The drums need to be loud and punchy in the mix right?
They are the backbone and foundation of the track so they need to be the loudest.
They definitely need to be powerful and audible but they still shouldn’t compete with the lead elements like the vocal.
Everything starts with a foundation. The theory of music mixing is the same as anything else. You build from the bottom up. You start with the foundation of a house before you insert the windows or the kitchen sink.
Similarly, you start with the foundation of your mix before you start adding automation and effects. Approaching your mix should be approached very similarly to building a house.
Start with the foundation and build from the bottom up.
Foundations of Music Mixing
In your particular mix you have to find the element on which everything else is built. This is usually the drum-beat, since the drum-kit supplies the backbone and rhythm to the song.
This is the reason why many engineers start by mixing the drum-kit and bass guitar. They want to have their mix built from the bottom up before they start adding in the décor.
But this foundation should not clutter up what really matters in your song such as your lead vocals.
But since we’re on the subject of drums and low-end, let’s talk about some ways to make it sound great.
Frequency-wise, this is the absolute essential part of making your mix sound right. A floaty or thin low-end can compromise an otherwise great sounding track. Excessive low-end can cloud up the mix and too little bass can make the mix sound weak.
- Filter – Filter out everything that doesn’t need to be in the lower frequencies. Make sure everything that isn’t filtered below 100Hz has a right to be there. The area below 100 Hz is usually dominated by kick drum and bass only, but sometimes other instruments need a little extra weight if they are dominating elements of the mix.
- Equalization – By notching out competing frequencies between the low end instruments you can make everything sounds clearer. Boosting the kick drum at 80 Hz while simultaneously cutting that same frequency in the bass track can help sculpt out a space for each instrument.
- Side-chaining – You can tighten up the relationship between your kick drum and bass guitar by side-chaining the bass guitar to the kick drum. By ducking the bass guitar down a few dBs with each hit you can clean up the rhythm section quite effectively. Side-chaining can be used for a variety of different things, like side-chaining a 50 Hz sine wave for a thicker kick drum sound or tightening up your synth sounds with it.
Once you’ve gotten the building blocks in place you’re ready to start building. A common starting point after dealing with the low end and foundation is the vocal, since it’s such an integral part of the song.
You might want to add the rhythm instruments, like guitars and synths to strengthen the foundation as well. However you do it, just make sure that foundation is built and the low end is steady as a house. Everything after that is just decorating!
But Don’t Put the TV in the Basement!
The basement of a house is great and all, but wouldn’t you want your big screen TV to be where everyone can see it?
You wouldn’t park your Porche in the garage if you wanted to brag about it.
The same goes for that amazing melody. Don’t drown it out with over-agressive and loud drums.
Push the drums back into the mix so that they are still punchy but not crowding the front.
The use of volume to lower the overall levels is a good start. Pushing the drums back with reverb also works for adding depth and ambience to the drums, pushing them behind the other lead instruments. Lower the levels of the drums until they are underneath everything and then add reverb to push them back. Only then should you add more level to the drums that need more volume.
For example, the snare might need to be pushed back as to not clash with the vocal or guitar, but when you’ve added some reverb to it, you might need to add a little more volume to it to make it more present.
That said, you still need to start with a punchy drum sound. Make sure your drums sound great before you use them as the foundation. Because if you’re working with subpar drums to begin with, no amount of mixing is going to fix the lack of puchiness from the drums.
Want More Help?
For more mixing tips like these, sign up for my free EQ Course here. Learn over 70 tips to cleaner mixes.
Stay tuned for the next lesson when we’ll get into my favorite thing in mixing, simplification. Learn how groups and busses can easily make your mixing sessions so much easier and your workflow faster.
See you then.