Mixing Toms: Get a Thundering Tom Sound in 3 Easy Steps
Mixing toms is an important part of making your drum sound cut through the mix. Every time the drummer does a fill, you want those tom rolls to be heard.
It’s a delicate balance of sculpting the perfect frequencies to make your toms stand out while retaining their natural, powerful definition.
Everybody has at least one top ten favorite song that has a thundering tom sound. You know the breakdown part where the drummer goes ! Bam!!Bam!
For some reason “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC comes immediately to mind, even though I’m not a huge fan of the Hard Rockers from Down Under.
In this article, we’ll delve into a step-by-step guide on mixing toms, starting with the crucial first step: using your equalizer to shape the sonic character of your toms.
But anyway, it’s necessary to mix powerful toms when you’re mixing drums, and by using these easy steps you are so much closer to your powerful rock drum sound.
Step 1 – EQ Your Toms
When mixing toms I prefer to EQ before I compress. I want the sound of the drums to come through before everything else so I start by sculpting the sound. Thunderous toms need a rich low end as well as a nice attack. What they don’t need is the boxy sound of the middle frequencies that clutter up the tom sound and make them lose their thunderous definition. The best way is to cut the middle frequencies first and then find the complimentary lows and highs afterward.
- Cut the Mids – Start your cutting at 300 Hz or so and sweep along the mids until the toms start sounding thicker. Subjectively, by taking out the middle frequencies you are making more room for the lows and highs to come out and play. Cut the boxy frequencies until you hear your toms getting thicker.
- Add the Lows – Add more lows to get a thicker tom sound. Depending on the size of the drum there are different frequencies involved. Big floor toms have a fuller sound around 80 – 100 Hz but smaller toms might need to be boosted even higher, around 100 – 200 Hz. Sweep along the lower frequencies with a wide bell curve, or a shelving boost until you find the frequency that compliments the tom.
- Sprinkle with Highs – Now that you’ve gotten a thick sound from your drum you might need to add some attack to it. A broad but small boost around the higher middle frequencies, say, 1.2 kHz – 5 Khz should give your toms a little more attack. Be easy on the highs since you don’t want too much. Just enough to compliment the thunderous lows.
Step 2 – Mix in Some Attitude With Compression
Now that we’ve gotten the general sound of our toms going, it’s time to use some compression to make it even more powerful. Compression is a big subject and not one I’ll be delving into in detail here. However, we need to set our compressor to our drums, and knowing what each part does is important. Let’s go through some of the parameters that are important for our tom sound.
- Medium Attack – We want the attack of the toms to come through before our compressor clamps down on it. If the attack is too fast the initial transient will be eaten up by the compressor. Timing the attack so that the compressor allows the initial hit to come through is important to this specific sound.
- Ratio – Set the ratio to around 6:1. By cranking up the ratio you bring up the power of the toms. A ratio of 6:1 isn’t extremely high so that you won’t notice the sucking sound of too much compression but it is enough to give your toms a powerful sound.
- Crank the threshold – If the toms are only used in hard-hitting fills or specific tom parts, as opposed to low-key tom beats then cranking up the threshold is a good way of making sure the toms are heard. By lowering the threshold you are essentially squashing the signal harder and hearing all the little nuances and subtleties of the toms that otherwise would be too quiet to hear. Put your threshold at around -20 and make sure you are compressing at least 6-10 dBs on the peaks, if not more.
Step 3 – Add Some Reverb to your Toms
Now you should have a fairly thick and creamy tom sound. You can either leave it as is and focus on the rest of the drum-kit, making everything sound tight and great or you can add this one last step. Adding individual short reverbs to each tom can be a great way to add some more power to your tom sound. Short rooms or halls that don’t leave a long reverb trail can make your tom sound larger than life, especially if you pan them accordingly. By using mono reverbs and panning them behind each tom you can give your toms that extra punch you need.
Follow These Steps And You’ll Be Mixing Toms in No Time
By now you should be familiar with how you can get a thunderous sound method in step 1 for many instruments, not just toms. By being familiar with what each processor does you can work faster and more efficiently on your mixes.
For more information on mixing the rest of your drum kit, check out our Powerful Guide to Mixing Punchy Drums.
And when you’re ready for the proven process for finishing your mixes, check out Step By Step Mixing: How To Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins right here.