When we were tracking drums on Tuesday, I used my Earthworks SR25’s (small-diaphragm condensers) as overhead mics.

I ran them through my Presonus ADL600 stereo tube preamp. As we were setting levels for everything, the drums sounded monstrous. We decided to hit the tube pre’s pretty hard to get a thick sound out of the overheads.

At one point, Joel (bass player) said, “I hear some distortion on those toms.”

We checked the tom mics in solo. Everything sounded fine, so we moved on.

Everything had a good, healthy level. Everything sounded great.

This morning (a full two days later), I’m working on a mastering session for a client. I glanced down at my mixer and noticed something on the two channels we used for overheads.

The inputs were turned all the way down.

The way this mixer is set up, if you plug something into the line input, you need to turn the preamp knobs to around 10 o’clock to achieve unity gain (no volume being added to or taken away from the signal).

For some reason, I never noticed that the preamps on these two channels were turned all the way down. Instead of being at 10 o’clock, they were at 7 o’clock.

Nothing clipped digitally during tracking, all my meters looked great. But apparently we drove the preamp really hard, then overloaded the console input.

The result?

A really cool, slightly distorted overhead track.

When Tim hits the toms really hard, you can hear them distort, but you can’t really hear it in the mix. Plus, the amount of distortion and crunch on the snare drum sounds awesome. And the cymbals sound fine.

While it’s insanely embarrassing to make such a rookie mistake, there’s a cool lesson in this.

Nothing will ever go 100% perfectly. As long as you listen and pay attention, you’ll be fine.

The overall drum sound is ridiculously good. Big, thick, punchy. We commented on how the overheads sounded crunchy, and how we kinda liked it. (We just thought it was because of the overdriven tube pre, not because we blew out the input on the console.)

We were happy with the overall drum sound, so we plowed ahead.

And as it turns out, now I have a nifty new trick for adding some dirt during the recording process. Crank the outboard preamp, turn down the input on the console. (This is nothing new, of course. People have been doing this kind of stuff for decades, but I just happened to do it by accident. Oops.)

I am still very happy with our work from Tuesday.

Embarrassed? You betcha.

But see, when you focus on the overall sound of things, you can mess things up (sometimes royally), and it’s still okay. When listening back to drums as we were getting sounds, we solo’d things briefly, but overall we wanted to make sure that ALL the drum mics together sounded great.

And they did.

Wanna hear for yourself? I’ll be playing a bunch of samples for my VIP members in tomorrow’s weekly video.

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Joe Gilder
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