Gates are a great tool to have and can help move your audio productions up to another level. As most things in the production world - using them sparingly is key to keeping the drums sounding realistic unless you're going for more of a different effect.
What is a Gate?
A Gate is essentially what it says on the tin. In short it opens when the audio level goes past set a threshold - and then closes after the threshold level has passed. Other settings generally include a hold time and a release time. The hold time holding the gate open for the duration of the hold time after the threshold level has come back over and the release time stating how quickly the gate shuts again. An attack time also sets the gate opening time on first breaching the threshold.
Gates can help clean up a mix by cutting all the ambient surround noises that might be picked up by a mic and configured to only open when the sound source the mic is picking up it's direct signal.
Obviously this can be a subjective thing and also some music would not be suited for this kind of production technique. I've known people who use them and others not but I've found them to work particularly well in the studio envrionment when I've wanted to get separation of sound elements.
It is also depends on the setup of the drum mics and how many you have when recording.
Only use on close mics
When I use them I don't use them on every mic - I've find they work best on close mics.
Gates on the close mics can really help separation. Separation from snare and hihat or snare and kick drum etc. You could also use these on tom mics and set the gate to open when the tom is hit. Then closing the gate would stop the mic picking up any further sounds.
Use with Overhead/Room mics
To make the above point sound natural overhead and/or room mics would need to be in use so that the overall sound is consistent. If you only have close mics on the drums without any other mics you may struggle to get the drums to sound realistic as on the gates closing it would sound strange - although this might be an effect you're after. Use the overhead or other mics to give consistency to the overall sound.
Using Gates for Drum Effects
There are countless ways you can use gates for effects on drums by changing the attack and release times on the drums. I've used them to great effect for many of my drum recordings/production. One of my favourites is gated reverb when you can essentially dial out the reverb tail which cleans up the overall drum sound.
Setting the sidechains to different components on the drum kit can have some amazing effects as well. Try it out for some great effects.
Four Plugins I use for my recording and production (in no particular order)
Fabfilter Pro G
This is a great plugin which I use alot - highly tunable when you open up the expert section at the bottom of the page. I really like the interface on this plugin in so much as you can see what the plugin is doing realtime to the incoming sound source.
Oxford Drum Gate
This is also a great plugin - highly tunable and also very intelligent as it can recognise the different sound sources of the drum kit. So work pretty well out of the box. The Leveller section also helps sometimes when you want to distinguish between different volume levels (particularly on the snare drum). It doesn't always pick up all of the hits so you need to put it into what it calls a learn mode so that the gate is programmed to let that transient through as well.
This plugin as well as having a gate also has a number of other functions too. It's very transparent and I love the warmth mode you can engage too.
Logic Noise Gate
It's a Logic Pro Stock Plugin but I still use it alot both as a Gate and a Ducker. A great tool - you have to keep a close eye on the open and close lights to get the gate working properly.
Mark is an online session drummer and producer based in Reading UK providing remotely recorded drums to clients all over the world.
His main focus on the drums is to always serve the song and listen to what is being played by the other instruments in the band. Be aware of the song and how it develops.
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