If you’re a music mixer, audio engineer, or home studio owner, then you know that dealing with cymbal bleed in your drum tracks just sucks.
In this blog post, you’ll learn how cymbal bleed happens, why it’s hated, and three ways to effectively deal with it in a mix.
Let’s get started!
What Is Cymbal Bleed in Drum Recordings?
Put simply, cymbal bleed is any unwanted “leakage” of the hi-hat or other cymbals being picked up by the close mics of the snare drum and toms.
For example, you’ll know if you have cymbal bleed in your snare drum if you are able to solo your snare drum microphone and still hear your hi-hat clear as day.
Because cymbals are obnoxiously loud, it’s nearly impossible to have a drum recording without at least some cymbal bleed to deal with. However, there are techniques you can use that we’ll discuss to reduce the amount of bleed you have to fight against.
Ironically, cymbal bleed isn’t always bad and can sometimes add that extra atmosphere into your drum recordings.
That said, in 99% of cases, you’ll be doing everything in your power to reduce cymbal bleed in your drum sound across the board.
Why Do Mixers Hate Cymbal Bleed So Much?
We could itemize every single of aspect of how cymbal bleed is a pain in the ass to deal with, but there are really two main reasons why you will grow to hate hate cymbal bleed in your drum recordings:
- It is more difficult to get a nice balance between each aspect of your drum kit
- It reduces the amount of creative options at your disposal for mixing your song
Basically, you’ll have a very hard time getting the drum mix you want for your song and in the end, your song will suffer.
Fortunately, there are ways you can minimize or remove unwanted cymbal bleed from recordings so you can get great sounding mixes.
Let’s look at that right now!
The Old School Way: Microphone Placement & Dynamic Control
This is the old school of old school right here. In fact, much like everything in the world of mixing, if you can fix most of your problems at the source, then mixing will be much easier.
In all honesty, if you can get a handle on proper microphone placement and ensuring the drummer is playing at the right dynamic levels, you’ll be off to an amazing start with your mix.
Here is a quick rundown of the three most important things to do:
- Raise Your Cymbals
- By raising your cymbals up, they are further away from the close mics of your toms and snare drum. This will automatically reduce the amount of cymbal bleed you’ll have to deal with in the mix on a technical level and you will save yourself loads of mixing time.
- Be Mindful of The Null Point of Your Microphone
- There are lots of different microphone types, but in general, placing your microphone so it can even reject cymbal bleed is very important. If you can get your microphone in a placement where the null point of the cardioid pattern is directly behind your source you want to record with the cymbal behind that null point, you’ll be in a great position to control your cymbal bleed.
- Depending on your room and the size of your drum kit, you will need to experiment with the height of your overhead microphones, where the microphones are pointed, and how far away your cymbals need to be away from the drum close mics. This will take time and you’ll probably have to be creative. But the more time you spend experimenting and testing out the best ways to mic your drum shells, the happier you’ll be as a mix engineer.
However, the most important aspect of cymbal control and bleed is going to be in the hands of your drummer.
If the drummer is smashing away on the cymbals loud as can be and playing the drums softly, there is not a thing you can do about it as you’re about to have cymbal bleed everywhere and the chances of getting a great mix is nearly zero.
If your drummer can control the way they play the cymbals and have dynamic control, you’ll find that cymbal bleed (in conjunction with great placement and cymbal height) will be quite negligible.
The Current, “Standard” Way: Gates, Filters, and EQ, Oh My!
This is probably the way you’re most familiar with as a mixer. At this point, you can’t change how the drums were recorded, so you have three tools at your disposal.
- This is pretty much the standard answer for cymbal bleed in close drum microphones. By setting the threshold point to open and close right when the drum is played, you’ll be able to get rid of most cymbal bleed. The downside is you’ll have to carefully and painstakingly do this for every drum microphone and this could take you a long time as you’ll have to adjust the threshold, attack, and release settings for each microphone to maximize your drum sound as much as possible while reducing cymbal bleed.
- Generally used in conjunction with a gate, filters are plugins that use an algorithm process to “detect” cymbal bleed and try to scrub it out while maintaining the drum shell sound. You’ll set a threshold level (like a gate), the range you want the filter to work within, and then dial in the reduction which will control how much suppression will happen.
- Dynamic EQ (Multiband Compression)
- Yes, you can use dynamic EQ, but you might have heard it as multiband compression. In particular, you can use a multiband compression plugin that has an “Expand” mode that can quickly clamp down on high, annoying frequencies that you may be experiencing in your drum shells. As previously, you can adjust the threshold, attack, and release settings to dial in how fast you want the dynamic EQ to work.
And of course… you can do it manually. In fact, a lot of big name engineers and mixers either manually gate or pay for assistants to manually gate drums by hand.
Doing this manually is exactly what it sounds like: you split the audio track, create a fade on either side of the audio you’ve split, and delete the rest. Boom. Cymbal bleed gone. However, this is easier said than done and can often be the most time consuming method of cymbal bleed removal.
There is One More Way
While the techniques we outlined above can work, they often don’t work exactly the way you need them to work or still leave you having to make decisions like:
- How much bleed am I okay with in this song?
- Do I want to remove this bleed or hear more of the toms?
- Do I want to spend another hour tweaking these gate settings or should I just move on?
To add even more salt into the wound, you’ll probably find yourself using a combination of the above techniques, spending quite a bit of time to find a combination that works.
Because we love our sanity and we want to actually mix drums and not be hindered by cymbal bleed, we created Multiband Gate.
This is the only gate on the market that allows you to specifically indicate which aspects of the frequency spectrum you want to gate while having independent attack, hold, and release knobs for each range.
This means you can keep the entirety of your low end in your floor tom while also removing that high-end hiss from your cymbal. You can keep the attack and bite, and remove the noise with total control.
Insert Multiband Gate into your session, and follow the path to a great mix:
- Set the threshold so that the gate opens and closes based on your source
- Adjust the MID BAND frequency range to encapsulate as much of the midrange bite as possible
- Adjust the Attack, Hold, and Release knobs so your gate works exactly as you want it to work
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the “HI BAND” and “LOW BAND” frequency ranges
- Adjust the output level to make up for any loss in volume
You can click the video below to see it in action and hear the massive difference it makes in a real-world situation.
Once you get the hang of using this plugin, it will replace any other method you’ve been trying to use previously.
Click here to check out Multiband Gate and add it to your mixing workflow!