Mixing drums and percussion is one of the most crucial aspects of a mixing down a track. Not only are the drums going to provide your track with a rhythm section but having the drums mixed well will lay out a great foundation and can instantly bring your track to life. Although they can be one of the most difficult aspects of a mix to get right, achieving a solid drum mix is undoubtedly the key to taking your productions to the next level. So where to start? We’ve compiled a list of a few ideas to get you thinking.
This may sound silly or basic but it is still often overlooked when recording or producing a track. Perhaps the samples you pick or the material you’ve just recorded sounds great on their own which is a good starting point. However, it is imperative to constantly check your drums in the context of the rest of your mix. If you’re having to shoehorn your samples with drastic EQing and compression to get them to sit in the mix, perhaps it’s time to consider swapping out the sample or re recording the material with different techniques. This can become a tedious task but you’ll definitely thank yourself later.
As we said before, you need to be sure you have a good starting point in the form of samples or recorded material that instantly compliment the mix. EQ’s should really be used as a tool to add character where your drums need it or to take away frequencies that are clogging up your mix. Having said that, EQing is one big balancing act and really can be your friend or foe. Need more shimmer on your drums? Try boosting the 7-15kHz region. Not too much however as being overly generous here can make your mix sound shrill and in some cases actually sound weaker. Need more weight in the bottom end? Try boosting anywhere from 50-200hz. Careful though, you don’t want to interfere with the frequencies being carried by the bass element of your mix. Typically the mud or ‘’boxiness’’ in drums lies around the 300-600hz region. A subtle cut here can make all the difference but once again too much can make your mix sound weak. Every different recording or sample of a drum hit will have its own fundamental (or most prominent) frequency that you will need to find and make room for in the mix. It’s important to note that by increasing one frequency band you’re essentially turning everything else down, so maintaining balance is important here. This is where it’s once again incredibly important to check your drums and percussion with the rest of the mix in order to make room for other elements and adjust your drums accordingly.
Ah, the old chestnut that is compression. Compressors have an endless amount of uses. In the realm of drums and percussion one of the main uses is to “tighten” sounds. The general rule of thumb for compressing drums is to set your compressor with a slow attack and a fast release. This allows for the initial transient of the drum hit to pass through the compressor so the tail is compressed or tightened before allowing the compressor to reset in good time for the next drum hit. The other term we frequently come across when talking about drum compression is the idea of “glue compression” which does exactly that; glues your drums together by taming or attenuating the overly loud sections while simultaneously increasing the presence of the softer drum hits. Cytomic’s The Glue (modelled after the SSL buss compressor) or Waves’ version or the famous API 2500 series buss compressor can both work wonders for a drum bus if used correctly.
If you’re new to music production and recording, compression is a term you’ll hear thrown around constantly. As a result you’ll find yourself wanting to compress everything ever because compression is a magical thing that will instantly make your mixes sound perfect. Not necessarily. Like with anything audio related you need to trust your ears. If it sounds right chances are it is right. Not every sound or sample will need compression, some will fit right into the mix without it (this is where sample selection/clean recording once again comes in to play.) Too little compression can make your mix sound boxy, too much can make it sound weak and dry. Make sure to A/B the material you’re compressing to see if your compressor is actually making your drums sound better or just wasting CPU power. We dive into the world of compression in more detail in part one and part two or our compression series if you’re struggling with it or just fancy a few more suggestions on how to get the tone you’re after.
The idea of saturation dates back to when audio engineers used analog reel to reel equipment. When a recording signal was pushed above 0db the signal started to become fuzzy or warm. Ahh, “warm.” The analog enthusiast’s favourite word. Anyways, this warming was known as soft clipping which produced natural compressing characteristics as it squashed the signal. Similar to compression, saturation can really glue a drum bus together while adding some very pleasing harmonics, most noticeable in the mids and top end of a drum mix. Although it’s difficult to obtain such a pleasing saturation tone in the digital realm, Klanghelm’s SDRR provides the user with incredible control over the plugin and models many different types of saturation such as tube and desk, making it easy to dial in the desired tone.
While there are quite literally an infinite amount of effect combinations and plugins that can bring your drum mix to life, the above suggestions should give you a solid starting point. It’s important to critically listen to your drums and figure out what is missing or what you can afford to do without. Remember also to A/B each step of the way and test your drums in the context of the rest of your mix to make sure the audio spectrum is being adequately covered and your mix is sounding nice and full. The biggest mistake is expecting your mixes to sound professional straight off the bat. They won’t. Harsh but true and the sooner you come to terms with this the sooner you can begin experimenting and having fun with producing and mixing music!
Until next time,