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Over the weekend, I got this email from Alan:

Hi Joe, Just purchased your Understanding Editing Tutorials. And I have a question. On the 3rd video, “Drum Editing,” you are discussing about overlapping the wav forms so that the cymbals continue to ring out. Wouldn’t it be easier, if instead of grouping the cymbals with the other tracks to be edited, that you leave them alone? Or am I missing the point? If you are grouping all the tracks together, for editing purposes on the kick or the snare, why include the cymbals?  I am confused as to why one would include the cymbals for a group editing, and take the risk that they don’t continue to ring out as originally played.

Thanks, Alan

This is a GREAT question, Alan.

For those of you who haven’t ordered Understanding Editing, let me recap what Alan’s talking about. When I do drum editing, I group all the drum tracks together. So when I’m adjusting a snare hit, ALL the drum tracks are moved at the same time.

The problem you run into occasionally is that you need to do an edit on the snare hit after a big cymbal crash. It’s not uncommon for the edit to interrupt the “ring” of the cymbals, which can be fairly noticeable. With a little patience, you can make it work.

Back to Alan’s question. He’s asking why I don’t just leave the overhead tracks alone and NOT group them with the rest of the tracks.

One word – phase.

What is phase?you might ask. Phase is a measurement of time between two or more sources. If two signals areout of phase with each other, the result is a very thin, weird sound. (Think phaser guitar pedal.)

If drums have been recorded properly, then all the tracks should be in phase with one another. As soon as you take some of those tracks and move them forward or backwards, by even a few milliseconds, your drums are now out of phase.

Your kick drum will suddenly lack punch and low end. The snare will lose its definition.

The overhead mics are arguably the most important parts of recording a drum kit. They capture the entire kit, not just the cymbals. So if you move the snare drum without moving the overhead track as well, the snare will be hitting at slightly different moments in time, resulting in phase issues.

Nerd Alert

I know, I know. this is getting a bit nerdy…but it’s important stuff.

Still not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s a bit of homework for you:

  1. Open up your DAW (Pro Tools, Logic…it doesn’t matter.)
  2. Import a song onto a stereo track.
  3. Duplicate that song onto a SECOND stereo track.
  4. Zoom in and move one of the tracks to the right by a few milliseconds.
  5. LISTEN to what it does. Pretty weird, eh?

THAT is why I always group ALL of the drum tracks when drum editing. Phase issues can ruin a mix. Grouping your drum tracks will keep you out of trouble.

Leave a comment.

What phase problems do you run into when working on a song? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Also, if you want an easy-to-understand, in-depth tutorial on editing everything from vocals to drums to acoustic guitar, check out Understanding Editing. As always, there’s a 100% money-back guarantee. Give it a shot!

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  • Soulstorminc

     The vocals i record at the Post Production Studio where I work, when stacked, different takes not copies, are REALLY phasey. WTF! I’ve recorded this other times, at home and at a recording studio and this doesnt happen. Im an engineer so this is really baffling. It almost gets “robotic”. I’m using a U87 mic with a grayson pre-amp. Are my takes that dead on? Please help, I work here so its easier for me to track myself here. Using Protools

    • Doubled vocals are supposed to sound phasey. That’s what happens by definition. They’re very similar audio signals, but they’re slightly different, hence the phasey sound.

  • Great point, Strangenotez.

  • RJ

    Ahh..I never thought about that before! Thanks for the post. I used to do quite a bit of editing on drums and would sometimes be asked to quantize the drums using PT’s elastic audio. I imagine that had quite a bit of phase problems. Wish I had those sessions to go back and look at…

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  • Question thats related in terms of phase…How would you go about doing overheads for a set of Conga’s? I ask because it seems like since their close together, it would be hard to observe the 3:1 rule and still get a good angle at the instrument.

    I’ve only had one chance to use overheads on congas, which was at a live show. I didn’t have time to get the feedback issues solved that the condensers were causing me so I wasn’t able to use them.

    • try an X-Y pair setup, works for me on small guitars.

      • Ahhhh, I’m really disappointed in myself for not thinking of that. Thank you!!!

  • Astewart

    aha… ok.. now I know what you are saying joe. I forgot about the overheads. I was thinking of each drum being on its own track exclusively. Even with EZ Drummer and all I know what you mean now.
    One last comment… some of us do use SONAR… can you start mentioning us lowly people that use that when you mention daws? lol.. thanx for your explanation.

  • phase is my number one enemy at the moment, it causes loads of problems when I’m editing vocals on my current tracks. Its my first time trying to double vocals and I currently hate it, I don’t even know what I am doing wrong and what I need to correct it…

    nothing seems to sound right even when I think I get tracks in phase.

    • If you’re doubling vocals, that phasey sound is actually what you’re going for.

      • Its not that type of phasey sound… its the things are cancelling each other out so that you get a very weak and thin sound I have been getting, its hard to explain. and its hard to show as I have since fixed the problem (and not kept the original problem, who would?).

    • DonB

      If you’re doubling the same vocal take, then yes. Phase problems can occur. (As in doubling with two mics at once, or copying a track and shifting one track in time.)

      However, if you’re doubling by recording twice (two takes by the same singer) then phasing is not an issue, of course. It would be the same as recording two separate singers. Phasing is only an issue when using the same exact sound source more than once–through different mics or electronically doubling.

      By the way, when doubling a vocal by recording twice (two takes), try moving the mic between takes, or maybe even using two different mics for each take. That can give some depth.