How to Mix Professional Drums: Powerful Fundamentals | Soundways

Mixing Drums


Mixing drums is a challenging task for any audio engineer.  Drum kits are usually recorded with at least three microphones.  Some tracking engineers use up to fifteen.  If your microphones are not carefully placed, time difference's can cause phase cancellations.

Often a drummer's natural dynamics will sound great live but not in the studio.  If the drummer has a heavy hand on the hi-hat and cymbals, a harsh drum recording can result.  Soundways has now developed the Core Production Workflow to help engineers mix drums.

Core Production Workflow


 

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The Core Production Workflow was created to optimize mix translation across all playback systems.  Often a mix will sound great in the studio but not on consumer listening systems.  The Core Production Workflow helps engineers focus on the most important area of a mix, the audio core.  In the past, engineers have used NS-10's and other smaller monitors to hear the core.  While these speakers may work for some applications, they introduce a variety of distortions.  Reveal is the only plug-in designed for listening to the core.

To use, place Reveal on your DAW's master bus.  When performing EQ and level adjustments, turn on Critical Listening mode.  This will allow you to make the most precise adjustments possible.

Tip #1: Kick Drums


 

For kick drums, EQ can clean up the sound.  If your kick sounds "boomy", use some EQ.  Try a Hi-Pass filter with a cutoff between 20Hz and 40Hz.  This will help to clear away unwanted low end.

Compression can add impact to a kick drum.  If your kick lacks punch, use a compressor.  Try a ratio of between 3:1 and 4:1 with a long attack and short release time.  Gain reduction of between 1dB - 3dB is common.

LowLeveler is a bass equalizer used to balance the harmonic content of a kick drum.

Place LowLeveler on your kick track.  Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus and turn on Critical Listening mode.  In this context, adjust the Upper Bass (Harmonic) of your kick drum to an appropriate level.  Turn off Critical Listening mode and adjust the Low Bass (Fundamental).  Mixing in this way ensures that your kick will translate to all listening systems.

Tip #2: Snare Drums


Phase cancellation is the leading cause of bad snare sounds.  Engineers often use two microphones when recording a snare drum.  The sound captured by these microphones has opposite polarity, resulting in phase cancellation.  

If you find that your snare lacks bottom end, you may have problems.  Try reversing the polarity of the bottom snare mic.

Compression can help tame snare peaks.  A snare drum usually has the highest transient peak in a mix.  These peaks will increase the dynamic range of a recording and may need compression.  Use a ratio of between 3:1 and 4:1 with a medium attack time and short release time.  Gain reduction of between 1dB - 3dB is common.  

Tip #3: Hi-Hats


EQ can smooth out a harsh sounding hi-hat.  To reduce harshness, follow the steps below:

Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus and turn on Harshness Listening mode.  You may find that your hi-hat sounds brittle or harsh.  If this is the case, use some EQ.  Cut out some frequencies between 2kHz - 5kHz.

Tip #4: Room Mics


EQ can shape the tone of room mics and clean up the sound.   If you find that your drum rooms are crowding your mix, use some EQ.  Try a Hi-Pass filter set between 80Hz - 150Hz.  This will clear away some unwanted low end.  

Compression can reduce transients of a drum room.  Engineers often use extreme compression settings on drum rooms.  Try a ratio of between 4:1 and 10:1 with a fast attack time and fast release.  Gain reduction of between 3dB - 9dB is common.