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Tutorial: Mixing Tips For Drums

By moosers on 09/07/2009 - (Anyone)

Introduction

In this tutorial we'll talk a bit about some ideas on how to mix drums once you've recorded them.  While it definitely matters what type of music it is and what type of sound that you are going for, there are definitely some things that you can do that will generally sound good.  The main thing to remember is to try things out and to get creative!

Step 1

First, we'll talk a little bit about the actual tracks that you have recorded.  Usually I will record as many drum tracks as possible so that I have the ability to blend tones together, which I think is the name of the game.  I will usually record a kick in and a kick out as well as a snare top and a snare bottom and then mix them together to get the sound that I am going for.  To me it is all about giving yourself options to play with when you go to mix and the most important thing to remember is to give yourself as much room as possible while recording so you will be able to change things around if you'd like later on in the mixing process.

Step 2

Let's talk a bit about blending the different tracks that you have recorded and we might as well start with the kick drum.  I find that recording both a kick in and kick out will give me enough blending options, but if you only have the ability to record one I would go with the kick in.  From here there is plenty that you can do to enhance the sound of the kick drum using both EQ and compression.  I will generally cut the really high end using a low pass filter and depending on the sound that I have will sometimes boost the low end or the low mids to give it some punch, but this really depends on the source sound.  I almost always use compression on the kick and will always keep the kick drum panned in the center.

Step 3

The most important part of the drum mix is the snare drum as it holds down the beat and keeps pace of the song.  I will usually blend a snare top and a snare bottom sound, usually with the snare bottoms considerably lower than the top.  There are all sorts of things that you can do here, but I almost always use some compression on the snare top and will sometimes use some reverb if it needs it and there isn't enough from the overheads or the rooms.  I will use EQ a lot as well to make sure that the snare sticks out in the mix as this can be a problem for a lot of mixers.  There are endless things that you can do when it comes to mixing with the snare drum, so please experiment and try things out!

Step 4

The overheads when it comes to mixing drums are the most important part of the mix as they pick up all of the drums.  I don't tend to compress the overheads unless I decide to compress all of the drums, as I like to keep them dry and in their original form for a more organic sound.  I tend to do the same thing with the room mics as I really feel that these are the essence of the drum sounds.  I will almost always cut below 200 Hz on the overheads using a high pass filter and will cut two or three db at around 800 Hz on the room mics.  Doing this for the overheads is helpful because there isn't too much down there that isn't covered by the other mics and for the overheads this cleans up the signal well.

Step 5

I won't talk too much about mixing the tom tom drums, but I will say that they do benefit from compression and EQ and I will usually gate them as well by deleting all of the material that isn't picking up the toms.  Another tip that I do a lot is send all of the drums (besides the rooms usually) to an aux channel and compress them altogether as this adds a lot of punch to them.

Conclusion

While this isn't nearly everything there is to know about mixing drums, I hope that you have picked up a few things along the way here and that you continue to experiment and try new things.  There is an endless way to mix drums and this is really just the way that I do things.  The most important thing is to develop your own style and techniques in order to get the sound that you are after.