A subscriber emailed me recently, asking about mixing drums.
Inspired by the email, today I would like to give you my “Top 5” tips for mixing drums.
Before I dive in, let me say this:
The first step is to record a good sounding drum kit.
Hopefully by now this should go without saying. But it’s so important that I just had to say it again.
If you struggle with recording drums, check out my recent guide on recording drums. It should help you to get started on the path toward great drum recordings.
But for a few tips that can give you some “big wins” in mixing, read on.
Tip #1: Cut the “boxiness”
A drumset recording tends to have a “boxy” sound that builds up in the 300-400Hz range. It is usually beneficial to find the boxy frequency in your recording, and cut it.
Sweep around with a big EQ boost on your drum bus first. Find where the frequency is, and cut it by a few dB. Somewhere between 3 and 6 dB should do the trick, but use your ears.
If the frequency is still bugging you on particular drums, you may want to cut it on individual tracks as well. Just remember not to overdo it, and listen to it in the context of the mix to ensure that it’s working the way you want it to.
Tip #2: Get the compression right
Drums in many genres of modern music tend to be pretty compressed. When done right, it can make the kit sound punchy and present in your mix.
A few rules of thumb:
A few levels of compression can be better than a single heavy compressor. Doing some compression on the bus, and some on individual tracks is a good example of this.
Keep your attack times high. An attack time of anything less than 30ms can start to round out your transients. Usually, you want those transients to come through loud and clear. So keep those attack times high.
Try parallel compression. It’s a great way to perform some heavy compression without completely squashing the life out of your drum mix. Simply blend it in to taste after dialing in the settings.
Tip #3: Use a room mic, and compress it heavily
One place where it’s great to break all the above rules of compression is with the room mic.
A room mic can add some nice, natural sounding reverb and ambience to your drum recording. And if you compress it heavily and blend it in, it can add some great energy and vibe.
Tip #4: Use parallel compression on the kick, snare, and toms
I like to create a bus that I send these drums to. This bus, like the room mic track, gets heavily compressed.
This compressed bus track emphasizes the smack of the drums. Blending it in to taste can help your drums to cut through a dense mix.
Tip #5: Emphasize the kick “click”
Even with the above parallel compression trick, sometimes the kick can get lost in a dense mix.
Try sending it to a parallel track and applying an aggressive EQ to it. Roll off all the low end, and do a huge boost around 10k. Search around for the best place to boost.
Blend in this track until the kick drum “click” starts to poke through the mix better.
So there are some of my favorite drum mixing tips. Obviously I can’t get into every single thing that I do on drums, but these tips are the things that tend to get me the “big wins” in my mix.
How about you? Got any more tips you think deserve a mention here? Let me know by leaving a comment!
4 thoughts on “Top 5 Drum Mixing Tips”
I forget how valuable parallel processing is. I’m not talking about parallel compression on drums or distortion on bass/vocals (this stuff is fairly common practice for me), but like the last tip you mentioned where you’re really just getting the click out of the kick drum. There are SOOOO many potential uses for parallel processing, and I think it’s too easy to forget about them or just stick to the ones we know.
One example I’ve found useful is when triggering recorded drums, I’ll occasionally trigger from a track with the attack incredibly emphasized with a transient shaper or something that’s boosting the attack and cutting the sustain. Gives the trigger a very clear signal for figuring out where to insert a sample, and it helps prevent mis-triggers.
Anyway, good post!
Yes, parallel processing can really do the trick sometimes. I love the “kick click” track. It’s helped me out a number of times.
Very cool drum triggering trick. I don’t typically do a lot of drum triggering, but that’s a cool way to do it. Makes a lot of sense. I’ll have to give it a shot!
I always cut out the ringing noises from the snare. You know, that metal ringing.
Just grab an EQ on the snare, and sweep around for these ringing noises from the snare’s metal. Then make the cut as narrow as possible, so you cut out as much ringing without cutting valuable frequencies in the snare track.
This makes the snare sound a sh*t ton tighter in my opinion.
Oh man, you’re so right. I almost always do that too. It definitely tightens things up.