How to Mix Drums?

This is one example of mixing acoustic drum kit, how I proceed with the mix. There can be thousands of approaches to this subject, this is mine. Feel free to comment this article!

Mixing Kick Drum

When mixing a pop song, I start with the drums, usually with the kick drum. First I consider whether to insert a gate to the track or not. I listen if I need I to insert eq and possibly a compressor or a limiter – or both of them. I might continue with listening of bass track and inserting an equalizer and a compressor/limiter. The order of the eq and the compressor in the channel may vary.

Snare, One of the Most Crucial Parts of Your Mix!

I go on with the snare drum, first considering if it needs gating or not. I might make another channel for it, which I compress heavily. It is a double channel, which I use together with the main snare channel. Sometimes there are three copies of snare track or even four. Maybe I want to mix some bare unprocessed snare with those processed ones, too. Of course you can drive the snare track to different busses to create different effect chains and combine them. When doing this kind of “multitrack processing”, you have to be aware of the possible phase problems that may occure with some plug-ins.

How about equalizing the snare? Of course, use of equalizer depends always on the sound that has been captured in the recording stage, and there can´t be such “apply-this-always-rules”. Yet, often there are certain frequecies in the snare track that get the snare sound snappy or big. If I want to add some snappiness or sharpness to the snare, I tend to use frequecies around 2.6 KHz and 5.5 – 6.0 KHz. To my ear, those frequencies just seem to work well.

The under snare mic is processed relatively mildly. I cut off from under 100 Hz, and depending on the microphone used in the recording session, I may emphasize some high frequencies. It may be useful to switch the phase 180 degrees. For example, the gain plug-in of Logic can do that. If the kick drum is leaking to the under snare mic channel, gating the under snare mic can be useful to get rid of that problem. A little compressing helps to make this channel more solid and not to jump to your face from the mix.

Overhead Mics and Room

The next phase is inserting the eq and the compressor for the overheads and room mics also, if they have been used. How much the overheads need processing depends on the nature of the song. Rock sound tolerates a lot of compressing and eq, but sometimes I just emphasize a little the high frequencies, and might eliminate the unwanted frequencies, if there are any, with a narrow equalizer and that´s it . I may add some reverb to the drums; mostly for the overheads and under snare mic by sending them to a bus channel where the applicable reverb is inserted.

Tom Tracks Are Not Easy To Handle

When dealing with tom tracks, I usually use equalizer and compressor. Instead of gating the tracks I cut them in the arrange window and apply short fade ins and great sounding fade outs to get their sound go down much nicer than by using gates would be possible. Tom tracks have often resonances sounding like a problem and these should be resolved already when recording the tracks, but unfortunately they always aren´t and you have to live with them. It is a narrow banded equalizer that you need to solve these problems.

Maybe Bus Compressor or Limiter?

If I want more compressed sound for my drum set, I consider sending all the drum channels to a bus channel which has a compressor plug-in inserted. Then I can use the compressed bus channel for my drum set sound alone, or mix the bus with those tracks sent in the bus and use them both, which is called parallel compression.

Happy drum mixing! I´ll continue next time with deeper article about making a kick sound.

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