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A Guide to Effective Drum Mixing - Part 2

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This post is part of a series called A Guide to Effective Drum Mixing.
A Guide to Effective Drum Mixing – Part 1
A Guide to Effective Drum Mixing – Part 3

In the last installment of Effective Drum Mixing we went through the rough levels of each instrument, checking the phase of the snare and general panning. Therefore, the faders are mostly where we want them, the snare is punching through without phase problems and every drum is panned in the stereo field.

Listen to what we've done so far.

Step 1: Kick Drum

I like having my kick drum sound as good as possible before I go adding other elements into the mix. I feel the kick drum is the driving force behind the drum kit and if it sounds weak the whole kit sounds weak beside it. Let's gate, compress and EQ the kick drum until it sounds as good as possible.


There's a lot of bleed from the other drums in the kick drum mic, therefore I'm going to slap a gate on it to get most of that unwanted sound out. We need a gate that opens up really quickly and closes just as fast without killing the sound of the bass drum. After tweaking Logic's gate I came up with these parameters:

I turned the threshold down until I stopped hearing the other drums. Notice that the attack is really fast, we don't have a lot of Hold and the Release is fast enough to close before we hear the snare drum, but slow enough so we hear the full oomph of the kick drum.


Now for some compression. The eternal debate is always on if you should compress before you EQ, or compress after you EQ. I have a tendency to compress before I EQ since I want my sounds to be even when I'm tweaking their “sonic colors”.

Someone told me a good rule about this chain of command. Compress before you EQ if you are going to EQ drastically, and compress after you EQ if you are going to compress drastically. That way, if you do a lot of boosts in the EQ department and compress after it, you are doing more compression on your boosts than the actual signal. And if you EQ after you compress you have a steady signal that you can trust your EQing better.

This drummer has a fairly steady foot, so we're only leveling things out a little bit. Putting medium ratio of 5:1 and pushing the threshold up until it's reducing about 3-4 dBs on average. Since we're cutting about 3 dBs from the signal we'll make up for it by adding 3.5 dBs of makeup gain.

A note on attack and release: Attack determines how fast the compressor starts chomping down on a signal, and the release determines how fast it stops working on it. Therefore, if you want all the punch of the kick to come through we need the compressor to start working after the initial transient of the drum. Therefore, the attack needs to be a little slower, and if it's a fast kick drum pattern we need the release to be fast so the next transient won't get affected by the compressor too.

So you see how it works here. I dialed the attack all the way down where it was working on the complete transient and started dialing it up until the click of the kick came through. We need the compressor to stop working before the next transient, and since it's such a fast double kick bass drum pattern the release is very fast. Just by tweaking the attack and release time we can get very different results from our compressor.

Let's compare the setting above, and then change the attack to 0.0 ms (very fast) and the Release to 410ms, or slow.

This is what we've got in the tutorial so far:

And this is the different Attack/Release settings:


Now, let's go for some equalization. We want the rock kick to come out and play so there are a few things that are typical to that sort of sound. Obviously, we'll be needing a thick kick full of low end. We need to get rid of the boxiness factor that is a little noticeable, and lastly we need to bring out the beater a little bit. But first, I'm going to filter out everything below 30 Hz. Why? Because there's not a lot of information below 30 Hz that's useful to us. Most people don't notice when it's gone, and any typical laptop or computer speaker doesn't even come close to reproduces those lows. So a high pass filter aimed at 30 Hz and we're good to go.

I know for a fact that the bass guitar on this track is going to be a pretty thick and bassy one, so I'm going to leave the deep bass for that instrument. I like to think of the bass guitar and bass drum interacting between 80-100 Hz and if I want the bass to dominate the lower frequencies I'll boost it down nearer to 80 Hz than 100 Hz. Because I know the character of the bass I'll see what a 100 Hz boost on the kick drum will sound like.

This is the untreated kick.

And this is the same with a 5 dB boost on 102 Hz

There is a nice thick punch coming from us boosting the low end. Since we have a shelving EQ on it we might need to cut some frequencies below when we try to fit a bass guitar in, but that's for another tut.

Boxiness can be a nuisance in the sound of a kick drum. Sometimes our kick drums sound like a cardboard box and when that happens we need to be aware of where we can fix it. Boxiness can be found in the higher-lower mids (if that makes sense) around the 300-600 Hz area. The best way to find a problematic frequency is by boosting with a very narrow Q and then sweeping around the spectrum until you hear the annoying frequency pop out.

Listen to this audio sample of where I do exactly that. I boost the kick with a narrow Q and then pin-point the frequency I want to cut. You can hear the different sets of frequencies as I sweep and then I settle on the one which I cut.

My cut might be interpreted as a little wide, but we need that wide cut in the lower mid range for that rock kick drum.

This is the kick with a 16 dB cut at 360 Hz.

Now for the last advice. We need to give the kick a little punch in the higher frequencies and no better way to do it than bringing out the beater of the drum. Let's boost a nice 6 dBs at 2.5 kHz in order to bring out a little of the click from the beater.

Now we've transformed, with gating, compression and EQ, this normal bass drum:

Into this kick drum ready to rock!

Step 2: Overheads

Now that we've got the kick drum nice and tight, I'd like to focus my attention on the overheads. Maybe you'd like to keep going, adding the snare, hi-hat and so on, but I feel that by adding the overheads on top of the kick drum gives you a nice palette to paint from. You have the base from the kick drum, and then you have the overheads covering everything else. We'll be cutting a few things out of the overhead tracks, as well as accenting the cymbals themselves.

We'll start by filtering out the overheads. Since we have such a good kick drum sound, we don't really need to hear the kick drum in the overheads. In reality I'm going to use the overheads tracks for very little, only a little ambience and for the cymbals. The snare drum likes to reside in the 500-600 Hz area so we'll be cutting that out as well. Then we'll boost the overheads a little in the highest frequencies, lifting up the cymbals and giving them some air frequencies.

Some might say that the filtering is a bit excessive, and I could agree. But since I really only want to bring out the cymbals and a little ambience, I think this is enough. Besides, my teacher in school, we called him Dr. Filter, and he taught us a lot.

The full overheads that you can listen to here:

Are far different than the over-filtered and high-end boosted overheads you can find here:

But I assure you that when all the drums are in place, every element has a place carved out and the overhead tracks aren't trying to overcrowd other drums. We're not going to compress these overheads. Let's just leave them as is for now and concentrate on adding the snare into the mix.

Step 3: Snare

The snare is the constant pulse of the drum kit. If the kick is the driving force of the track, the snare is the march commander, constantly marching in time. We need a snare to sound punchy in our rock track. We need to EQ it so that it crackles and pops as well as compress it so that it breathes in time with the track.

We have two snare tracks, the over and under-snare. We already had rough levels for them in the previous tutorial so now let's see how we go about EQ'ing and compressing them. Let's start with the over snare.


After going through all of Logic's compressor setting I finally reverted back to the Platinum type compression. I tried the Classics, the VCA, FET and Opto to see if anyone of those had anything interesting to offer. But alas, no. I'm sticking with the Platinum setting, which you need to be careful with.

I feel that Logic's compressors can get a bit aggressive and you don't much to completely over-compress and suck the life out of a particular instrument. But I think I did a pretty good job of it. I just want to add a little bit of compression, riding the peaks and controlling the level. Therefore I'm only looking for a gain reduction of about 1-2 dB.

You see that the threshold is fairly low, or at -8.5 dB. As said before, we want to control the peaks and just give the snare a little boost and color. Again, the attack and release settings are really important here as a really fast attack can suck the life out the transient, and a really long release never gives the snare room to breathe.

We want the compressor and snare to breathe in time with the track. Set your attack to really fast and then dial down until you hear the snare pop out before the compressor clamps down on it. We want that bite of the snare to pop out. Then time the release so it stops compressing in time with the snare. Watch the reduction meter and look at how the blue bar extends and retracts in time with the song. That's how you make a snare compressor breathe. By finely tuning the attack and release in time with the song.

This is how the snare drum sounds now:

By comparison, listen to how destructive compression can be in the wrong hands. Here I have a sample where the snare is over-compressed and completely lifeless and squashed. Just by upping the threshold, ratio and turning the attack to the fastest we get a squashed sound. Then adding a long release creates a pumping effect that really never gives the snare drum time to breathe. Don't compress like this please.


Let's equalize the snare drum by using the same techniques as the one we used on the kick drum. I'm going to filter out the unneeded low end, cut out some ringing overtones and add a little bite to the high mids.

The best way to know how much you can filter out is to put your filter all the up to about 400 Hz or so where you really notice the sound getting filtered out. Then slowly work your way back down until you don't notice any changes in the sound. From 150 Hz and down you don't really notice anything being added to the snare drum sound, so find a good place where you think you are not losing any sonic information from the snare. I filtered my snare from 130 Hz and down.

I feel that snares have a tendency to have annoying overtones that constantly ring when the snare is hit. With surgical EQ, you can get rid of these tones easily. Just do what we did before, a narrow high Q boost all the up and sweep around until you find the ringing spot. Then cut down on that spot, removing these frequencies. I did that two times on this snare, removing a 205 Hz boomy tone, and a 540 Hz ringing overtone. I boosted the 160 Hz area to give the snare a bit more meat, and gave it a wide boost in the 3 kHz area for a little point and bite.

Listen to the drastic difference EQ'ing can make. With just a little EQ you can transform a ringing, boomy snare drum into a nice punchy snare.

What we've got so far is this:

Until the Conclusion

Looks like we're out of space so we'll postpone the conclusion until next time. Stay posted for the third and final installment in the Effective Drum Mixing series. I'll be continuing down the drum-kit, adding the other snare to the mix. Also, I'll be using expansion on the toms, as well as compressing and EQing them. Finally we'll mix the full kit by itself, using reverb and compression to make it really come to life.

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