Percussion Mixing Tips

Percussion Mixing Tips

Percussion are a great way to make an arrangement or an entire mix sound interesting. Most music producers use percussion to separate the verse from the chorus. While others use them as the foundation or main groove for the song.

In this tutorial we’ll be looking at some techniques for mixing percussion sounds. Percussion are mostly mixed the same way one would mix drums. So if you know how to mix drums then mixing percussion shouldn’t be a problem.

Today we’ll be mixing a kick drum with different percussion sounds, here’s the raw mix of what we’ll be working on:

Raw Percussion Mix

As you can hear everything is sounding dark and muddy, so what I’ll be doing here is to make the percussion shine, remove the mud and make it sound full. The first thing I mixed on this was the kick drum, and I wanted it to be the main foundation of the groove.

I wont go over how to mix a kick drum because I’ve done that many times in my previous blog posts, so read previous posts to learn how to mix a kick drum.

To make sure the kick stays upfront I brought down all the level faders then brought the kick up first then the other instruments after to get a good balance for the whole groove. The next thing to do is to add some processing to help all sounds gel well together.

To make the whole percussion mixing process a lot easier then choose good quality sounds or samples instead of relying on processing tools. The first thing I did was to add an EQ on all the percussion sounds to shape their tone and remove unwanted frequencies.

Percussion are widely different in sound and people use different techniques to record them. So you’ll have to sweep around the spectrum to find a good place to boost or cut. But just to make your job a bit easy, here’s my percussion frequency chart:

Usually there’s nothing below: 60Hz (good for cutting)
Bottom: 60Hz – 100Hz
Warmth/Punch: 100Hz – 250Hz
Fullness/Mud: 250Hz – 440Hz
Honkiness: 440Hz – 900Hz
Crunch: 2kHz – 3kHz
Definition: 6kHz – 10kHz

This is a frequency chart I created myself because I couldn’t find a percussion frequency chart anywhere. It’s not 100% accurate but it should make the process of equalizing percussion a lot easier for you.

The next thing I did was to send all the percussion sounds, except the kick, to a group channel. I did this so that I can add dynamic processing to the percussion without the kick drum interfering.

I used a fast attack, medium release time, a small ratio of 2:4 and a gain reduction of -4dB. I also have to mention that it’s not true that for percussion you have to ALWAYS use a fast attack and fast release time. It depends on what you want to achieve and the type of material you’re currently working on.

If you want to just tame out the loud peaks and keep the sounds punchy then use a fast attack and fast release time.

Next thing I did was to send both the percussion group channel and the kick drum to a new group channel for more processing. This is to help glue the sounds together. If you want more details about mixing a drum buss then check out my blog post about “How To Make Sampled Drums Bright & Punchy…”

All I did to the drum buss was to add an equalizer and added parallel tape saturation to add more harmonics to the whole percussion. Finally, I added a stereo image plugin on the percussion group channel to make the percussion wider in the mix.

Compare the results below and leave your comments below.

Raw Percussion Mix

Processed Percussion Mix