In part 1 of our recording drums series, we looked at how to set up and mic your drums. For part 2, we’re moving to the mix. By this stage, we’re going to assume that you’ve followed the advice in part one to a point where you’re happy with the recorded result. We’re also going to assume that the performance is up to scratch; by this we mean that you’re happy with the drummers timing and dynamics. If not, we strongly advise you revisit the recording process and get your raw recording as polished as possible. Corrective editing and compositing can be applied sparingly to correct a small timing error here and there, but if you find yourself needing to apply major corrective surgery, it’s almost always quicker to return to the drawing board.
Happy? Good! Let’s get started with your mix, and what better way to show you than with a real example. Through this guide, you will gain insights from our guest engineer, Jay Stapley. Jay has worked alongside Mike Oldfield and Roger Waters as a session musician; he also owns a specialist record label named Dammit Music. In our first instalment, Jay demonstrates the process of applying EQ to your drums using the kick as a primary example.
Cleaning up the Kick Drum
As job number one, Jay starts by removing any frequencies in the kick below 40Hz. For some musical genres, it can be beneficial to have sub-bass below this frequency, but for most acoustic kits it’s not required. Low frequencies are inherently greater in energy; for this, reason, it’s best to remove the potential for low-bass thuds that are practically inaudible and could play havoc with your mixing headroom. Jay also applies a similar principle to the high-frequencies – removing any unwanted hi-hat or cymbal bleed without compromising the kick drum sound.
Next, remedial EQ is applied to the low-end mush – helping to remove any muddy frequencies that could be reducing the clarity of our kick. By applying a boost first, Jay can hone in on the offending frequency before cutting. In this instance, a cut was applied at 227.5Hz, but you’ll usually be able to achieve the right sound somewhere between 200 and 300Hz.
As a finishing touch, Jay applies small boosts to emphasise attack and thud where appropriate. For the attack, somewhere around the 3KHz mark will do the trick (2.6KHz in this instance). Thud can usually be found around 90 – 100Hz – simply adjust and change to taste.
Because the original recording quality is good, Jay can achieve the right sound without applying extreme amounts of equalisation. If the initial recordings weren’t up to scratch, we would have to apply large amounts of remedial boosts and cuts, which can cause phase problems and raise the noise floor.
If it ain’t broke…
Finally, Jay demonstrates applying minimal EQ to the overheads. Although he does apply EQ to all parts of the drum kick, it should be possible to get a good drum sound using just a kick drum and overheads if the recording and performance are excellent. Therefore, your primary focus should be getting the balance between these elements right first – we can always apply further EQ later in the mixing stage (more of this to come throughout the series). At this stage of the game, Jay simply filters unwanted low frequencies and tidies up the low-mid area around 200Hz. The principle here is simple: take the time to listen, but do not apply any unnecessary EQ – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
We hope you found this video to be a useful starting point for EQ’ing your drums. Join us for part 3, where we will demonstrate the process of applying noise-gates.