Mixing Drums in Your Home Recordings - dummies

By Jeff Strong

The guidelines for mixing (EQing) the drums depend on whether you use live acoustic drums or a drum machine. (The drum machine probably requires less EQ because the sounds were already EQ’d when they were created.) Also, the type and placement of your mic or mics also affect how you EQ the drums.

Mixing kick drums

You want the kick drum to blend in with the bass guitar. To do this, reduce the frequencies that the bass guitar takes up. For example, if you boost a few dB between 100 and 200 Hz for the bass guitar, generally you should cut them in the kick drum (and maybe as high as 250 Hz).

To bring out the bottom end of the kick, you can add a couple of dB between 80 and 100 Hz. The kick drum can get boxy-sounding (you know, like a cardboard box), so you can cut a little between 400 and 600 Hz as well to get rid of this boxiness.

To bring out the click from the beater hitting the head, try adding a little between 2.5 and 5 kHz. This increases the attack of the drum and gives it more presence.

Mixing snare drums

The snare drum drives the music, making it the most important drum in popular music. As such, it needs to really cut through the rest of the instruments. Although the adjustments that you make depend on the pitch and size of the drum and whether you used one mic or two during recording, you can usually boost a little at 100 to 150 Hz for added warmth.

You can also try boosting at 250 Hz to add some depth and cutting at 800 Hz to 1 kHz if the drum sounds too boxy. A little boost at around 3 to 5 kHz increases the attack, and an increase in the 8- to 10-kHz range can add crispness to the drum.

If you used two mics during recording, consider dropping a few dB on the top mic in both the 800-Hz to 1-kHz range and the 8- to 10-kHz range. Allow the bottom mic to create the crispness. Generally, roll off the bottom end of the bottom mic below, say, 250 to 300 Hz.

Depending on the music (R&B and pop, for instance), you can also add a little sizzle to the bottom mic by boosting frequencies above 10 kHz with a shelf EQ.

Mixing tom-tom drums

Tom-toms come in a large range of sizes and pitches, but for mounted toms, you can boost a little around 200 to 250 Hz to add depth to the drum. A boost in the 3- to 5-kHz range can add more of the sticks’ attack, and for some additional presence, try adding a little in the 5- to 8-kHz range. If the drums sound too boxy, try cutting a little in the 600 Hz to 1-kHz range.

For floor toms, you can try boosting the frequency range 40 to 125 Hz to add some richness and fullness. You may also find that cutting 400 to 800 Hz can get rid of any boxy sound that the drum may have. To add more attack, boost the 2.5- to 5-kHz range.

Mixing the hi-hat

Most of the time, the hi-hats are pretty well represented in the rest of the mics in the drum set, but depending on which mics are picking up the hi-hats, you can use the hi-hat mic to bring out their sheen or brightness.

To do this, try boosting the frequencies above 10 kHz with a shelf EQ. You may also find that cutting frequencies below 200 Hz eliminates any rumble created by other drums that the hi-hat mic picked up.

Mixing cymbals

With the cymbals, cut anything below 150 to 200 Hz with a shelf EQ to get rid of rumbling that these mics may pick up. Also drop a few dB at 1- to 2-kHz if the cymbals sound kind of trashy or clanky. Adding a shelf EQ above 10 kHz can add a nice sheen to the mix.

Mixing considerations of overhead microphones

If you used overhead mics to pick up both the drums and the cymbals, be careful about cutting too much low end — this can just suck the life out of your drums. Also, if the drums coming through the overhead mics sound boxy or muddy, work with the 100 to 200 Hz frequencies for the muddiness and 400 Hz to 1-kHz frequencies for the boxiness.