So, who time aligns their drum tracks?

I read an article on time aligning OH tracks with snare and kick tracks ages ago, and applied the theory to that drum mix “competition” we had a little while ago (pretty sucessfully I think).

I zoomed right in and dragged the snare in line with the OH snare hits, and did the same for the kick with some hits that registered on the OHs on something I’m mixing now. The snare comes through much more solidly now - but just like when I find something cool, I wonder how valid it is? Who else does it? Does it put the groove and timing out?


My understanding is that it is done pretty widely. I’ve done it a few times, and it certainly helps a great deal, but my basement sounds so wretched anyway…well…

Where was the article?


Where was the article?

Mate, I’ve googled far and wide for that particular article with no luck. It used some arbitary distance values to convert to the number of samples based on how long it took for sound to get get to the OHs and offsetting by that much…

But I found it just easier to zoom in and slide along…

Highly recommended. No, it does not harm the timing – actually, it tightens it up, but the change is so small it’s a tonal one and not a rhythmic one.

If you don’t time-align your tracks, you get a lot more phase cancellation issues. All you’re doing is compensating for different distances between drums and mikes.

IMHO, the visual method is by far the best, because it avoids measurement errors, etc. If you get really fussy, you’ll find that there’s often no one perfect alignment for all tracks, so you do the obvious and make the best compromise. One way is to use the snare to sync up (for all tracks), and a nice rimshot at the beginning can help. Another way is to hit the drum closest to each mike at the start, and use that to align each track to the overheads.

I do it every time, now that I can. It doesn’t make me a better drummer and really doesn’t make me a better mixer, but it solves a lot of little problems very easily.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that I have to flip the phase of the snare mic in almost every recording I’ve done after visually aligning the tracks. It looks like my snare mics of choice are wired out of phase, but that’s not really the case. I’ve used a few mics and all of sound better when phase flipped after alignment of the initial attack. The initial spike of the direct-on-the-snare mic and the overheads are out of phase after visual alignment. I have also seen it some what with the kick, but not so much with the toms. I don’t understand the discrepancy. I use my ears to know when to flip, and it’s pretty dramatic from an ear point of view…

That said…think about this. When micing a drum from the top the initial strike causes the head to move away from the mic. That will make the initial attack in the wave form point down visually…a negative attack A kick miced from the front or one headed toms from underneath will have the attack pointing the other way…a positive attack. My guess is the phase flip thing has something to do with this and the way the sound is oriented by the time it gets to the overheads, bouncing around the room, distance, bouncing off a low ceiling. Who knows. Flipping the overheads will cause the attacks to point down and that’s no what you want…down meaning the attacks will cause the speakers to be sucked in when phased correctly. You want the initial attack of the kick and snare to push the speaker out…the attack in the wave form to point up…usually. Anyway, flip as few as possible.

You’ve never be able to get all the tracks lined up perfectly with each other so don’t worry about bleed too much at this point.

So, YES, use the visual method to line them up (Jeff’s suggestion is right on the money), then experiment with flipping the phase to see which way sounds the best.

I can’t add a whole lot here because I do pretty much what learjeff and phoo do. I do it on every song and it’s a significant part of my ability to get good drum tracks. Even though I manually gate the toms with volume envelopes I still align them with the snare. The overheads are the most important. I just pick a clear snare hit and slide the tracks to line up.

Aligning any/all tracks that have bleed or a signal should be aligned. A kick mic picking up the snare…an ambient mic on a guitar cab with the close mic…yada yada yada. They will all contribute to some phasing issues regardless if they are significant or not.

Also, two different mics at the same distance from a sound source may also have some alignment issues that need resolving. The diaphragm on a dynamic and LDC may have different delays and will need re-alignment later.

It’s a pain in the butt, but it’s definitely worth it!

I pretty much do it with the bass and kick tracks from start-to-finish…

My drumming is awful and my bass playing is as good as it can be… I haven’t played on a stage for far too long. Even when I played I had to concentrate and listen to “Stick” with the kick…

When you slide the kick and bass along the “Meter” with the snare and overheads the Beds aren’t so wishy-washy… or whatever you call IT…

You can do IT by Side-chaining and Gating… but that leaves the door open for poor dynamics/feel to the bed tracks.

Cutting editing and sliding is the answer… But if you can get the top grade studio guys for your tracks then you don’t have to worry about all that…


I forgot… If IT’s too bad… then just do the tracks again till ya GET-IT…

I don’t mic up drums, but I do mic my acoustic and DI it at the same time.

Would it be necessary/beneficial to do this with the DI and mic’d tracks?

Yes, it’s a good idea. Otherwise you can get phase cancellation due to the distance between the guitar and the mike.

For example, let’s say the mike is 1 foot away. A wavelength of 1 foot is about 1100 Hz, roughly a C#6. You’d get the worst phase cancellation for half that frequency, the fundamental for C#5. There’s still as much as 25% cancellation an octave lower, at C#4 (just above middle C). Pretty important range in the tone for acoustic guitar.

At frequencies between 1/2 the wavelength and the wavelength, the cancellation effect diminishes (to zero at the wavelength). Above that, it gets complicated: the cancellation comes and goes as frequency climbs – you get a “comb filter” effect.

Quote (RichLum @ July 06 2006,19:44)
I don’t mic up drums, but I do mic my acoustic and DI it at the same time.

Would it be necessary/beneficial to do this with the DI and mic’d tracks?

I always do this with the DI and mic signals for acoustic. It’s even more important if you pan the two signals wide because you probably won’t notice a problem with the sound. If they’re out of phase, the phase difference will exaggerate the stereo separation and make you think you’ve got a thicker sound. So I align the tracks and check for phase problems by listening in mono.

(I also check alignment of DI and amp signals for bass and electric).

But of course, we always check our mixes in mono, so we would hear that problem! :p


Would this apply to a simple stereo OH micing of entire drumset? I know several very successful bands/engineers used this method, but in the seventies, they didn’t have visual editing, right? But you still have two different distances to the two OH’s. Did they tackle this … by ear (just to tighten it up and lose the washy feeling)? Or did they simply set up the mics equidistant from both the snare and bass? Or did they simply utilize the ambient/reverb to their favor?
I really like the simple stereo OH for drums (and I don’t quite get the same sound as what’s on those records!) so I’m full of questions.

With a 1-point stereo overhead, they’re already aligned – which is the advantage of that method. (The disadvantage is it can be harder to get the balance of instruments you want.)

If the overheads are spaced apart (more than just 6" or so for “spaced pair”, but several feet away), then you can pick one instrument to synch but the others will be in or out of sync based on mike distances. The best bet in that case is to make sure both mikes are equidistant from both bass and snare (which you generally want anyway, so they’re centered in the mix).

Note that if you want the snare a bit off center, you can have both mikes equidistant from it but one pointed more to it and the other a bit away from it. That way they’ll be time-aligned but the snare won’t be centered.

The fun thing about miking drums is that there are so many factors to optimize, and it’s impossible to optimize them all at the same time.