Did you know there are steps to mixing awesome drum sounds before ever reaching for an EQ or compressor?
What if I told you that your drum mixes may be lackluster because you’re skipping out on some foundational techniques?
Today, I’m going to share 5 crucial techniques to help you mix killer drums before you’ve even touched an EQ or compressor.
Organize the Tracks the Same Way Every Time
No matter how you like your tracks organized, it’s important to put them in the same order for every song you mix. This will speed up your workflow and allow you to focus on the sound over having to locate your hi-hat in every mix.
I like the shells of the kit first (kick, snare, toms) followed by the metal (cymbals). Most of my sessions look like this:
- Kick (followed by any subsequent kick mics)
- Snare (same as above)
- Toms (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc)
- Hi hat
- Ride cymbal
- OH’s (mono overhead left and right to start for level balancing)
- Room mics
- Fx Mics (trashed kick and snare mics or any extra blends the artist or producer has submitted)
Don’t Ignore the Importance of the PHASE RELATIONSHIP
Phase can be confusing at first, but once you better understand the phase relationship between your multi-mic’d drum tracks you’ll be on your way to tight and punchy mixes.
Phase with Drums Step 1: What is phase?
Phase with Drums Step 2: Multi-Mic Phase Alignment
I’ve made my video explaining a popular technique for aligning the phase relationship in drums:
Featured plugin: Check out Sound Radix Auto-Align
Envision the Sound and Balance the Kit Appropriately
My habit is to begin by cranking the level of the kick and snare to establish the drum mix, but if I’m honest, this is a terrible habit.
My best advice is to first listen to the rough mix and through communication with the band, artist, and/or producer, envision what you want the drums to sound like before you balance the individual mics.
I say this because while you may be working in modern genres that often call for a well defined kick/snare, this probably won’t always be the case. The benefit to building your drum sound with the overheads is that you’re treating the drum kit as it is in reality, a single instrument. This technique can bring cohesiveness to the sound that your particular genre or song may be asking for. That being said, if a well-defined kick/snare is your goal, starting from the individual mics may be necessary.
- Import some multitracks into your DAW and once organized (and phase aligned) duplicate the drum tracks. Mute the duplicates for now.
- Starting with the kick and snare mics, rough mix the entire song using the first set of drum tracks. (BALANCES ONLY for this exercise)
- Now mute the first set of drums and build the duplicate drum tracks into the mix BUT begin with the overhead mics this time around.
Quick note: If you normally hi-pass your overheads and treat them as “cymbal mics”, I want to encourage you to first mix them as if they’re your only drum mics. Add bottom to the OH’s to bring out the kick. Add sizzle or crack to them to bring out the snare. Toms a bit wooly? Scoop some 400-700 and see how you like that. Maybe you want more mids… The choice is yours, but I want you to try and make just the OH’s sound as close to the drum sound you hear in your head. Then, blend the individual mics to taste.
To Replace or Not to Replace
Love it or hate it, the technique of blending and replacing drum sounds isn’t going anywhere fast. Most modern sounds demand at least the blending of drum samples to achieve the “radio-ready” sound.
I want to again share a video with you from a workshop I created called the “Drum Replacement Workshop”. This video will help you decide when to consider using samples but also when to consider avoiding them. Click here or on the image below:
The Tom Trick
A trick I learned years ago and try to share as often as possible is “The Tom Trick”.
Once again, I’ve made this video available straight out of my workshop called the Drum Replacement Workshop. Please enjoy!
Quick note: While I still default to the tom trick in my mix prep process, there are plugins out that do a good job of emulating this technique. One of those would be the Gate from Steven Slate (included in his Everything Bundle). I’m a huge fan of this gate and recommend it in lieu of the tom trick when you have consistent tom hits from your drummer.
So there you have it! 5 foundational techniques for taking your drum mixes to the next level. I hope you find these useful.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any techniques that you’re using before ever reaching for an EQ or compressor? Tell me about it in the comments below. Happy mixing!