processing BEFORE you start applying any.  The only thing I might do is use high pass filters to remove unnecessary lows from various things, that tends to be the number one clean-up tool in a large live multitrack.  The DI tracks in particular may have subsonic non-musical thumps that need to be high passed.

The drums are 10 tracks but it's still one instrument.   I'd go through the toms and ID where they were struck, and automate the rest down 6dB or so to manage bleed, which tends to be cymbal wash.  Gates sometimes work, but not as well.  Do that early on, as housekeeping.  If this is like most live shows, you will find cymbals in all the vocal mics, toms, and some other things, and you'll be using less of the actual OH to balance it out. 

The mandolin and acoustic, being DI, will probably benefit from some sort of amp simulator, could be in parallel if it doesn't work well in-line.  The keys may benefit from that as well, depending on what they sounded like in the room.  The bass DI may or may not be useful against the mic signal, and may need time aligning.  I don't usually use a lot of a bass DI if there's a mic, and I sometimes turn it off. 

I'd probably find a spreadsheet redundant, I'd just lay out the tracks by person, and it'll sort itself pretty easily.  You'll probably have to break the mix down per song anyway, with level automation.  I rarely see a multitrack live show that has anything like set-and-forget levels beginning to end. 

Just realizing from the list that this was probably recorded by Steve Remote / ASL.  There are clues. 
« Last Edit: September 22, 2019, 08:57:07 AM by EmRR »
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Offline mattmiller

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2019, 08:56:10 AM »
I am interested to look at this and have a go at it.

Other than that my suggestion is to route all the percussion to a master bus.

I appreciate the offer.  This has sentimental value to me as it was just my second time seeing these guys (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers), and is the only show (of 50+) that I didn't record.  I want to see what I can do with it, but I will certainly not hesitate to seek help if I feel like I'm not able to do it justice.
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Offline mattmiller

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2019, 09:17:35 AM »
Whew, this is hard to give concise advice about....from my phone.....  This is what i do mainly, multitrack recording and I started out as a remote guy doing club recordings. 

Usually I’d start with the audience mics, but since they are shotguns it may not make a great picture.  You may find there’s too much audible delay in the audience mics, and need to time align them to a different point.  Or the may be onstage pointed out, being shotguns.

You don’t have to use every mic, but I’d try to make sense of all of them as a group rather than working on subsections too much, at least at first.  Things like the kick, snare and bass that have multiple inputs can be good to group and lock their relative levels together, same with pairing the OH's.  You’ll probably find you have to work with and around bleed that will constrain your options.  In those cases very tiny level adjustments can sometimes be the biggest perceived differences. 

Panning does not have to follow stage plot.  Sure, try it, but also try any other placement that yields good clarity between similar registered instruments/voices, and good L/R balance.

I'd try to get basic levels without any processing BEFORE you start applying any.  The only thing I might do is use high pass filters to remove unnecessary lows from various things, that tends to be the number one clean-up tool in a large live multitrack.  The DI tracks in particular may have subsonic non-musical thumps that need to be high passed.

The mandolin and acoustic, being DI, will probably benefit from some sort of amp simulator, could be in parallel if it doesn't work well in-line.  The keys may benefit from that as well, depending on what they sounded like in the room.  The bass DI may or may not be useful against the mic signal, and may need time aligning.  I don't usually use a lot of a bass DI if there's a mic, and I sometimes turn it off. 

I'd probably find a spreadsheet redundant, I'd just lay out the tracks by person, and it'll sort itself pretty easily.  You'll probably have to break the mix down per song anyway, with level automation.  I rarely see a multitrack live show that has anything like set-and-forget levels beginning to end. 

Just realizing from the list that this was probably recorded by Steve Remote / ASL.  There are clues.

Thanks for all of this.  The audience mics are, indeed, shotguns pointed out from the stage.  And they sound like extremely directional mics pointed away from the stage.  Hopefully I can utilize them enough to get the audience fully injected into the final edit, while not negatively affecting the music.  I assume this will be fine, and the preferred method for mixing purposes, else they would have placed the mics in the audience pointed at the stage.

I can't say for certain who recorded it, but after Googling Steve Remote, I see he's NYC-based, and the two shows on that tour that were recorded were Philly (this one) and the following night in Albany, so I'd say it's a good possibility.
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Offline EmRR

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2019, 09:25:02 AM »
I added a few more points above, good luck with it.
Mics: DPA 4060 w/MPS 6030 PSU/DAD6001/DAD4099, Neumann KM 131, KMR 81i, Oktava MK 012, Sennheiser MKH 105, MKH 20, MKH 30, MKH 40, MKH 800 TWIN, lots of other studio appropriate choices
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Offline yousef

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2019, 11:52:40 AM »
I think I'd agree with most of what is said above but my workflow is:

Start by mixing in mono

Hi-pass everything at around 100-150Hz unless the instrument needs something down there

Start with the drums kick>snare>hat(usually mixed v.low)>toms>o/h - then make a bus for these ("folder" if you're using Reaper) so you can mix the drums as one instrument. It is often worth pausing after your initial drum balance is set and trying muting everthing but the kick and overheads - mixing the others back in only if needed

Often I add some form of compression to the drum bus - a Variety of Sound Thrillseeker plugin, or a multiband comp or even a tape simulator

Add in the bass - often using an amp sim on the DI and leaving the amp channel muted. Occasionally I'll split the bass into two channels and treat one to get a good low end and the other to concentrate on higher frequencies - then bus them together as per the drums. But then I'm a bass player and probably have issues to deal with here.

Guitar, keys and other instruments in turn now. I almost always use an amp sim on keyboard tracks

Lead vox - depending on how the raw tracks sound I'll use any or all of comp, EQ, multiband comp, tape sim, enhancer, reverb, delay, even ADT-simulation on one occasion

Backing vocals, often EQ'ing slightly to thin them out to prevent clashes with the main vocal

I then set up a basic mono mix and listen all the way through several times over several days.

Go back and start mixing levels for each song, being careful to mute instruments and vocal mics when they aren't needed (volume envelopes can help here).

I add in audience mics at this point - usually just in between songs, unless they are particularly nice and add a nice ambience throughout.

I start panning now, but only ever very slight amounts - a few percent in either direction is enough to give a sense of space, any more and it starts sounding odd to me.

On the master bus add overall EQ (Baxter EQ plugin is nice here), multitband comp, reverb (Hybrid Reverb 2) and limiter (Limiter No6 is my current favourite). SOmetimes a tape sim or valve/tube sim to help everything mush together.

I then go back and listen to this mix a few times, making sure I have a pad next to me to scribble thoughts, corrections and timings. Sometimes I go back at this point and envelope/EQ burst of feedback/mic hits etc

I like the tape sim stuff as it can soften what can often be quite cold or clinical sounding digital recordings

Things to look out for:

aud mics will probably need time-shifting a little depending on where they were in the room
watch out for phase issues - I once had a keyboard track where the L+R were out of phase and rendered it inaudible until this was corrected
take lots of pauses - ears fatigue quickly and this leads to poor mix decisions
not every mic/track needs to be used - only add something if it improves the overall sound
plugins are great but there can be diminishing returns
there are no rules - one of my favourite professional producers has advised me to do completely unorthodox things in the past: if it sounds good, it *is* good
test on a variety of systems before signing off

The Sound on Sound archive has some great articles that can help. Off the top of my head the ones on the Led Zep reunion show and the Stones' Shine a Light were particularly illuminating.

Have fun!
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Offline mattmiller

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2019, 05:32:06 PM »
I think I'd agree with most of what is said above but my workflow is:

Thanks for all of this insight.  A few questions:

Quote
Start with the drums kick>snare>hat(usually mixed v.low)>toms>o/h - then make a bus for these ("folder" if you're using Reaper) so you can mix the drums as one instrument. It is often worth pausing after your initial drum balance is set and trying muting everthing but the kick and overheads - mixing the others back in only if needed

I've only ever used Cool Edit Pro.  Am I handicapped in any way with that for a project this big?  Either with track grouping/bussing for the percussion (which I've never had to do, so I'm not sure of its ability), or with the availability of any of the plugins that have been referenced?

Quote
Go back and start mixing levels for each song, being careful to mute instruments and vocal mics when they aren't needed (volume envelopes can help here).

This is something I was wondering about.  So for these "noisy" mic tracks that are only used occasionally (e.g., the accordion, and the SL and SR vocal mics for when the guys step out from behind the drums and keyboard to play mandolin and bass...), having them muted when they're not being used doesn't introduce any audible change to the music when the ambient sound is suddenly faded in along with the accordion or vocal parts?  I was contemplating the possibility of needing to leave those entire tracks in there just to maintain consistency in the mix, but I'd love to be able to just fade them in and out as they're needed.

Quote
Things to look out for:  aud mics will probably need time-shifting a little depending on where they were in the room

They were on the front of the stage, pointed at the crowd.  Should this (in theory) be an extremely small time-shift in comparison to what I'm used to doing to align my mics 30 feet back from the stage with a board feed?

A general question about Cool Edit Pro, I guess, or maybe about this process in general.  Which of these actions (if any) are non-destructive to the source files?  Or do I need to be working with copies of the original files because this high-pass filter or that plugin will be necessarily saving its changes over the source files?

Also, when I've previously mixed a board feed with my mic recording, whether I've needed to or not, my first step has always been to normalize both sources to something like -6 so that when they were mixed together I wouldn't introduce any clipping.  I also always adjusted the volume sliders in such a way to never increase the overall volume.  I would raise one and lower the other, rather then raising one twice as much and leaving the other at 0.  Is it good practice or completely unnecessary to do any kind of normalizing of all of the source files to any particular peak level?

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Offline yousef

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2019, 07:11:41 PM »
A caveat here is that this is all my own essentially self-taught workflow - I'm happy with the results but others may get better end results and/or get there more efficiently...

Quote
This is something I was wondering about.  So for these "noisy" mic tracks that are only used occasionally (e.g., the accordion, and the SL and SR vocal mics for when the guys step out from behind the drums and keyboard to play mandolin and bass...), having them muted when they're not being used doesn't introduce any audible change to the music when the ambient sound is suddenly faded in along with the accordion or vocal parts?  I was contemplating the possibility of needing to leave those entire tracks in there just to maintain consistency in the mix, but I'd love to be able to just fade them in and out as they're needed.

There will be slight changes in ambience but you can mitigate against this by making the fades come in and out over a second or so and then checking to see if everything sounds ok. I think it will depend on how much spill there is from other instruments and how high you need the track in question to be.

Re aud mics:
Quote

They were on the front of the stage, pointed at the crowd.  Should this (in theory) be an extremely small time-shift in comparison to what I'm used to doing to align my mics 30 feet back from the stage with a board feed?

I'd say so - again it should be very obvious from listening if it is right or not. Watch out for the phase though. Note that in the Sound on Sound Rolling Stones article mentioned above, Bob Clearmountain talks of adding a slight echo to the vocals so that the extra ambience added by the room mics between songs is not too obvious - one of the best things I've ever learned  :D

Quote
A general question about Cool Edit Pro, I guess, or maybe about this process in general.  Which of these actions (if any) are non-destructive to the source files?  Or do I need to be working with copies of the original files because this high-pass filter or that plugin will be necessarily saving its changes over the source files?

All of it is non-destructive, even after you hit "render". But I always have a complete backup of the source files on a separate drive/machine before I start editing and mixing. I think I missed a quote above re using Cool Edit Pro for mixing and busing in particular - I've never used it so can't be certain but I'm sure it will be set up for this - no doubt YouTube will have a few good tutorials. I would just download Reaper though - it is powerful and intuitive, the bundled plugins are great (even if many of the presets are not) and it is completely free to trial for however long you need it with no limitations whatsoever. The license is super cheap too.

Quote
Also, when I've previously mixed a board feed with my mic recording, whether I've needed to or not, my first step has always been to normalize both sources to something like -6 so that when they were mixed together I wouldn't introduce any clipping.  I also always adjusted the volume sliders in such a way to never increase the overall volume.  I would raise one and lower the other, rather then raising one twice as much and leaving the other at 0.  Is it good practice or completely unnecessary to do any kind of normalizing of all of the source files to any particular peak level?

With my workflow, I usually start with the drum bus peaking at about -5dB and then when I start adding the other instruments in I have to tame it to something more reasonable. I think the way most software is set up you can have the cumulative levels ending up way into the red (as long as no individual track is distorting) but by pulling back the master fader all is magically unclipped and clean.

Do keep us all informed of how this goes - and of any cool tricks you come across.
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Offline morst

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2019, 11:10:17 PM »

The drums are 10 tracks but it's still one instrument.   I'd go through the toms and ID where they were struck, and automate the rest down 6dB or so to manage bleed, which tends to be cymbal wash.  Gates sometimes work, but not as well.  Do that early on, as housekeeping.  If this is like most live shows, you will find cymbals in all the vocal mics, toms, and some other things, and you'll be using less of the actual OH to balance it out. 
Are you trying to make it sound like a completely polished professional studio mix? Or do you just want a good-sounding live show? What is your time budget for this project?
EmRR obviously knows how to do this in a top-notch fashion, but I can't see suggesting to someone who has never mixed a live show that they go over every single drum hit with automation, because gates can be clunky...
Sorry I can't be more constructive at the moment.  .  . This is a very cool project, and learning to make a good mix is a fantastic skill to have.

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Offline opsopcopolis

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2019, 02:45:24 AM »
Multitrack workflow is clearly a very personal subject. Lots of good advice here, but also a lot I don’t agree with. The basic start to my process (I also do live multitrack mixdowns as part of my day job) goes like this:

Time align all the tracks to the snare. This will help small phase issues that you might otherwise not really hear, but can have a great affect on the overall tone of the tape. Summation is a very powerful tool.

Pan from the get go. I understand the idea of mixing in mono to begin with, but I don’t agree with it. Planning changes the perceived balance between the instruments, so why neglect it until the end. Usually for live stuff I try to mix to stage plot, but it is not 100% necessary. I usually avoid panning beyond 60ish degrees, as I think instruments panned all the way out in live music sound odd.

Buss everything. Drum bus, guitar bus, vox bus, and so on. Output these busses to another master bus. Use the busses as a basis start processing.Mix the instruments in the bus and Apply small amounts of compression to the groups. Then balance the busses into the master. If you want to try parallel comp, you can also do it here by duplicating the busses and compressing one.

For room mics I like to time align, pan wide, remove the center if possible, and sometimes sidechain to the level of the music. That would mean that the volume of the room will come up when the music is at a lower volume. Whether or not I do this depends on whether the aud mics capture the room ambience or really just the audience noise.

I would say be very cautious about gating and automating noise in live Multis. For tracks like the accordion that aren’t being used every song, you could mute between songs, or just pull down a few dB to mitigate bleed. I’m not a fan of gating/automating drum hits in live recordings because I think it sounds unnatural. With a well phase aligned plot of mics, you shouldn’t really have to worry about too much gross bleed.

From there you get into normal mixing territory. Compressing individual mics, balancing between instruments, verb, etc...
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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2019, 04:01:43 AM »
This is a great thread... I've never once thought of using a sidechain for the audience mics - brilliant!
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Offline EmRR

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2019, 07:28:57 AM »
Re: gating.  You should notice i said it probably wouldn’t work well.  I’d never do it to anything but toms. Then you should notice I said automate 6dB, which is the territory of non-obvious bleed mitigation.  I find that automation pass on many drummers far faster than fighting cymbal bleed in everything else. Also, none of that may be needed at all.  And it’ll be a major pain and waste of time if it’s Keith Moon.  Many drummers have toms they almost never hit at all, or hit so lightly they have to be cranked up enough the bleed  changes the sound of the entire kit, making it hard to just turn on the rare random hit non-obviously. 

I used to time align most everything within a drum kit, then I generally stopped doing so.  If it’s well recorded it’s probably unnecessary. Depending on your tools, that could be a really fast path or a really slow painful one.  The double mic’d snare and kick are contenders, relative to themselves.  Flipping polarity there too to see which way they work together, then against the OH’s. 

It’s funny, I used to bus everything too, and mostly gave that up a decade ago.  Non-bussed grouping is another similar idea to consider, i do that with things like those OH’s. 
« Last Edit: September 23, 2019, 09:52:57 AM by EmRR »
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Offline mattmiller

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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2019, 08:57:43 AM »
As I suspected, there is obviously no right and wrong approach to any of this, as there are some contradictory suggestions here that I'm sure yield equally pleasing results.  I suppose that's the nature of any project where the quality of the end product is subject to personal preference.

Quote
Are you trying to make it sound like a completely polished professional studio mix? Or do you just want a good-sounding live show? What is your time budget for this project?

I have no expectation of being able to put anything together that is going to fool a professional into thinking it was mixed by somebody with years of experience.  I just want it (at minimum) to be generally considered to be adequately done for the sake of having it represent the band's talent well.  That said, while I am quite busy with other things and don't have a ton of time every night to devote to this, I also don't have any pressure on me to get it done by any particular date, so I'm happy to take my time with it and proceed cautiously and methodically.  My mapping of everything out in a spreadsheet is both allowing me to become familiar with all the tracks and organize my thoughts, while also preventing me from getting too far ahead of myself and playing with settings I don't fully understand.  For that reason, I've also ordered an old used copy of an apparently well-respected book on Cool Edit Pro, since I'm sure I've never used 99% of its functions in my normal workflow of cutting my mic recordings and occasionally matrixing it with a SBD feed.  For example, I searched through all of the menus last night and it wasn't immediately obvious to me even how to buss tracks together.  I'm sure the book will be quite beneficial to helping me understand some of the different approaches that have been proposed here.
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Re: Mixing Multi-Track Recording (29 Tracks)
« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2019, 08:58:16 AM »
I used to time align most everything within a drum kit, then I generally stopped doing so.  If it’s well recorded it’s probably unnecessary. The double mic’d snare and kick are contenders, relative to themselves.  Flipping polarity there too to see which way they work together, then against the OH’s. 

It’s funny, I used to bus everything too, and mostly gave that up a decade ago.  Non-bussed grouping is another similar idea to consider, i do that with things like those OH’s.

Sounds as though you and I have developed our workflow opposite each other. I used to think time aligning everything wasn’t necessary, now I do it as a rule. The kit is actually the part I’m least worried about. Aligning vocal mics makes a world of difference IMO.
Mics: Berliner CM-33, CA-14 card, CA-11 card & omni, AT-853, Sony ECM-907
Recorders: Tascam DR-60D, Tascam DR-05, Sony Hi-MD

 

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