It’s always great to have ideas and putting them into your DAW but really annoying if you can’t get everything sounding professional in the final mixing stage.
Mixing drums really depends on the type of music you’re making. If you’re making a pop song then you know your most important sounds are the vocals, drums then the bass. So vocals have to be upfront in the mix then drums, bass and the other instruments follow.
If you’re making Afro House then you know drums and percussion are what drives the music so they need to be upfront and punchy.
Music production and mixing in general requires you to understand the genre you’re making in order to achieve good results, if you have to do some research then go ahead and do it. If you know what you want to achieve then let’s get to it.
I used to drag down the faders then bring them up one at a time, but I got a really neat trick from Appello who I recently met on Reddit. He helped me improve the content on my blog and I’m Thankful for that.
If you see anything I might have got wrong then please let me know. What I learned from Appello is that you need to get the levels right from the source not by using faders. He said this gives the faders much resolution, so adjust your sample and synth volumes not the faders.
Keep the important sounds upfront and the rest at the back. Once you have a well balanced mix then you’ll need to check if there’s any phase cancellation.
If the drums are recorded live then you need to know how many microphones were used. If the snare was recorded using 2 mics then you need to check both mics are in phase because most of the time the recorded signal from the 2 mics will be out of phase. If there’s any phase then your drums will lack punch.
Once you’ve fixed that then move on to decide whether you want to eq 1st or compress 1st. With live drums I equalize first then compress after just to clean the sound first because the compressor might bring up some parts of the sound I don’t want.
So I first clean the unwanted frequencies with an EQ. If I’m going to boost any frequencies then I’ll compress 1st then equalize after. But this is not always the case, it depends on the material at hand. You can also use one EQ to clean out the drums then compress after and add another EQ to make the necessary boosts.
It is crucial to look at how the drums were programmed before doing any processing. Were they a live performance? Did you use a midi keyboard or a mouse? Are your individual drum sounds constant in volume or do they have a big difference in dynamics (the loud and soft parts)?
If your drum sounds change in volume, then you’re going to need to compress your individual drum sounds to keep them at a constant volume and that will make them sit well in a mix.
If they were programmed using a mouse and there’s no velocity/volume change then you wont really need a compressor unless if maybe you want to bring up the attack or the body of a sound.
For all those who program their drums using a mouse then at least play around with the velocity or use swing to give your drums a human feel instead of making them robotic(100% Quantized). Robotic music can make it hard for people to listen to the whole song, so add some human feel to your drums.
If you’re not using live drums then avoid using compressors because the samples you’re using were already compressed. Unless if you feel you have to, because some mixing situations might need you to compress.
How much compression is needed depends on the material at hand. For instance, A rock performance will need drastic compression while a jazz piece will need little compression to keep everything natural. So it’s crucial to know what you want achieve (the end goal).
Drums will need punch and sustain so that they sound BIG in a mix. To get the punch, send all your drum sounds to a Bus/Group channel, then use a slow attack with medium to fast release time and the add an upper mid EQ, that might do the trick.
Then remove the mud in the lower mid range and add a high-pass filter to remove the rumble. If your kick is clashing with your bass then cut a notch at 80Hz for the bass and then make a boost at 80Hz for the kick. It WORKS!
You might also want to add a limiter in your group channel to clean out the loud peaks that the compressor might have missed especially the snare. With recorded drums you will also need to add a gate processor to remove noise floor or background noise and this is something you need right at the beginning.
I usually use 1 room reverb in a send/Fx channel for all my drum sounds. I want them to sound like they are in one space and I also Eq the reverb effect by cutting all the low frequencies on the reverb. But I control the reverb for each drum sound using the send level on each channel.
I use the same process with the delay. Then finally I’ll add a distortion or bitcrusher Fx channel and send it to the whole drum kit to make the drums dirty and crunchy. This is a good technique for adding fullness, warmth and harmonics to your drum sounds.
Panning is also crucial in mixing drums but make sure that most of your important sounds stay in the center. If you’re having problems with panning or don’t know which sounds go right or left, then look at how a drum kit is set up. The kick is at the center, the hi-hat on the left, crash on the right etc. that’s how you pan.
After panning then make sure you listen to the drum mix in mono to make sure that no sounds disappear. When you play your drums in mono they must be punchy and clearer and if not then go back to the drawing board.
OK that’s it for mixing drums and hope you find something you can use in this tutorial. If you have any questions then please leave a comment below or even if you just want to add something I might have missed.
Happy Drum Mixing 🙂