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- How to Make an Exciting Drum Mix in 9 Simple Steps
- How a Solid Drum Foundation Will Make Your Mix Incredibly Powerful
- How to Get Rid of Annoying, Ringing Resonances in Your Snare Sound
- How to Easily Change the Feel of Your Mix By Focusing on the Right Reverb
- The Importance of the Attack and Release on Your Compressor
- How to Replace Weak Drums Without Deleting the Human Feel
- How to Use Mono AND Stereo Drum Reverbs for More Depth
- My Two Secret Weapons for Mixing Punchy Drums
Drum Mixing is one of the most important elements of creating a solid foundation in your mix.
A weak drum sound kills the rest of the mix and makes everything else suffer.
That’s why I created the Drum Mix Toolkit. It’s all I’ve learned in the last 11 years of working with drums, both live, in the studio and at home.
The following is an excerpt from the Drum Mix Toolkit. Today we’ll talk about the important fundamentals of getting a great drum mix
How to Make an Exciting Drum Mix in 9 Simple Steps
Here’s how you’ll learn to mix drums with the Drum Mix Toolkit. I’ll start by giving you a quick start guide that covers the entire process from beginning to end.
Then we’ll expand on each part as necessary in the following chapters. That way you’ll get a broad overview if you want to get started right away on your own, but you’ll be able to refer to the in-depth materials later on if you get stuck.
Sound good? All right, let’s go.
Step 1 – Start Your Initial Balance
The drum track you start with is dependent on two things:
- How many drum tracks do you actually have?
- What kind of feel do you want out of the song?
If your drums were recorded with one microphone you don’t really have a lot of options. You can go nuts trying to add samples that match up with the kick and snare but that’s a bit beyond what I’ll be talking about today. Since the drum kit generally requires a combination of several different microphones it can give you multiple options (or headaches!) depending on what kind of sound you’re looking for.
If the song is a folky ballad you’ll probably approach the initial balance differently than if it were a heavy metal song. The natural sound of the folk song might lend itself well to start with the overheads, whereas metal is all kick and snare to start.
- Listen to the beat and have it tell you what the most important part is.
- Is it a simple kick/snare beat or is there lots of cymbal work?
- Does the drummer play the toms a lot or barely do a fill?
- How does that play into the rest of the arrangement of the song?
These are all questions to keep in mind as you’re doing your initial balance.
Step 2 – Check Polarity/Phase
It is incredibly important to make sure your drum tracks are in “phase”. This can make the difference between a weak kick and a powerful one; it can change your snare from thin and weak to punchy and tight.
Usually, you’ll have a “phase” plug-in or an EQ that has a polarity switch which you can press. If you press it and the drums suddenly become thicker then you’ll know there were some polarity problems in your tracks. We’ll talk about this in more detail later on in the Drum Mix Toolkit.
Step 3 – Group
You’ll want to simplify your drum mix if you have a lot of microphones on the drum kit itself. It’ll make it easier and more efficient to mix later on.
Grouping the drums together is crucial to achieving this and depending on how complex the drum tracks are, there are multiple ways you can simplify your drum mix. We’ll talk about that in more detail later.
Step 4 – Bus Processing
Once you’ve grouped your instruments you can start adding plug-ins and processing to your mix. You should have a fairly balanced drum kit where everything sounds natural and one drum doesn’t overpower another.
Add in EQ, compression, saturation, analog summing or any other processor you’d like to use to sculpt the overall drum sound of the bus.
You can also add parallel processing at this point if you’d like. We’ll talk about bus processing and parallel compression in detail later.
Step 5 – Sample Replacement if Needed
Once the drums are sounding decent as a whole through your bus processing it’s time to move on down to the individual tracks themselves. This is as good a time as any to make sure your kick and snare are up to snuff.
If you’re a fan of sample replacement, you can start switching out the kick and the snare for something more powerful. You can also layer the samples with the original drums, giving you the best of both worlds.
Step 6 – Individual Processing
At this point it’s time to enhance each track as needed. If the drums are sounding really good to you already then you might not even need much processing here. Maybe just a little EQ to cut out some unwanted frequencies, some compression to thicken things up and experiment with something new, like adding saturation for instance.
Also, depending on how much bleed you’re getting through the individual mics you might want to gate the drums. You don’t want the EQ and crunchy compression you’re using on the kick drum to affect the snare drum when it bleeds through to the kick drum mic. Therefore, gating can be a really effective way to clean up your drum sound.
Still a bit confused about EQ? I put together an online course to share more in-depth techniques to improve your mixes using EQ. Sign up here to start getting cleaner and fuller output from your recordings.
Step 7 – Rebalancing
Rebalancing is key. Throughout your mixing process, you’ll constantly keep pushing the faders up and down depending on what processing you’re doing. Even if you manage to gain-stage your plug-ins correctly you’ll probably need to add or subtract some volume to rebalance your drum tracks, both with each other as well as with the rest of the mix.
This is especially true if you work on the drum bus first and then add individual track processing later. The individual track processing will inevitably change how the group processing works so make sure you always go back and forth and rebalance as necessary.
Step 8 – Reverb
At this point, you should have a pretty killer drum sound, but it might be sounding a bit dry. If you have room mics from a big room then you might already have a natural reverb. Depending on the style of the song, this might be enough for you.
If you don’t have any space on your drums you’ll have to send your drums to a reverb. When choosing your reverb you need to think about the genre of the song, the BPM (things can get cluttered fast with a big reverb and a fast song) and the overall style that you’d like.
Step 9 – Blend With the Rest of the Mix
Congratulations! You’re mostly done.
The only thing left to do is to add any sweetening with other effects if you’d like. From there you need to make sure the balance fits with the rest of the instruments and the drums aren’t clashing with any other instrument in the mix, i.e. the kick and bass are sitting well together and the drums aren’t overpowering everything else.
Drum Mix Toolkit
If you liked this article and want to read the rest of the book, check out the Drum Mix Toolkit here: