Hey everyone! Glad you’re here.
I wanted to title this post “How To Mix Drums”, but decided that would be misleading. Honestly, I would love to be able to present you with a method or formula that you could follow in order to guarantee a great sounding drum mix every time.
The truth is, however, it simply doesn’t work like that.
Although I have mixed drums many times, I don’t have a “formula”. However, I still usually manage to get good sounding drum mixes. I do it using tips, techniques, and fundamentals that I’ve learned over the last couple years of mixing. Today, I want to share with you some of my top tips for drum mixing.
Get a good drum recording
This may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth: you can’t get a great drum mix without a great drum recording. The fact is, mixing is all about making something that already sounds great sound better, not making something that sounds bad magically start to sound good.
So maybe you’re just mixing a project and have no say over how the drums were recorded. In which case, I understand. You’ll have to make do with what you have. But you can only get so far with poor recordings. No mixing trick is going to produce a professional sounding drum mix from a poor drum recording.
If, however, you are recording the project as well as mixing it, make the drums sound as good as you possibly can on the way in. This means using good drums, good heads, tuning them properly, and having a good drummer provide a good performance. Do your work on the front end, and your mixes will thank you.
Mix from the outside in
So now that we have a good sounding drum recording, what can we do next? Personally, I like to mix the drums from the “outside in”. I’ll route all of the tracks to a “Drums” bus, and start my EQ and Compression there. The processing on this bus will be applied to all of the tracks coming into it, so if I can get the drums sounding pretty good at that level, then my work is getting close to being done.
After I’ve processed the bus, then I will go in and deal with the individual tracks if needed. If I’ve done a good job at the bus level, then most of the sonic issues should be dealt with and the tracks should be starting to sound pretty good. However, some processing at the track level is also usually needed.
Cut around 300-400Hz
This is one of those “rules” that I follow. There aren’t many rules, but for drums, there is usually some frequency in the 300-400Hz range that just sounds bad. It sounds boxy, cheap and muffled. Cutting this out at the bus level, and sometimes at the track level as well, will clean up your drum mix quite a lot.
Tasteful EQ and compression
EQ and Compression. The only two plugins you need for a great mix. Use them. Learn them. Use EQ to cut the frequencies that don’t sound good, or have unpleasant build-up. Remember that we’re not removing those frequencies, but balancing them. If you want, apply some boosts to frequencies that sound good. I usually boost wide, subtly, and sparingly. Often I will look for places to cut first, before deciding to boost.
Use compression to get some smack out of the drums. I will often compress the bus, the individual drums, and sometimes the overheads. If I have a room mic, I will usually compress the daylights out of it with a fast attack and slow release to mix in some energy with the rest of the drum mix.
Finally, the way to get great drum mixes is to just go and mix drums. Practice your tools, try out new things, learn new techniques. There are so many more things I could mention here, but in favor of the 80/20 rule, I’ll stop here. Get out there, mix some music, get some practice, and your drums will start to sound better than you could ever have imagined.
Do you have drum mixing tips that work well for you? Leave a comment!