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Are You Making This Drum Production Mistake?

While reading and replying to your comments on Facebook yesterday a particular problem kept popping up.


Harshness is a common mixing problem when you add too much high-mids to your mix.

Usually, adding a high-mid frequency boost makes your track sound more present and clear.

However, it’s a slippery slope if you’re not careful. If that’s your only EQ solution you’ll end up with a bunch of high-mids everywhere, making your mix sound harsh and painful to listen to at high volumes.

It reminded me of one of the things I talked about with mixing mistakes.

Harsh Cymbals Can Ruin a Drum Mix

One of the most annoying mistakes I hear with amateur mixes is when the cymbals sound harsh and piercing to the ear.

You want to turn up the mix but every time the drummer hits the crash you recoil in pain.

Or maybe my headphones are too loud…

Anyway, there are a few solutions to help you avoid this mistake.

1. Record the Cymbals Properly

One of the reasons I stopped using the Recorderman method was because I didn’t like how the cymbals sounded. The close-miked technique made the cymbals sound too aggressive and harsh and I needed to EQ them too much to get rid of the harshness.

Instead, I now use a spaced pair that’s pointed towards the edge of the cymbals facing outwards away from the drum kit. This accents the cymbals in a smoother way and doesn’t focus on the entire drum kit as much.

This technique, combined with a room mic has been giving me great results in my small home studio.

2. Multi-Band Compression to Tame the Highs

If you’re still stuck with harsh recordings, one of the ways you can smooth out the high-end harshness is with a multi-band compressor. You can dial in your frequency bands so that the compressor is acting more aggressively in the high-end than in the rest of the kit.

It’s a technique I show you in detail inside the Drum Mix Toolkit. Sometimes it’s good to keep the attack fast in the highs to kill the initial cymbal transient while still hearing that smooth cymbal wash.

Combine that with moderate compression on the lows and mids and you should get a pretty tight sounding drum kit.

3. When All Else Fails, EQ

If you don’t want to use a fancy solution like a multi-band compressor and you’re still stuck with a shrill drum recording then using a simple EQ boost to attack the harshness is the way to go.

Hunt around the high-mids around 2.5 kHz and see if you can’t make the cymbals sound a little smoother.

I talked about how I tackled general harshness with a master bus EQ cut a while ago, but you can use the same technique on your drums.

Clean Mixes Need Attention in the High-Mids

We tend to focus on fixing muddiness in the low-mids, but paying attention to the high-mids is important as well.

One of the ways you get a clean mix is to create an overall balance. That doesn’t just mean cleaning up the low-mids, but it also means making sure your mix sounds smooth across the frequency spectrum.

You want to turn up your mix nice and loud to show off your new song to your friends and fans. I’d hate for them to cup their ears and ask you to turn it down.

You want them to go:

Dude! Turn it up more! Your song sounds awesome!

Making sure you tackle the entire frequency spectrum is how you achieve that feeling.

If that’s the feeling you want, and you want your mixes to sound smooth and balanced at every volume level, make sure you grab my EQ Strategies training right now.

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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